Racing season has come to a close here in Canada. That officially means it's OFF SEASON. I don't know about you but I love the off season. Some people dread it but I look at it as an opportunity to work on things that need improvement. Not only is it a chance for your body to rest and recover but to re-build as well.
It's also a great time to work on strength and technique. If you remove the physiological stress of racing, you should be able to add a third or even fourth weight workout into your training routine. That's what I've done. During racing season I lift twice a week, as basic maintenance. I probably lift about 50% of my one rep max during my weight workouts because I'm also doing other hard workouts so I don't want to tax my system too much.
In the off season, you're generally in maintenance mode (i.e few hard workouts and no racing) you should be able to increase your weights to lift much heavier or add that third day of lifting in. Why do this you may wonder? How will it benefit me come race season?
Let me count the ways! Here are my three favourites:
1. Strength training will help make you faster. Not to toot my own horn but, I am a good example of this. I've been going to the gym for years but I never really did any sort of heavier lifting. I avoided the squat rack like the plague and instead chose to do a lot of functional exercises with lighter weights. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for those but if you want to work on building speed, don't be afraid to make friends with the squat rack. It wasn't until I started an actual lifting program in late 2010 that I actually began to see results both in the way my body looked and performed. Fast forward 3 years and my times have continued to drop, despite getting older. I'm chalking it up to the fact that I take advantage of my off season and lift heavy which in turn, has allowed me the strength to really push myself. Strength training increases your leg strength and improves your bodies efficiency to use energy and oxygen. According to Charles Polloquin "Increasing the body’s ability
to use oxygen efficiently is a primary goal of endurance training, and
it is measured by VO 2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake. Simply, if you can
decrease the amount of oxygen needed to run at a certain speed, you’ll
be able to sustain a fast pace for a longer time and likely be able to
run faster overall."
2. Strength training will make you leaner. Contrary to popular belief, you WILL NOT GET BIG. You'd have to be in the gym pretty much every day and eat nothing but chicken breast and spinach. Oh and you'd have to cut out the endurance training....like THAT'S going to happen. Strength training helps decrease body fat which will result in a leaner you. And leaner = lighter and lighter = faster. See a pattern here?
3. Strength training can help prevent injuries. This alone is probably the best reason to hit the gym. I'm no doctor but I'm sure that many running injuries could be prevented with a good strength training routine. Almost everyone has one side of their body that is stronger than the other. If you incorporate single leg work into your strength training plan, you can work at building up strength in your weaker side, resulting in a more balanced, efficient stride.
For even more reasons to hit the gym you can check out Charles Polloquin's 10 Reasons here as well as Running Competitor's reasons here. The Running Competitor article also has several links to various exercise programs that are beneficial to runners. Win / win!
Do you strength train? If so, do you change things up in your off season or do you continue with your same routine?