Written by: Jeff Banowetz
This piece first appeared in the April issue of Competitor Magazine.
Runners run. Triathletes add swimming and biking to the mix. And while we’d all benefit from strength training, it’s often difficult to squeeze in the extra workouts when our passion lies outside the weight room.
But the recent surge in functional strength training might convince the endorphin-hooked crowd that a small investment in time could improve performance and help avoid injuries.
In its most basic sense, functional strength training aims to replicate the motions found in an athlete’s primary sport—think swinging a tennis racquet or kicking a soccer ball—but with a more holistic approach to how the body accomplishes the action.
Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, describes the body as one muscle—with 600 pockets.
“The muscles work in a coordinated effort,” he says.
Endurance athletes often develop weaknesses in the core muscles that stabilize the spinal cord and promote balance and coordination between sides of the body. Functional strength training improves those weaknesses with exercises that emphasize unrestrained motion.
Unlike traditional weight training, the most functional strength training for an endurance athlete takes place in the vertical position—the same way you run. The exercises usually involve some kind of twisting to engage the core and medicine balls or exercise bands to provide resistance.
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of time to see results. Just 20 to 30 minutes twice a week is usually enough—you even can do the exercises as a warm-up before a run.