Boxing Blog

    Why Cardio-based Athletes need to Strength Train

    Hey Everyone,

    I think it might be (FINALLY) safe to say it – Summer is DONE.  And thank goodness for that.  I 100% can remember back to my childhood in Perth laying down on the tiles in the entry because they were ‘cool’ in our place in Kardinya…no aircon in that house but then, NO-ONE had aircon back in the ‘olden’ days.  What I can’t remember from those times is a summer as hot as the one we’ve just lived through….to everyone who managed to keep up their training during this miserable time, well, my hat is raised!

    As a few people out there are aware, in addition to our usual DAP programming (Mon-Thus @4pm) we have been pretty busy recently running extra ‘TEAM Based’ pre-season sessions for several of the local football teams.  These sessions consist of SOME cardio, SOME strength work and quite a bit of teaching (technique based) so the athletes can (hopefully) continue on with their training and do it safely whether it is at Round 1 or somewhere else…I have been talking about a number of the players and their parents about the DAP program (and further about the Functional Fitness programming for the seniors who attended) and have been a little surprised at some of the outdated views being reflected back to me…essentially “This stuff is all good in principle, but what I really need right now is to be ‘FITTER’”.

    Rather than go into a bit of a ‘so what does being ‘FITTER’ even mean’ soliloquy, what I thought I would do today is talk about the benefits of STRENGTH work for CARDIO-Based athletes.  But before I start on that, just a two-second history of me.

    When I grew up (a long, long time ago) strength training was not something ANYONE did.  I have written about this before, but whilst I suppose it’s true that weights existed (after all, I bought my first dumbbells from K-Mart in Kardinya in the mid-1980s at around age 14 or so – I think I have told the story of walking the 3kms or so home from the shops with them in this blog before…short version of that storry is that it was ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE) gyms didn’t exist.  They didn’t.  Footy clubs didn’t have weights either.  They might have a couple of mismatched barbells and dumbbells covered in dust and rat-poo in a corner somewhere, but that would be about it.  If you wanted to do some extra ‘work’, that meant get outside and go for a LOOOOOOOOONG run.

    Anyway, back to the meat of the story which is that traditionally strength training has been seen as something that just isn’t necessary for cardio based athletes – swimmers, runners and participants in field sports (football, netball, soccer, rugby, hockey, lacrosse etc).  I mean, we all watch the games and admire the ‘strength’ of the player who is able to hold their position under pressure but so rarely (from my perspective) do we put that strength down to ‘hard work’ – we usually seem to give credit to their parents (genetics) somehow using terms like “he/she is so strong through the hips”…what does that even mean?  Honestly, as I get older I think it means we are all looking for a reason that WE couldn’t do it – the strength is down to their ‘hips’ and ‘genetics’ not the work they’ve been doing.  Despite all of this, I think the tide is slowly turning and that the overall community is starting to understand what S&C coaches have been saying to them for a really long time now – getting stronger also means getting FASTER and more RESISTANT to injury.  Let’s try and take these points one at a time.

    Injury Resistance

    Anyone who has embarked on a bit of a ‘runners journey’ will be in total agreement with the following:

    If you run (regularly) – and this includes playing footy, netball etc, you will probably suffer from some knee pain.

    If you run (regularly), you are going to experience some lower leg tightness and soreness.  Let’s face it, all of us who have participated in running based sports have experienced at least one of tjhe more common injuries including the ubiquitous runner’s knee (aka patella femoral syndrome), shin splints, hamstring strains and tightness, calf strains and tightness and good old Achilles tendonitis.

    Basically, the more you run (place load on) AND the more intensity with which you run then the more stress you are placing on your tendons – and when stress exceeds the strength of your tendons, well – that equals injury!  It’s why jumping off the couch and playing a game of touch footy with a base of zero is a terrible (TERRIBLE) idea…you are placing yourself in an uncontrolled physical environment where your instincts to react to the ball and the movements of other players is going to end up in INJURY for you!  It is widely understood in 2022 though that developing your STRENGTH is the best way to mitigate the types of injuries I have previously referred to (and I’ll talk about what exercises you can do in a moment).

    Performance GAINS

    Do you want to run faster?  Get stronger!  Do you want to improve your endurance?  Get stronger!  Do you want to kick up that hill?  Get stronger.  Do you want to be the player able to balance under pressure from an opponent?  Get stronger!  There is a reason that the best athletes in the world dedicate time to strength training – because they want to be better at their sport and give themselves a competitive advantage over the opposition.  

    This is one reason I get so frustrated when we have members train hard all summer – then put their memberships on-hold over winter because ‘footy/rugby/etc’. This request is often followed by a June/July return to the gym because “I did my Hammy” – exactly the reason you should be in the gym regularly DURING the season.  My players at Perth need to complete 2x strength sessions each week to remain eligible for match day selection…and yes, it takes time to get to the gym AND footy/netball training, but it also takes time to go to the physio/chiro/OT to repair the injuries inflicted on a body that is weaker than it should be!

    So what exercises SHOULD I do??


    Yes – these are the ones done with a barbell on your back!  They really are the best exercise in the world – the ultimate lower-body builder (unfortunately you don’t run with your arms ‘cos bicep curls would be a great alternative!! 🙂 ) and are just the thing for strengthening your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. They also help develop upper trunk and core strength with efficient bracing and shoulder tension.


    Isolateral (single leg) work is a ‘MUST HAVE’ in any program for runners.  High volume lunges build muscular endurance, while heavy loads build unilateral strength. Lunges (and variants including split squats, Bulgarians, Active Foot Lunges and Front Foot elevated Lunges) really work on removing any right-left imbalances and get your glutes strong with weighted lunges. 

    Glute Raises/Hip Thrusts:

    Every runners favorite, Glute Raises develop strong glutes which in turn helps athletes apply the most force to the floor while propelling themselves forward. I mean…that sounds like exactly what you do when loading your hips during hip thrusts. Olympic sprinters come in many shapes and sizes but big butts are one common characteristic!

    Dead Lifts (and variations)

    Deadlifts build the glutes AND the hamstrings – but even more the hip hinge position really applies to running – I mean, when you run you aren’t standing upright – you are bending at the waist with (hopefully) a nice straight back.  Deadlift prepare you for this – they strengthen your core and spinal erecters and really prepare you for running both faster and longer…and faster for longer!

    Plyometrics and Balistic work (inc weighted Plyos)

    Plyos (such as split jumps, vertical jumps and plyo lunges) and Ballistic training (box jumps, Depth jumps) really apply to runners because they both assist with training you to produce FORCE and help train you for multiple impact where contact time with the ground is low…of course, this type of training has it’s own injury risk and building slowly into it is always a good idea.

    What Else?

    Well, the other challenges associated with strength training is that you need to actually make the weights heavy ‘enough’ for it to be a challenge.  Those of us who are focussed on running so often wont up the challenge because we “Don’t want to be sore for our run”…well…I guess the question then would be “And how do you think you are going to get the benefits you are chasing without going ‘HEAVY’?”.  After all, you 100% have to stress to progress…this doesn’t mean do 200kg on day one – but it does mean day 2 needs to be heavier than day 1!

    Secondly – you have to get your form right.  Squat and lunge to depth.  Deadlift and Glute Raise with a ‘SET’ core.  This really means operating in a supervised environment (meaning preferably with a coach) but maybe a knowledgeable exercise buddy will do in the short term?

    So…the question is, where can you do all this stuff?  Well, for under 18’s, the best place is 100% in the Developing Athlete Sessions.  It is a ‘genuine’ sport prep S&C program with a focus on getting the athletes stronger AND faster.  For people older than that, getting in a couple of Functional Fitness classes each week would be my advice.  I’m really trying this year to do balance my training as follows:

    3x Strenth to 2x Cardio (aka Boxing) to really ensure I am as strong and – let’s be honest, I’m getting old – injury resistant as I can be.  This is a real challenge for me who would prefer to box 100/100 (I just find the boxing sessions and the banter that goes with them so much more fun!) but so far so good…If I’m being honest, this article was written to try and make sure I maintain that rhythm at least for another month or so!!


    See you in the gyml




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