Written by: Tara Garrison, NASM, ICANS, CFSC and Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Tara is a health optimization coach who is passionate about human potential. Tara specializes in the ketogenic diet and teaches people to "Do Keto. Not Forever" for metabolic flexibility and optimal human nutrition. Follow Tara on Instagram for more tips about how to live your best life.
One thing we tend to forget as human beings is that while we are hyper-focused on growth in one area, we are losing progress in others.
That’s why it’s so important to allow ourselves to periodically hit the cruise control button on our strengths, back off on the intensity, and focus on strengthening our weaknesses.
For endurance athletes in their off-season, the area most important to strengthen is exactly that: strength.
What do I mean by strength?
Do I mean you need to build a bunch of muscle and get jacked?
No. I don’t mean that at all.
Strength is how fast your nervous system can fire and how many motor units in your muscles it can recruit all at once.
When Ryan Flaherty, the Senior Director of Performance at Nike, was training Olympic Marathon medalist Meb Keflezighi for the Boston Marathon, he focused solely on training the nervous system.
This is what he said in his interview with Tim Ferriss:
“The biggest thing was teaching him that by hex bar deadlift training…he could stress his nervous system, recruit larger motor units without adding any weight. He started at 127 pounds, ended at 127 pounds, and by just introducing that one exercise – I didn’t touch his running or touch anything else that he did in the weight room; it was simply that one exercise – once a week, it improved his stride length and his running gait, which in turn helped him run faster.”
Flaherty also mentioned in that interview that he had Meb pick up the hex bar, and then drop it.
This is how you train the nervous system. This is how you increase strength. Explosive, quick concentrics (the lifting portion), with quick/unrestricted eccentrics (the lowering portion).
All of this allows you to become faster as a runner, because now you’re recruiting more power with every step.
You can do more than just deadlifts, although I find this programming by Flaherty brilliantly simple and effective, by giving Meb power where he needed it most: in the glutes and hamstrings.
You can also increase strength through plyometrics (jumping exercises) — just watch your knees and land soft on your feet. If you get knee pain, either hire a trainer or stop. It’s not worth injury.
My last recommendation is to incorporate ladder drills or other footwork drills that require a quick pickup of your feet off the floor. This can help you improve running cadence. Elite marathon runners strike the ground 180 times per minute or more. Improved cadence will not only decrease the impact on your body because it’s less time that your joints are pounding into the ground, but also increase your speed quite dramatically. Cross train for a quick pickup of your feet off the ground. I tell my clients to play, “the ground is lava” when doing these types of drills.
Sample Off-Season Training Schedule
This schedule is designed for the moderate to advanced athlete. If you are newer to running or find yourself very sore, take more rest days.
Monday: Short endurance-sport session with speed intervals + Leg Day Strength Workout
Tuesday: High Intensity Interval Training with Plyometrics or Agility Drills (short- about 20 minutes) + Short Core Workout
Wednesday: Short endurance-sport session, lightly push speed + Upper Body Strength Workout
Thursday: High Intensity Interval Training with Plyometrics or Agility Drills (short- about 20 minutes) + Short Core Workout
Friday: Short endurance-sport session with hill intervals + Sport Specific Strength Workout
Saturday: Easy mid-distance run/bike/swim