Archive for functional strength training

Getting Your Season Started Right!


Lis Kenon and Coach Al, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Coach Al with 4x Ironman AG World Champion, Lisbeth Kenyon

Hey Everyone! Coach Al here. :)  If you are like many endurance athletes in the northern hemisphere, the late March marks the time when you really start planning to “get serious” with training and race preparation in anticipation of the upcoming competitive season. Even more, for some athletes this time period marks the time when, after a casual glance at the calendar reveals only a few weeks remain until the first event, a state of shock and absolute panic ensues! ☺

Before you panic and start hammering those high intensity intervals, moving yourself precariously close to either injury or over-training, remember to keep a few important things in mind as you embark upon a fast-track toward improved race readiness.

First, avoid the trap of thinking there is a quick fix, short cut, or easy path toward a true higher level of fitness. Building the stamina and strength that leads to success in endurance sports takes time and patience. However, if you pay close attention to the fundamentals such as skill and technique enhancement and general/functional strength, you CAN make some great inroads over a relatively short period of time that WILL help get you closer to being able to achieve your goals.

Secondly, while there are many facets of your training that will be integral for your success, there are two topics requiring your attention all year long but often don’t get the attention they deserve this time of year.  They are: maximizing your daily NUTRITION and daily RECOVERY from training.  (If you’re at a point in time when you feel you need a “kick-start” to cleaning up your diet, check out our De-tox!)

It goes without saying that if you don’t eat well most of the time and at the right times and don’t recover adequately between individual training sessions and week to week, your training, fitness, and ultimately your race preparation will stagnate or even worsen.

Here are three TIPS to assist in transitioning optimally to the month of April and also help you get your season started right:

  1. Review your current Limiters and then establish some Training Objectives to improve and overcome those Limiters. Limiters are your weaknesses or “race specific” abilities that may hold you back from being successful in your most important events.   Likewise, Training Objectives are measurable training goals that you set for yourself and which may be based on your Limiters, with the goal of improving upon them.

To help in this process, start by asking yourself these questions: 

  • As you review your current Limiters, how well have you progressed in the Off-Season in addressing those?
  • Did you “miss anything” in your Off-Season preparation that you should focus on now?
  • Is there a chance that your Limiters will hold you back from being successful in certain events?
  • Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you doing anything right now to improve your Limiters and thus your chance for success in your upcoming KEY races?

Even though it IS late March, it is NOT too late to start developing some key workouts to help strengthen your weaknesses. Be patient and persistent, and set measurable goals (training objectives) so that when you line up for your most important event this season, you will have the confidence of knowing you did all you could to prepare for success!

  1. Focus on executing KEY WORKOUTS by differentiating intensity and being purposeful in all of your training: To ensure you continue to improve, one of your primary goals must be to execute key-workouts to the best of your ability, which are those workouts that when recovered from them, will have had a specific and material impact on your race specific fitness.  Avoid falling victim to the “rat race” mentality that has you chronically “running” from one workout to the next without any real focus, which only results in tiredness and higher levels of stress without resulting in improved health OR fitness.
  2. Eat as well as you can, most of the time: Eating the best foods to nurture your health and recovery, most of the time and at the right times, is the best path toward optimizing health and body composition. Too often endurance athletes fall victim to waiting until they are close to their goal races and then trying to get lean and “race ready.” Once you begin to do higher intensity race-specific training sessions, your body will be under greater duress – trying to limit calories at that time can be very stressful and may lead to injury, poor adaptation to training stresses, and basically undoing all of the work you are doing to improve!

To summarize, these three tips come back to one very important but often forgotten concept: listening to your body and trusting your intuition.  I believe your intuition may be the most important tool you have in your toolbox as an endurance athlete, and unfortunately many of us don’t listen to it when we need to the most.

If you are a novice, your intuition might not be as highly developed as your more experienced training partners or friends, but it IS there and is often talking to you! Your “inner voice” might be telling you that you are tired and just don’t feel up to that ride or run that you had planned, or, that what you are eating isn’t optimal to support your training or health.

Your body is smart! If you learn to really listen to it and stay patient and focused on the fundamentals, you will get your season started right and perhaps have your best season ever! Best of luck!

~Coach Al

Do You Know What “Functional” Means In Functional Strength? Coach Al Explains

Hi Everyone!

coach al conducting gait analysis

Coach Al Conducting A Gait Analysis

I recently had a “Facebook discussion” with strength expert (and friend) Pat Flynn about the word “functional,” as it applies to strength training. Whether you strength train to simply get stronger, or you’re training strength to improve your swim/bike/run, I think this word is often misunderstood.

Here’s my take on what Functional Strength Training is:

1. Does the exercise have a sport or life application? “Functional” means an exercise trains patterns which look like, and feel like, an actual human (and sport) movement. An obvious example is a 1-leg squat, which mimics running. On the flip side, an example of an exercise which isn’t “functional” would be leg lifts from a pull up bar. Why? “Training” to flex at the waist (in this case, under significant low back load if not done perfectly) has very little application to anything you would do in sport or in life (unless you are a gymnast). What that exercise does do is lead to over development of the anterior core, which is often already over powered compared to the backside of the body. You want a six-pack? Start by doing “push aways” at the dinner table.

2. Does the exercise enhance holistic INTEGRATION and BALANCE? “Functional” means you’re training to improve your overall movement quality as a human being. In this instance, the “movement” training you do gets you stronger, enhances INTEGRATION (training all parts of your body working together), and ultimately leads to whole body balance (front/back, in/out). Balance means training to develop in a holistic way vs. training certain muscles in lieu of others leading to imbalances. Imbalances, as well as asymmetry, will often ultimately lead to a much higher risk of injury.

To summarize, exercises which don’t mimic life (or sport) patterns have little benefit when it comes to improving either our resistance to injury or our sport performance. Finally, if you’re doing more advanced exercises such as burpees, plyos, backsquatting with heavy weight–or KB swings/snatches (many of which ARE functional in my opinion, but more advanced)–you had better make sure you have the basics mastered first. What are some of the basics? Can you “stable” lying on your back lifting a leg, for example? If you don’t have the basics mastered, you will get limited benefit from the exercises, AND you will, undoubtedly, be at a much higher risk of injury down the road.

Be great! ~Coach Al

005: Minimalist Functional Strength Training (Podcast)


pursuit athletic performance podcast

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Hi Everyone!

Coach Al and Dr. Kurt Strecker in the haus with a great podcast on a topic near and dear to our hearts—functional movement training.

The choice of exercises for creating functional strength and good movement quality are too often driven by the latest YouTube video or coolest new exercise craze. We believe that true mastery of just a few key exercises can effectively develop meaningful strength and stability in three planes of motion, thereby greatly improving athletic performance and increasing resistance to injury.

The aim of strength training is to prepare the human frame to handle the loads imparted in sport-specific work. It is not necessarily designed to be entertaining, but instead has a crucial purpose.

In this episode we tell you our favorite six exercises (done perfectly!), and why they are so essential for you the athlete no matter your sport!

 We review:

1. Single leg squat

 2. Side plank

 3. Half-front plank with reach

 4. Clam with mini band

 5. Push up

 6. Pull up

We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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Functional Strength Training: Key to Generating Power and Speed

This is the final post of a four-part series on functional strength training. Click below to see other posts in the series.
Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?

Stop Leaking Speed!
You Need To Be Stable To Perform Your Best

IBoston_Menf parts one, two, and three of our series on functional strength training haven’t convinced you that you must be a strong and stable athlete in order to perform at your potential, consider this:

1. Becoming functionally strong will make you faster. Guaranteed.

2. Together with a solid training program and time spent on sport-specific drills, being functionally strong will make you an all-around more powerful athlete.

3. You will NEVER unlock your ultimate athletic potential by simply putting in mega-hours practicing or training.

These are the simple facts…. By becoming functionally strong you will teach your body how to generate power AND move effectively and efficiently. Focused functional strength work will get the big prime movers moving, and the stabilizers stabilizing. You will build more effective and solid biomechanics to move you efficiently and speedily in your sport.

So how does functional strength help you generate power?

For one, it allows you to build and use “elastic return” when running. Here’s what we mean.

A runner—let’s call him John—is functionally strong. In his running he is reaping the benefits of good biomechanics, sound stability, and enhanced mobility and flexibility—all afforded by adopting and adhering to a functional strength plan over time.

John looks as though he runs effortlessly. He always looks like he’s in the zone, and never seems to be expending great effort for the speed he is running. When you see him you think, “Mr. Smooth.”

Of course no one can run without effort, not even John. But what runners like John have—that you likely do not—is the ability to minimize the energy and effort used to run by having a musculature that efficiently stores and returns energy—elastic return. That’s how they generate POWER. And that comes from being FUNCTIONALLY STRONG, in all the right ways.

Here’s a simple explanation of elastic return:

Your muscles are like big rubber bands. When you stretch the rubber band you are building elastic energy. Let it go, and the force built up in the band is suddenly released and it, literally, flies. That concept is the same for your muscles. “Elastic return” is the ability of your muscles to store energy and return the force that is built up.

When you run, your leg and hip muscles stretch, just like a rubber band. Force and power build up in the stretched muscles. Your muscles then release the force, which propels you with forward motion—elastic return.

A muscle with higher elastic return will return more stored energy allowing you to run faster and longer while using less energy. It makes you more EFFICIENT and POWERFUL.

Faster running, fewer heartbeats. Win-win.

The ability to be a more efficient, powerful, and faster athlete with great elastic return in the muscles is available to anyone willing to commit to becoming functionally strong. What are you waiting for?

Stop Leaking Speed! You Need Functional Strength Training

Four-part series on the importance of Functional Strength Training:
Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?
Functional Strength Training: You Need To Be Stable To Perform Your Best
Functional Strength Training: Key to Generating Power and Speed

Stop Leaking Speed!

functional strength“My easy run pace is a minute per mile faster.”

“How did I just drop 10 seconds in my 100 meter swim repeats?”

We hear these kinds of comments ALL the time from our athletes. Invariably, after a few months of dedicating themselves to the customized functional strength program we prescribe here at Pursuit Athletic Performance, our athletes start to notice improvements in their speed.

We will say it loud and clear:


When we first see an athlete, whether it be a runner, triathlete, or cyclistr, nine times out of ten they are “leaking speed.” They leak speed through a number of things:

  • Compensations in their movements
  • Overall weakness
  • Incredible instability
  • Using all the wrong muscles to power their way through training and racing

Most of the time, the athlete’s prime movers like glutes are weak and inactive, while the smaller stabilizing muscles have stepped in to do the work. These small stabilizers end up shredded workout after workout, leading to the inability to recover from hard training, and, ultimately, to injury.

The scenario above presents itself in all levels of athletes right up to the elite of the elite. (The elite just compensate “better,” and draw on a deep pool of natural talent to power through.) Eventually, the functionally weak athlete–no matter who they are–will end up in a performance plateau (at best), and likely injured.

A good functional strength program will improve the stability of your joints, improve neuro-muscular firing, and give your greater range of motion. Most of all, your true athleticism emerges as you stop leaking performance energy and are able to transfer POWER from your sport-specific movement into SPEED.

In our next post, we discuss the important role of functional strength in providing stability and power transfer.

Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?

Functional Strength TrainingThis is the first in a four-part series on functional strength training. Click the links below to read the other posts in the series:
Stop Leaking Speed; You Need to Be Stable to Perform Your Best; Functional Strength: Key to Generating Power

Trends and fads in the fitness world come and go. There was Tae Bo, step aerobics–the list is endless. In 2012, even the ever-popular Pilates fell off the American College of Sports Medicine list of the top 20 worldwide fitness trends.

So what about the ubiquitous “Functional Strength Training”? Is it too a fad? A gimmick?

The answer is a resounding NO.

In our series of four posts on functional strength training, we’ll walk you through:

  • What functional strength training is
  • Why it is necessary for your sport-specific training
  • How it can make you a stronger and more powerful athlete

Let’s start with an overview.

Functional strength training involves building strength and mobility by moving in multiple planes of motion with the use of multiple joints. FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH MOVEMENTS RELATE TO WHAT YOU ACTUALLY DO IN A GIVEN SPORT.

Our bodies are called on to move in many different ways and in different planes when participating in sport. Functional strength movements mimic this by breaking down how we move, and FOCUSING the athlete on the firing multiple muscle groups in various positions with varying ranges of motion and intensity. Think one-legged split squats done with rubber bands for resistance, and executed in different ways–two feet on the floor, or on one leg.

The muscles of the core are engaged, and a degree of instability is incorporated to call on neuromuscular balancing. Add to that, learning to transfer power in sport-specific movements, and you have the basis of a proper functional strength plan. Over time, it all works together to allow individuals to perform their sport more efficiently, faster, and with less risk of injury.

In an article in Lava Magazine, Matt Dixon, MSC puts it well. He says:

The primary purpose of including functional strength as part of an overall training program is to make an athlete just that–an athlete. Creating a platform of muscular balance, synchronized muscle firing, and optimal ballistic output of the muscles can translate across all sports.

We couldn’t agree more.

Functional strength training is the KEY to you being able to derive maximum benefit from your training. Being functionally strong allows you to unlock speed and create the foundation for DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT.

When you watch Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington run a 2:48 marathon after a 112-mile bike, believe it when we say the woman has outstanding functional strength. Talent by the boatload for sure, but she is also incredibly strong, stable, and mobile in all the right ways. And you can be too.

There is hot debate in the endurance world on the role of strength training. Many triathlon and running coaches claim all you need to do is “just train more” for performance gains to be made–strength training need not be part of a plan. We know that advice is dead WRONG, and counterproductive to your performance and goals over the long term. You can see our blog post about that issue here.

The hundreds of athletes we have worked with prove that a focus on building functional strength–separate from sport-specific training–is CENTRAL to improved performance. It’s borne out with any and every client–from vet to newbie–who followed and stuck with our training recommendations.

Functional Strength Training is an immutable part of a good, comprehensive sport training plan whether you are a runner, triathlete, or swimmer. This might be a new truth for many. But to not be FUNCTIONALLY strong does an immense disservice to your training and performance. Without it, you can’t even come close to unlocking your ultimate potential.

Functional Strength Training: You Need To Be Stable To Perform Your Best

This is the third post of a four-part series on functional strength training. Click below to see other posts in the series.
Is Functional Strength Training A Fad? A Gimmick?

Stop Leaking Speed!
Functional Strength Training: Key to Generating Power and Speed

Functional Strength Training: You Need To Be Stable To Perform Your Best

StableSquatWe’ve spent the last few blog posts talking about what functional strength training is, and outlining why it is supremely important for any athlete to get and stay as functionally strong as possible. Let’s talk now about the importance of STABILITY, a key athletic component that can be greatly improved through functional strength training.

“Stability? Huh? No coach has ever mentioned that.”

It’s much easier to tell an athlete to “just train more” for gains in their chosen sport than to explain why seemingly amorphous concepts like stability, mobility, and neuro-muscular firing are essential for top performance. Driven athletes often like short answers, and the advice that seems to resonate–and is most readily accepted–is to train more, more, and still more. We have an informative blog post here on why following the “just train more” philosophy is ultimately disastrous.

But back to the issue of stability….

If you are not functionally strong, your body cannot remain stable during the rigor of training or competition–and you need to be rock solid. When an athlete is functionally weak, FORM is the first thing to go when fatigue sets in. We’ve quoted trainer Matt Dixon in this blog before, and, again, he sums up why being a stable athlete is so important. In this case, he writes on the sport of triathlon, but his words apply across many sports:

The elements of triathlon are each performed in effectively a single plane. However, when fatigue sets in, the first thing you will notice is the athlete’s inability to control slight lateral (out-of-plane) movements. Hips and shoulders rock from side to side, efficiency drops and the metabolic costs rise. Once this instability sets in, it is extremely hard to reverse.

Instead, using functional strength training to ignite the big prime movers (glutes, quads, and hamstrings) so they can do their job for extended periods of time is essential. The important, supporting stabilizing muscles can then go to work to help you KEEP GOOD BIOMECHANICAL FORM OVER LONG DISTANCES. If you want to perform at your best over the long haul, the simple fact is you have to be solid and stable.

We know sport–particularly running–shouldn’t and doesn’t have to hurt. Injuries do not have to be accepted as the norm. Athletes can return to race and make gains season after season. None of that is possible, however, if you are a weak, unstable athlete, falling apart biomechanically.

In our next and final post in this series, we’ll talk about how functional strength training helps you produce more power. And we all want that!

Core Class, Boot Camp…Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily… (Part 3 of 3)

This is the final post in our three-part series on core development. There others are What You Don’t Know About the Core Can Hurt You and Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success

Hello Everyone!

Coach Al here. I am wrapping up our series on core development with this video blog post. I want to take the time to delve into another serious misunderstanding that pervades the athletic world about core development work and functional strength training. It is the idea that if you go to a class or boot camp, or you work really hard using the latest, popular DVD, then the benefits of improved performance and diminished risk of injury will come.

There is no doubt that a strong and stable body will keep you healthier and make you faster. However, taking classes or following a routine on a DVD amounts to nothing more than selecting exercises at random as they do not not address your particular issues and weaknesses. Without first knowing how YOU MOVE in order to tailor strength work to your particular needs, you will not secure the benefits you seek and deserve. A generic, random approach to core development and functional strength work is NOT smart training, and is not a good use of your time.

I hope you will listen and come away with a better understanding of what it takes to get truly strong. If you do the work, you deserve to reap the benefits of better performance, reduced injury, and enhanced overall health.

The other posts in this series I recommend you take the time to read are What You Don’t Know About the Core Can Hurt You and The Insidious Infiltration of a Training Mindset into Core Work.

Ask Coach Al: Let’s Talk Recovery

Coach Al Lyman, gait analysis and functional movement expert, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKC

Hello all!

Recovery is such an important topic for endurance athletes. I am very careful with the athletes I coach to be sure they not only work hard to achieve their goals, but that they also learn to recover well from hard training sessions and racing. Part of the training I prescribe includes regular and ongoing personalized functional strength work in order for my athletes to work from a body that is durable and resilient. This is immensely important to not only reaching athletic potential, BUT also to essential to proper recovery. My athletes, I’m happy to say, race regularly, reach incredible goals, AND come back to train and race year after year.

This audio is a general conversation about issues relating to recovery. I talk about stress in its many forms–training, nutritional, adrenal, etc.–and how all of it impacts the ability to recover. Does diminished soreness mean you are recovered from that long race? With so many of you gearing up for your A races of the season, it’s a good time to revisit issues related to this important topic.


Coach Al


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Gluteal Amnesia? Here’s Your Rx

Functional strength training activates the gluteal muscles

Gluteus maximus (Anv?ndare:Chrizz, CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Gluteal amnesia” is a great phrase coined by Stuart McGill, PhD, one of the world’s foremost experts on spine biomechanics. And you know what? Based on the athletes we see coming into our Gait Analysis Lab every day, you probably have it. And it’s not a good thing.

So much of athletic performance depends on the optimal functioning of your butt and all the gluteal muscles–maximus, medius and minimus–in concert with the functional integrity of your hips and pelvis. This is the powerhouse that generates propulsive athletic movement, and when functioning properly, is majorly important in helping to prevent injuries.

“Gluteal amnesia” is particularly detrimental to athletes. Many of us in modern society have lost our ability to engage the butt muscles and hips during exercise due to lifestyles that include a great deal of sitting, driving, being hunched over a computer, etc. When the ability to move correctly and with functional integrity is lost, performance is adversely affected for sure, and the risk of injury rises exponentially.

Functional Integity of the Pelvis & Hips: Gluteal Activation Enhances Athleticism and Injury Prevention, published in Dynamic Chiropractic, is a great article that goes in-depth on the importance of the function of the glutes, hips, and pelvis. It’s worth your time to read it for a deeper understanding of how important the issue is to your athletic performance.

We want to make clear, however, that overcoming “gluteal amnesia” is about more than simply strengthening the glutes. We encourage you to revisit our posts on functional strength training and authentic movement to learn more about the importance of establishing and owning a neutral pelvis, achieving muscular balance, and becoming stable. Getting functionally strong, activating your glutes, and strengthening your hips is far more than just throwing a bunch of exercises at your body, especially if you do them with bad form, or if they’re an incorrect exercise for you. We hope to help you put the pieces together to learn how exceptional athleticism is derived, then have you take action. Conquering overall “functional amnesia” is how to unlock your potential, and become the best athlete you can be.