Training to the 5th Power – Five Principles For Optimum Performance

Recently, while surfing the internet, I came upon a debate revolving around strength training and the endurance athlete. As this is my crusade, I gamely took up the fight. Soon it became clear, that like Don Quixote, I might have been tilting at windmills. What I mean to say is that, while I find most endurance athletes smarter than the average bear, the understanding of current strength training methodology is archaic at best. Therefore, like Senor Quixote, I shall continue my crusade and bring to you this new concept in optimum performance training. Before we go any further though, we must first lay down a foundation of training methodology to build on. Using this five-point system, you can evaluate your training. We call it “Training to the 5th Power” (T5). T5 is a combination of various training approaches developed by some of the leaders in the strength and conditioning field. The five points to the T5 system are:

1) train standing,
2) use free weights,
3) use multiple joints,
4) train multi-planar, and
5) train functionally.

These are not new ideas or concepts. They have been around for years and we have just organized them for you, into a structure that is easy to understand and remember. Now let’s take a closer look at the components of T5.

The standing position is a great place to start. Because most endurance sports are contested or performed while standing then training in a standing position, is without a doubt the most effective method of training and strengthening the entire body (i.e. from your toenails to your fingernails). We rarely need any significant strength while we are sitting or lying down, so why spend too much time training that way. Many coaches and athletes believe that one must lie down, or sit, in order to work various parts of the body safely and effectively. This is definitely not the case. In fact, the standing position is superior for developing functional strength in muscle groups traditionally trained in a lying position, such as the abdominals.

Training in a standing position also automatically targets many support structures (e.g. abdominals, lumbar area and shoulder girdle) which, due to their lack of supportive integrity, are commonly injured. Furthermore, with the use of bands and pulleys, various angles specific to endurance sports can be performed to target movements and muscles once trained exclusively in the seated or lying position. Finally, the spinal loading that occurs while training in a standing position is, by far, the best stimulus one can provide to develop bone density and strength to the entire skeletal system. This would certainly be a plus for prevention of fractures related to trauma or overuse through training.

The second principle in the T5 system is training with free weights. Any object that will respond to our friend, Mr. Gravity can be considered free weight. Exceptions to this are bands and pulleys that allow for training in horizontal and oblique angles. The main advantage of free weight training is that it mimics the main force we are trying to prepare for – gravity. Whether you are breaking inertia or reducing momentum, gravity is what you are trying to overcome. Free weights allow you to train in an infinite number of positions, ranges and planes of motion specific to endurance sports, thus deriving greater benefits from your training.

Free weight training, like dumbbell training, is also an excellent method for developing individual structures, as well as teaching multiple muscle systems to work in cooperation with each other the way they do in sport. This factor aggressively deals with the muscle imbalances, which is also a hot topic in endurance sport, often found between dominant and non-dominate limbs. Training with free weight objects, such as medicine balls, also has implications in power development. Since the ability to release or throw an object increases the potential for power output, free weight objects are superior to any machine in replicating and increasing power.

Third on the list is training using compound movements. Compound movement trains movements that involve more than a single joint like running or swimming. Training as many joints as possible will allow us to develop balance and a synergistic relationship in multiple muscle systems. Rarely, if at all, do muscles work in an isolated manner in life. This is even rarer in endurance sports. Therefore, training an entire chain of muscles simultaneously strengthens muscles proportionally and develops proper coordination and muscular recruitment. In addition to this, due to increased mechanical leverage and larger muscle mass involvement, using multiple joints allows for the use of greater loads.

Training multi-planar is next. This is important on many different levels so let’s start at the beginning. Although most endurance sports involve linear displacement in the sagittal plane, it is the transverse plane, which dominates most human movement. Approximately 87{629041bc9a6ff041fc0b7c543548a1c0f13f59ea1b47b2bc21e5d68d30575962} of all muscles between the shoulders and hips are orientated horizontally or at oblique angles. We simply need to look at how a shirt will wrinkle when walking. This happens diagonally or from shoulder to opposite hip. If this is the case then maybe we should train this angle, or more specifically, rotation. In swimming, rotation is readily apparent, but when running we must look a little harder. Next time you are out for a run with your friends, look at them from behind (you could do this with a stranger but I don’t recommend it). What you will see is rotation at the hips, knees and feet. Let’s look at multi-planar training on another level. This training approach optimally prepares us to stabilize multiple muscle and joint systems in a 360-degree fashion. Life and sport happen with 360 degrees freedom of movement. If this is how it happens outside the gym, then this is how we should train it inside the gym. Lastly, we train multi-planar to offset the fatigue and overuse often seen when training in only the sagittal plane. Machine training, as well as most work environments, usually locks us into the sagittal plane. Training in the frontal and transverse planes allows the body to escape this continuous overuse and prevents injury.

Finally, functional training completes the T5 system. When we talk about functional training, what we mean is that you should train movements and not muscles. It’s the opposite of traditional training, based on a bodybuilding model. It encourages training in multiple planes of motion, in unbalanced environments and at the speed of the target activity. It’s the “train as you play” mentality. The concept of functional training fits in very nicely with the other T5 principles. Training in a standing position is functional for most endurance activities. Training with free weights is functional training along any plane and at any speed. Using multiple joints while training is the way we play and live and therefore functional. Training multi-planar is functional because this is the way our body works. We are always moving through three planes at once.

The T5 principles are the best of what performance enhancement methodology has to offer. However, like any other great concept, it has its exception. This means we may violate the T5 principles with effective results. We occasionally use machines, as well as other “non-functional” equipment with our clients and athletes. These pieces of equipment don’t conform to the T5 criterion. However, we incorporate them into a program to add variety and some shock to the system. Slow, isolated work and exercising in a supported position may be appropriate for bodybuilding cycles (i.e. hypertrophy cycles) as well as heavy strength work. At certain times during the yearly training cycle, we can incorporate this type of training, especially for athletes who need to gain size or strength for optimal participation in endurance sport. Regardless of what type of training you incorporate into your program, if your training fits the T5 system you can never go wrong.

The last question you have to answer is whether you want to train for “all go,” or “all show.” We say train for GO and Train to the 5th Power!