I’ve been in this game a long time. I’ve seen training fads, techniques and terms come and go as often as I’ve seen roster moves on the rosters of teams I’ve worked with. I’m a strength and conditioning coach in Detroit and I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work with some of the best athletes in the world. Though, through that time, my specialty has always been fighters. Training a fighter brings several things into the equation that aren’t necessarily a primary focus in other athletes. A fighter not only requires strength, but balance, explosive power, adaptation to recovery in a short time and even coordination stimulation.
Now, all of us need some reprieve from our day to day life and the things that create stress in it. I’m sure some of you have actually participated in some sort of boxing specific routine for that exact purpose. My being in the sport as long as I have, as a fighter long before ever having worked with many of the same guys that once hit me, doesn’t give me that same release. Sort of like going to work as a swim instructor and then trying to get pumped to go swim when you’re done at work. You just don’t get the same mental escape. My escape has always been trail running. Living in Michigan provides year round opportunities to get out and see varying degrees of Mother Nature when she decides to change it on you on a whim. I’ve missed it over the last several years with knee and back issues that had finally caught up to me. Sure I was able to go and take long walks out there with my dog. But, both Kilig and I knew that what we really wanted to do was glide along on the trails, covering as much distance as we could with whatever allotted amount of time we had to work with.
Last summer I went to camp with WBA Interim Champ, Shojahon Ergashev, to help get him ready for a main event fight on Showtime. One of the promoters major concerns was being able to develop strength and balance without compromising the joints, especially in the knees and ankles. This was mostly preventive, but necessary considering the movements their bodies would need to support for the next six weeks. I spent some time coming up with a few out of the ordinary movements that would present a different way of doing familiar movements while forcing the joints, gradually, to maintain structural integrity while also allowing for effective response sensitive explosive moves. As I gradually worked some of these moves into our training camp, I noticed that not only was explosiveness improving but so was their recovery time. Initially it took some time for the body to adjust but this was minimal and temporary, as is the case with most new stresses you throw at it.
How does this apply to trail running? During their training camp, my roster also included an adventure racer, an off road triathlete and an ultra runner. Some of the moves we’d stayed away from for various reasons were now added back into their strength training, but using them in the same way that I’d used with my fighters. This process of adding and subtracting different off balance strength moves at specific times in their training did at least as much, if not more, to benefit my off road athletes. Just as is the key with all sport specific training, knowing when to use it and knowing when to ease off was something I had to play with a little bit, as it’s different for each athlete. The key isn’t simply standing on a bosu ball and throwing a medicine ball around. Everything we do in our training should be done with intention = as in why, why are you doing this? Too many people see something in a magazine and think it looks cool, so they do it. Core contraction to keep your lower lumbar spine aligned while your lower body is completely off balance is something you can’t simply isolate, you have to create the scenario in which your body does it automatically. If you can replicate this over and over again in a controlled environment, it won’t cause a problem with cramping, falling or some sort of hitch in your giddy up when it happens on the trails. And it will.
A basic example, and a great way to start is with a basic squat adaptation. By squat I mean a real squat, on a squat rack. Not a smith machine. I write this with the assumption that you’re squatting properly. If you don’t know, read an article on squatting and come back to this. Those that are already in the game, you’d take whatever your normal weight would be for you to complete 15-20 reps. Not easily, but not to failure either. Say that your weight would be 135 lbs (a 45lb plate on each side), you’ll only rack one side of the bar. The “naked” side will be set up a little different. You’re going to take a resistance band, the type you’d use for assisted pull-ups, and hang a kettle bell from it. Preferably a weight that’s roughly 25-50 % of the weight on the other side. The kettle bell needs to be hangining freely as close to the end of the bar as you can without having it fall off. As you reverse direction from the low point to standing back up, on your very first rep, you’ll get the “bouncy” feeling of the kettle bell stretching and contracting the band because of your movement. This bouncing is what’s stimulating your body’s natural attempt to adjust and balance to this new and uncomfortable range of movements that are hitting from several different angles and at different degrees of intensity. Your key is to simply keep your body in motion and under control. Don’t move quickly and don’t stop to balance yourself. If you’re moving correctly, your body will do that on it’s own. Expect it to feel like you’re going to fall over, that’s the point. The key isn’t to do as many as possible. You’ll do no more than 10 repetitions in each of the 3 sets. You’ll need 3-5 minutes of rest and/or active stretching between sets.
Another oddity of this routine is that you will NOT train both sides in the same session. This is something you’ll need to have two consecutive days of training available for. You’ll switch sides on the next day and within 20 hours if possible. The important second part to this routine is the back step plyo lunge. If the band is on the left side of the bar, you’ll complete 3 sets of 20 left foot forward drop lunges, or plyo lunges. Both feet leave and return to the ground at the same time. You’ll do these after having completed all three of your squat sets. For the plyo lunges, take no more than 45 seconds between sets. This is a quick leg routine. Do the same (but opposite side for both moves) the next day. Both days should finish with a short run, on trails if possible. The run should be no more than a 5k. Your body needs to know what it feels like to run while your legs are recovering unevenly so that when you run a race, or for time, your rested and fully recovered legs will make you feel like you’re flying, and maybe you are…