3 Keys to Maximizing Your Training
Maximizing training efficiency and quality is a concept that I always advocate for. Too often, people think that the more they do in their workout or training program, the better they will be, and that’s simply not true. While you certainly have to put in the effort to reap the rewards from any workout or training program, it often pays to work harder for less time, instead of spreading out a workout over 2+ hours.
Putting in a great amount of effort and focus for a shorter time on the most important things for you to work on in the gym is what I call maximizing training efficiency. To do this, you must first be aware of what the most important things are for you to do in the gym, and then you must create a plan to execute. Today, I hope to give you some insight into what you should focus on to maximize your training efficiency and effectiveness. Enjoy…
Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to speak to the Harrisburg Bicycle Club. My main topic was the why and how of incorporating strength and mobility training into an endurance athlete’s routine. When it comes to the how of incorporating a gym-based training routine for endurance athletes, I highlighted three key points:
Focus on Function
Use Low Volume, High Intensity
I feel that these three points are key to getting the most benefit from strength and mobility training for endurance athletes for one reason: The training they do in the gym should complement and support their main goal of engaging in an endurance sport/activity without getting in the way of it.
Let’s take a moment to look at these three points in greater detail.
1. Maximize Efficiency
The goal when training an endurance athlete in the gym, as well as any other athlete, should be to first maximize efficiency.
When training in the gym is not your primary activity, but rather a supplement to your training, the program in the gym must reflect that. Your goal should not be to have the most advanced gym training program, or to spend hours in the gym really getting a good sweat. Rather, the goal should be to do the minimum amount necessary to get the maximum effect without allowing it to interfere with the miles you’re putting in on the road or track.
2. Focus on Function
Going in line with maximizing efficiency, focusing on functional exercises allows you to not only maximize efficiency, but also train your body in a manner similar to how it functions in real life. This functional training will have better transfer to your primary sporting activity, while also decreasing your chances of injury.
The flip side of functional training would be to sit down on a machine and do one exercise for each muscle group. This is primarily the focus of body-building, but it’s certainly not an efficient use of training time for athletes, nor does it transfer over well to any activity outside the gym.
So, maximizing efficiency and focusing on functional exercise are the first two keys, and I would argue that they are foundational keys to a successful training program for anybody, not just endurance athletes. However, the third key is especially important for endurance athletes.
3. Use Low Volume, High Intensity
It’s important for endurance athletes to spend time in the gym focusing on low volume, high intensity strength and power training. Why? Simply because they get none of this during their endurance sport.
It doesn’t make sense to continuously train muscular endurance while running or biking, and then go into the gym and train more muscular endurance while lifting weights. First of all, this is not an efficient use of training time, and second, it sets you up for a greater risk of overtraining and overuse injuries like tendonitis and muscle strains.
Instead, endurance athletes should train muscular qualities that they desperately need, but don’t get during their primary activity. Namely, strength and power.
As an example, the squat is a great lower body strength and power building exercise. However, if you do a relatively light load and perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions, you’re focusing on muscular endurance more than strength. If you want to build strength and power, you should focus on increasing the resistance to a weight that is closer to your max and performing 3 sets of 4-8 repetitions.
Doing this will build strength in the muscles without overloading the joints and tendons with a high volume of repetitions.
(Note: Increasing the resistance to a near max weight and training for strength does NOT mean that you get a pass on exercise technique. Your form should remain perfect throughout the exercise, or the load is simply too much for you to handle right now.)
Of course, training in this manner doesn’t mean that we’re trying to turn marathoners into powerlifters, or training Lance Armstrong to become Kianoush Rostami (2016 Olympic Gold Medalist from Iran pictured below).
It simply means that we’re spending some time getting endurance athletes to focus on the opposite end of the strength-endurance continuum so that we can develop those muscular qualities.
Doing this will provide better muscular stability to the joints during running and cycling, so you can better avoid injury and breaking down over time. It will also provide an increase in running or cycling economy, because you’ll be able to produce more force at a given level of effort than if you didn’t have that muscular strength and power.
So, with these three goals we can maximize the training that is done in the gym for endurance athletes and help them to stay healthy and achieve better results.
But at this point, if you’re not an endurance athlete, you may be asking the questions, “How do these 3 keys apply to me? Are they important for someone who’s not an endurance athlete, but who would still like to maximize their training?”
The answer to that in short would be, yes. However, not everybody will need to apply point number 3 all the time in their training. There is definitely a benefit for everyone to incorporate a certain amount of strength and power training into their program, but I wouldn’t put the same emphasis on it for the average gym-goer.
So for the average gym-goer, my three points would be the following:
Focus on Function
HAVE A PLAN!!
While it is equally important for anyone who isn’t an endurance athlete to still focus on efficiency and functional training in the gym, the biggest piece that is missing for most people is having a training plan!
For me, I think it’s been about 8 years since I went to the gym to workout without having a plan written up for what I wanted to do in the gym that day. And yet, I see people all the time who just walk into the gym and say, “Hey, that machine looks good today, I think I’ll do that until I can’t feel my arms anymore!” Or they just walk around the gym and haphazardly perform an exercise until it burns, take a break, and then start in on some other randomly chosen exercise.
What’s worse is when personal trainers train their clients this way. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve seen personal trainers who have no plan written up for their client. They simply take them through the same exercises each workout, or they take them through a haphazardly chosen workout of the day.
For someone who is getting paid to train clients, that is unacceptable.
Even if you’re not training for any specific activity or sport, it’s still imperative that you have a plan for your training program if you want to maximize your training. If you’re going to the gym to stay in shape or to get in better shape, it’s very difficult to accomplish that if you don’t have a training program.
On the other hand, a well thought out and planned training program will move you towards your goals in the most efficient way possible.
Another benefit of a pre-planned training program is that it takes into account the specific weaknesses or limitations of each individual, and a plan is developed to work around or improve those weaknesses.
All this involves evaluating where you’re starting from, planning out what your goals are, and then being able to choose the best exercises, the best set/rep schemes, and the best progression of volume and intensity to meet those goals.
A good trainer should be able to do this, and if you are unsure about how to do this for yourself, you would be wise to seek one out.
Once you have a program planned out, all you must do is follow it. Record your progress as you go and use each workout as a milestone along the path to accomplishing your goals.
If you miss a workout here and there, or get sidetracked, you can rework the plan, but that requires that you have a plan in the first place.
So to wrap things up, if you’re an endurance athlete, make sure you maximize the efficiency of your workouts, focus on functional movements, and use low volume, high intensity training.
If you’re not an endurance athlete, it’s still important to maximize efficiency and focus on functional movements, but make sure that you have a plan for your training. Doing these three things will set you up for success in your workouts.