Weight Training and Conditioning for Walkers

By Craig Hilliard

The inclusion of weight training and circuit training units in the overall program of a walker is an essential component if the athlete is to realise his/her potential. Importantly, the benefits accruing from such work will greatly assist in technical development, maintenance of rhythm, speed development and greater confidence, particularly on tough undulating courses. Whilst nothing can replace the hours of work devoted to technique, rhythm and development of the aerobic and anaerobic capacities of the athlete, strength and strength-endurance training must be integrated throughout the year. Specific strength and strength-endurance sessions can be developed through hill sessions very effectively and such units are incorporated within our programs on a regular basis.

As strength gains can be lost relatively quickly, a minimum of 2-3 weight sessions should be employed per week, preferably three. For the younger/novice athlete much of this work can be performed by incorporating circuits or stage training units, using body weight and up to half body weight loadings. Not only will a sound strength endurance base be developed, particularly as an adjunct or conditioning base for weight training, but the aerobic system will also be challenged. The percentage of max VO2 improvement is not on a similar scale to that derived from running or walking, but the impact nevertheless is significant (5-8%). Further, the length of the circuit can be arranged so as to replicate the race duration.

Empirical evidence and field tests from speed-strength athletes has clearly demonstrated that an increase in maximal strength is always related to an increase of relative strength. Whilst walking is by no means at the same end of the strength continuum as shot putting or sprinting, it is relative, as strength, speed-strength, and strength-endurance are interrelated and can not be viewed as separate hierarchical entities. For this very reason, strength development must be incorporated into the program on a modified basis.


Essentially two theories prevail regarding the optimal stimulus for the greatest possible strength increases:

1. Tension-Stimulus Theory--where the maximal tension created in a muscle results in the most effective rate of strength increases (this is by far the most widely accepted and proven theory).

2. ATP Debt Theory--suggests that training with submaximal loads 70%+, 15 repetitions in 20 seconds, done repetitively results in the highest strength gains.

Whilst contrasting theories, it is postulated that from a certain tension upwards the muscle reacts with the same adaptation, or, different physiological adaptation mechanisms produce the same externally measurable results in relation to strength increases (Schmidtbleicher 1986).

Aside from muscle hypertrophy there are other ways of developing maximal strength. The adaptation of the nervous system plays an integral role particularly the innervation, or firing rate, of a slow or fast twitch muscle fibre. If we practice training with high intensities the adaptation is primarily a neuronal one (intramuscular). In other words by stimulating and increasing the rate of innervation of the individual motor units within a muscle there will be considerable improvement in the rate of strength development and force production.

On the contrary, training with submaximal loads (60-80%) will demonstrate a very effective means of hypertrophy and high increase in strength, but shows no neuronal adaptation and thus only a small impact on the rate of force development. Hence, to maximise training adaptation, an alternation of these types would be recommended.

Another means of accounting for increases in strength behavior results is through coordinative adaptation or intermuscular synchronisation. However, strength development of this type is movement specific and could probably best be described as coordination training, e.g., learning the power clean.

Short term increases in performance can be based on a coordinative effect (intermuscular) with the first stabilization of training effects appearing after two weeks (3-4 training units per week). Neuronal adaptation (intramuscular type) which helps the individual muscle achieve greater performance capability, is achieved by training the timing of recruitment of motor units and by increasing the tolerance to elevated innervation frequencies (Schmidtbleicher 1986). Such adaptations take place after 6-8 weeks training (4 units per week).

Importantly, only hypertrophy method offers considerable improvement possibilities in strength behavior lasting over several years. Thus, the need at various stages of the multi-year training cycle to revert to base-hypertrophy training. Alternatively such a system can be implemented in 'waves' throughout the year and thus provide a 'topping up' process.

Maximal Contraction Method

* All these methods produce neuromuscular adaptation after 6-8 weeks, 4 units per week

* Minimal hypertrophy

* Great increases in explosive strength

Submaximal Contraction Repetition Methods

Characterised by high volume, reduced intensity (60-80%). Completion of task ends in complete muscular failure.

These methods generally increase muscle mass with smaller neural adaptations and thus such methods are closely applied to endurance specific training units.

Mixed Methods

Reactive Training Methods

The aim of this training is to elicit a stretch-shortening cycle, in other words combining of eccentric and concentric contraction.

All these methods are aimed primarily at the nervous system.

Strength Endurance

Very little research has been conducted in this area and those that have, have generally been on untrained athletes.

In essence it is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible performance by resisting fatigue over a definite time span. Factors affecting the development of strength endurance capacity are intensity of the stimulus (% of max), amplitude of stimulus (total repetitions) and duration of stimulus.

As walking is a 'dynamic' event, with the same movements being repeated over and over again, the capacity to perform work against resistance which exhausts the musculature and energy reserves must be implemented in the program. However, the principle that these methods are based on implies that a combination of relative strength and duration of the event are used. This would mean many hours in the weight room with minimal carry over effect. Circuits, however can be aimed at this approach. As mentioned previously more specific strength endurance workouts can be derived from hill work.

10-20 repetitions, 3-5 sets 40-60% loading. Short rest intervals. (30-60 sec.)

30 repetitions, 4-6 sets 20-40% loading. Short rest (30-60 sec.)

Whilst no one method dominates in our programmes I tend to utilize a mixture of many of the methods presented. Generally such blocks of training will last anywhere from 6-12 weeks without significant change in method. However any longer than 12 weeks and the performance will generally deteriorate. Certainly though, the possible stagnation is nowhere near as apparent as with speed-strength orientated athletes, lifting much heavier weights.


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