A wise man says: “A chain is as strong as the weakest of its links”.
Endurance, strength, speed and flexibility. Those have been the four physical capacities that have always been the reference in sports training. All athletes have been classified within one or the other to plan their performance taking into account which one is predominant.
In 2010, during the inauguration of one of the highest quality training centers that can be found, one of its creators affirmed in front of those attending, among whom was Rafael Nadal: “everything is strength”. The forceful phrase was based on the idea that any human movement, any action of an athlete, requires a muscular contraction and that contraction is an expression of strength. Thanks to that we move, jump, swim, pedal or run.
Julio Tous, one of the world references in training and author of that great truth in the inauguration of his Center in Barcelona, shook, with that sentence, the mind of many coaches. When, after his intervention, we talked, he explained to me that he had the absolute conviction that any athlete, in any sport, improves his performance if he or she trains strength correctly. And Julio was absolutely right, let’s see why.
With the evolution of training systems we have come to the conclusion that quality is more important than quantity, that is, to improve performance of any athlete the key is to hit the correct intensity in every single training more than to train more and more hours. If we set a number, according to another eminence in sports training, the American Joe Friel, to reach 100% of performance in any athlete depends on 60% of the quality (hit the correct intensity) and 40% of the quantity (hit the volume: time or distance).
When we talk about a race, the performance is not measured by the distance covered (quantity) as every triathlete, from first to last, cover the same distances in an IRONMAN. The performance, and therefore the classification, is established according to the intensity, that is, according to the quality, according to the time invested in reaching the goal.
The time of course depends on the speed (a measure of the intensity) and this in turn depends on the energy that is applied in each movement. And here we come to the end of the equation: to produce more energy in each movement we need… more strength! The reasoning is simple: more strength in each muscle contraction generates more energy to move and with it more speed and thanks to all this link of ideas becomes more performance.
Of course, it is very important that strength training is individualized for each person (it is not the same for an athlete who weighs 64kg than an athlete who weighs 80kg) and is specific to the competition he or she prepares (it is not the same to plan the IRONMAN Lanzarote, with +2500m in the bike course, than the one in Maryland, with only +90m).
In addition, it is essential that thanks to the great variety of possibilities that have come to enrich the training, the triathlete benefits from the full list of options available, that is, they have to plan sessions going to the gym, with exercises and classic sets and repetitions, adding functional training during the week.
There is a tendency in our society for everything to be white or black, everything is typecast. In addition, there is a tendency to praise the novelty and to revile all of the preceding. Transferred by force can be heard people advocating a strength training based only on the TRX, crossfit, fitball, etc. (functional training). In addition they talk about traditional strength training as “outdated” or without effect (and even as negative!).
Nothing is further from reality. It is true that functional training involves positive stimulus so that the strength developed by the athlete is transferred optimally to their triathlons. But equally true is that only in a “classic” gym (with its machines, bars, dumbbells, etc.) you can stimulate the muscles with certain types of sets and repetitions that can never be achieved in a session of functional training and that are essential for the athlete to reach his or her best level.
For all this, not only white or only black: as in life, in the richness of taking advantage of the best of each color you get the ideal mix that results in the optimal stimulus to take each triathlete to his or her best version. The human being is resistant by nature: Our body is prepared to live long years. The other, to produce more energy in each movement, to improve the quality of each action and with it the performance of the athlete, depends on training strength. Black and white, quality and quantity, endurance and strength, functional and classic: in short, adding is always enriching.