Only as strong as our weakest link

December 26, 2011

Back in 2006 I attended a conference on functional strength training at the National Training Center led by Chuck Wolf. In my opinion Mr. Wolf is one of the pioneers in the arena of functional strength. I brought his teaching home and introduced my athletes to it, with a 50/50 success rate. Some of them embraced it, and some of them just plain skipped it. It feels stupid. It’s not important. (I don’t think I have ever has an athlete do something that was unimportant. Time is too valuable.) I personally embraced it and saw results instantly. In fact I own one of the very first TRX’s ever made. It’s been a staple of my training program for several years now.

The athletes who didn’t believe in the functional strength stuff…… I wouldn’t say they didn’t benefit, but there was…. hands down a marked difference for the ones who did it. When the going got rough in races they were able to maintain biomechanics and form. During the tough workouts, they just seemed to have better resilience. No they weren’t faster, they just has a bit more to them.  They were less injured as well.

I have always believed functional strength is important. Weight training will slow you down, there is no doubt about that. But the benefits from a personalized and periodized strength program, one that evolves from weight room through to functional strength is the best insurance policy you can buy.

We are only as strong as our weakest link, and why would you allow that to happen?

Just in time for this writing, this excellent article was published over on Xtri... which explains the benefits of functional strength training better than I ever could. I am really excited that FST has made its way into “the mainstream” because it only helps all of us.

The tricky thing about FST is what to do and when to do it? I like movements that challenge us on several different movement planes and help us strengthen the smaller muscle groups that often get fatigued and stressed during the repetitive motions of swim, bike and run. Many FST movements can also address and help correct biomechanical deficiencies in each sport that we do.

Here are five moves that I love.

1. Correcting “the crossover” in swimming. When I assess swimming mechanics one of the biggest issues I see is crossover, when the hand crosses over the midline of the body. While correcting this involves some cognition and connecting the hips and shoulders, a weak shoulder girdle could also contribute to this. The “Y” Deltoid Fly on the TRX as shown below is a great move to strengthen the lats and the rear deltoid which will also help widen the stroke.

2. TRX Atomic Pushup. What I like about this is that it challenges the body on several different planes and works multiple muscle groups in one shot. Not only is if effective for strengthening the chest and back, but the core and hip flexors too. Moving into the advanced versions develops balance, strength and flexibility simultaneously.

3. Anything on a stability ball. While I am absolutely obsessed with the TRX, don’t think FST can’t be done without one. One of the easiest items to invest in is a stability ball (mine was $12.99 at Target). The ball challenges the body on several planes of movement, and allows you to really get in there and work that core.

4. Plyometrics To me, FST is the new name for plyometrics. By using our own body weight there are lots of exercises we can perform that again strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quads while enhancing range of motion.

5. Yoga for Athletes. Most think yoga doesn’t have a place in a triathlete’s training program, but that’s typically because yoga is so widely misunderstood. I developed a 25 minute yoga routine that is designed to enhance flexibility and range of motion that program can be found here.

Additionally, a woman named Kim Fowler is a yoga and spinning teacher out in California who has developed one of the best Yoga For Athletes in the country. She is an ex professional triathlete and understands our physiologic needs. Her yoga can be found here.

If you are looking for a great full body ten minute sequence, I highly recommend the below:

Functional strength training has come a long way since 2006 and that conference with Chuck Wolf. But the importance is now much better understood and accepted. It’s worth a few minutes a few times a week to keep your muscles strong and functional. Remember, we are only as strong as our weakest link.



  1. I am new to Tri’s. Did my first one last summer and am hooked. I LOVE your blog. I tried my first TRX class last week and now see how it will very much benefit me. I have been doing what my gym call functional training classes for about two years. It is amazing how it helps with my stability on the bike. Keep writing!!!

    • Thanks so much for your VERY KIND WORDS and WELCOME to triathlon!!!!

      Keep that FST going and you will be really happy with how healthy you remain!

      Merry Christmas!

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