Archive for functional strength

Coach Al : Secret #2 – 4 Secrets To Help YOU Explode Your Ultimate Potential (with triathlete Susan Ford)

Secret #2: Seek Clarity and Conviction – Choose Wisely

“Life is fired at us point blank and we must choose. ” – Ortega
“We can have anything we choose, but not everything we want. Our appetites will always exceed our grasp.”  – Philip Humbert

I wake every day affirming that what I do on this day is a choice. Some days it doesn’t exactly feel like it :), but I know this is true. At the same time, I also affirm that what I DON’T do is also a choice.  Every single day, every one of us chooses to do (and think) certain things and not others. And there in lies the challenge: one of the traps we can all fall into is the belief that “we can choose to have it all.” I don’t think that is true, at least not all at the same time.

In order to reach your ultimate potential as an athlete, you must decide that is what you want, and then make clear choices that point you toward that goal. 

There’s something unique about this day and age we live in that leads many of us to believe we can “have it all.” I often speak with athletes who send themselves off in many directions at the same time. For example, in addition to training for ironman, they might also be starting a new job, raising a young family, buying a new home, or working on their Masters! Yes, these folks are super type-A high achievers with the commensurate commitment to make it all happen. But the truth is, doing all of these things well and reaching our true potential on the race course too, is fool’s gold.

Each of us must choose. We must all decide for ourselves what we want to achieve, and then seek clarity and conviction and a singular focus toward that end.

 The problem some have when they read this, hear me speak about it, or glance at Susan’s life from afar, is that they think that they are different. They don’t want to give up certain other aspects of their life while pursuing their racing goals. They “like” dabbling in and pursuing many things all at once.  Some say that racing fast isn’t their only goal. Others believe driving themselves into a hole of deep exhaustion from having so many irons in the fire is something to be proud of. As a society, we love to pat ourselves on the back for being able to “do it all!”

Trying to “do it all” leads to mediocrity.  Hey, if you’re ok with your race results and your overall progression as an athlete, then read no further. However, if you are truly committed to being the best athlete you can be and seeing what you are truly capable of, like Susan is, you’ll have to make THAT your focus and make some sacrifices in other areas of your life, at least for a period of time.

  • Susan narrowed her focus.  She makes sacrifices in other areas of her life in order to be on this journey.
  • She has built up systems including a support group of friends and family, and has created and nurtures an environment that supports this singular focus.

As many have said, ultimately the “winner” is the person who is most happy with their choices. I believe (as I bet Susan does), that happiness comes directly from having clarity.  To quote Philip Humbert, “happiness comes from deciding who we are, what we value, and how we will spend our lives, and that comes from taking time to think clearly, make smart choices, and plan wisely.”

Susan is living life in her own way, according to her values. In this day and age, we often fall into the trap of working harder, doing and buying more, yet not finding the happiness we had hoped to. What we would all benefit from is what Susan has done: choose wisely, create clarity, and live life on our own terms to its fullest.

In the end, each of us is required to accept responsibility for the choices we make and the path we follow. We can’t have it all. What we can have is whatever we choose!

Who knows what lies ahead? Follow YOUR path with clarity and focus and be the very best you can be!

Look for secret #3 soon. Enjoy!

~Coach Al

Coach Al : 4 Secrets To Help YOU Explode Your Ultimate Potential (with triathlete Susan Ford)

4 Secrets To Help You Explode Your Ultimate Potential!

(with Pursuit Athletic Performance triathlete, Susan Ford)

“Short cuts make long delays.”  – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship Of The Ring
“It is not the table – it is the spoon.”  – unknown
Triathlete Susan Ford

Triathlete Susan Ford


In four installments over the next few days, I’m going to share with you powerful secrets to help you explode your potential. Today my focus is secret #1. Over the next few days, I will share the remaining three secrets. The inspiration to share these with you comes from one of my coached triathletes and good friends, Tennessean Susan Ford (pictured left).

Listen to this: In 2013 at the age of 48, Susan set a new PR at the 5k, 10k, half marathon, half ironman, marathon, AND ironman distance!  Just this past weekend (now 49 years old), she ran the Cummins Falls half marathon in Jackson County TN, and not only set a new PR (on an extremely challenging and very hilly course), she won the women’s OVERALL title. And that isn’t all. She finished 4th overall among both women AND men, was a mere 17 seconds behind the 3rd place male, and only 6 minutes behind the overall men’s winner! At age 48. Wow.

I can tell you, this is a vastly different experience than any she has ever had in the past. Susan not only hasn’t always won races, going back she often didn’t even finish in the top half of the field. In fact, she has spent many years struggling at the middle of the pack, in various stages of injury and plateau, always wondering whether she’d ever be able to train and race the way she really WANTED to.

When we began working together about five years ago, I had no idea how good she could be (I never know that with anyone I coach – how could I?), but I DID know she had a very long arduous road ahead of her to reach her true ultimate potential (whatever that might be). She was fragile and not moving well, she wasn’t very wise or experienced as an endurance athlete, and was clearly training way over her head.  She had mastered the art of masking minor injury on a daily basis, and routinely dealt with so many aches and pains that I was concerned about her ability to continue to train and race long term. We’ve had many interesting conversations over the time we have worked together about how she doesn’t have the proto-typical endurance athlete’s body (tall, long legged, wirey) or that she never seemed to be blessed with as much natural talent as some other athletes (can any of you relate to that?).  What she clearly had (among many other things which I will share with you in this four-part series), was a strong work ethic and dogged determination.

Fast forward to today. Susan’s amazing success that now has her at the TOP of her Age Group in any race she enters, speaks to just how FAR someone can go when they put the right resources and abilities together and don’t give up or give in.

The path Susan has followed to reach this point is SO powerful that I felt I had to share her secrets to success, not from her viewpoint, but rather, from my perspective as her coach.  She isn’t the only athlete I work with who achieves this level of success or who embraces these four secrets. However, what I will share with you is what separates Susan from many others trying to find their path toward fulfilling their ultimate potential and happiness.

Look for the next three installments of this series over the next few days. I hope you find them helpful. Trust me, this is no B.S.

What I will share with you HAS THE POWER to explode both your results AND your enjoyment of the sport. These secrets can change your life!

 Secret #1:

The Devil Is In The Details.

I could probably re-phrase this secret to there are no short cuts – no easy way. Regardless, this arguably overused cliche, “the devil is in the details,” conveys what is at the very center of this secret for exploding your potential.

Every one of us has heard this idiom at one time or another.  It simply means that if you overlook certain things in a plan or scheme, having overlooked those things might cause problems later on. What I’m talking about isn’t just having a desire to be better or willingness to “work harder,” or even more efficiently. The difference between just going through the motions (or approaching something “mostly” correctly) vs. really focusing and zeroing in on detail is absolutely huge and can’t be overstated.

To reach your true potential, you must embrace every detail associated with your development.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Seeking to perfectly execute any exercise or training session that is programmed.
  • Learning from errors and planning ahead to avoid repeating them.
  • Planning ahead in your daily schedule to ensure you’re not rushing through any aspect of your training and preparation.
  • Taking time to evaluate (or have someone else evaluate) your movement quality on a regular basis.
  • Videotaping yourself to objectively assess what you’re doing routinely.
  • Not rushing through warm up or cool down.
  • Getting enough sleep, eating optimally, and reducing daily stress.
  • Consistently and accurately keeping a training diary for appropriate reflection and monitoring.
  • Communicating clearly and consistently with those mentors who are guiding you.

And what’s more, being truly detail oriented and not looking for short cuts goes way beyond the routine items mentioned here, and in fact, speaks to more holistic and ultimately profound concepts.  For example:   

  • Have you made a conscious choice (after thoughtful deliberation) to completely embrace the training philosophy that you follow? With 100% commitment to the process?  
  • Do you take 100% responsibility for your choices and actions, and approach every aspect of your training to the very best of your ability?
  • Do you haphazardly follow your training program (hitting “most” of the details) or do you execute it to the best of your ability, as closely as you can to how it is laid out for you?
  • Do you see the value in the very subtle difference between doing things “mostly” correct, vs. as correct as is possible for you on that day?
  • Do you take the time to learn about the philosophy behind the training system you follow, or are you content to just have “a plan” and wing it?
  • Do you embrace the mundane grind that is an inevitable part of long term mastery of a skill or ability?
  • Do you pick and choose from a variety of methodologies, thinking you have the expertise to know what is the best mix for you, or do you make a conscious choice to follow a certain path and then stay true to that path?

From day 1, Susan has worked hard to more fully embrace the philosophy of training and the detail presented to her, and then she put 100% of her energy into making the most of that philosophy on a daily basis.  She sees the training laid out in front of her and never looks for a way to make it easier for herself.  She has never changed something on her own believing she knew better than I did when I programmed it for her.

Picture a great artist toiling over tiny detail in a painting, a superb violinist carefully tuning their instrument, or a surgeon carefully washing their hands prior to going into the operating room. Like Susan, they all know the devil truly is in the details.

The greatest thing of all is that the same approach to detail that leads to mastery and improvement is also the thing that will enhance your enjoyment of the process itself AND lead to better long term growth and improvement!

Look for secret #2 soon. Make it a detail oriented day! Enjoy!

~Coach Al

Watch! This “Strong” Ironman Likely to be Walking the Marathon (Video)

Hey Everyone!
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
  • Arthritis

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

Join our Online Triathlon Team. Race as you never have before!



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!

What You Don’t Know About the Core Can Hurt You (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first post in our three-part series on core development. There others are Core Training: Why Hard Effort Does Not Always Equal Success and Core Class, Boot Camp… Great Ways to Get Stronger? Not Necessarily….

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete.

There is so much misinformation out there about core “strength” and core “training.” Athletes have been misled by years of improper training guidance, including any number of popular core (fad) “strength” programs that are at once deceitful in their marketing promises, and often very harmful.

If you are an athlete interested in good health AND better performance, it is time to learn the real story of the core–what it is, how it works, what it is designed to do, and how to develop proper core strength and stability.

What Is the Core? What Is Its Purpose?

You may think of the core as isolated abdominal muscles such as the familiar transverse abdominals, obliques, and anterior abs. In fact, your core is the ENTIRE trunk from your hips and pelvis to your neck and cervical spine. Its purpose is to be your body’s foundation for

all of your sport movements. The purpose of this foundation (your core) is to STOP or control motion, not create it. This is critical! In fact, athletic stability stops or controls motion (in the pelvic girdle for example) in the presence of motion somewhere else in the body (such as in the swinging arms and legs of a runner). This is a hugely important concept that we will cover more in-depth below. We will also talk about how the core is designed to provide “reactive stabilization” and work as an integrated unit synergistically with every other part of your body.

Your Core Must Be Stable

The true goal of core development is to create STABILITY, which is central for superior athletic performance, protection from injury, and overall good health. The pelvis and the lumbar spine, in particular, must be rock solid. Why does this matter?

Most athletes have no idea, but core stability is how you transfer power to your arms and legs. Without stability in the pelvis and the lumbar spine, your big agonist muscles, or prime movers (glutes, quads, hamstrings, lats) cannot activate. Most athletes haven’t a clue that their ability to generate ballistic output and speed originates from a neutral pelvis and a stable lumbar spine–never from the limbs alone.

The more stable the core, the more power you can generate with your extremities.

Pursuit Athletic Performance On Core Strength and Stability

The lumbar region in the human skeleton

Core stability allows your entire kinetic chain to fire at optimal efficiency. So if you swim, bike, run, moving from a neutral pelvic position with a stable lumbar spine is the fundamental basis for your ultimate performance potential. All your hopes, dreams, and goals for training and racing start with a stable core.

Reactive Stabilization. What’s That? And Why Should I Care?

The core is also designed to reactively stabilize during dynamic movements. In other words, the core kicks in to prevent inefficient motion in the presence of motion elsewhere in the body. For example…

As a runner swings her arms and legs, a properly-functioning core reacts to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulders and allow for the transfer of power to the legs. This reactive stability, coupled with proper mobility, muscular balance, and overall functional strength, allows for the optimal firing of your big prime movers. The supporting stabilizing muscles can then go to work to keep good biomechanical form over long distances.

Reactive stabilization of the core is very close to the silver bullet athletes are constantly searching for.

Employing a stable core is how your true athleticism emerges as you stop wasting energy and are able to transfer EFFORT from your sport-specific movement into SPEED throughout your training and racing.

Have a Strong Core? It Can Still Be A Weak Core

This is a really important paradox for athletes to be aware of. Even if your core is strong–i.e. isolated abdominal muscles are well developed–if it is UNSTABLE, there is no doubt you are LEAKING SPEED. The instability is guaranteed to lead to compensation in all of your movement. As a result, you are forced to use the wrong muscles to power your way through training and racing. Your risk of injury is also much, MUCH higher.

Working the Abs

Many athletes have been led to believe they are enhancing their training by doing exercises like sit ups and crunches. Many popular “cult” training programs that are thought to be “cutting edge” and cool, include these kinds of exercises.

Core stability has no relationship whatsoever to working abdominal muscles in isolation.

Exercises like these allow motion to occur through the lumbar spine, negating, as we explained earlier, the functional purpose of that area of the body. The lumbar spine is not meant to greatly twist and flex, and the disks in the back are harmed by those movements. Sit ups, crunches, leg lifts and the like are completely counterproductive to your goal of becoming a better athlete. Strong abdominal muscles in an unstable core do nothing to stabilize you at the precise moment you need to mitigate unwanted movement to create power and speed.

To ignite your core into the wellspring of powerful athletic movement that it is designed to be, you must train the “core” in a functional, sport-specific, and authentic way. Quality functional movement and strength training is the way to go.

Training Core Stability

To build a stable core we recommend you have a scientific gait analysis conducted at a reputable institution. Find the root causes of your weakness and imbalances then, with help from a carefully-selected trainer, objectively and scientifically rebuild thorough core stability. You need to carefully research various trainers and select one who has a deep understanding of core stability and functional strength training. Rather than crunching, you should be working a perfectly executed (we can’t stress the perfect execution part enough) planking regimen. A well-designed regimen will include front and side planks,  moving planks, and longer continuous plank holds.

When you have a truly stable core, it is then–and only then–that you can safely and effectively increase load and dynamism in training. It is then that your sport-specific training will really begin to work, and the results you have been searching for will begin to manifest.


We will continue this series on the core with two additional posts. We will examine the insidious infiltration of the “training” mindset into core development. Then we’ll delve into how core development is more than just picking some random exercises and expecting great results.

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: Performance Enhancement Through Strength Training (Audio)

Coach Al Lyman, Pursuit Athletic Performance, Gait Analysis and Functional Strength Training Expert

Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKS

Hello Everyone!

As many of you are well aware, the core of our mission at Pursuit Athletic Performance is to get each individual athlete the FASTEST they can be, performing to their ultimate potential with far less risk of injury. So, how do we do that? In addition to smart, progressive training, we train each athlete to be as  functionally strong, stable, and mobile in the way they, personally, need to be. Hand-in-hand with that goal, is our work re-educating athletes about the importance of strength training as it relates to PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT. And, believe me, it does relate.

In this audio post I talk about strength training and its value. Here are just two reasons why this issue is important to understand:

1. If you are muscularly balanced, stable, and functionally strong you will be far more durable, be much more resistant to fatigue, leak less energy, and be able to create power and speed. You absolutely will BE FASTER as a result—AND be more durable and able to resist fatigue.

2. If you take the time to understand and learn, you will execute a strength program more precisely, be more committed, and enjoy the process more!

I think there is lots of valuable learning here. Hope you find it helpful, and let me know if you have any questions.

Coach Al

Play audio here: