Many masters athletes turn to strength training to help boost their performances, but many miss this major sign of improvement, as it's not what they WANT to see.
Over the last nearly 15 years, I’ve helped dozens of masters athlete get out of pain and return to the sport they love. However there is a strong theme that runs across the board for all of these athletes and clients, which many don’t expect, and some don’t understand:
When rebuilding yourself as an endurance athlete, or putting the focus on your major strength & posture issues, maintaining your current performances is a huge win.
Unfortunately, as endurance athletes, we’ve come to EXPECT growth in our power numbers and run times as a given, so long as we’re following a structured training plan that fits out goal race/ride/event.
With a surge in interest in strength training for cyclists and triathletes, these expectations have come to what I would consider unhealthy levels of expectations.
If I just lift some weights, and follow a training plan, I’ll get faster!
Has become a prevalent thought, leading many to push their bodies to, and past, their limits, which leads to forced time off and looking for someone who can help get them back on track.
This is where the bigger challenge begins.
Helping masters athletes understand that in many of these cases, simply maintaining your performances, is a HUGE task, and something to celebrate!
"But I'm not getting FASTER!"
Back in 2007 when I began coaching, preaching, and teaching strength training for cyclists and triathletes, it was a super hard sell:
- I don’t have time
- It will make me slow
- It’s only for winter/base
- I’ll get bulky
- Chuck Norris will want to fight me for my bike
And many more poor excuses were heard.
But those who were injured, and very much wanted to get back to training and racing were much more open and willing to give it a shot.
These individuals tended to be a bit more patient (for the most part) in the return to full training. It was here that strength training for cycling & triathlon began to take hold, as these individuals came back from their injuries, stronger, feeling better, and able to put in more quality training horus.
This is NOT the group we are talking about in today’s post.
Today we’re talking about those masters athletes and age groupers who have either been training for a long period of time and who have recently experienced a little pain or loss of range of motion keep them from being able to train as they traditionally have…
No matter how many different training approaches they’ve tried:
- Polarized training
- Uncle Rico’s High School Training Regimen
- and Fred the Riding Buddy’s approach
have all left them with staleness in their progression, possibly even more pain, and looking for ways to get it taken care of once and for all.
These are the triathletes, runners, and cyclists whom we’re talking about today.
Usually these folks seek out a strength coach, physical therapist, or manual therapist, as they’ve realized that they need a bit more “work” than their younger friends.
From hamstring inflammation and IT band issues, to back pain or poor posture, there’s something that they realize they can’t take an “off the shelf” program to get the results they want.
There’s this expectation to “fix them”, and send them on their merry way, down the yellow brick road, to the land of podium finishes, or regaining/retaining/taking the crown of “the fast lady” or “fast guy” in the group.
Yes, they are generally patient with the process.
Yes, they do the work.
Yes, they begin to move and feel better.
Despite making huge strides forward in rebalancing their bodies, and gaining better postures, positions, and movement patterns, while they move better on the run/bike/swim, and the no longer have pain….The complaint almost always comes:
But I’m not getting FASTER!
I know I can now swim 3,500m without pain, ride my bike for 3 hours without my arm going numb, hit the gravel trails without getting back pain/knee pain, but I’m not getting faster!
Undoing YEARS of poor habits
Perhaps it’s the modern day instant gratification we encounter in everyday life, or just the unrealistic expectations most endurance athletes have grown into, but this conversation undoubtedly happens.
Those of you reading who are Physical Therapists, and Strength Coaches working with masters athletes are sitting there nodding your heads “yes”, or rolled your eyes as you think about the current client you’re helping through this exact issue.
What many of us as masters athletes miss, or forget, is that we have EARNED the body, and the accompanying issues we have, through our YEARS of riding, running, swimming, and poor sitting postures in front of the computer. Together with our putting off the stuff we “Know we should be doing, but just can’t bring ourselves to do”, has led out muscles, joints, and breathing patterns to become what they are today.
- Ligaments that have become lax, and can no longer work to hold the bones in place as intended
- Muscles which have become tight and “shut down” changing the dynamics at that joint (and adjacent joints)
- Uneven wearing of cartilage at the joints
- Muscles doing jobs they weren’t designed to do, due to changes in posture
- and more
Some of these changes may be worked around, and dealt with, while others will need to be taken into account and a personalized strategy and approach developed that will help you stay healthy, active, and pain free for the coming years.
Yet these changes have happened over long periods of time, and cannot be undone with a few months of strength training, or a few sessions of physical therapy.
THESE changes are what many masters athletes miss in their self assessment, and equating “Pain free most/all days” to mean that their progress should pick right back up.
Maintaining your performances is a HUGE win
While some injuries or issues may mean that we need to see a temporary DECREASE in your performances- as we need to take the stress and strain off of the body and local tissues, other times the issues being addressed need an intelligently designed strength training/ strength training + in-sport training program, which will help the individual train or re-train the movements, muscles, postures, and breathing patterns, to help support better function and performance.
However, this time is a HARD time for the body, as its spent however many months/years/decades adapting to the demands you’ve been placing on it. It’s simply done what you’ve asked of it:
As fast or hard as it can, with what it has, at that time, in those circumstances, and with the strengths, weaknesses, and imbalances present.
This is where the art of coaching takes the drivers seat, as maintaining your performances while reteaching or rebalancing the body to function and move better, is a highly individualized endeavor.
Progress does not always mean “performance improvement”, as in more watts or speed.
In these cases it often means an increase in your ability to be CONSISTENT in your training, as “missed” workouts become fewer and fewer, as do the aches and pains along the way, leaving you to be able to maintain your power or speed outputs, while putting in more miles and longer workouts.
It’s not easy being an endurance athlete, as your time, energy, and focus can be pulled in many different directions. However, when you’re working to undo the bad habits, postures, and adaptations that have led you to pain, discomfort, or a stall in your “progress” as an athlete, it’s important to keep in mind that:
- This is going to take more than a few weeks, and more often than not, more than a single season.
- Maintaining your performances as they are is a HUGE win.
- Not seeing your power or speed numbers go up is NOT an indicator that your training is ineffective. These are just TWO of many ways to measure progress.
- Not having pain constantly, or less frequently is also a sign of progress.
- Waking up with less frequent or strong pain is a good indicator you’re on the right path.
- Fight the urge to go out and “just want to see what I can do” before you’re out of the woods. Patience will rewards you with faster progress towards full-on training, but you need to play it cool.
What about you?
Are you working through the obstacles mentioned above?
Share your experience with us in the comments down below!
If you’d like to learn more about Strength Training for Cycling Performance, pick up a copy of my first book “The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling”.
As always, Train Smarter, Not Harder, because it IS all about YOU!