Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kettlebells For Triathletes

I am often asked by triathlete’s and duathlete’s alike, as to what is the best kind of weight training to compliment the disciplines of there endurance sport.
Coaches and trainers will give you different answers, and scientific proof that one way is better than the other. Some do not advocate strength training at all, so there is no easy answer to this as many ways have been tried and tested and all coaches have a preferred method of strength and conditioning.

Owing to the nature of triathlon predominantly slow muscle twitch fibres are used, with some training incorporating fast muscle twitch fibres. To be honest both should be used and are utilised in training and competing.
Bodyweight is very advantages to endurance athletes as it builds, strength, flexibility, mobility, endurance and allows the athlete to maintain an athletic look rather than a bulked up look.
Most athletes are told to follow more traditional methods of weight training where the body works as individual units to strengthen the muscles, much the same as a body builder or power lifter.
A lot of time is spent on clean and jerks, snatches, hang cleans, all great if you have time to perfect the technique, access to the proper equipment and really want to compete in weight or power lifting events.
Many of the programmes given to athletes are specific to one discipline with a little crossover in some areas if the coach understands the physiology and body requirements of the sport.

Having coached athletes both for general preparedness and sport specificity, one thing I have noticed is a lack of posterior strength in many triathletes, mainly owing to poor training programmes or lack of knowledge concerning the anatomy of the body and the requirements of the sport.
This is where I believe and have proved it to my athletes that kettlebell training will aid and compliment there existing training. Firstly lets look at the anatomical position in order to correct the PKC (posterior kinetic chain)

Anatomical Position
What is the anatomical position?
The anatomical position is a position used as a reference when describing parts of the body in relation to each other. Used in conjunction with terms of relationship, terms of comparison and terms of movement, the anatomical position allows a standard way of documenting where one part of the body is in relation to another, regardless of whether the body is standing, lying down, or in any other position.
A person in the anatomical position is standing erect with the head, eyes and toes pointing forward, feet together with arms by the side. The palms of the hands are also pointing forward. (see below)

When looking at an individual it is important to understand the basics of Optimal Posture/Alignment.

Basically a line or plumb line can be held against the side view of the individual and the poinths that should line up starting from the bottom are
1. Ankle--neutral, planter or dorsiflex position. LOG (Line of Gravity) slightly forward of the lateral malleolus of the ankle
2. Knee-full extension LOG falls anterior to the knee but just posterior of the patella
3. Hip and Pelvis- both in neutral the posterior superior Iliac spines should be below 10 degrees for male and 15 for female
4. Spine should curve naturally and be neutral The LOG falls slightly posterior of the cervical spine
5. Shoulders- Scapula retracted and depressed
6. Head- Ear LOG should fall through the centre of the ear.

The optimal posture/alignment may not be correct in most individuals; this is owing to genetics, activity, injury, inactivity. By ensuring we check and compare our alignments we can ensure what corrective work may be required to correct our alignment.
Now for the posterior kinetic chain which in basic form propels you forward! And is used in all three disciplines.
This is a collection of muscles that are responsible for lower back stability and hip extension.
These muscle groups are possibly the weakest in most humans in today’s society, resulting in poorer physiques owing to lower and upper back problems which develop owing to the fact most of the workforce today are in seated positions most of the day.

Muscles that make up the posterior chain include
• Erector spinae
• Gluteus maximus
• Hamstrings
• Bicep femoris
• Semitendonosis
• Semimembranosus

To understand the PKC fully we need to also look Elastic Potential Energy (EPE)
Definition of EPE
Elastic Potential Energy called "EPE"
is a measure of the restoring force when an object changes its shape.
EPE is similar to GPE (Gravitational Potential Energy) except that the restoring force
depends on the substance of the material and not due to gravity.
The force which returns the spring to its original shape
is called the restoring force.
The size of the restoring force depends on the stiffness of the spring
and the amount it has been stretched.
The more stiff the spring and the further it has been stretched,
the more EPE it has gained.
Anything elastic will gain EPE when its shape is forced to change.
Other examples are.

1. A catapult pulled back to launch a stone.
2. A crossbow primed to fire an arrow. When the shape is restored,

EPE is transferred to Kinetic Energy (+ Heat)
In western society for many centuries we have been great abdicators of the squat, ensuring we never bypass our knee line with our buttocks, this is in part owing to our way of life, most item’s we have which we can sit on is at right angles to the ground, e.g chairs, toilets, car seats, benches.
We have lost the ability to use our hamstrings properly and engage them in sport or daily lives, hence the reason most sport or fitness related injuries are the hamstrings.
What do we mean by elastic potential, quick examples would be Olympic power lifters and the depth they go to for power squats and lifts, Asian communities where if you observe them at a local roadside café they are all hunkered down with there bottoms close to the ground feet flat leaning slightly forward.
As they get up as do power lifters they explode ensuring the hips, glutes, back, hamstrings and quads all fire nearly in unison so as to drive them up to a standing position.
Using the above example and a liking the hamstring to a spring; if we stretch a spring and then let go, it will return to its original shape (provided it has not been stretched beyond its elastic limit).

This is why we need to improve elasticity in the hamstrings to prevent injury and to release EPE within the muscle group.
Types of Contraction and Elastic Potential

Isometric exercise or "isometrics" are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during contraction (compared to concentric or eccentric contractions, called dynamic/isotonic movements). Isometrics are done in static positions, rather than being dynamic through a range of motion. The joint and muscle are either worked against an immovable force (overcoming isometric) or are held in a static position while opposed by resistance (yielding isometric).

Muscle fiber generates tension through the action of actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling. While under tension, the muscle may lengthen, shorten or remain the same. Though the term 'contraction' implies shortening, when referring to the muscular system it means muscle fibers generating tension with the help of motor neurons (the terms twitch tension, twitch force and fiber contraction are also used).
Muscle fiber generates tension through the action of actin and myosin cross-bridge cycling. While under tension, the muscle may lengthen, shorten or remain the same. ...
The tensioning of a muscle as it is being lengthened
Contraction of a muscle, involving lengthening of the muscle as in lowering a weight to the ground; a muscle contraction, in which the contracted muscle lengthens.

Integration of the Kettlebell

Kettlebell training is not new it is not magic, although some may have you believe it. The Russians who are at the front of kettlebell sport have used tried and tested techniques for years.
Since the collapse of the cold war, this amazing little weight has once again exploded onto the fitness scene.

The major benefit that you will experience once you start training with kettlebells is the fact your whole body works in unison.
You will feel the burn in your hamstrings, glutes, quads, back, shoulders and arms and that’s just from the basic techniques such as the KB swing.

Even bodybuilders have come to appreciate and understand the need to train with kettlebells and add them into there training regimes, no longer do they work muscle groups in isolation of each other.

What does this mean for you the individual and what does KB training do for you

• Teaches your body how to work as a single unit (it integrates the whole body together)

• Allows for high repetition work which is phenomenal for fat loss conditioning

• Emphasizes the use of the glutes, hamstrings, spinal muscles and abdominal muscles for maximum power and speed enhancement.

• Simultaneously improves both strength and cardiovascular endurance (known as incidental cardio)

• Improves flexibility (this happens as a by product of training)

• Boosts your metabolism thus burning more fat

• Develops incredible hand, grip and finger strength

• Improves full body stability and balance due the dynamic nature of the exercises

• Burns more energy because of the full body integration

If used correctly and it is worth attending a reputable workshop with a qualified instructor, which will ensure that you understand the basic mechanics and swings of Kettlebells and start to incorporate them into your training programme you will see and feel a difference

So get swinging!

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