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Posted: June 17, 2004

Multisport: Strength, Speed, and Power Progression to Peak

By Matt Russ

Proper race peaking requires that you be at your best fitness level of the season at precisely the same time as your goal race(s). This means exact timing and performing the right work outs at the right time. Performing mostly high intensity work too early in the season will slowly degrade your performance as the season progresses and leave you burned physically and mentally. You should slowly progress towards your most intense training. It is the last salvo before your peak. Conversely, performing too little high intensity work would leave you under trained and ill prepared for race intensities. Some athletes train at the same intensities, yet wonder why they do not get faster. In order to get faster you must stress the body in a way it is not used to. The body then compensates and acclimates to the specific stress, and you can then apply still greater stress levels. Your strength and power training should follow this progression as well.

A proper training program moves from the general to the specific and lower intensity efforts to more high intensity efforts as the season progresses. As you perform more short high speed efforts your overall training volume must be reduced to facilitate recovery from these harder work outs. Strength and especially power work should follow these guidelines.

The amount of time you spend working on strength or power will depend on your limiters as an athlete, your event type, and your level of experience. A smaller, underpowered athlete that is concentrating on sprint races will spend much time devoted to strength and power training, whereas a larger muscled athlete may need to devote more time to aerobic development. Generally, longer events require less time devoted to strength and power training.

Your strength work should start in the gym after a brief transition period at the seasons end. Strength training may last through the entire base season and then proceed to maintenance work as more sport specific work is introduced. It is important to remember that the purpose of strength training is to apply the increase in strength to the bike, run, or swim. Many athletes have a tough time giving up weight work even though it is degrading the effectiveness of their other more specific work outs. Specificity is one of the first rules of training. Performing heavy leg extensions will have little benefit to your cycling because the muscles do not contract in that manner. I choose multi-joint strength exercises that mimic at least part of the stride or spin. Towards the end of the base season I actually combine certain resistance routines with on the bike and run training.

The first phase of on the bike strength training involves low cadence, highly resisted intervals of 15-30 seconds, then proceeds to sustained intervals of 3-20 minutes at slightly higher cadences of 50-60 rpm. Although effort is great, there should be little heart rate reaction beyond an aerobic level which is important during the base season. The next work out would be sustained efforts of 20 minutes to over 1 hour, still at an aerobic level, and at a cadence of 70-75 rpm. All these work outs train the body to produce force aerobically and efficiently and acclimate the body for higher intensity efforts to come.

Aerobic hill intervals are a great way to build specific leg strength for running. My athletes are often surprised that they can climb relatively steep inclines while maintaining an aerobic level simply by slowing pace considerably. I may start an athlete off hill walking at a steep incline. It is important to adjust the level of incline gradually as well as the length of the climbing interval. I add in more elevation each week and lengthen the intervals.

Power work may also start in the weight room after a sufficient amount of strength work has built tendon, ligament, and joint strength. I have found body weight or light weight is often enough resistance for most power work. I may start a session with strength or strength endurance work and end with power work. It is easy to over do power work however, and injury can results. Form and technique are crucial.

On the bike power work starts at the end of base and involves very short high cadence, high resistance efforts of 10 seconds. I allow much recovery between these efforts (5-10 min.) so energy systems are properly restored. I then proceed to more sustained and repeated efforts of 1-5 min with plenty of recovery. These efforts have the added benefit of building aerobic capacity and are more suited for the general preparation or build periods. Finally, jumps and sprints, often with incomplete recovery are stressed. I may prescribe many of these in a single session to train the body to buffer lactic acid. This work is highly prescriptive and may only be performed 1-2x per month. Again, the amount of time spent with this type of work will vary by athlete and sport.

Run power can start with technique drills during the base season. I may then add short explosive sprints to the end of the hill climbing efforts we are already performing regularly. Hill intervals of various lengths and intensities will help promote explosive power and leg strength. Generally I save the most intensive run speed and power work for the last 2 blocks preceding peak.

Although this is a brief overview you can realize the progression. The work outs you perform should build on one another throughout the season and keep you from overreaching. Performing a variety of work outs has the added benefit of keeping your training interesting and helps prevent burn out. Organize your work outs as you do your season. Each work out is a tool and you have to decide when it is most effective to take it out of the tool box.

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt coaches athletes for CTS, is an Ultrafit Associate, and owner of www.thesportfactory.com.

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