Strength has long been the “catch-all” bucket for a lot of different training styles and concepts, especially to endurance athletes. If you dig around you’ll basically find everything from calf raises, to pilates core work, to running hill repeats, "over-gearing" work, or squats. To simplify, at the end of the day we are looking to make great movers through space and for lengths of time. When all the right elements are trained well, the natural byproduct will simply be getting faster--and that’s a nice side effect.
Movement training is very layered and progressive; one that should be followed in a specific order. That doesn’t mean you should (or ever will for that matter) seek flawless perfection in any single layer, that’s not possible given our daily lives. What it does mean is that you should never just skip ahead without addressing the initial items, something I have noticed from athletes a lot over my years of coaching. Going through the proper progression keeps you healthy and safe for season after season, and it can eventually enhance your overall performance, allowing you to perform BETTER!
Here are the 5 Biomotor Abilities in order (from most fundamental to most advanced) that you can train to help you become a better Athletic Mover:
- Mobility and Stability
The most fundamental, but likely the most important and most overlooked piece of movement training, especially for triathletes. This comes down to the basic yin and yang of posture and ensuring that each joint is allowed to work as intended.
Some joints need more stability (knee, lumbar spine, shoulder) and some need more mobility (ankle, hip, thoracic spine) as we train. It’s important we keep these pieces in order otherwise the body will start to compensate and figure out movements that might not be healthy in the long run.
In short: You can’t be mobile without also being stable, and you can’t produce force or power without both of those items!
- Balance and Coordination
I’ll say this very plainly, you can’t be an athlete without balance and coordination. This is not just standing on one foot and patting your head, this is learning to comfortably transfer body weight and momentum while you move. It is also coordinating muscle groups and movement patterns to happen in the correct sequence. For example, balance and coordination happen when an athlete touches the ground on one foot, the glute engages, it pulls the leg straight backward, and then the calf finishes off the “crack of the whip” to propel the athlete forward while running.
In short: Balance and coordination allow more muscles to propel you in the direction you want to go while minimizing energy loss or erratic, useless movements. It makes you smooth and economical.
- Strength and Strength-Endurance
Finally, we actually have arrived at strength training! But it’s important that we don’t skip or forget these first 2 concepts even as we start to load up the body. Strength is the ability of our bodies to accept the load and produce force. This is where weight lifting truly starts to fit in.
You will also hear a lot about Strength-Endurance, which is simply our bodies’ ability to find that muscular force production and make it last just a bit longer. This is where we can actually fit in specific movement patterns in our sport like over-gearing on the bike, hill running, or even paddles in the swim.
In short: Strength as an ability is here to help you maintain posture in sport and in life, improve body composition, and be the platform to move quicker, faster, and for longer distances.
- Power and Power-Endurance
Here we are, the big sexy words. What’s very important to grasp here is that if you are newer to the concepts we have already discussed, then you simply may not make it this far in a single year, and that is nothing to be ashamed of! In fact, I would commend an athlete who truly focused on the first 3 abilities in a season with the mindset that next season we can get to more power training. That’s a true athletic plan.
Power takes the first 3 abilities and combines them to make an object move far and fast. Power-Endurance is then the ability to repeat those types of efforts. If you can become a more powerful swimmer then we expect you can handle more at faster paces in sessions which will of course translate to more fitness and quicker times over the course of a year.
In short: Power is work divided by time, so the faster you move it, the higher the power. Power training is a great concept to include in an endurance athletes program because it can truly help raise the ceiling of how you can train during the phase-specific phases of the year.
- Speed, Pace, and Tempo
Funny, it’s the first thing people cite when they want to start training, but the last concept we truly get to if we go about movement training the correct way. But if you’re willing to be patient and if you do it right then you’ll be able to do it season upon season.
If you can produce a lot of power over time without losing much energy, then you will move faster. Speed is truly learning to take all of these concepts and apply them all at once. Seems hard right? Well, it’s a long journey and the more time you spend doing the small things then the more sense these types of workouts will make. Some fun examples of speed training workouts would be running 1-mile repeats, swimming 400s, or biking 10 minutes at threshold. As we see, “strength training” sure can mean a lot of things.In short: Speed is the reward you can receive from blending all of these abilities and training concepts together. But it’s not automatic, it takes time and repetition. One thing that can really reduce speed is moving with lots of stress or tension in your body and that comes often from a lack of confidence. Consistency will breed confidence, confidence will breed great movements, and great movements will give you speed, then… speed will give you PR’s, Podiums, and all the prizes you’ll ever need, real or virtual.