“Right lads you’re going on a 10 mile speed march this morning!” shouted the Sergeant major. “Grab your webbing and rifles and be ready in 10 minutes!”. The look on some peoples faces as they knew their ankles, knees and hips were just about to take another pounding after nearly a full week of long hard phys – despair!

Alright so maybe this is just a story, but it is one that rings true amongst many in the forces and many other athletes for that matter. It’s old hat to constantly pummel the joints on long arduous exercise without being adequately prepared, however it still happens on a daily basis. This is worrying when half of the people defending our planet are suffering with injuries that could compare with someone three times their age.

My experience of training both in and out of the forces compelled me to ask some questions of this old type of approach and see where I could improve it. I arrived at my unit injured (after an accident) and realised that the only reason I’d managed to pull myself through basic training in one go was because of my strength and the work I had put in before joining. Now I’m not saying training whilst injured is good (it’s not but if you’ve been to Lympstone you will understand why I didn’t want to stay any longer), but it cleared something up for me….a foundation of strength helped support my fitness and reduce the risk and severity of my injury both during training and eventually when I moved on.

So…story out of the way. In order to do this we must focus on the exercises that will give us biggest bang for our buck and still allow us enough time to focus on any other important elements such as endurance. Squat variations, Lunge variations, hinge variations (deadlifts etc.), pushing, pulling, core and grip drills are all excellent for laying the foundations for further work.

Below is an example strength and conditioning session that can be part of a strength block before you start clocking up the miles:

Warm up: 1 minute jogging, skipping, biking or dancing (if you wish).

5 minutes Range of motion drills (from ankle upwards)

Activation: Aeroplanes 2 x 20 seconds each side. 2 x single leg glute bridge hold x 20 seconds each side.

Skills 5-10 minutes of practicing anything you want to learn from pistol squats to handstands.

Main session:

Deadlifts or rack pulls: 3 x 5 reps 2 -3 minutes rest. Heavy but with impeccable form.

Goblet squats: 3 x 15 reps

s/s with

calf raises: 3 x 20 reps. Rest 1-2 minutes.

Push/pull: 10 minute rolling clock as many rounds as you can of 5 x pull-ups or rows, 10 x press-ups (on floor or bench).

Core/grip conditioner: 3 minutes: dead-hang for 10 seconds then perform 10 x hanging knee raise.

Cardio: Run 800m x 2 with 3 minutes rest between runs at 75-80% of best effort.

 

This time last week something happened to me that made me think I had maybe become slightly complacent towards my training. I had for some time thought I was a very capable individual and could pretty much adapt to any activity just through the amount of strength training and conditioning I did…and be good at it. Not true.

In fact I had fallen foul of something that underpins a lot of success in top athletes…efficiency. I had once been a very good athlete and had taken part in a number of different sports at a good standard- I took this for granted when I entered the pool last Monday afternoon.

After being asked to change to freestyle from breaststroke I suddenly found myself in a wrestling match with the water. Although I thought I was strong and well conditioned, the water seemed to be getting the better of me and I was quickly losing energy – “What the fuck is going on?!!!” I thought to myself.

After a couple of years away from the pool and more time spent in the gym or training at home like a land lubber, I had realised that my strength and inner animal was now struggling to cope by just applying maximum force and tension. Things soon changed and after 20-30 minutes of working on technique and confidence drills in the water, the flow was coming back…I started to feel as if I could swim well again…efficiently.

After the session it made me think about how many people are truly working on becoming efficient. How many people are simply rushing themselves through a process and not progressing the way they should be? I had jumped in, assumed I was still good and went hell for leather…then discovered I wasn’t ready to.

Top runners, tri-athletes and crossfitters all have efficiency in common- they can produce repeated efforts of force at minimal expenditure of energy. Once this is achieved then they look to up the intensity by increasing weight or trying to swim harder during each session.

There are a few lessons to be taken from this for everyone:

1- whatever the activity, make sure you don’t rush yourself. Quality of movement beats load every time.

2- be honest with yourself, find weaknesses, address them, become better.

3- become efficient at your activities, they will be more enjoyable, you’ll perform better, and you won’t find yourself drinking at least half the contents of your local swimming pool.

If you have any questions regarding your training and how to improve your efficiency then leave your details and your question in the box below.