by Mark Wolff

Friday morning workouts are always hard for me. I start it off with a 30-60min progression run and then into a solid hour of functional strength training with the bio which absolutely hurts. Many people don’t really understand what functional strength is. I hear of people doing strength work all the time, but mostly its isolated muscles which are being targeted and as an athlete that type of strength in my mind is a complete waste of time. Functional strength in simple terms is a movement which engages a large amount of muscles in that single movement. In simple terms think about it like this. Let’s say you are a runner or a cyclist and you utilize a minimal amount of muscle’s  to perform a particular movement. However then you do the same movement again but this time you are able to engage a much greater amount of muscles to perform the same movement.
What happen’s?
It’s quite obvious you are spreading the load. The amount of force exerted to perform the movement is spread over a larger area reducing the specific load on each muscle. This means a number of things to me

  1. Time to fatigue is much longer
  2. Performance gains are better and more sustainable
  3. Injury risk reduced
  4. Overall strength and health is way better.

Why did I decide to mention functional strength in today’s blog? Well life happens and yesterday evening while doing a shop at Woolworth’s I bumped into a top runner by the name of Tony Silva.  An awesome guy and also Tony is one of the few 56yr old runners I know of who can still run a 76min 21km and around the 34min mark for a 10km . He is a focused runner keeping his running distances controlled and healthy to ensure he can keep on performing with age. Basically we blocked the shopping aisle embarking on a conversation which touched on the ever growing endurance community and the approach to distance training and racing and health. Tony and I think along the same lines. We both agree that the majority of athletes have absolutely no foundation on which they are build. A runner who has never done a standard ultra marathon, never mind a normal marathon just decides to enter Comrades marathon a 90km ultra. The same goes for the youth jumping straight into an ultra distance triathlon. It seems that there is a culture of people who just want to go LONG. Now I am not objecting to the idea of going long, what I am objecting to is the lack of foundation in order to be able to support this initiative never mind the clueless amounts of junk mileage and over training that accompanies it.

Let me be completely clear here, in saying that most people I encounter on a regular basis are not built nor have the foundation of strength and speed to place their own body’s into such a physical journey. It seems to be a bucket list item and just a tick off the list. Well my friend that bucket might come sooner than you think because what you are doing is placing your own health in danger. Injury and illness seem to plague these communities constantly. I just don’t understand the thinking behind it, but it seems to be the pressures placed by culture and community on these individuals.

I often hear the statement your are not a runner unless you have run Comrades. Oh Really? So Eliud Kipchoge, Denis Kimmeto and Wilson Kipsang just a few of the worlds best marathon distance runners are not runners because they haven’t done Comrades before? Lets take it a step further. If you drill down into the lifestyles and performance achievements of these athletes you will notice how crucial proper foundation training is a as well as nutrition, functional strength, proper warm up’s , cool down’s , stretching , rolling and recovery. They also do not over-race they pick their battles and generally you will see these guys maybe doing 2 marathons a year at most. I know people who work a full day, have a family, eat absolute rubbish, hardly sleep and run way more than that in a few months never mind a year.

I heard an interesting interview with one of the top German triathletes after Kona last year where the German’s swept the top 3 spots on the podium. Andi Boecherer was the athlete and when he was asked why the Germans are so dominating he had a really simple answer. He stated that as a child he had to ride his bicycle everywhere. In Europe from an early age cycling to school and back and to friends and getting around is embedded in culture, whereas he stated that in the US the kid’s get dropped at school. So by the time he was older he had thousands of kilometers in the legs unlike his counterparts. He was years ahead and already developed an endurance engine as a child. Likewise our top marathon runners mentioned above had many years of running as children and building a solid foundation early on.
When I was young I was fortunate enough to be able to ride my bicycle everywhere and participate in sport constantly but in the new generation its a completely different story. Television, PlayStation’s and mobile devices have the youth sitting down constantly and now there is an electric bike wave hitting the globe where the youngsters don’t pedal they just sit and accelerate. I think its ludicrous.

So lets get back to where I actually started with the blog and that is foundation. A house is built on a concrete foundation not sand. If it was it would collapse quite shortly after possibly with a single storm. The human body is no different. Endurance exercise requires a very strong foundation on which to build and this is my key point for this blog. Don’t fall victim to illness or injury due to neglecting the proper foundation work in order to make sure you are strong. Do not jump into big events just for the sake of it take your time to get there and build yourself up with baby steps. This is not just true from a health perspective but also a performance and longevity perspective. How can you ever expect to be a fast runner or a cyclist if you don’t have the foundation on which to build.

Where should you start?
Easy, look in the mirror. Yes take one look at yourself and ask yourself “Do I have the physique of an endurance athlete?”  I am going to be completely harsh in this statement but its not to offend it’s only to make you aware. We were all born to run. However that statement is only true for someone that is in the right shape to run. Just a few kilogram’s over optimal running weight and the thousands of footsteps over distance is throwing tons of force through the body which is impacting it in a way that can only be damaging to your health.  Don’t just use exercise to get a healthy weight, its also all about the food. You can never out-train a bad diet. So again I emphasize foundation. Start small, start with nutrition, get yourself into shape, keep the distances down, focus on strength, agility, stamina and speed and gradually make your way to those goals with a foundation that can set you up for a long life, not one that will break you down and cut it short.

all the best




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