We have a quick, yet important video for you to watch. In it, an Ironman athlete completes a 100 lb. clean and jerk in an effort to work on her strength program as she prepares for Ironman Florida. As you know from reading our stuff, strength, coupled with appropriate mobility, stability, and flexibility, is CRUCIAL to optimizing your full potential as a triathlete. So she’s doing all the correct things, right?
Sorry to say, in this case, not at all.
The are huge problems with what she’s doing, and we’d like to walk you through it.
Instead of creating true FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH, the dangerous, incorrect form she demonstrates in this lift is completely counterproductive to her goals.
When doing competitive Olympic lifting, the goal is to get the barbell over your head no matter what. In that kind of competition, judges don’t necessarily care how you get the weight there, or if you blow out your knees or your back doing it.
However, when it comes to performing better as a triathlete, rather than brute strength, what you need to create is true FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH–the kind of strength that will allow you to RUN the marathon distance in an Ironman and finish strong without the wheels coming off. In training functional strength effectively, it’s not IF you get the barbell over your head that matters, but HOW you do it.
Let’s dissect this example, and focus primarily on the what’s happening at the knee.
When this athlete prepares to clean the weight and move it over head, note the dangerous collapse of the knees inward toward the mid-line. Even though she seems strong on the surface, this inward collapse indicates a lack of adequate and integrated glute and hip strength, and overall core stability and strength. The collapse of her knee under load is not only damaging for her knees, it is TRAINING HER NERVOUS SYSTEM to make that motor pathway a HABIT. That neurological habit is being deeply grooved with every repetition, and will be reproduced any time the knee is under load, and that, of course, includes running.
Over time, with repeated patterns like this, the knee will become damaged, with the risk of serious injury rising steadily.
As a hinge joint, the knee is a slave to everything that happens above and below it. It is not designed to move sideways under load. Move it sideways toward your mid-line too many times, especially under load, and you’ll get a worn out meniscus, torn cartilage–and much slower running too. In effect, knee collapse during strength training actually teaches the body to do the same when running. The result is exactly the opposite of the desired goal–to have strength training help her to be better on the race course. This athlete is less efficient and absolutely leaking run speed, and she is surely inviting hip and knee pain and injury.
In addition to knee problems, continuing the mechanics this athlete is using in this video also puts her at great risk for a litany of problems including:
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
- Hip and glute pain
- ACL and meniscus injury
- Patellofemoral problems
The fact is, when it comes to racing Ironman, it doesn’t matter if this athlete has an aerobic engine the size of Chrissie Wellington’s. With mechanics like that, the odds are increased that she may have to walk at some point in the marathon. Why?
Let’s start with the fact that running a mile is the equivalent of approximately 1500 one-leg squat jumps. That adds up to over 19,000 inward collapses of a single knee during the course of the marathon. Each time the knee moves inward with each foot strike, energy is being lost, and stress is being placed on other tissues to attempt to control or compensate. The “slower” running results from energy leak, much like running in sand or on ice. The repetitive inward movement for thousands of reps results in more pain with each successive foot-strike.
The thing about this that is most distressing to us, is the fact that this athlete–like many of YOU–has the best of intentions, yet is misguided. She understands that strength is important to compete well, and she obviously works hard at it. Brute force and a determination to “be strong,” are not enough, however. It is not about showing that you can forcefully move a weight and get it over head. In the end, it’s ALL about training your nervous system to control your muscles to work with PERFECT FORM when under load, and as fatigue mounts, mile after mile.
Helping YOU to BE GREAT!
Coach Al and Kurt