Plyometrics or weights?

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This article, we are going to look at whether plyometrics or weight training is better for running improvement in triathlon.  Plyometrics and weight training when done correctly can have a profound impact on your running economy.  Running economy is what we are after, as it enables you to run more efficiently.  The stronger your muscles are in the run movement pattern, the more likely you are going to be able to maintain your running form. 

Personally, I believe a combination of both are critical, with a larger focus on plyometrics – and here is why…

Plyometrics exercises are quick, powerful movements that start with an eccentric (muscle-lengthening) action and are immediately followed by a concentric (muscle-shortening) action. By using this quick repetitive movement, the muscles are forced to exert maximum force in short intervals of time with the goal of increasing power.  Think high reps, short rest.  

Weight training is generally associated with a gym and is the controlled use of lifting weights for muscle strength gains.  Weight training usually required a more static and less dynamic movement than plyometrics, although an advanced strength and conditioning coach will be able to incorporate some dynamic movement into weight training.  Weight training is often heavier weights with lower reps with a specific muscle group as the focus. A correctly prescribed weights program will combine weight, reps, velocity rest to determine the outcome of the workout.  

When it comes to plyometrics vs. lifting heavy weights, the activity and muscle action can become very different.  Plyometrics involve less total force going through the legs, but a much faster and more explosive muscle contraction.  Heavy weight lifting is usually a much slower activity, but this slower motion allows more total force through the muscle.  Younger athletes should avoid weight work instead, perfecting the exercises using their own body weight.  What does remain constant through all strength training is the importance of your base skill and properly executing the movement in the exercises to minimise the risk of injury.

As is always the case with training, the amount of weight or plyometric training you have in your training program should be very specific to you.   Your strength programming must also be very specific to triathlon.  It is important to remember that as triathletes and with the continuous cross training of the swim, bike and run the weight training requirements of the single discipline sports are not as readily required.  For example, a pure runner may add a weekly leg strength training program to their week.  A triathlete would ride 2-3 times at least each week thereby loading the legs more than a runner would.  If a triathlete was also adding heavy weights sessions, there would be an overload of weight/strength work.  We all know the bike deadens the lightness of the legs, similar to a weight session.  When speed of movement is the name of the racing game, strength exercises that add power and movement become more important.  This is where plyometric and more explosive strength work becomes more useful for a triathlete.

When adding strength training is it very important your program has a strong focus on fundamental movement skills before any weight or explosive plyometric movements are added.   When considering the benefits of adding strength training, careful consideration must be made of your individual requirements, skill, age and ability as an athlete.  Proper warm ups and properly structured, progressive exercise sequences should be paramount in any strength program you adopt. 

There is plenty of information available regarding strength training, and I suggest further reading is required, as this article only touches on the very basics of this topic.