HVT Triathlete Karen F. on her way to her first ever podium, in the Morgantown Half Ironman back in 2012.
In the current September edition (sept 2017) of Triathlete Magazine, Chris Foster gives the readers a glimpse inside 70.3 World Champion Holly Lawrences Strength Training program, or at least her “favorite strength set”. Having been working with Endurance athletes over the last 9+ years, and smashing through the Myths that “Weight lifting leads to slower times”, and helping endurance athletes of all backgrounds to see how significant a properly designed Strength Training Program can BOOST their performance and decrease time lost to injury, I want to give you an “Experts Breakdown” of Holly’s workout, so you can not just copy what she is doing, but instead begin to figure out what will work best for YOU.
There is a LOT more to program design than meets the eye, and in writing this blog, I’m hoping to shed some light into how much of a difference having an experienced Strength & Conditioning Coach who is knowledgeable to YOUR sports unique demands, needs, and risks, will make in YOUR path to success and staying injury free.
There have been FAR TOO MANY Endurance athletes whom have sought me out or been pointed my direction due to outright stupid program design, or from trainers deciding that since the athlete is “in great shape” that they can load them up with tons of exercises or weight, or extremely advanced exercises. If you can’t tell, I still feel my blood boil when I think back to some of these ridiculous programs and how they unnecessarily put these athletes at high risk for an injury, and into injuries that SHOULD have easily been avoided, with a little more knowledge, or sense.
“Just any trainer” and “Just any strength coach” will NOT do it for endurance athletes, as you have a very unique blend of demands on the body- especially triathletes. Simply because someone holds a credential and passed a test does NOT mean they have the right skillset and knowledge that YOU need, in order to have the strength training match your needs.
With that being said, let’s jump in to Part 1 of 2!
Foam Roller Series – T-spine/Lats/Quads/Adductors
Soft Tissue resting length and pliability is absolutely integral in helping to increase performance, while decreasing injuries. While foam rolling the Lats is something many triathletes don’t or won’t do- either due to lack of knowledge how or because of how uncomfortable it is- this and T-spine (Thoracic spine) mobility are absolutely KEY in any triathlete and cyclists program.
While foam rolling the Quads and Adductors have reasons that are very clear, the importance of having the combination of great muscle resting length and proper range of motion through the T-spine isn’t so clear to most triathletes.
Why is it important?
Spending time to ensure the lats are at a good resting length and that the T-spine are in proper position (with good posture) will allow the triathlete the ability to better hold their “canister” together (the rib cage and the pelvis), thus allowing them to tap into their full power via better posture, and thus better breathing. This is ESPECIALLY true on the swim and run. If you have problems with a high recovery elbow in your swim, or “slicing/rolling your shoulders through the water” poor T-spine mobility and short lat muscles may very well play significant roles in your struggles.
Foam rolling should be an “every day” occurrence for endurance athletes, as consistency in this practice of just 5-8 minutes a day will have a significant impact on overall performance and how good you feel.
TAKE HOME: CARVE OUT 5-8 minutes before you head out for your in-sport activities, and make this a priority, even on non-lifting days.
There is much more to say on this, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll move on.
90/90 Breathing Exercise (with right knee higher) x 15 breaths
It’s absolutely incredible to see how far the world of training for triathlon has come over the last decade, as this breathing exercise is something I’ve been doing with my athletes since 2011!
The 90/90 breathing exercise helps the athlete to learn how to keep their pelvis in a solid position to keep the “canister” intact, thus allowing them to tap into their FULL power, especially on the bike. There is a lot behind this exercise, but just know that it is extremely beneficial, when done properly!
TAKE HOME: Perform this exercise as per the video, for 3-5 breaths for your first few sessions. It’s not about how MANY you do, but how many you DO PROPERLY that counts.
Single Leg Lateral Rock Stretch x 10 rocks
Keeping the adductors healthy often involves keeping them LONG, and teaching the muscles of the spine to stabilize properly while the adductors are lengthened. This is incredibly important for Triathletes much more than cyclists, as not only do you need to perform ON the bike, but you have to be able to get up and run a hefty distance, while keeping your pelvis, spine, and rib cages as stabilized as possible.
This stretch/ exercise, along with a properly designed trunk-strength routine, and running technique, can have a significant positive impact for any triathlete!
TAKE HOME: You should first learn how to lock your ribs and pelvis together, by bracing your midsection, before performing this exercise. Performing this exercise while letting your ribs and pelvis move separately from one another can exacerbate knee, hip, and even back issues (tightness or otherwise) that you may have.
If you can keep your ribs and pelvis locked together to form that “canister” perform 5-8 rocks per side.
Focus on the next exercise if you cannot yet keep your ribs and hips locked together.
KB Adductor Stretch x 8 breaths each side
I think the author either couldn’t find the KB (Kettlebell) adductor stretch on YouTube, or he means to write “Half kneeling dynamic adductor stretch”. I don’t know, but what I can tell you, is that the “Half kneeling dynamic Adductor stretch” or “Captain Hook stretch” as HVT Athletes know it, is a great way to teach the athlete to stabilize the trunk, while the adductor lengthens laterally. This is oft overlooked in the endurance athletes toolbox, as when this exercise is done with an appropriate mix of trunk strengthening and soft tissue work, it can help resolve some fairly common hip, knee, and lower back issues often seen in triathletes and runners.
Some, but not all of those whom have seen me for bike fits due to back and hip pain know this drill well, as it has been a great tool (one of many) to help them get their hips and back in better working order.
TAKE HOME: Perform 5-6 each side, focusing on keeping the knee of the leg that is pointed outwards, moving over the BIG TOE. For many of you, you won’t need a whole lot of motion to “feel the stretch”. Make sure you keep this movement dynamic, and don’t hold that end range for more than a second!
Again here, keep that “Canister” intact!
Posterior Hip Rock x 8 breaths right/left/right
HVT Athletes know this as the “Dynamic Pigeon stretch”, something we will do as a part of the dynamic warmup, just as it appears Holly Lawrence’s strength coach has her do.
This is a great way to help open up the glutes, while getting the obliques and Quadratus lumborum muscles to activate, to help us stay steady and strong out on course.
While the athlete in video linked shows a bit more pelvic rotation that I’d like, YOU can focus on keeping you stomach braced, and only rocking back enough to feel a gentle glute stretch.
TAKE HOME: If you have lower back pain of any kind while doing this dynamic warmup, especially a sharp pain or burning sensation, head to your Physical Therapist for an evaluation.
If you’re free of back pain or discomfort, work to keep that “canister” solid, and perform 5-8 reps a side, keeping this as a dynamic exercise, not pausing at the end range for more than 1-2 seconds!
While the author doesn’t make note of it, this appears to be the end of Holly’s Dynamic warmup, as she heads in to what HVT Athletes will recognize as our Trunk & Hip Activation series. These are a year-round constant, as they provide us with a solid foundation from which all great performances arise.
Lying Hip Flexion x 5 reps x 3 breaths
Deadbugs with Roller x 5 reaches each way
These two exercises allow for activation of two frequently used muscle groups in the mid-section:
1. The hip flexors (made up of TWO MUSCLES which attach very close to one another on the femur: 1.Psoas, which attaches to the lumbar spine-lower back, and 2. the Iliacus, which ties into the inside of your pelvis).
2. The Anterior Core- the rectus abdomens (six pack), obliques (muscles on your sides), and the transverse abdomens (“planking” muscles).
These two exercises are actually at the different ends of the spectrum when it comes to complexity: The Lying Hip Flexion with mini-band is a basic beginners exercises used to help the athlete understand the difference between hip flexion and lumbar flexion, while activating the hip flexors and maintaining anterior core stability (it’s much more difficult than it looks!).
The Deadbug with roller is at the advanced end of the spectrum, as it is a uni-lateral movement, which takes considerable strength and stability to execute properly.
TAKE HOME & EXPERTS TIP: Start with the basic Dead-bug, and opposite side of the body “Bird-dog” exercises, and work your way up through the progressions to get to this level of complexity, as these two exercises (Lying hip flexion & Dead Bug with roller) may not be right for you.
This will depend on your level of lumbo-pelvic stability, anterior core strength, and of course on whether or not you have any current low back pain/discomfort.
Seek out a knowledgeable Strength Coach who understands your sports demands, or a good Physical Therapist (if you have low back pain/issues) before beginning these exercises.
Back Against Wall Clam Shells x 5 reps with 5 seconds holds each side
The clamshell is a great baseline Glute Medius activation exercise, and should be used for athletes at all levels and abilities, with a focus on maintaining a solid “Canister”, and getting the movement from the correct muscle.
While having the back against the wall helps keep the athlete from rounding the back, and even offers some increase in difficulty in the exercise, unless an athlete is really struggling with keeping their spine neutral through the clamshell I actually prefer to have the athlete AWAY from the wall.
This serves in helping to reinforce the athletes proprioception of where their spine, rib cage, and pelvis are in space, as well as help them to learn how to turn on the all-important and back-sparing Oblique muscles, as the brace their core to keep the “canister full” (ribs and pelvis in alignment), and learning how to differentiate between use of the Tensor Facia Lattae Muscle (The muscle on the front-outside of your hip tying into the IT band), and the Gluteus Medius, the muscle we want and need to target in this exercise.
TAKE HOME: Make sure to begin with your head in neutral (double chin position), spine in neutral (midsection TIGHT, especially the obliques), and that you don’t get ANY motion from the hips here! The hips and feet/ankles should stay in place, while the knees move with ONLY the Glute medius firing!
Range of motion means nothing, if you’re using the wrong muscles! Some beginners may BARELY get their knees apart before feeling the TFL or Quads firing. Stick with what range you can do with proper form and firing!
Start off with 2 sets of 5-8 each side, but no pause at the top for you! This is saved for more advanced athletes, whom have progressed their hip strength properly.
EXPERT TIP: keep your toes pulled up towards your shins as you execute this exercise.
You can also bend your knees a little more forward than what is in this video, if you have trouble finding the right muscle (Glute Medius, right under the belt line).
Quadruped Hip Extension On Elbows (Donkey Kicks) x 12 each side
Donkey kicks can be a fantastic Glute activation AND strengthening exercise, but only when done properly!
The model in the video linked does a nice job of keeping his lower back from moving, however he is set up in a bit of a rounded lower back position, thus leading me to believe that he is a cyclist or triathlete. While this may not seem so bad, and in the mid-season we DO allow for some “on-bike morphing” to occur in our exercises, this is a bit past my comfort zone as an experienced coach.
EXPERT TIP: Aim to start with a NEUTRAL lower back. This means a slight arch for those of you with a normally slight arch in your low back when you’re standing, which is most of you. Once you’ve found limbo-pelvic neutral, brace your midsection, and then perform the donkey kick, making sure that you are ONLY using your GLUTES, and NOT your hamstrings!
Most beginners find that their range of motion is fairly limited, especially when they only use their glutes! The main points of this exercises are to keep your pelvis and low back in neutral, while using only your glutes to perform the motion. Don’t mistake more range of motion for performing this “better”!
TAKE HOME: Great exercise, but make sure you are in Lumbar neutral, and are ONLY using the glutes! If you feel your hamstrings or lower back firing/working, you’ve gone too far! Some beginner may barely get their knee of the floor before feeling the hamstrings firing. That’s ok (as long as you stop before the hamstring fires)! Stay in the range you can manage with proper technique and firing!
Start with 3 sets of 2-4 each side (Yes, they REALLY ARE that challenging!), and build up to 2 sets of 12 each side, using the glutes only, and with your spine in neutral, midsection braced!
Monster Walks with Band Around feet x 10 reps each sideways, forwards and backwards
This can be a great way to teach an athlete to recognize when the TFL is over-taking the Gluteus medius, as well as allowing us to strengthen the Glute med through active motion.
Key point with this exercise is to keep your midsection braced, not allowing the ribs and pelvis to “break the canister” (separate from one another).
TAKE HOME: Great exercise, and again, keep that “Canister” locked! (Notice a trend?)
Start with 2 sets of 4 steps forward each leg with a LIGHT band, and work up to 3 sets of 8 steps each leg.
EXPERT TIP: Start with a light band, and focus on maintaining proper “Canister” position (Ribs and pelvis locked together), and take small steps, allowing the “fire” to be in your glutes, NOT in your outer thigh!
Bear Crawl x 10 yards forward and backwards
There is a recurring theme in Holly’s training, and it should be for any triathletes: DON’T BREAKE THE CANISTER!!!!!
AKA keep your ribs and pelvis together, so you can maximize performance, and keep your spine nice and healthy….. added bonus, you’re able to breathe much better, and thus, perform better!
Big props to the model in this video as he does a fantastic job of demonstartic solid technique- first going through lumbar flexion and extension, then finding “Neutral” and really locking it in, as the motion for the Bear Crawl itself comes from only his hips and shoulders: His spine stays perfectly neutral throughout- very tough indeed!
TAKE HOME: This is a very difficult exercise for beginners, so start first by mastering the position itself, holding for 3-5 breaths at a time, and then slowly progressing to adding in movement- Forwards only at first (5 “steps” each side working up to 8-10).
Once you’ve been able to successfully do 2 sets of 8-10 each side going only forwards, you can progress to 1 set of 5 each side, forward and back (same progression working up to a set of 10 each side).
Lateral Crawl x 10 yards side to side
This demonstrator does a pretty good job of execution, although we DO see his ribs and pelvis come apart a few times as he moves. Again, the NUMBER ONE POINT of this drill, as with the bear crawl, is to teach you to keep your “Canister in alignment”. This is a fairly advanced move, and shouldn’t be attempted until you can keep your ribs and pelvis solidly drawn together via the obliques, TVA, and anterior core. It may take a few months to a few years to get to where you have the trunk strength, and shoulder stability & strength, to properly and safely execute this exercise.
TAKE HOME: For the vast majority of you reading this, the exercise is 2-3 steps above where you’re currently at. Start with the Bear Crawl, and work your way up as noted above.
Before moving on to the lateral crawl, we will also want to do specific Shoulder work, helping to ensure your shoulder is strong and stable. We will not get into those exercises here, as that is a long number of posts in and of itself.
Single Leg Holds (with a band) 2 x 15 second holds
This is a great exercise, once you are able to “KEEP YOUR CANISTER” as well as access and use your glutes. While many athletes may think this is an easy exercise, as you can see from the model in the video, it is actually taking him quite a bit of focus and intent to do this properly.
EXPERT TIP: Focus first on learning to access the glutes, and to “keep your canister” before moving on to an advanced drill like this one. While it may seem harmless to try it, if you perform this exercise improperly you’re going to be programming poor movement patterns into your body, which can take quite a while to correct.
TAKE HOME: Once again, for many of you this will be out of your league. Skip this drill, and move on to Bird-Dogs, focusing on keeping the “canister” locked in place, and getting the movement from your shoulders and hips only.
Start with 2 sets of 4-6 Bird-Dogs each side, resetting the position in between each effort, and ensuring proper movement mechanics. You’ll find yourself sweating bullets if you’re doing this exercise correctly.
As you can see, there is quite a lot the goes into the planning and progression for a PROPER Strength Training Program for Triathletes…and this is just the warmup!
Chris Foster does a fantastic job of not only giving us a glimpse into a well-designed strength program for a professional Triathlete, but also of stressing that her WARMUP IS LONGER THAN HER WORKOUT. The dynamic movement, and activation exercises are absolutely integral in a properly designed Strength Program, as this is where, especially during the season, we can address YOUR personal issues, as well as keep those all important “supporting muscles” strong, healthy, and at great resting lengths!
If you’re looking for an experienced and highly knowledgeable Strength Coach to build YOUR strength program to help support and advance YOUR training and racing, contact me at Brodie@HumanVortexTraining.com or via the contact form HERE.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this 2 part piece, “The LIFT”
Leave your comments and questions below!
You can Read more from the TRIATHLETE MAGAZINE Article on Holly Lawrence at http://www.triathlete.com/2017/08/training/70-3-world-champion-holly-lawrences-favorite-strength-set_304614#qs4pVL4hCtgMH2Sx.99