Purple Patch Functional Strength Guide November 23, 2021 13:05 Updated Follow Not signed in? Log into your Purple Patch account for full access to your education program for coaches and athletes. You need to sign in to view this page. Table of Contents (Click The Link To Jump To A Section) Part 1: Understanding Functional Strength Introduction: 10,000 Foot View Part 2: The Functional Strength Season Elements & Progression Part 3: Rumors, Objections & Obstacles The Science You Don't Have To Be Big To Be Strong You Don't Have To Get Strong To Improve The "Right" Amount Why Isn't Everyone Doing It? Overcoming Obstacles Part 1: Understanding Functional Strength A 10,000 Foot View Functional strength is a very popular topic these days. In fact, it is rare to look at a magazine or website targeted at endurance athletes (Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Lava, etc) without seeing content that falls under the banner of core exercises. Many of these publications have regular articles on the topic, yet confusion persists in the endurance sports community about how to properly execute a functional strength program. This guide will provide the background information necessary to understand what we at purplepatch mean by functional strength, what a smart functional strength program looks like, and some specific guidance on actions you can take. A functional strength program is not simply heading off to the gym to lift heavy weights, joining a Pilates class once or twice a week, or doing 100's of crunches to get a strong abdomen. The purplepatch functional strength program targets a combination of mobility, stability, and strength to improve the movements necessary for sport specific performance gains. The benefits of a properly designed functional strength program can unlock your potential to improve as an athlete and include: Improved movement synchronization & coordination Improved biomechanics & form Improved athleticism Enhanced injury prevention That list should wow you - improvement in those four area's will have a dramatic impact on your performance as an endurance athlete. In case that list is too abstract or technical, let me break down the benefits for you in different terms: Improved muscle recruitment throughout the entire range of motion of the movement - all your muscles working together in balance, instead of stronger muscles compensating for weaker ones Ability to generate a given power output with less effort Allow you to move more efficiently - swim, bike and run more smoothly Allow you to increase your power production threshold Staying healthy unlocks the holy grail of endurance sports: being able to train consistently over many months, without having to take time off for injury recovery PART 2: THE FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH SEASON Elements & Progression Purple Patch is driven by athlete evolution. We want you to become a more complete athlete this season and improve over many seasons to come. This ethos is present in our endurance training plans, as well as our view of functional strength. We always want to keep the big picture in mind and empower you to progress not only towards your key events this year, but your vision of the athlete you want to become. In the previous section, we discussed the benefits of a functional strength program. Now we aim to explain the elements and progression of a proper program. A season-long functional strength program should be focused on improving: Mobility Foundational Strength Stability Coordination & Synchronized Movement Power Production Injury Prevention Enhanced Recovery You cannot achieve all of this by simply repeating the same type of program each week throughout the entire season of training and racing. Your program must evolve and mirror the phase of preparation and racing you expect over the course of the season. That is, you should have a vision for what you want to achieve this season, as well well as how you want to develop over many seasons to come. Balancing long-term goals with the immediate goal of getting ready to perform your best for your A race means that certain exercises will change as the season unfolds. I like to think of three progressive phases of functional strength over the course of a season. Phase #1: Foundational Strength & Stability Lay a foundation of strength and stability to improve your ability to handle an increased training load Prepare the body for stress with power production and multi-directional exercises Phase #2: Synchronization & Power Shifting focus towards sport-specific functional movements and more complex exercises You should maximize strength gains, as well as improve power production here Phase #3: Getting Race Specific We optimize our preparedness to race, as well as shifting focus to maintaining health, joint mobility, and recovery PART 3: RUMORS, OBJECTIONS, & OBSTACLES Inside the endurance sport community the idea continues to perpetuate that you don't need strength training to become a better athlete. In some cases, the notion has evolved (or rather devolved) that any strength training (other than that magical hour-long core class filled with cyclists, triathletes and swimmers at the local gym every Wednesday morning) may actually be detrimental to performance. This is flawed thinking and we hope we are a part of changing this dated approach. The Science We don't want you to perform strength work to get stronger simply for the sake of being stronger. We want you to improve your performance, avoid injuries, and enjoy your race day experience more by making it easier. Lifting weights requires force production. F = ma. The body adapts in doing this by: Increasing neural recruitment (how well your brain talks to the muscles) Recruiting more muscle fibers into the usable mix (more muscle fibers = more strength & more endurance) Morphing your muscle fibers into more efficient types of muscle (Type IIax) Increasing your tolerance for anaerobic exercise (lactate threshold) A whole host of other metabolic, hormonal, and general physiological changes in the body All of those things above are directly linked to improved athletic performance - especially in endurance sports. You Don't Have To Get Big To Be Strong Most endurance athletes worry that lifting weights will make them too bulky. In reality, muscle mass (size) gains are the predictable result of a specifically designed program. In fact, many endurance athletes who are strength training are actually doing much of their work in a range that would cause muscle gain (moderate weight, high reps, several sets etc). You Don't Have To Get Strong To Improve The mindset you should have is form over load. Yes, we want you to get stronger and we also want you to improve; however, the basic principle of a well designed functional strength program is improving the movements of the body for sport specific benefit. Years of the same forward motion training (running, biking) or a lifestyle with a lot of sitting (desk jobs) have compromised your body's ability to move well. As children, we all had the ability to perform basic movements, and rather easily at that. This ability has deteriorated over the years. We need to correct some of the imbalances we've accrued and improve the way we move while we are in the process of getting stronger. This is a major benefit of a progressive program is that it allows you to take time and really focus on mobility at the appropriate time relative to the goals of the season. This holds true for a focus on power generation at the appropriate time or focus on maintenance at the appropriate time of the season too. Your functional strength program should be challenging enough to trigger the adaptations mentioned in the 'Science' segment and as you add more weight always keep in mind the exercise should be smooth through the designated range of motion. Just performing the exercise with very light or no resistance will help reconnect your body and neuromuscular pathways. For many athletes, just doing the proper form is surprisingly challenging (after years of poor form or no strength program at all). We want you to challenge yourself, so if you can increase the resistance or load while maintaining proper technique, please do so. But remember, it is more important to use the proper technique and utilize the designated range of motion than it is to get strong in a limited range, and, as we said at the beginning, focus on form over load. NOTE: The purplepatch functional strength programs come with full video tutorials, so you can see what the properly performed exercises look like. The 'Right' Amount I train 20+ hours/week. How can I not be strong enough already? You are strong. Strong heart. Strong lungs. And your legs can go forever. Unfortunately, just like everything else in life, the human body works on a bell curve. Unfortunately, long duration aerobic training tends to ride on the right side of the curve with respect to muscle tissue deterioration. Huge aerobic training loads tend to break down muscle tissue, not build it. So yes, you may be strong enough to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run 26.2 miles for now, but keep training and it won't last forever. Functional strength needs to be integrated into your training progression to balance out and support the heavy endurance training you are doing. Why Isn't Everyone Doing It If it's clear-cut and simple, why isn't everyone in endurance sport doing it? To be honest, we don't really know. Overcoming Obstacles It seems that strength training is the New Years Resolution of endurance sports. This is likely due to too many competing factors: training time, home, work, you have to sleep sometime. Beyond this, there is confusion on what exactly you should be doing for effective functional strength. I have seen three main factors that lead athletes to neglect functional strength: Confusion on what to add into a program Logistics and time availability Tired of repeating the same 5 exercises found in magazine A smart functional strength program will progress over the entire season, changing focus as the season unfolds, complementing and supporting your endurance training and race preparation. It will also provide variation in conjunction with changing specificity and purpose to the workouts at different times of the year.