Those of you who have had training plans from me over the last few months or have been at some of our Brighton Tri Club run sessions will know I'm getting more into Strength and Conditioning (S&C).  In this post, the first of two parts, I thought I'd share some of the lessons I'm picking up, introducing into our sessions as well as practising myself - and a bit of where they have come from as an acknowledgement for all the great help.

Lesson 1: activate to correct

My new found S&C journey started with the Level 3 Coaches' course and a revelatory session with Alison Rose, physio to none other than Kelly Holmes, Jessica Ennis and the Brownlees.  As I put in a post at the time, before I'd always been reluctant to try and correct people's running style for fear of doing more harm than good.  And although I knew my own running style was gradually getting worse and I was struggling with persistent injuries, I didn't understand enough about the causes or what to do to make a sustainable change.

One of the great things about Alison’s session was coming away with a set of drills and other exercises that work on the underlying weaknesses and imbalances, essentially by activating muscles that for one reason or another weren’t doing their job.  In a sense this is like leaping over the symptoms and tackling the fault that needs to be corrected at source.

Since then, at Alison’s suggestion, I’ve been doing single leg calf raises, with a bent leg then a straight leg, for just a few minutes after every run.  At first I could just about manage a wobbly 2 x 12.  In very little time I’m now up to 2 or 3 x 30 and feeling such a benefit in my running!

I also now have a full set of S&C exercises from local physio Cathy Kwan of Blue Koala that I try to do for around 20-30 minutes on alternate days, working mainly on the hip flexors and glutes.  And at the Club we’ve now got Coach Leanne taking us through around 30mins of S&C (including Jane Fonda specials!) after the ParkRuns.

Lesson 2: know the problem

Having said S&C exercises and drills can leapfrog over the symptoms, I then had a really helpful insight into what to look for from an excellent session run by Ian Piper at a S&C workshop at the British Triathlon Federation annual meeting.

Amongst other things in a really excellent session, Ian took us through three types of athletes who present different challenges in terms of S&C:

  • the tight athlete: this is the person who has a poor posture, , who maybe struggles to reach a good catch position in the swim or has no rotation as they run.  Ian emphasised the importance of flexibility first and only adding some strength work once they have been able to loosen up through lots of roller work, holding stretches for a good two minutes, maybe some yoga or pilates
  • the unstable athlete: this is the person who seems to move all over the place on the bike or run and who essentially has weaknesses that don’t allow them to hold a steady, still position.  Ian’s recommendation was lots of exercises that help develop control under a certain amount of stress, such as hop and hold, to help ingrain movements under stress
  • the can't manage force athlete: here we have those (like me) who have ‘developed’ weaknesses so they can’t manage force in key movements, such as the knee buckling on contact with the ground as they run.  Here’s where my calf raises and other lower leg strengthening exercises come into their own.

Lesson 3: alignment

And finally, my next lesson and source of advice comes from closer to home.  My partner, Anne, was trained as a dance artist and choreographer at the Laban Centre and so has a deep understanding of how to hold stretches, develop core strength and mobility and balanced movement.  I’m afraid to say when she sees me doing my stretches or S&C exercises more often than not she’ll give an exasperated “NOT LIKE THAT!”  What she then says for me to try is so similar to what I say to swimmers practising drills – so a healthy taste of my own medicine:

  • slow down, do fewer, but do them right: for example I had been throwing myself into lunges, reaching far forward and putting lots of energy into them as if the effort was the thing to make the difference.  Not so.  Under Anne’s expert gaze, I’m trying to slow myself down, not reach so far, start with fewer reps and focus on it being a controlled movement
  • alignment and position: the key to doing it right is all about alignment, e.g. focusing on your centre of gravity as you perform movements so when doing lunges head is tall, shoulders are over hips, the knee is just over the ankle and no further forward with no lateral swaying.  That way, as we come to run all the weight is carried forward, not deflected in sideway motions.

So big thanks to all mentioned – Alison, Cathy, Leanne, Ian and Anne – and of course to all the athletes at Brighton Tri Club and with ZigZag Alive who have been willing to experiment along with me.

Watch out for the next post!

Photos courtesy of Rosie Hallam from a Tri Plus Training Zone feature on Brighton Tri

Photos courtesy of Rosie Hallam from a Tri Plus Training Zone feature on Brighton Tri