The Argument For and Against Weights

Weights. A topic often discussed and argued over in endurance sports. Those with book smarts will tell you that you don’t do ’em. Those with street smarts will tell you should. Mine is the great non answer: It depends.

I figured I would give both arguments, because I do believe that weights can be a good addition to a training program, but that endorsement comes with some caveats.

Before I give any examples, I think I should lay out the purpose of weight training to improve performance.  For any performance activity, the goal is to become more efficient at a specific action while at the same time (or subsequently) get stronger at that same movement or action. Pitchers want to hone the throw so that they can have great control over the ball, and get stronger so they can throw the ball faster. Runners want to gain an efficient form and get stronger so that they can run faster as well.  This applies to almost all non contact sports (Football, Boxing and other contact sports need to follow a different set of rules as they need to always brace for and be prepared for impact from any direction).

So if the overall goal in your sport is efficient and strong, then the weight room can potentially help if done right. Thanks to our good friends over at the church of crossfit, we are told that muscle confusion is the goal for any workout. Why? Because if you settle into a rhythm in your weight workout, your body will adapt to those exercises and become more efficient at them, and therefore you’ll burn fewer calories and not get the total body workout you so desperately desire. But if the goal is to become efficient and stronger at specific movements, then muscle confusion isn’t achieving anything.

The Case for Weights.

Weights can be a huge addition to a training program if done right. And those weights should come in 2 forms of goals. The first is strength in specific movements. The movements you make during competition should be mimic ‘d in the weight room. Take the motions of the swim pull for instance, and integrate those into the weight-room.  Lat pull downs and tricep extensions (the pull), delts and some traps (recovery), and some abs for the rotation/stabilization. For running or cycling it would be the same. Copy the motions of race day and find weight exercises that mimic those motions. Then repeat. and repeat. and repeat again. Until that weight workout isn’t so much about how sore you get, but rather adding yet another plate to the set. The muscle is getting stronger and more efficient at a specific movement that applies to your sport. I’ll save the specifics (reps, specific weight exercises, etc) for another day. But generally speaking, if this is the goal, good job.

The second reason to hit the weight room has the same purpose, but a different approach. To get more efficient and stronger at something, you often have to specifically work on the supporting muscles in a particular motion. Runners use a lot of hamstring and that get’s really strong, but it’s often the Psoas or the Piriformis failing on you that ruins your performance. So strengthening the supporting muscles of any specific motion will in turn allow the major muscle groups of that motion perform stronger as it doesn’t have to take on the added burden of stabilizing the motion when those muscles fail. This, in my opinion, is the number one reason for hitting the weights.  Things like 3 way raises for the shoulders (swim), hip flexors for the run and adductor/abductor for the bike.

The Case against weights.

This one is fairly easy. If your goals are not aligned with the two purposes above, then you shouldn’t be in the weight room. To put it a little more frankly, if you like to lift weights near the mirrors, then you are in there for the wrong reasons, at least as it pertains to performance. No one wants to admit they lift for vanity reasons, but lets be honest. Most of the things we do in life are for vanity. The clothes, the hair, the working out to look good, all pretty much fall under this category. And to be honest there’s nothing wrong with that, unless of course, you have a goal to perform well in some upcoming race. Lifting just to lift will add muscle where you don’t need it as well as create habits and strength that is disruptive to your goal (this is particularly obvious in swimming, as the weight lifting motion is mimic’d in the water, and not the swimming motion mimic’d in the weight room).  So you create dead weight and bad habits for race day.

That’s where the there’s a fork in the road. Work the chest and the guns, confuse the muscles, and get a killer workout so you look great, or be purposeful in your actions so as to perform better.

Next time you head to the weight room and pick up a weight, make sure you know the purpose.



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