Episode 24 – Road to Kona 2020 part 3: Jason Fitzgerald- Plyometrics; A dab will do ya

The strong savvy cyclist & triathlete podcast

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Human Vortex Training and Menachem Brodie present The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast, where we talk strength training, physiology, psychology, tech and much more to help you get fitter, faster and stronger in and out of your sport, giving you expert insights, talking with other leading experts. Now your host, world leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes, Menachem Brodie.

Menachem Brodie:

Hi, everyone, and welcome to this episode of The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast. Can you tell them amped up just a little bit this week? We’ve got Jason Fitzgerald from strengthrunning.com back here with us. Now, we had Jason on the show earlier in our iteration, and it was a fantastic packed chock full of nuts, as they say it’s got great information. And today’s episode is no less than… Actually, there’s way more. Jason and I, last time we spoke about his background, how he got into strength training, we spoke about a couple of different tips that you should be including as a triathlete or a runner, even as a cyclist.

Well, today in our Road to Kona, part three of our series, Road to Kona 2020, we’re going to talk about periodization of running, we’re going to talk about plyometrics, common mistakes that runners make and why you should be adding heavy, power-based strength training, getting closer to your goal event. Something that we have heard a couple of other places in the podcast, and Lee Taft and I, in part two spoke about this just a little bit. If you haven’t already listened to part two with Lee Taft, you’re going to hear some of the threads that Lee and I spoke about, again here with Jason.

Now, Jason and I and Jason, Lee, and I did not coordinate this. These are just top professionals in their field sharing the best information with you. So, when three top professionals are telling you, hey, you need to include this, you should listen.

Now, with Lee Taft last week, we spoke about speed, agility, and multiplanar movement. With Jason today, we’re going to talk about these as well as periodization for strength training for running, how to add that heavier weight with those power movements as you get closer to your event, and we’re also going to talk about plyometrics, and this is something we’re getting into fall of 2019 year. So, that means some of the major channels that have millions of followers, or hundreds of thousands of followers are posting strength training exercises, including plyometrics.

One of the things that drives me crazy is that so many people think that you can just skip or should skip strength training and go right to plyometrics. But if you listen to our podcast in the past, or read some of the blog posts on humanvortextraining.com, you’ll realize that strength and know that strength needs to come before it’s a baseline for plyometric training.

The second mistake people make is they are doing 20, 30, 60 minutes of plyometric training, you’re losing the whole point of plyometric training. It’s tissue quality, joint position, and being able to use that free essentially, spring energy in the body. Jason in our interview today, I’ve gone back and I’m re-recording the intro here because he coined a term that I just love. When it came to plyometrics, he used the verbiage “When it comes to plyometrics, it’s just like Elmer’s Glue, a dab will do you.” That is the episode’s title today, Plyometrics: A Dab Will Do you. Even though we only talk a little bit, I wanted to give Jason that quote, because he did a fantastic job of breaking down why and how plyometrics should be done in small amounts.

If you haven’t already headed over to strengthrunning.com/strength, I strongly recommend you do that, because Jason’s got some great resources. Now, I know you’re probably listening to this and being like, “Coach Brodie, well, you have your own product coming out, Strength Training for Cycling certification, shouldn’t you be plugging that?” Well, yeah, I should. But my whole point of getting this podcast running is because I saw great information out there, fantastic experts in “unrelated fields”, when really strength and conditioning is very related that I wanted to bring into the endurance sports realm and share with you.

Yeah, I have the Strength Training for Cycling certification course coming out. But really, Jason’s resources he has up on strengthtraining.com are fantastic. So, I encourage you to check them out, and if it rings a bell with you or you really like his stuff, go for it. Would I love you to join my Strength Training for Cycling certification course? Absolutely, but it’s not the end all, be all. Certain bits and pieces are going to work better for you.

If you’re looking as a triathlete to increase your strength for your strength training, or to increase your strength for your run and your bike, also your swim, check out Jason’s stuff over on strengthrunning.com, or if you want to stay in the HV Training realm, well, first of all, thank you. That means I’m delivering a lot of value to you hear in the podcast, the blog post, the YouTube channel, and everywhere else I am. So, thank you.

If you’d like to stay in the HV Training realm, go ahead and check out the Strength Training for Triathlons Success Course on trainingpeaks.com. A little bit tongue tied here. But without further ado, we’re going to get into today’s interview with Jason Fitzgerald. Lots of take homes, again, a fantastic interview. As you get ready to plan your year for Kona of 2020, make sure you have this podcast on favorite, make sure you like and share because there’s lots of great little bits and pieces for you here. So, without much further ado, let’s get into the interview with Jason Fitzgerald.

Jason Fitzgerald is from strengthrunning.com. We had him on here, The Strong, Savvy Cyclist Triathlete Podcast earlier on, where we spoke about Jason’s background and how he became a runner. That story is really fascinating, especially how he got into strength training, and now he’s essentially been running injury free for more than half a decade.

If you’re a runner or triathlon at a long distance, you know how big of a deal that is. But today, Jason, we’re going to dive into a lot more details of getting to Kona in 2020, maybe you got injured this year, or maybe you just missed the cutoff, and you’re looking to have those dialing in that will help you get better results. But Jason, first and foremost, thank you so much for joining us yet again. Jason, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jason Fitzgerald:

It’s my pleasure, Menachem. I’m happy to be here.

Menachem Brodie:

Last time you were here, we talked for quite a bit, and you had some really interesting points. For those listeners who have not listened to that interview yet, I believe is Episode 15 or 16. Make sure you take a couple of minutes to scroll through, and also check out strengthrunning.com, which is Jason’s website. Now, Jason, today, I’m really interested to hear from you about the triathletes who have qualified for Kona, they’re fairly competitive. Maybe that’s not your goal, but getting to Kona is such an accomplishment. They may have qualified for 2019 here, but due to an injury or peaking too early, they’ve had to roll back their participation for 2020. Really interested to hear what’s your perspective on runners or triathletes who go through this? How would you look at adjusting the program to include strength training, or changing the running a little bit to help them be able to come next year full 365, or maybe even 400 days from now, coming in in real good strength health, and with good speed?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, well, that’s a big question, and I think we could take it in a lot of different directions. I think, really big picture, if we wanted to start at the 30,000 foot level and look down on the training, I think it’s really important to do strength training year round, but just make sure that we’re doing appropriate strength training, and we’re not doing the equivalent of really hard cycling are track workouts where the intensity is super high, and the recovery is necessarily a lot longer.

If you try to do that for most of the year, if you’re doing that once or twice a week in the gym, that can really prevent you from peaking at the right time, just like not periodizing your training appropriately. But like you said, I’m a big believer in strength training, not just for runners, but for triathletes as well. When we focus all of our time on endurance exercise, like swimming, running, biking, it leaves a lot of other fitness skills on the table. Things like power, things like bigger ranges of motion, and athleticism and coordination, all of which are developed by strength training.

We should keep it in our training most of the year, but we just have to be careful with the intensity level of it. That should wax and wane month to month, depending upon where you are in the training cycle, and how close your goal race is and all that. But generally speaking, strength training is always a good idea, it’s going to counteract a lot of the imbalances that you get from running, and especially cycling too, which these sports are fairly one dimensional, you’re doing the same motion over and over again, you’re not really changing directions. It’s very one dimensional sport, and both of them are.

I say that as a runner who moonlights as a cyclist. I love my road bike, and I’m actually planning on doing a fairly short mountain summit later this afternoon. But I also recognize that I have to do other things. So, it’s really important to work on your strength, to develop strength and muscle groups that you don’t use as much as a runner or a cyclist or even as a swimmer. So, it’s really important, we just need to make sure that it’s periodized appropriately.

Menachem Brodie:

Let’s dive into that a little bit more. You mentioned about the strength training, having the intensity in there as well for the tracks. I know that in our past interview, we talked about why lifting for “endurance and strength training” is not the best idea. Let’s go into that a little bit and talk about how to balance or what you should be doing more specifically with the strength training throughout the year, as opposed to lifting for low weight, high reps.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Sure. That’s exactly what lifting for endurance is, you have relatively low weight, and you do a lot of volume at that weight. You might do three or four sets of 15 or 20 repetitions. To do that kind of volume, just like running a lot, or cycling a lot, you have to keep the intensity low, or you have to keep the weight relatively low.

That is really not the kind of lifting that endurance cyclists or runners really need to be focusing on, simply because we get enough of an endurance stimulus when we’re out there riding or running. In the gym, we need to focus on strength and power. When you do get in the gym, there’s a couple of different things that you can focus on. You can lift in different ways to really prioritize different physical skills. You could lift for muscle growth or hypertrophy, and you could also lift for endurance, like we just talked about, you can also lift for strength and power, and I think that is really the sweet spot for runners.

Lifting for strength and power is almost like a hybrid between lifting for endurance and lifting for hypertrophy or muscle growth. We’re going to do a middle ground approach here, we’re going to do relatively moderate weight, and we’re also going to do not necessarily very low reps, but also not very high reps. We might stick to the sweet spot of four to eight, or maybe 10 repetitions, and the weight that we’re going to use is relatively heavy, but it needs to be a weight that’s challenging for four to 10 reps. It’s not going to be too late, and it’s also not going to be too heavy.

For us endurance athletes, we should give ourselves fairly long rest periods when we’re lifting in the gym, we want to make sure that A, we can get back on the next set and lift the weight that we need to lift. But also, we want to make sure that we’re recovering enough so that the next day, or maybe even later in the day, depending upon your workout schedule, if you go for a run or ride, you’re not going to be so tired or so fatigued or sore that you can’t even do the run or hit the necessary pace that you have to do. It’s this kind of sweet spot of lifting for strength, and really trying to focus on getting stronger, and being able to produce more power, more force production in the gym.

That’s how runners should be lifting in the gym for the most part. I mentioned earlier briefly about periodizing your lifting. If you think of a three to five month block of time, where you’re going to be lifting weights, this lifting for strength and power ideal that we’re talking about, it’ll wax and wane even through the training cycle. You might be doing less intense lifting at the very beginning, and it might be slightly lower weight, but higher repetitions, maybe you’re staying in that 10 reps per set range at the very beginning of your training cycle, but as you move closer towards your race, just like your workouts are going to change and evolve over time, so should your lifting.

As you get closer to your race, what’s going to happen is you’re going to start lifting heavier weight, but at the same time, you’re going to be lifting fewer repetitions. Then you can also start introducing some more power movements, things like Olympic lifts. Those include the snatch, the clean, the jerk and exercises like that.

If we can get into that sweet spot, and then if we can ease into it, and then really focus on power near the end of a training cycle, that is similar periodization to classic, linear periodization for running, but it’s for strength training, and it’s really going to help us build the necessary foundation at the beginning of the training cycle, and then get really strong and powerful at the end of the training cycle.

Menachem Brodie:

Now, I don’t know if you heard it or not, but I could hear the thuds of about 1,000 different listeners falling off their chair when you said heavier weight closer to your races. Can we dive into that a little bit more because most triathletes and runners and cyclists think, well, I’m getting closer to the race, I should do lighter weight, fewer repetitions, and just touch the weights a little bit. I’m with you 100%, but I’d like to hear from you and the listeners as well, why is lifting heavy closer to the races so important for them?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, first we should define what closer to the races mean. I don’t necessarily mean two days out from your goal race you should be lifting super heavy in the weight room. That’s a little aggressive. But what we should do is just like your workouts get faster as you get closer to your goal race, when you are within four weeks or so, roughly four weeks of your goal race, that’s the time to be doing what I’ll call peak lifting. You’re lifting maybe the heaviest weights that you’re doing, the movements that you’re performing in the weight room are those explosive Olympic lifts. It’s really periodized like that, because ultimately, the goal of this kind of lifting is force production, it’s being able to produce more force and more power when you are both running, and cycling.

We need to work on those skills when we are getting ready to test our maximum force production in a race. You don’t want to do this early on in the season, in the base training season, when you’re doing a lot of easy training, and you’re not in the gym lifting super heavy or doing these power movements. By doing it at the end of the training cycle, we’re coinciding our force production goals in the weight room with our force production goals on the racecourse, which is exactly what fast racing demands, is you producing a ton of power and force either into the pedal or into the ground.

Menachem Brodie:

A lot of triathletes and runners, it seems, are starting to open up their minds to the fact that Olympic lifting is important to them. But there are a lot of different adaptations or changes that will make to how we’re doing the movements, due to imbalances or the ability of an athlete to or not to do a movement, what would be two or three of the more common themes? Now, of course, everybody is different, and the correct answer is it depends, but what would be some common themes that you see as far as challenges for runners who are getting into, let’s say, the clean, and or the hang high clean, and how would you try and work on that, while allowing them to see progress, let’s say eight weeks out from a race, and at what point do you say, “Okay, you know what, the Olympic lifting is a great idea, but we’re going to do X instead, because the movement just isn’t clean enough yet for you to do that, to get what you need out of it?”

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, you’re certainly right that some runners are going to, or some athletes are definitely going to struggle with some of these movements, because they’re very different than most traditional weightlifting movements, and they’re probably not the type of lifting that most endurance athletes are used to doing. We’re used to body weight exercises, we have much more experience with some of the very basic movements, like squat and bench press, and things like that.

I think ultimately, you have to progress into these movements. Getting the foundation right first, and doing some of those more basic, simple movements, is going to be really important, and that’s going to give you the movement fluency and almost like the movement vocabulary to then transition to these more complex movements later in the training cycle.

Now, I have to admit, I’m not a strength coach, and I would not be the person to give really specific guidance on your lifting form, or cues or tools that you can use to improve your form. I can’t really speak to that. But I will say it is important and even more important than other exercises to have good form on these kinds of explosive lifts. Because, well, they’re explosive, and if you have really bad form, or if you’re being very aggressive in the weight room, and you’re trying to lift a ton of weight, and you’re trying to pop that bar up over your head, then the risk of injury is going to be a lot higher.

I think it’s very important to remember that the number one goal is not really to put up a lot of weight. I know I mentioned we’re lifting heavy weight at this time in the training cycle, but what’s even more important is training the movement itself, and that is going to really work on our neuro muscular development, the communication between our brain and our muscles, and it’s really going to help us build that coordination and the proprioception to be a very coordinated, graceful, athletic triathlete or runner.

It’s really important to get those movements in and do them consistently. But we don’t necessarily have to focus on super heavy weight, and I think that’s one of the hang ups that a lot of endurance athletes have is they get in the weight room, and they’re used to long rides or hard track workouts and putting in a lot of volume. They get in the weight room and they think their lifting workout also has to be hard, and a lot of times it’s really not, we’re working on the movement, we’re really practicing good form and technique with the bar.

You don’t have to lift a ton of weight to do that, you just have to be pretty reasonable with the weight that you’re lifting and progress intelligently over time, but it’s really about the movement itself, not about the weight, and that takes a lot of pressure off athletes. I think this is part of the psychological side of lifting for endurance runners or athletes, and it’s the fact that we don’t have to go so hard in the weight room. The lifting should really complement our other sports specific training. If it’s detracting from it, if we’re so sore or tired from it, that we can’t do our run or ride or swim, then it’s not really helping our triathlon training is it?

If you are having a really specific hang up on one of these lifts, one of the first things I would recommend is, let’s make sure that you can do the lift appropriately with just the bar, or even a PVC pipe or a broom handle, something that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it, so that there’s very little risk of injuring yourself, you can really practice the movement with just that very lightweight implement. Then the next thing, if you’re still having problems, and you just cannot get that lift right, then I would find a trainer or a strength coach who can really actually evaluate your form and see what specific issue might be there that’s causing you to miss the lift.

If it’s this recurring thing, you can’t do a snatch or a clean or whatever it might be, and you’re starting to hurt your shoulder or your elbow or something like that, then let’s just skip it, let’s do something else, let’s stick to more fundamental exercises, because at the end of the day, I would so much rather an athlete be 5% undertrained, but healthy on the starting line, than trying to do everything the way they think they should do it, but they end up getting injured or overtrained, and they potentially may never even line up on that starting line.

Menachem Brodie:

That’s pretty much what we’re talking to with this series is those who were pushing so hard, and that’s so much more prevalent in the triathlon community, especially Ironman and half Ironman, and as a coach myself, the vetting process, it’s very rare for me to actually take half Ironman or Ironman. I turn away, probably three or four dozen a year, because the mentality is just go harder, go harder, go harder, and you can hear through that interview, how much they’re willing to push and sacrifice, where they see that as being a necessity to get there.

Can you talk a little bit about how to understand or how to work on that periodization, if you’re self-coached, what would you look for as far as perceived effort in the gym, and how would you complement that with the out on the road or track training?

Jason Fitzgerald:

If we look at the beginning of a training cycle, where I think is a good time to build a foundation of strength, just like you’ll build a foundation of endurance in the base phase of your triathlon training, then, the intensity during that phase of training, when maybe you’re doing three sets of 10 reps, and you’re doing some basic exercises like the squat, the deadlift and a press, those kinds of exercises are very fundamental, they’re very basic, but that’s their huge benefit is that they are fundamental movements. That’s a push, a pull, and a press, those are your three big movements right there.

When you’re doing this kind of work in the gym, then the intensity should be relatively low, by the time you hit the final rep on the final set, it should be a struggle, and that’s really what the effort should feel like. But at the same time, you’re not maxing out with weight, you are doing a relatively high volume of lifting. Even if the final couple reps on the last set is a struggle, that means the first two sets probably weren’t that much of a struggle. So, it really hits home, this concept of you don’t have to be working so incredibly hard in the gym to get these kinds of great benefits.

Then, as you transition more to the competition phase of your training cycle, you start racing, maybe you’re about halfway through, here is where you can start introducing some of these power movements. You’re going to want to do relatively fewer reps, because we’re just learning the movement at this point, and you’re going to want to keep the weight relatively low. But then as you get closer to your goal race, that’s when you can start doing heavier power movements. Things like the snatch, or the power clean, things like that.

Generally speaking, the progression of intensity is very similar to cycling or running in a linear periodization model, in that it should start relatively easy with a higher volume of work, and then over time, get more difficult with a lower volume of work, but it’s going to be heavier weight. Then the Olympic movements do add a bit more complexity into the training. Just like you might do more complex, not necessarily harder, but just more complex workouts when you are in peak training, you’re going to do the same with your lifting too.

Menachem Brodie:

I’m hearing a lot of technique, practicing the movements. Now, one of the things… I know, the little bit that I do run is I was ingrained very early in my running career personally, and the others that I was with is that it’s all about technique. Every session, every time we stepped out the door, we spent at least 10 minutes going through technique work, and that’s where the rubber meets the road, no pun intended. How do you feel about adding in technique work for running? Do you do some basic leaps and bounds or track and field work at the beginning of every run to help transition the strength and the force production, and the joint positions you’re learning in the weight room, or do you build that in as far as periodization, here’s one block or five weeks where you’re going to do X, and then we’re going to just run. How does that work into the overall program?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. What we’re doing in our running training should really help us express all the strength and new fitness skills that we’re learning in the weight room. There’s a bunch of things that we can do, and part of it is running, and part of it is other activities that we do. I’ll start with the other activities. One of the best things that runners can do regularly are technique or form drills. These are things like A skip, B skip, high knees, Carioca, there’s merely unlimited number of drills that you can Google and find, and they’re really good for reinforcing proper form, reinforcing good positions of your joints, and helping you develop good mechanics.

So, really efficient mechanics, proper foot placement when it hits the ground, all those things. When you get really strong in the gym, and when you really work on your force, how much force you can produce, then having good form allows you to produce even more force when you’re running, because that force that you are producing isn’t going to be wasted. So, you’re going to be much more efficient with using that force. The other thing that we can do is plyometrics. You mentioned bounding, and that’s really helpful for runners.

I’ve traditionally been very hesitant to prescribe the plyometrics to my athletes, just because as a virtual coach, I’m not there working with them, and it’s very… I’m just much more conservative about those kinds of things, because the injury risk with plyometrics is fairly high because they’re very explosive, you have to keep the volume of them fairly low, and you have to have really good technique. So, if you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re doing a bunch of plyometrics, you’re not warmed up properly, and your form might be a little bit off, especially if you’re doing a lot of them and you start getting tired, then the risk of injury is going to be pretty high.

Menachem Brodie:

Let’s dive into that.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, plyometrics are challenging. They’re typically some type of jump exercise, whether you’re jumping up onto a box, jumping down from a box, doing single leg bounds, double leg bounds, there’s a lot of different plyos but as endurance athletes, we’re going to be a little tired all the time, that’s the life of an endurance athlete.

If we are bringing fatigue into a workout, we have to make sure that our form is good. With plyometrics, I generally don’t like to tell the average runner, “Hey, go do a bunch of plyometrics.” We have plyometrics, very sparingly, but strategically added to our flagship lifting program, and it really helps runners with the ability to absorb and then release the impact forces from running. A lot of the forward momentum you get as a runner, as you’re running along, is through the stretch shortening reflex, and it’s through a lot of stored energy, particularly in the Achilles tendon.

You can imagine that, your legs are basically like springs, and they’re essentially pogo sticks, and you are just springing along on the ground. What plyometrics do is they help your springs, your muscles and tendons and all those connective tissues store and release more energy. So, they become much more efficient at that. It’s really great, it’s one of the greatest things that runners can do besides running a lot, and we just have to be a little bit more cautious with it because the injury risk is high, and make sure that we’re only doing it for maybe half of the training cycle, and we’re not doing a lot of plyometrics because plyos are like Elmer’s Glue, a dab will do you.

Menachem Brodie:

But so many runners and triathletes are like, “I can’t do strength training, it’s too dangerous. I might hurt myself or get too bulky.” Then they go out, and they’ll full 40, 50, 60 minute session of just jumps and bounds and all this other stuff, and that’s one of the things that I’ve seen, and I’m not pointing fingers, I’m pointing all five fingers, instead of one, this is one of those things that every single Iron Man triathlete that I’ve spoken to has gotten injured, has gone through and said, “I can’t do strength training, but I do about 25 minutes of plyometrics, real plyometrics, three days a week.”

Why is there such a disconnect, in your opinion, is it because they look easy or you’re not adding external force? What is it that leads runners and triathletes to go, “Oh, plyometrics? Yeah, I can do them? That’s no problem.”

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think a lot of endurance athletes just don’t like spending time in the weight room. Believe it or not, you can put me in that category, too. I’d much rather be on my bike or out for a run than lifting weights in the gym. But I know that lifting weights in the gym enables me to continue to train at high level. A thing like strength training, I think is one of those building block types of exercises that builds your house. It is a fundamental building block of your fitness, and of your capabilities as an athlete.

Plyometrics, on the other hand, they’re like the curtains that you put in the window, if you don’t have a good foundation, you really can’t be putting curtains up because the wall is about to fall down. That’s a nice way to put it, because they are really like the icing on the cake, they’re the finishing touches of your fitness, and they really just help you with a little bit extra efficiency, and being a little bit more… They help your legs act like more of a spring.

But the strength training, it gives you much more benefits. Not only are you going to get better body composition, but it will improve your running economy or your efficiency and your force production. The benefits of strength training, I think are far superior to plyometrics, and a lot of the hang ups that endurance athletes have about strength training simply aren’t true.

This whole, I’m going to bulk up misconception is completely false. On one hand, you may put on one, two, three pounds of muscle while losing one, two, three pounds of body fat. In that way, it’s going to improve your body composition. But if you are doing any kind of volume, and as a half Ironman triathlete, or even as someone, if you’re only running 20, 30 miles a week, you’re still going to have a really hard time putting on weight.

I don’t know, if I told you this funny story the last time we were talking, but I have a couple of friends who are power lifters, they’re very different from me. I’m your 130 pound, typical looking marathon guy. These are really strong people, they’re trying to get big, they’re really going for hypertrophy. I told them this hang up that runners have, they’re afraid to get in the weight room, because they don’t want to put on too much muscle, they don’t want to bulk up and get too big for running, and they’re just cracking up laughing.

They told me, “Jason, this would be like me saying, I don’t want to do a couple of 30 minute runs per week, because I don’t want to run a sub five minute mile. I don’t want to be able to do that, I’m scared to do that.” It’s just funny, it takes so much work to put on muscle from lifting, not only do you have to lift for hypertrophy, which we’re not doing as endurance athletes, but then on top of that, you need to be consuming an enormous number of high quality calories to put on that weight.

Runners typically aren’t eating that crazy amount of food, and even if we are eating a lot, which is very common, especially among Ironman athletes, we’re exercising too much. These power lifters who are putting on a ton of weight are not doing any aerobic exercise. They are not running, cycling, swimming. Maybe some of them are going for a two mile run once or twice a week, just for general cardio benefits, but for an endurance athlete to think that they’re going to put on even five pounds of weight, they have to be the 0.1% of the population that is an extreme, high responder to weightlifting. For most of us, it simply isn’t going to happen.

Menachem Brodie:

That brings a really good point of its tissue qualities that takes years to build up, and this is where so many of the Ironman triathletes who are getting injured, who do strength training say, “But I strength train.” Well, let’s talk about how long did you do it for? “Oh, I did it in my base and then I stopped or I did one or two exercises.” It’s one of those things that, I guess, maybe we haven’t made the connection because so many people or the media make it sound so easy to get really strong or get really cut or really lean. In general, it really is easy. It’s nutrition and hormonal balance from managing your stress and sleeping well, but it’s also doing the small things consistently.

If you’re out training for an Ironman, like you said, that example of going out for a 30 minute run three times a week and expecting to run a sub five minute, that’s a great example where it’s allowing people to understand like, yeah, you can go and lift, but you’re not going to automatically turn over and have glistening shoulders the size of football pads, but there’s still that disconnect of the tissue quality that we build in the weight room needs to be transferred over to sport. But you also need to build some hypertrophy.

What would you say to the athletes out there who are like, “Okay, Jason, you make sense. I get it. You got me. Okay, I want to go strength train. I need to add on a little bit of technique work, I’ll cut back on the plyometrics, but I’m just not really sold that I need to add those heavyweights yet.”

Jason Fitzgerald:

It’s a great question. I think the more and more I learn about weightlifting, the more and more I think it is so similar to running and cycling, because if you’re a runner or cyclist, you understand that you can’t spend two months training for a race and then expect to have a great race, because two months is just not a long time to build endurance, or the race specific skills to really excel, and weightlifting is the same exact thing. We are not going to get incredibly strong, with only two months of weightlifting.

Much like running, much like cycling, of building that endurance base over years. The great marathoners you see out there, they have been running for a very long time, and they have been running a lot for a very long time. If we want to get strong and, I think improve tissue quality, which is a great way to describe durable, tough connective tissues and joints that are very impervious to overuse injuries, and the type of repetitive stress injuries that afflict cyclists and runners, then, we need to strength train regularly for a long time.

For the person who’s unsure about the heavy weightlifting, then, it all comes back down to the question, well, why are we lifting? Why are we in the gym lifting weights regularly? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. Number one is injury prevention. If we go back to this idea of a more periodized strength schedule, then the early phases of that training program are going to be more focused on injury prevention. You’re not doing the explosive lifts, you’re not doing the more heavy weightlifting, and you’re doing a little bit more volume of it.

In that regard, you’re you’re building your foundation, you’re building some strength, and really, you’re focusing on injury prevention. Now, that’s great, and that will make you a better athlete, not only because you’re going to get hurt less frequently, but you might improve your body composition, and you are going to get stronger, no doubt about it.

But if we really want to optimize our weightlifting for performance, so now it’s a slightly different goal. Now, it’s not just preventing injury and getting stronger, which are valuable goals. But, they’re like secondary goals. I think every athlete, they want to improve their performances, and get faster. So, if we want to do that, now, the goal of weightlifting becomes force production, how do you produce more force? How do you hit the ground when you’re running really hard, so that when you bounce off that ground, you are returning with a lot of energy, and you’re increasing your stride length, and you’re running a lot faster? How do we do that? Well, the answer to that is heavier weights.

Now, like I said, we don’t have to be maxing out. In fact, I don’t even think we have a 16 week weightlifting course, and I don’t think we actually hit a one rep max in the entire course at all. That just goes to show that… It’s almost like going through a training cycle and never running as hard as you can. It’s almost true that you have to do that sparingly. As endurance athletes, we have to be even more conservative about when we’re going to the well in the weight room.

I think heavy lifting is necessary if we really want to optimize our performances and get the most out of ourselves on race day. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be in the gym lifting heavy, very frequently or doing a lot of one rep max kind of work. We don’t have to do that. We can be a little bit more judicious with how we’re lifting and how much weight we’re putting up, but I think some heavy weightlifting is necessary if we really want to optimize our race performances.

Menachem Brodie:

As an aside, one of the interesting things, you had mentioned power lifters before, one of the greatest, if not the greatest power lifter of modern history is Ed Coan. Ed talks about how he never did one RMs in his training, never. He would take it up to I think 90%, 95%. I think 90%, if I’m not mistaken in training, and he stayed injury free. He says, “That was my secret to being able to set so many records is I never got injured. I never pulled a weight that I didn’t know that I could do that day, and I didn’t test myself when it didn’t matter.”

The test was the competitions, and that’s when I would push. I already had a feeling for what I would be able to do. A lot of triathletes as a whole really like to push and feel. Like you mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t be crawling out of the weight room, it should be the last one or two from the last that you struggle a little bit, coming in 5% undertrained as opposed to overtrained. But you also mentioned here the stride, let’s dive into that a little bit more, because there are quite a few Iron Man in particular triathletes out there who get injured trying to “fix their stride”, and they start to really over stride, or they shorten their stride so much, because they hear a high cadence is better for running as well. What would be one or two drills or tips that you would have for the listeners to understand how do they find a better stride length, and cadence to help them be able to pick up a little bit of that “free speed” as they’ve made their bodies stronger?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Another great question. I think this speaks to running form and good technique. My thinking on this has changed a lot over the years. I now no longer think runners should really be out there actively trying to change their form when they’re running. There’s certainly some cues that runners can use to help make better form decisions when they’re out running and to reinforce efficient running technique. But the best way to develop good technique as a runner is to do good training.

If you are weightlifting in the gym, if you are running some faster workouts, maybe one, maybe two per week, if you’re doing strides, or those are accelerations where you maybe get up to 95%, 98% of max speed, but you only do it for a couple of seconds, you coast to a stop. They’re fast, but they’re relatively easy. You could also substitute hill sprints for those strides once a week.

If you are doing things like form drills that we talked about early and then cautiously doing some plyometrics at the right time, those are really great ways to build good running form into your training, without actually trying to do it. You are an economical, fast, efficient runner, because of the training that you do. That, I think is the number one thing about form that not just runners, but triathletes too should have in their head that, I don’t need to tinker with it so much while I’m out running, I really just need to do the good training so that my body is capable of this really efficient running form.

Now, with that said, I have some rules of thumb for cadence, because I think cadence is one of those things about your form that if you get cadence right, it takes care of a lot of other potential problems that you might have with your form. If you’re a runner who, on an easy day, if you’re just running comfortably, conversationally, if your easy pace is slower than 10 minutes per mile, then you’re going to want your cadence to be about 160 to 170 steps per minute, and I think maybe slightly on the higher end of that is more ideal, and this just gives you a faster cadence, you’re not putting as much force and impact with each stride up through your legs, and it’s more economical.

Now, if you’re someone who’s running faster than 10 minute pace on your easy days, let’s try to be over 170 steps per minute. Again, this is just going to reduce a lot of the impact forces on your legs, and it’s just more efficient. If you get the cadence right, if you just have good cadence, you’re not running with 200 steps a minute, at 10 minute pace, or on the other end of the spectrum, you’re not running with 145 steps a minute, then you’re just going to be better off. Your injury rate is going to be lower, and you’re going to have much better form.

Cadence is something that I think a lot of runners in particular have heard about the magic number of 180 steps a minute, but it is dependent upon your speed or how fast you’re going. If you’re running a workout or a race and you’re running much faster than your easy pace, cadence doesn’t really matter at that point. Let’s focus on it when we’re running easy, and then it’ll increase dramatically the faster that we run because it is a function of our speed.

Menachem Brodie:

Let’s dive a tiny bit more into that with cadence, because you brought up quite a few really great points, and this is something I haven’t seen a lot. The only book that comes to mind that I read about it, even for five sentences was in Jack Daniel’s Running Formula book, and that is matching your breathing to your foot strikes. The ones that I tend to coach is two foot strikes in for a breath in, one foot strike out for breath out. Do you coach that at all to help produce the intra abdominal pressure to allow the runner to move better with that, instead of focusing on cadence, or is that something that you leave alone?

Jason Fitzgerald:

That’s something I leave alone. It’s interesting, in my running career, as a runner, not as a coach, I’ve had about 11 or 12 coaches myself. It’s interesting that none of them coached breathing whatsoever. Is at the high school level and the college level no one coached breathing. I don’t think it’s one of those things we should really be actively trying to change or improve. Breathing should be automatic, and there’s a reason why we don’t have to actually think about every breath we take, just like we don’t have to think about our heart rate. Although it’d be great to lower it sometimes as endurance athletes.

But the breathing that we’re doing is just a reflection of our effort. Much like our stride, it should become somewhat automatic, and that only happens when you have a lot of experience. You have experience exercising a lot, you have experience doing different kinds of workouts that are at different intensities, and thus will have different heart rates and breathing patterns, and really knowing how to breathe appropriately during those kinds of workouts, during a long run, during different types of races, you breathe very differently in a 200 meter sprint than you do in a marathon.

Just getting experience running those races, I think, is one of the best ways to figure out how to breathe appropriately. The best thing is, you don’t actually really need to figure it out, your body just does it by itself naturally over time. It’s not really something that I coach. I think it’s very telling that in a lot of the major, popular running books by the big coaches out there, they don’t really talk about it either, because I think it is one of those things that should take care of itself and be mostly automatic.

Now, with that said, I think if you’re someone who gets chronic side stitches when you run, then it might be beneficial to play with your breathing a little bit, and to try to do that two to one breath to stride ratio that you mentioned, and really try to figure out a breathing pattern that will prevent some of those side stitches.

We don’t actually know the exact cause of side stitches, but a lot of runners have said that they find relief by changing their breathing pattern. It can have some more specific applications, but if you’re not someone who suffers from side stitches, then I would say, just run a lot of races, do some good training, and over time your breathing will sort itself out.

Menachem Brodie:

It’s really interesting, because I’ve been looking at pelvic commutation and trying to figure out, for individuals who have side stitches or chronic hip pain on one side, and it seems that the breathing work that we do in the warm ups, when we add those to the running and make them a little bit conscious out on the run of keeping their arms relaxed, and focusing on that breathing with the stride rate seems to really help find that natural cadence between usually 165, 175 is the number that’s trending the last couple of months. It’s interesting to hear that that’s not something to really focus on, but instead it’s trying the races, trying the efforts and finding what feels comfortable for each individual.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah. You said something interesting, you said talking about improving the breathing and how runners feel. You talked about the cadence, and you talked about relaxing the shoulders and not carrying a lot of tension up there. Those are things that you can actually work on, that may then improve any side stitches that you may be getting.

Some runners, I think you’re just more susceptible to them.  I will say that, I think, beginner athletes are probably more susceptible to the side stitches, because… I think the general consensus right now is it’s basically a muscle cramp of the diaphragm, and that really happens when either the diaphragm is weaker, you’re not using it, breathing really hard regularly, or you’re new to running, and all of a sudden, just even running an easy pace is all of a sudden, you’re breathing a lot heavier than usual and you get a side stitch because of that.

It’s certainly something that afflicts beginner or runners who are just coming back to running after a long period of time off, more than more advanced or experienced runners. But working on the other things, the things like good form, things like optimal cadence, not carrying tension in your shoulders and staying relaxed when you’re out there running.

I know I mentioned cadence, if you get it right, really takes care of a lot of other problems with your form. It can reduce that really heavy heel strike that is just that heel smashing variety of heel striking, it can reduce that, and you’re not going to be over striding as much and reaching out in front of you with your leg, you’re going to be landing more underneath your body and underneath your hips and center of mass where you should be landing. It’s one of those things to work on with your form that then solves a bunch of other problems. I love it, it’s one of the very effective form changes to make.

Menachem Brodie:

I think a lot of the beginner runners and those coming back, the reason they get that is because of how tied into the whole body. You have the psoas runs through the diaphragm. If anybody out there has learned from Dr. McGill, there’s actually a psoas release that you do where you’re in a lunge reach position, if you’re familiar with that, and you do a [inaudible 00:51:36]

He has a video of 40 American football players doing this out on a field, and it’s kind of scary if you think about it. But it’s so tied into everything that we do, and that’s where the strength training, it’s not the strength of the muscles that we’re after, it’s the joint position and getting things into better positions; how you carry your head, where your shoulders are, how your shoulder blade, your scapula is able to move on the rib cage, as you’re running, when you’re getting off the bike for Ironman in particular is a huge impediment for performance because you’re so crunched up or you’re in a super aggressive time trial position.

It’s like sitting and working at your desk on the laptop and getting hunched over because you’re trying to get something done for four hours, and then expecting to go out and run a 545 [inaudible 00:52:28] repeats, and then magically you wind up hurting your knee. Well, was it because of lack of strength? Was it because of positioning? A little bit of everything. But what I’m getting at is more the strength training ties in with the breathing, which ties in with the technique, and as you’re talking about with the cadence and finding that magic mix, there’s a lot of pieces to it that people… It’s simple, but it’s not, you have to have a lot of moving pieces tied together, and you had mentioned rest periods. There’s all these different things that have to tie together.

What would you say are the top three things that the listeners that are looking at Kona for 2020, maybe they had an injury or maybe they just missed the time cutoff, what would be the top two or three things that as they put together their annual training plan and their training cycles, they should look at from everything we talked about today to help them focus in and find that best performance for them by adding strength training year round?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, that is probably one of the big ideas is to strength train year round, and to make sure that it’s appropriate for you, that it’s not super challenging and intense, and with really heavy lifts. I hope one of the things that we’ve learned today is that the movements really matter, not necessarily how much weight you’re lifting.

You just mentioned, and I think this was such a great way of describing it, you’re talking about if a runner gets hurt, or if a runner has a problem when they’re out running a workout, is it because they’re not strong enough or because they’re not in the right position? I always think about positions because if you can do a squat and a deadlift and a press and maybe some more advanced exercises, and you’re proficient with some more easy body weight exercises, and then you also do some drills and you practice running really fast sometimes, with strides or hill sprints, this is increasing your movement vocabulary.

What that does is it makes you into a more holistic, well-rounded athlete that… It’s almost like insurance, if you go out and you run or ride your bike for longer than you probably should, then the strength and the movement fluency that you’ve gained through lifting and all the other activities that you’re doing like drills or plyos, that’s going to allow you to make some poor decisions like that and not get injured.

It’s like an insurance policy against injury. Things like you run a workout and you realize, at the end of the day, you ran it too fast. You were feeling a little aggressive, you were feeling good, and you were way beyond your training paces. Now, if you weren’t doing any kind of lifting, you might get hurt a couple of days later if you go for a long run or something like that, you might get an overuse injury, and the strength training allows you to not only complete that workout and maybe complete it with slightly better form, so your form isn’t deteriorating so much when you’re very tired at the end of a repetition, and that may prevent the injury or you’re just strong enough to withstand the extra stress of running too fast.

The inclusion of strength training year round for injury prevention reasons, for enhanced performance reasons, is just a no brainer, in my mind. I think it’s one of those things that separates the average athlete, adult triathlete or runner who’s putting down decent times, and then that athlete who’s really competitive, and they’re able to train with much more consistency, their longevity in the sport is a lot better, the strength training is really going to extend your time in the sport.

For anyone who really likes to run or to do triathlons, that’s worth the price of admission right there. Let’s do the strength training, so that we can keep riding and running and swimming. Then, thinking long term just about the annual triathlete plan, one of the things that you can do is really periodize it appropriately so that you’re not spending the entire year training for one Ironman to then qualify for Kona, or if you already have that qualification, maybe you only put one or two races on the calendar.

I like to see athletes with a lot of races. Of course, you can’t do a lot of Ironman triathlons, but you can do shorter triathlons and working on your speed, getting experience with shorter distances, I think is not just more fun, so it’s going to keep you more motivated, and increase your drive to train, but you’re also going to be doing different workouts and shorter races. You’re going to be working on slightly different physical skills, and I think that’s important for your long term development as an athlete.

Then, as you go closer and closer to that Iron Man triathlon, you’re bringing more speed to the table. If you can run or ride personal bests in shorter distances, and then start doing Ironman training on top of that, you’re going to be a better athlete, and a much faster triathlete.

Menachem Brodie:

Love it. There’s so much more, you opened up a couple other things, that we’ll have to have you back again. There’s a recurring theme here every time we talk, but I think for today, we’ll leave it there. I have a couple of other questions written down here that we can go for another hour with these, and I know you have the Mountain Summit this afternoon to get to. Let’s bring it to close for today. But can you let the listeners know where they can find you and your awesome resources that you have?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Oh, thanks. My home base is strengthrunning.com. That’s where we have our videos, we do regular training videos, and also on YouTube, in the Strength Training Podcast is there right on the website, too. If folks are really interested in strength training, and they want to learn more about periodized strength training and learn more details about the specifics of force production, and the real benefits that you’re going to get with some serious weightlifting in the gym, strengthrunning.com/strength is a good place to start.

Menachem Brodie:

Awesome. Jason, thank you so much for your time and the great information today, and we’re looking forward to having you back in the near future.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Oh, this was my pleasure. It’s always fun to talk with you, Menachem.

Speaker 1:

That’s it for this episode of The Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast with world leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes, Menachem Brodie. Don’t miss an episode, hit that subscribe button and give us a review. For more exclusive content, visit humanvortextraining.com or get the latest expert videos from Coach Brodie on the HVT YouTube channel at HV Training. Until next time, remember to train smarter, not harder because it is all about you.

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Menachem Brodie

Menachem Brodie

Coaching since 2000, Menachem Brodie has been working with athletes in a number of settings, and a broad variety of sports.

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