With the summer months upon us, the mantra of the Minnesotan is, "I want to get outside!" Naturally, this extends to our fitness activities as well. But should it?
Arthur Jones, founder of Nautilus Sports Medical Industries and later the MedX Corporation succinctly stated, "Man is a rotary animal." When we contract our muscles, we are causing rotational movement around a joint or a series of joints. Herein lies the primary limitation of a free-weight; while our joints are causing rotary movement, gravity acts on a free-weight in only one direction. The end result is that in most free-weight exercises, the targeted muscle is exposed to direct resistance for only a small portion of the range of motion. An intelligently designed machine includes mechanical elements that make the resistance omnidirectional; thus our muscles must create limb movement that directly opposes the resistance throughout the entire range of motion. This is the foundational advantage of machines when compared to free-weights; an advantage that the vast majority of exercisers and fitness professionals are completely unaware of. Arthur Jones says it best: "Since the "direction of movement" of the involved body-parts is constantly changing, the "direction of resistance" must change in exact accord, automatically, simultaneously, instantly; again, this requirement can only be provided by a rotary form of resistance."
The Real Advantage of Strength Training for the Distance Runner: Training During the Competitive Race Season
Strength training provides a “use-it-or lose it” adaptation. If strength training is discontinued, muscle strength and the many benefits of strength training are lost rapidly (muscle endurance, power, enhanced metabolic rate, running economy, etc.). For this reason, strength training must be performed on a consistent basis all year round; runners should aim for a minimum of one workout every seven to fourteen days. Many well-intentioned runners assume that strength training is an important component of the “base” building phase of a runner’s training. As racing season nears and the intensity and volume of running workouts increase, the runner will discontinue strength training with the intent to recover from intense running workouts. For example, many runners strength train throughout the winter months and then discontinue strength training when the racing season of April through August arrives. Another example includes a well intentioned runner who strength trains consistently throughout the spring and summer but then discontinues strength training in August to spend the months of August, September, and October on running workouts leading up to a fall marathon. The benefits of strength training will disappear by the time the race has arrived. This is analogous to studying in May, June, and July for a test that will be taken in October. Strength training produces a separate list of adaptations when compared to running. Both running adaptations and strength training adaptations are extremely important for performance and injury prevention. A runner should not discontinue strength training in attempt to focus on running just as a runner should not discontinue eating protein completely to focus on eating carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are important macronutrients that are necessities in a healthful diet. In the same way, speed work, tempo work, long runs, strength training, and rest/recovery are important components of a comprehensive running training program. During periods of high volume and high intensity running, the frequency and intensity of the strength-training workout can be slightly reduced, but should never be discontinued.
The scientific literature clearly delineates that “intensity” is the primary stimulus for our bodies to change and improve as a result of engagement in a resistance exercise program. Intensity is most important controllable factor (uncontrollable factors include percentage of fast twitch or slow twitch muscles fibers, muscle belly length, tendon length, and muscle insertion) in an individual’s response to an exercise program. It appears that the other variables of an exercise program, although important, are simply not as meaningful as the intensity with which we exercise. This leads us to an important (and often ignored) question: What is intensity? Intensity can be defined as a percentage of our momentary ability to perform an exercise. Stated other wise, it has nothing to do with the amount of weight we lift, it has everything to do with our effort. Lifting a relatively heavy weight for 6 reps or a relatively light weight for 20 reps are both deemed “intense” so long as it is utterly impossible to lift a 7th rep or a 21st rep. When looking to produce better results, faster results, or to break through a plateau, the first place to turn your attention to should be your training intensity. Most well intended trainees err in almost the opposite direction. They add more exercises, add more sets, and/or increase the number of weekly workouts. All of these are steps in the wrong direction.
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