Take Advantage of Group Dynamics to Better Your Strength Workouts
It’s 6:45 AM on November 21st several years ago. Snow and ice blow over the sidewalks as early-risers pour their first cup of coffee. Most people will be on their way to work soon, but my teammates and I have other plans. Instead of cozying up in our beds and hitting the snooze button for the fourth time, we are in the gym, holding plank position, halfway through this morning’s core workout, making serious (not just marginal) gains in terms of strength, injury prevention, and overall health.
While I had already been doing “Core” for a couple of years – push-ups, planks, flutter kicks, crunches, etc. – this particular winter was the first year that I had ever done it with a group. It changed everything. I was no longer struggling to find the motivation or time for a core workout. Every Monday and Wednesday, my teammates and I got together from 6:30-7:30AM for a quality session of core and strength training.
When you are part of a group – training partners, roommates, or teammates – you are accountable. Everyone gets up early because they don’t want to let their training partners down. My friends and I pushed each other, physically and mentally, and became stronger because of it. We were smart about it too – we stuck to our own training plans, and only did exercises that we were comfortable with. Over time, we developed our own, individual strength training programs. With the help of our coaches, we learned how to incorporate core and strength training sessions into our base, pre-race, and peak training plans.
By the following spring, we were stronger than ever before, dominating the road season. We continued our run of good form all the way through the summer, and just as importantly, we remained injury-free. Core work is one of the most important aspects of training for endurance sports like running or cycling. It helps prevent injuries, improves stability and balance, and increases overall power output and speed, yet is often pushed aside in favor of more endurance miles.
The most important lesson that I learned from these core training sessions is the power of group training. We laughed together, sweated together, and pushed each other to work in ways that no one of us could have on their own. In other words, if each of us went to the gym alone to do our own core workout, we probably wouldn’t show up or work as hard half of the time. We held each other accountable to get up early, put in the work, and had fun doing it. If you asked any of us if we liked going to the gym, the answer would be a unanimous “no.” But if you had seen us smiling and laughing together while squeezing our abs and holding perfectly flat planks, you would have said that we were having fun.
This might sound crazy, but you can have fun lifting too. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Find a group, join a gym, or ask your teammates what they are doing for strength training.
- Next, set up a training program with your coach, trainer, or physiologist. Just “winging it” in the gym can be dangerous. Using equipment incorrectly or having improper form can lead to serious injury. (All Wenzel Coaching training plans can include gym work or strength exercises you can do outside a gym.)
- Finally, periodize your strength training. Lifting should be hardest and most-taxing in the off-season, when volume and intensity on the bike are at a minimum. Talk with your coach about adjusting your core and strength training when it comes to base, intervals, and especially racing season.
By Zach Nehr