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Masters Athletes: Training Myths Dispelled

NOTE: The blog post below comes directly from the British Masters Athletic Federation (www.bmaf.org.au) and can be accessed here: https://rb.gy/c2bpls

I really wanted to share this excellent blog as it covers many of the training misconceptions that I have seen amongst masters athletes (and athletes in general).

Enjoy the read and be sure to check out the BMAF as well.

Ten Athletic Performance Facts For The Master Athlete

#1: Training is not a solution to overeating. 

A lot of athletes believe that starting to train will help them lose body fat. Now, it is true that there’s probably no other behavior more important to overall health than exercise, but that doesn’t mean that training will definitely lead to fat loss.

A lot of people do forms of exercise that are straight-up ineffective for fat loss. Or, they inadvertently compensate for the calories burned during workouts by eating more at meals. Or, their crazy stressful lives prevent them from developing habits that make noticeable body composition changes.

If you want to lose body fat, you need to adopt a way of eating that allows you to satisfy hunger without overeating. The right training program can accelerate this fat loss process, but it needs to start with sustainable eating habits that leave you nourished and satisfied.

That’s where higher protein, real food diets that include plenty of vegetables and healthy fat come in—they lead to the release of hunger-reducing hormones and elevate metabolic rate so your body naturally burns more calories daily.

#2: Simplicity and consistency are the most important factors to success. 

There is no end to fancy, complicated, and unique ways to design your workouts, but the reality is that if you’re a fitness-minded person, all you need to do is show up, give it a full effort, and train the basic exercises for your discipline.

You could throw in an interval or sled workout twice a week if your goal is fat loss or conditioning, but there’s no need to overcomplicate things with endless exercise variations. And crazy hybrid workouts or training tools that produce diminishing returns have no place in most people’s workout if they have performance or body composition goals.

All you need to do if you want to change your body and improve your overall physical performance is as follows:

  • Get a written workout plan that fits into your schedule and follow it religiously.
  • Never skip workouts.
  • Always give it your full effort. There will always be hard days, but if you give it all you’ve got, these are the days that will make all the difference.

#3: Workout ADD will get you nowhere.

Doing random workouts—lifting one day, a group class the next, and cardio after that—is ineffective if you want to see measurable changes in your athletic performance.

Performance, strength and body composition changes are progressive—they don’t happen after one or two workouts. Gaining strength or getting lean requires you to string together a series of high-quality workouts in which you do similar exercises each time.

The best way to take advantage of this fact is to pick a goal and train using a pre-set workout program that progressively overloads the body. Consistency and focus are key.

#4: You should do weight lifting and cardio in SEPARATE sessions.

One cause of the workout ADD mentioned above is the belief that it’s necessary to do weight training and cardio in the same workout. Packing it all into one session is a nice idea, but this leads to diminishing returns.

You’ll get much better and faster results if you separate weight training and cardio for a few reasons:

  • Having one training priority per session allows you to approach workouts with focus and drive so that you can get much more out of your efforts.
  • It keeps workouts short and sweet so that you avoid excessive physical stress and high cortisol.
  • Studies show it improves hormone response to training and leads you to burn more calories during the 24-hour recovery period after your workout.

Therefore, if your goal is to lose body fat, try 1 to 3 weight workouts a week, and 2 separate sprint interval sessions lasting no longer than 30 minutes.

If your goal is strength or building muscle, all your workouts should be weight-training workouts—there’s no need for cardio.

If you’re training for endurance, like running a 5K, Prioritize cardio and do two separate weight-training workouts a week.

#5: Compound exercises like squats, deadlifts & presses will get you BEST results.

The classic exercises like barbell squats, presses, rows, and deadlifts have become more popular recently, but many people still shy away from these lifts. Whatever the reason for this, everyone should understand that these are fundamental movements that will get you in the best shape of your life.

The master athlete will benefit from planning their workouts around these exercises for the following reasons:

You train more muscle mass in less time.

You can lift more weight and get stronger faster.

You will get a much greater afterburn than with isolation and machine-based lifts.

They have carryover to both daily life and sports.

#6: Sit-ups and isolation ab training are useless for anyone who is overweight.

(This is not necessarily a ‘performance tip’, but everyone wants abs right?) If you’re overweight, ab training, whether you try some magical 15-minute program or do it for 45-minutes a day, will never get you a visible six-pack.

Great abs require two things:

1) You need to have low body fat. Studies show ab training has zero effect on body fat, making it a big timewaster. Instead, adopt a smart diet that leads you to eat fewer calories than you expend, and a workout program that includes weights and intervals.

2) You need to develop the muscles in the abdominals and lower back. The best way to do this is with moderately heavy weight training, using multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, presses, and one or two ab exercises like Garhammer raises or a jackknife.

#7: If it feels easy, it’s not doing anything.

With all the misinformation out there, a lot of people think that all they have to do is show up and muscles will appear.

There’s no need to kill yourself everyday in the gym, but you do have to work hard and give it a full effort if you expect to see changes in your strength or performance.

Unfortunately, most people don’t effectively overload the body. For example, studies show that people sell themselves way short, underestimating the intensity with which they are training by as much as 35 percent.

To optimize the training effect a few things are necessary:

When training with weights, always choose a weight that you can’t lift more than 14 times—this correlates to about 65 percent of the maximal amount you can lift. You can go heavier too, choosing weights that make you reach failure by the 8th, 10th, or 12th rep, depending on if you want to build strength or are training for body composition.

Time all your rest periods. Few people actually time their rest periods, which is a huge mistake because it leads you to waste time and reduces the training effect.

For fat loss, choose rest intervals in the 10 to 60 second range. For strength gains, rest as much as 3 minutes, or do circuit training in which you alternate lower and upper body exercises, taking 1 to 2 minute rest periods.

#8: The mainstream media should never be trusted for workout advice. I repeat; The mainstream media should never be trusted for workout advice.

You’ve heard it all:

“The best way to lose belly fat is with 40 minutes of aerobic cardio.”

 “Squats will damage your spine and knees.”

“A 4-minute workout is all you need to get fit.”

This is all useless workout advice. The media is regularly distorting the results of exercise science research in order to give you attention-grabbing, but hopeless recommendations.

The problem isn’t the research studies as much as the fact that the media takes them way out of context. Most people are so confused they do nothing. At best, they leave people with workout ADD so that they switch from one training mode to another, never making any progress.

Get your workout advice from an educated and experienced trainer or another reputable scientific-based source that understands how the human body works.

#9: “Magic bullets” like weight loss supplements almost never work.

There’s no mystery as to how to improve your physique or gain strength.

People just don’t like the answer: Results take consistent training and a smart diet. The magic bullet for fat loss simply doesn’t exist.

You’ll get what you want a lot faster if you accept that successful people are the ones who show up and use their workout time wisely. They figure out a way to eat that allows them to be satisfied with their meals and avoid hunger.

Be consistent and patient. Stay the course. Follow the plan. You will get what you desire.

#10: Exercise will solve many of your problems if you use the best techniques.

Most people are motivated to exercise for aesthetic reasons like fat loss or building muscle. That’s great, but the true power of exercise transcends aesthetics. Check out the following amazing benefits you can get from exercise:

  • Physical activity reduces cancer risk by lowering inflammation and improving immune function.
  • Weight training strengthens bone, builds muscle, and reduces belly fat—all factors that help you avoid health complications like high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
  • Exercise improves brain function and learning so you’re smarter during your early years and sane in your golden years.
  • Working out improves hormone balance and optimizes reproductive health and libido in both genders.
  • Training helps you sleep, boosts mood and lowers depression and stress.

The hard thing for most people is to figure out what kind of training to do that will give them all of these amazing benefits. Fortunately, you don’t need a complicated lifting program or to spend hours working out.

What you do need is a plan every time you exercise. Your plan should include what exercises you intend to do, weights, and the number of reps, sets, and rest periods.

In addition, interval training in which you intersperse a hard burst of exercise with rest will promote fat loss and boost conditioning.

IMPROVE your parkrun PB FROM HOME

“With the right mindset you can turn your weaknesses into your strengths”

Since partial lockdowns (due to Covid19) have been announced I have chatted with a number of athletes whose biggest question is basically “What am I going to do now?”

Well given the restrictions we face I think the answer is obvious – use the time to target your physical weaknesses and turn them into your running strengths.

There are times where we all hit a plateau – where performance just don’t seem to really improve. Even worse there are times when we seem to be constantly plagued by niggly injuries that hamper both performance and enjoyment (think plantar fasciitis, lower back pain, sore hips, Achilles tendonitis).

Runners are really good at saying “I am not fit enough… I better run more” but quite possibly even larger improvement lies in decreasing the effect of your physical weaknesses – therefore improving your running efficiency – saving you energy, making you smoother and … making you faster.

Those that have been following us for a while will know that I passionately believe in the ability of strength training to transform running performance. I have written a number of blogs on this topic. If you haven’t caught up with them the links are below:

Work on the right areas consistently and you will be ready to hit the next parkrun (whenever that may eventually be) in good shape to hit a new PB.

SO WHAT SHOULD I TARGET?

It’s a matter of getting the “best bang for your buck” – in other words where is my running body weakest and how is it impacting my running. Below are the key areas I would examine – and some suggested exercises you might be able to do at home (with minimal equipment) to focus on them

Calves (my personal nemesis and focus, therefore, of much of my own training):

  • Calf Raises – straight leg, bend leg (seated), double leg, single leg, over a ledge, barefoot
  • Pogos (straight leg bouncing)
  • Straight leg rebounds (step of a low box and rebound)
  • Rope skipping

Hamstrings

  • Heel slides – single and double leg
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Straight leg bounds
  • Arabesques

Glute (Max – the power unit of our running)

  • Hip Bridging – double and single leg
  • Reverse Hypers
  • Butterfly Hip Thrusts
  • Squats
  • Wall Sit

Glute (Med – for hip stability)

  • Clams
  • Exploding Clams
  • Side Plank variations: for time – arm &/or leg movement, raised
  • Side lying leg raises
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Lateral Hops
  • Curtsy Lunges
  • Skater Lunges
  • Alternating arm arabesques

Core

  • Plank Variations: for time, elbows to hands, dolphin, lateral pull throughs, forward pulls, rotating
  • Bear Walks – forward/backward/lateral
  • “Dead Ants”: Holds, alternating arm leg lowers, resisted lowers, same side lowers
  • Hanging leg lifts

Combined Plyometric Options

  • Squat Jumps
  • Split Jumps
  • Split Lunge Jumps
  • Tuck Jumps

This is very far from a complete list but there is a cross section of very effective exercise from low level to explosive.

HOW SHOULD I USE THE EXERCISES?

  1. Choose your area of weakness
  2. Choose 1-3 exercises that target that area. If you chose multiple exercises try to choose ones that target the muscle slightly different from each other
  3. Complete 2-3 sets of 12-15reps.
  4. Progress from double leg to single leg to explosive as you develop competency and strength through each phase
  5. In strengthening the weakness, start with slow controlled movement – keeping the muscle under tension for extended periods of time through the full range of motion. Develop controlled speed as your competency improves.
  6. The final stage is adding explosive movements. Start with low reps 1-5 and 4-5 sets.  Keep these explosive by not taking reps higher than 8

***Remember this is NOT running conditioning – this is strengthening. Our aim is to make your weaker muscles more stable, stronger and more dynamic to improve running efficiency so we can IMPROVE YOUR PARKRUN PB***

If you would like more information and/or more assistance in exercise selection and prescription feel free to contact Damn Fit Strength and Conditioning:  dave@damnfitsc.com.au or visit the website https://www.damnfitsc.com.au/contact/

(Re)Building the Masters Sprinter

The Power in the Posterior Chain

When Masters athletes contact us and want to train for sprints they generally fall in to one of four categories:

  • Never competed before but used to feel pretty fast “as a kid”
  • Have been doing parkruns but feel they are supposed to run faster (and much less distance)
  • Ran as a youth and/or young adult and want to get back into it
  • Currently compete but want to improve (or at least not slow down as they age)

No matter which category they fall into we look very early at the effectiveness of their posterior chain.

SO WHAT IS THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?

The posterior chain refers to the muscles are the rear of the body. The Posterior Chain is made of four major muscle groups:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Spinal erectors

 Posterior chain exercises involve contracting and lengthening the muscles in a chain like manner

WHY THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?

Hunter Charnesk, the American Physical Preparation expert, describes the Posterior Chain as the “GO” muscles. Despite sprinters generally having very impressive physiques, the muscles we want to develop lie in the power generating engine and not in the “show” muscles. The key component of that engine is the hips. Power is generated by extension of the hip muscles to drive foot into the track. The other muscles of the posterior chain support and sustain control as the hip goes to work.

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

We need to build strength in each component of the posterior chain. As we progress our training will become more explosive. We also need to ensure that each component of the chain works in synchronicity with the others to ensure the most efficient flow of power and that we don’t have energy leakages.

Below we have listed some of our key exercises for developing the posterior chain. To suit each athlete, and to progress or regress the exercise as needed we can:

  1. Add or decrease volume
  2. Add or decrease speed
  3. Add or decrease weight
  4. Alter foot/hand placement
  5. Alter rest periods
  6. Adjust range of motion

Glutes

  • Supine Bridge
  • Hip Thrust
  • Squats

Hamstrings

  • Roman Chair /45 degree back extension*
  • Good mornings*
  • Glute – Ham – Calf Raise*
  • Nordics
  • Deadlifts*
  • Rack pulls*
  • Kettle Bell Swings*

Calves

  • Double leg calf raises (standing and seated)
  • Single Leg calf raises (standing and seated)
  • Pogos
  • Straight leg rebounds
  • Rope skipping

Spinal Erectors

  • Any of the above exercise marked with “*”
  • Reverse hypers (also a great glute exercise)
  • Bent over rows

Exercise such as the Olympic lifts (and their derivatives and variations), sled pulls and prowler pushes are means we use in the gym to develop the co-ordination and efficiency of the posterior chain.

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to https://www.damnfitsc.com.au/contact/

The Taper – Are You Getting It Right?

Be at your peak for competition

With less than 8 weeks to go until the Australian Masters Athletics Championships, and also until the Stawell Gift, most of our Track & Field athletes are in the final phase of their preparation. Trying to “get it right” on the day of competition has always been one of the most challenging aspects of programming for athletes – it is part science and part art (experience)

We are going to look at the taper – the final physical preparation for an athlete, the science behind it and how we look to put it together.

SO WHAT IS A TAPER?

Definitions vary but the general concept is that it is a reduction in an athlete’s training load, which is achieved through an adjustment in some or most of the training variables:

  • Training Volume –total km covered, sets/reps/weights lifted
  • Training Intensity – how hard you train, the level of training
  • Training Frequency – how often you train
  • Training Pattern – how you put your training phases/sessions together

SO WHAT DO WE “KNOW”?

  1. Training Volume is the most easily manipulated component. The taper should see a reduction of roughly 50% of total volume. Research appears to indicate that this volume reduction is best achieved by reducing the volume across all or most sessions rather than just by reducing sessions.
  2. Training Intensity should stay at the pre-taper level. There is a general consensus that there should not be significant increase or decrease in the training intensity during the taper. This is despite the temptation that may exist due to the athlete feeling fresher due to a decrease in training volume.
  3. More in dispute is the reduction in training regularity. Whilst much of the latest research indicates that decreasing training regularity is not ideal, there is still a very strong body of anecdotal/experiential opinion that is not against the idea of reducing the number of sessions an athlete experiences during the taper period. This is possibly a semantic argument as many coaches in my experience may drop a “training” session but introduce an extra mobility session or massage.
  4. Changing the order of training sessions and recovery sessions/rest days can also be used to reduce the training load of athletes. This can also effect the pattern of the reduction in load – does the reduction happen linearly or with a significant initial drop or a small bit at first and increase over the length of the taper?
  5. Full tapers generally run for 7-15 days though can operate over as little as 5 days depending on the pre-taper loads on the athlete

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

The answer to this question lies in the “art of coaching”. It involves knowing the athlete, monitoring the athlete and, especially in the case of Masters Athletes, listening to the athlete. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

A basic taper involves the reduction of training load. However, as each athlete is an individual, the effect of any taper design will vary between athletes. Therefore the design of a taper involves knowing your athlete and then using that knowledge in conjunction with the principles outlined above.

As a starting point you should:

  1. Know the pre-taper volumes of your athlete
  2. Look to reduce that volume by roughly 50%
  3. Plan how long you wish to taper and how that will impact the manner in which you reduce the volume
  4. Maintain the pre-taper intensity of training sessions

It is important to also remember the concept of training reversibility:

  • Strength/Speed  based athletes will start to lose maximum strength after 3 weeks of inactivity
  • Endurance based athletes will see a 5-20% reduction in endurance performance after 4 weeks of inactivity

The maintenance of training intensity will ensure that the athlete does not lose performance during the taper period (though it is important not to extend the taper past 15 days).

Good luck with your upcoming competitions

 For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 3: If You Want to Run Faster… Build These

As we have discussed previously – one of the major benefits of strength training is its ability to improve the running economy of runners.

If you have missed this discussion I invite you to go back and read Part 1 of this series Kickstart You Running. Part 2 of the series, 3 Mistakes to Avoid is also worth a look

IF YOU WANT TO RUN FASTER you need to build strength in these muscle groups:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteals
  • Calves

QUADRICEPS

Key muscles: Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, Rectus Femoris

Key Functions: knee extension and hip flexion

Key Exercises: Squats, Lunges

NOTES

I will often incorporate both of these exercise into a runner’s program. At times I will run them concurrently, with the most of the heavy lifting being done in the squats while the lunges are used to develop strength and stability on each leg individually. At other times I will use variations such at the Bulgarian Split Squat or Front Loaded Split Squat to target the muscle differently.

HAMSTRINGS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension and knee flexion

Key Exercises: Deadlifts, Nordics

NOTES

Both of these exercise will load and strengthen the hamstring. Early on you need to be aware of soreness and how this will impact your running.

When using Deadlifts I like to mix up the range of movement (from the floor, raises, deficit and Romanian style) and the means of weighting the lift (Hex Bar, Olympic Bar, Dumbells, Banded).

There are a great number of variations of the Nordics. Throughout the season I like to vary the style to challenge the muscles in a variety of ways. My absolute favourite is using the Glute Ham Raise (GHR).

GLUTEALS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension, external rotation, transverse abduction (Glute Med), Internal rotation (Glute Med), Abduction, Transverse Abduction (Glute Min)

Key Exercises: Hip Bridging, Bench Hip Thrust

NOTES

My “go-to” exercise for the Glutes is the Bench Hip Thrust. It has the ability to move a heavy load in a running specific direction (esp in terms of acceleration) without the overloading of the spine that can occur during squats and deadlifts. To incorporate Glute Med & Min I place a band around the thighs just above the kneecaps and then resist the pulling together of the knees caused by the band.

CALVES

Key muscles: Soleus, Gastrocnemius, Tibialis Posterior

Key Functions: Dorisflexion (Gastroc, Soleus), Plantar flexion. Inversion (Tib Post)

Key Exercises: Standing Single Leg Calf Raises (barefoot), Weighted Seated Calf Raises

NOTES

Being able to develop strength in the calves in both the straight leg and bent leg position will help to significantly reduce the chance of common running injuries such as Achilles Tendinopothy and Plantar Fasciitis.

One of the common ideas we use is to develop the eccentric strength first, working slowly on the downward part of the moment (often under weight) and then being assisted in the rising motion.

Sets 2-3 of 15-20reps on a single leg will assist in building the required strength.

The exercises we have listed above will help develop strength in the key muscles involved in running. These exercises (or those that work the muscles similarly) should form the core of any strength programme aiming to improve running performance.

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning