What is complex training? Can runners benefit from it?

Today I am going to write about a topic I am very familiar with, complex training and post-activation potentiation (PAP). From the theoretical point of view, I have recently published a research on this topic (find my research here, I was also  interviewed about it here. On the practical side, all my customers have  performed complex training sets at some point during their programmes.

If you are a reader of my blog, it should be clear by now that  increases in strength  enhance aerobic performance by decreasing the relative force (%max) applied during the loading phases of ground contact , leading to an improved running economy (http://goo.gl/bgHo17).

However, when it comes to do gym work with  a runner, maximal force is not the only component that should be aimed to be improved. Power, that can be defined as the ability to apply force to the ground very quickly, is also an obvious element of a strength & conditioning plan.

Ultimately, we can be very strong, but we have limited time to apply force against the ground, with ground contact times raging from 0.085s for sprinters, 0.180 for elite marathon runners and a bit longer for the average runner. In this scenario, power development seems to be evidently  beneficial  for a sprinter. However , marginal improvements in each stride adds up over the course of a 26.2 mile race…

Undoubtedly, power is a key element  to improve performance and whilst  some phases of a S&C programme are solely focused on this element, complex training is a valuable tool that allow us to maintain or develop strength and power simultaneously.

 What is complex training?

Complex training involves combining a heavy resistance exercise and a biomechanically-similar  explosive exercise,  in an attempt to transfer strength into power.  The most obvious example of a complex training set incorporates heavy squats followed by box jumps.

strength and power

How it works?

The physiological rationale that explains the efficiency of complex training is a phenomenon called post-activation potentiation, or PAP. That is, the explosive capability of a muscle is enhanced after it has just been subjected to maximal or near maximal contractions.   This acute power  augmentation is mainly due to an  increased neural activation that  occurs through recruitment of more motor units. A motor unit consists of  a specialized type of nervous cell that runs between the central nervous system  (motor neuron) and  all the muscle fibers it stimulates.

I won’t go into further detail about the other possible underlying mechanisms that explains PAP, Yuri Verhoshansky, the well known sport scientist explained PAP in plain English:

“When you perform 3-5 repetitions of a heavy resistance exercise followed by a light explosive set…to your nervous system it’s like lifting a ½ bottle of water when you think its full.”

Why should I incorporate complex training to my strength & conditioning programme?

These are the reasons why I think complex training is a great tool for coaches  and  I often include complex sets in my S&C programmes:

1)  Even though long-distance events have not necessarily been identified as having a major strength or power component, a certain amount of variance in middle- to long-distance running performance can be related to power capabilities in jumping.

The contact times required in economical and high-speed running suggest that fast force production is important for both economical running and high top running speed in distance runners.  Hudgings et al. reported that both heavy and explosive resistance training improved maximal endurance in long-distance runners. The present study also indicates that running performance in long-distance events, at least to a certain extent, may also be related to jumping ability as well. As a result, strength and power training should be considered for both sprinters and middle- and long-distance running event athletes.

2)  It is an exceptionally time efficient and organized  method to incorporate resistance and explosive training in one training session, we can enhance or preserve power while training heavy. Most distance runners are limited  by time availability and are unable to perform multiple gym sessions during the week, adding   vertical or broad jumps  after a set of squats is simple and increases workout density.

3) Promotes dynamic transfer. By combining biomechanically similar exercises, athletes   channel more efficient neural patterns by learning to perform the drill  in a manner more specific to the athletic activity.

4) It is a great introduction to more complicated plyometric work.  Unfortunately, most distance runners devote their training time to just one activity, running.  Consequently, when you take them out of their element and ask them to perform a different activity, a simple drill  such as  jumping onto a box is  really challenging.   These jumps serve as an introduction to more complicated  plyometric work and  allow runners to learn proper  landing technique.  Ensuring  proper form with simple drills such as box jumps are key for a safe long-term athletic development.

Recommendations for complex training:

Complex training sets should be performed  at a high intensity level for both components, the heavy resistance exercise and the explosive exercise.

The volume of complex training should be low enough to avoid excessive fatigue so the athlete can focus on quality of work performed. 2 to 5 sets of any complex pair are recommended. The athlete does 2-8 reps during the weight training component and 5-10 reps during the plyometric component.

Finally, the precise optimal rest between exercises  is really hard to prescribe because the research uses numerous protocols to try to induce power enhancement.  It seems that  a rest interval between exercises of 1–12 minutes  is  suitable . The most practical advice would be to base your decisions on the time allotted in the weight room. In my opinion, 1 to 3  minutes of rest between pairs of exercises works great.

Find  below samples of  exercise pairs to build complex sets:

complex training


CATER, J, GREENWOOD, M. Complex Training Reexamined: Review and Recommendations to Improve Strength and Power. Strength & Conditioning Journal.  36 (2). 2014

EBBEN WP AND WATTS PB. A review of combined weight training and plyometric training modes: Complex training. Strength Cond J 20: 18–27, 1998.

HUDGINS, B, SCHARFENBERG, J, TRIPLETT, NT, AND MCBRIDE, JM. Relationship between jumping ability and running performance in events of varying distance. J Strength Cond Res27(3): 563–567, 2013

PAAVOLAINEN, LEENA, KEIJO HAKKINEN, ISMO HAMALAINEN, ARI NUMMELA, AND HEIKKI RUSKO. Explosivestrength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. J. Appl. Physiol.86(5): 1527–1533, 1999.

TURNER, A. Training the aerobic capacity of distance runners: A break from tradition. Strength and Conditioning Journal.Vol 33, No.2, 2011.

WILLIAM P. EBBEN.  Maximum Power Training and Plyometrics for Cross-Country Running. National Strength & Conditioning Association. Volume 23, Number 5, pages 47–50

YAMAMOTO, LM, LOPEZ, RM, KLAU, JF, CASA, DJ, KRAEMER, WJ, AND MARESH, CM. The effects of resistance training on endurance distance running performance among highly trained runners: a systematic review. J Strength Cond Res 22(6): 2036–2044, 2008

Know when to eat your carbs, train ‘low’ and compete ‘high’

I generally write about strength training for the endurance athlete but for once I will  get out the gym and move into the kitchen. Performance is not just a matter of training, what and when we eat is key to optimize training adaptations and reaching our full potential.

This post will dispel two myths, (1)  You should always ensure you consume carbohydrates before, during and after training sessions. (2) You should never train on an empty stomach.

It is well established that  carbohydrate availability improves exercise capacity  in endurance athletes. I am not re-inventing the wheel here, most of you know this already.

But I am sure that my next question is going to make you think a bit more: Should we always ensure maximal carbohydrate availability before, during and after training sessions in order to promote maximal training adaptations?  In other words, is glycogen beneficial during training?

The answer is NO, so you can start saving money on sugary drinks and  energy gels.

Nearly one decade ago, a pioneer study sought to answer the very same question.  The study found that carbohydrate depletion during training was beneficial to performance.  http://jap.physiology.org/content/jap/98/1/93.full.pdf

The watershed investigation of Hansen and colleagues challenged many years of study in this topic, since it  provided apparent evidence to support training in a glycogen depleted state. The  study required  the participants to train one leg with a ‘‘two a day’’ training protocol every second day, while the contra lateral leg undertook the same workouts, spread over a daily training schedule. Maximal power output increased equally in each leg, but the leg that trained twice-a-day, commencing 50% of its training sessions with a low glycogen concentration, showed greater increases in kicking endurance accompanied by greater maximal activity of an ‘‘aerobic’’ enzyme.

Both limbs performed identical work (loads, sets and repetitions) but the limb that completed 50% of training with reduced muscle glycogen, showed superior training adaptations.

Image 98

This breakthrough result led many researches to study the effects of restricted carbohydrate availability in different settings.

Yeo et al (2008) conducted a research with two groups of elite endurance cyclist. The first group trained daily and the second group trained twice every second day during three weeks. The outcome showed again an enhanced training adaptation profile after twice every second day “low-glycogen” training, more importantly cyclist who trained with reduced muscle glycogen were able to increase their ability to utilise fat as an energy source, sparing  muscle glycogen which will be much needed in the later stages of an endurance event. http://jap.physiology.org/content/jap/105/5/1462.full.pdf

It is worth mentioning that another research showed once again that training in a glycogen depleted state resulted in improved training adaptations, this time in runners. Three groups took part. Group 1- One training session  a day. Group 2-Two training sessions every other day, consuming a placebo drink before and during every second training session Group 3- Two training sessions every other day, consuming a sports drink before and during every second training session.  The results showed  that training with reduced pre exercise muscle glycogen levels and without the provision of energy drinks (group 2) provides an enhanced stimulus for inducing fat usage, consequently sparing muscle glycogen. It is also remarkable, that  the consumption of  a sport drink off-set the training adaptations in group 3.


Image 108Image 109

All the studies mentioned above required training twice a day in order to exhaust glycogen stores in the muscle and enhance training adaptations, but realistically most people are unable to schedule two training sessions in the same day.

Perhaps, a more simpler way to restrict carbohydrates  is actually to adapt your carb consumption to your training. Thus, training in a fasted state in order to deplete  the glycogen stores and enhances training adaptations.  (Yes, there is research supporting this dietary periodization and you can find it here.) http://jap.physiology.org/content/jap/110/1/236.full.pdf

Training in the morning before having breakfast is the most practical way to get a session in a glycogen depleted state but there are a few risks associated with this approach if it is not implemented correctly:

1-Reduced training intensity. Liver glycogen is low after sleeping, which leads to reduce blood glucose, making exercise seem more difficult.

2-Impaired  immune function.

3-Protein degradation & loss of muscle mass

Do not get frightened, there are some tips you can follow to avoid all the possible negative effects of fasted running:

1-You don’t have to do all your runs in a fasted state, select those sessions in which absolute training intensity or duration is not a major goal.  ‘Easy / recovery runs’  are ideal to take action and try fasted running.

2- Hydration is essential,  water or a low-calorie electrolyte drink should be consumed.

3- Eating is possibly the most rooted habit we have.  Altering that habit by skipping a meal  can be extremely challenging for some people. If you can’t handle exercise without food in your stomach, you can consume a protein-only breakfast accompanied with caffeine (100-150mg), to help prevent protein breakdown and reduce the risk of fasted training.   For example,  two  scrambled eggs and a cup of strong coffee.

 4-Increase protein contain in your diet,  I will write a post on this topic in the next few weeks, keep reading my blog.

Image 139


Hansen, Anne K., Christian P. Fischer, Peter Plomgaard, Jesper Løvind Andersen, Bengt Saltin, and Bente Klarlund Pedersen. Skeletal muscle adaptation: training twice every second day vs. training once daily. J Appl Physiol 98: 93–99, 2005

Yeo, W. K., Paton, C. D., Garnham, A. P., Burke, L., Carey, A. L., & Hawley, J. A. (2008). Skeletal muscle adaptation and performance responses to once a day versus twice every second day endurance training regimens. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 105, 1462–1470

Morton JP, Croft L, Bartlett JD, MacLaren DP, Reilly T, Evans L, McArdle A, Drust B. Reduced carbohydrate availability does not modulate training-induced heat shock protein adaptations but does upregulate oxidative enzyme activity in human skeletal J Appl Physiol 106: 1513–1521, 2009.

Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. J Appl Physiol 110: 236–245, 2011

Weight training makes muscles younger.

Last week I had my first strength training session with Alan, a 65 year old cyclist.  It wasn’t difficult to establish a good rapport with someone who has a  mutual passion for  cycling. We could have talked for hours about past and present  cyclist, the highs and the lows,  we enthused about classic riders such as Indurain and we were wondering why Nairo Quintana is not riding in The Tour de France.

Let’s get to the point, despite having had a few serious injuries in the past, Alan is fortunate to have the health and fire in his belly to keep going and embark on a strength training programme without hesitation. He takes part in races almost every Sunday which are not leisurely by any stretch of the imagination and he  always aims to be competitive, always at the top end of his category.

He has inspired me to write this post about strength training for the mature athlete.  Hope you enjoy it and more importantly, hope it motivates you to strength train.

I am not beating around the bush anymore and I am going to present you the facts:

In 2007, researcher Simon Melov examined the mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the ‘power stations’ in the muscles)  of muscle of men and women who were 65 and older and compared the results with those of men and women in their late teens and 20s. He took samples of muscle tissue before and after six months of resistance training and found that the old muscles had genetic characteristics similar to the muscles of the younger population. He concluded that Strength training may be one of the more dramatic conditioning modalities to help fight the aging process, allow greater sport performance, and improve health profile in older adults.



Muscle size

  • Aging contributes to the progressive decline in muscle mass that begins as early as 25 years of age and continues throughout life.  After approximately 50 years of age, and specifically between the ages of 50 and 80, muscle mass is reported to decline by 30–40%, with a corresponding decrease in strength in the range of 40–60%.
  • Reduced muscle size and strength tend to further exacerbate a loss  in aerobic capacity, since it may exist a relationship between age-related muscle atrophy and decline in VO2max.
  • It also  appears that strength and muscle mass in older persons are better maintained in the upper body than in the lower body.  (This last two facts are not good news for cyclists and runners).
  • Women typically have less muscle mass, greater amounts of body fat, different body fat distribution and less bone density  when compared with their male counterparts, which  predispose women to an increased incidence of injury to the lower extremities.

Muscle Strength

  • The loss of strength occurs at about the same rate as the age related decrease in overall lean tissue mass, suggesting a relationship between weakening of the muscle and its decrease in mass.  However, strength levels can be relatively well maintained between the ages of 30-50 with strength training.
  • Hormones also play a role in muscle strength. It has been found that as people age, their bodies make less testosterone and less growth hormone. Both hormones are anabolic, which means that help maintain muscle mass. The decrease in testosterone may be a factor in the diminished muscle strength  in older people.


Resistance training is one exercise mode that has been reliably shown to be a safe and effective method for conditioning the neuromuscular system, improving muscle strength and power, and maintaining and modestly improving bone mineral density in older adults. These physiological changes are also linked with improved sports performance.

Adding a resistance program to endurance training can occur at almost any age, and it should be an important component because other modes of exercise do not provide sufficient overload to produce increases in muscular size and strength. The specifics of a resistance-training program should take into account individual limitations and prior exercise history.

These are the benefits of a well-planned resistance training programme:

  • Weight training can induce dramatic increases in muscle strength in older persons. Women may show a greater percentage improvement in strength gains because they would be starting from a lower level and have a larger ceiling for improvement.
  • Some of the strength gained through weight training is due to an increase in muscle mass, as is the case with younger adults.
  • The increase of body fat associated with aging can be reversed through resistance training. It increases lean body mass, which in turn elevates resting metabolic rate and burns fat.
  • Increases the strength of  tendons, reducing the incidence of injury.
  • Improves mobility.
  • Reduces bone loss, which is especially important for  menopausal women, because the decrease in estrogen can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Improve mood and general well-being.

The take away message of this post is clear: Age should never be an obstacle to embrace strength training. Hey Pete, see you in the gym tomorrow.


Victor Sarramian

  • MSc Strength & Conditioning.
  • BSc (Hons) Sports Science.





Brooks, S.V., and J.A. Faulkner. Skeletal muscle weakness in old age: underlying mechanisms. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 26:432–439. 1994.

Daniel A.G  & Edith C., Resistance Training for the Older Adult: Manipulating Training Variables to Enhance Muscle Strength. National Strength and Conditioning Association.Volume 27, Number 3, pages 48–54. June 2005

Haff G., Roundtable Discussion: Resistance Training and The Older Adult . National Strength and Conditioning AssociationVolume 27, Number 6, pages 48–68. December 2005

Hedrick, A.  Resistance Training with the older populations: Justifications, Benefits and Ptotocol. Strength & Conditioning:  Volume 20 – Issue 2 – ppg 32-43 . 1998

James W. B ,  Age Related Motor-Unit Remodelling and Its Effect on Muscle Performance. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Volume 26, Number 4, pages 34–37. August 2004.










Why distance runners should lift heavy

In recent years, distance running has been growing in popularity across the world. Running  is an inexpensive , and accessible activity that helps participants to stay healthy and find their sense of belonging  into a like-minded community.  According to the most recent Sport England  figures, participation in athletics (including running and jogging) has grown by 604,200 from 2006. (http://archive.sportengland.org/research/active_people_survey/active_people_survey_7.aspx)











With such an increase in runners hitting the roads,  the  available  information   that surrounds any topic  related to running is huge.  Sport journalists, scientist, brands, athletes , coaches, bloggers, we all have our views about any running related  subject  such as  training methods, diet, hydration, material… Everything is open for debate.

However,  there is little doubt that strength training is beneficial for endurance athletes and more importantly, there is a consensus on the way it should be implemented.  The idea of combining strength and endurance training into one programme has been the focus of much research,  and I can confidently say that  there is no question that runners in the gym should  aim to lift heavy and forget about the light loads and high reps approach . Amazing! We finally agree on something! There is no   Light weight/high reps  vs  heavy loads/low reps  debate.

In the past, working on muscular endurance seemed to be the logical approach  for distance runners. Consider a marathon , how many strides does a marathon runner take over the 26.2 miles?  Our immediate thought was to include muscular endurance training  in our programme , so we started to train this parameter with light weights and 20-25 reps , supposing that because of the concept of sport specificity, we should be training the component that is the closest to the competition.  Clearly, muscular endurance is desirable for endurance athletes; however, their volume of endurance training is already outstanding.  There is no value in continuing to train this parameter in the gym, runners get the muscular endurance from running.  Our training programme shouldn’t be  designed to increase a parameter such as muscular endurance or VO2max but  to help them run faster.


So… What shall we do in the gym?

We should aim to lift heavy for only a few repetitions  (1 to 6 reps.)

Improvements in maximal strength  boosts aerobic endurance performance through coordination and neural adaptations and changes in recruitment patterns, without muscle growth.   When lifting heavy for 1 to 6 reps, we challenge the nervous system to recruit more fibres in a muscle, and the low repetitions ensure that we don’t cause enough of a protein response to increase muscle size.  An improvement in  maximal strength lowers the actual demand of motor units  recruited for the same force output, which means that  a smaller section of the muscle is utilized to perform the same task, and as a result, a motor unit reserve is created to carry out extra work.

In running terms,  a smaller percentage of our maximal strength would be needed in each stride. If a male runner who weighs 65kg is able to improve his backsquat’s maximal repetition from 60kg to 100Kg, his  legs will be less taxed for each stride, meaning his  bodyweight represents a smaller share of his maximal capacity to extend the legs.

If you are a novice lifter, start with perfecting and mastering the technique before lifting heavy. It is advisable that  a qualified strength & conditioning coach assesses your strength  levels, mobility and  motor  skills.  (You can see a sample of assessment and  strength & conditioning programme here:  http://victoriaparkfitness.com/cedric-programme)



Skinny runners squat heavy too. Chema Martinez (above) and Galen Rupp in the gym.


Are bootcamps  beneficial for runners?

Boot camps are usually advertised as  highly successful systems for developing strength  and  cardiovascular stamina,  while lowering body fat percentage and improving shape. However, this claim is not accurate. Generally, circuit training/boot camps  rely  on  light loads and high repetitions with reduced resting intervals, therefore strength and power  gains are very limited. Furthermore,  the improvements produced in cardiovascular fitness can’t compete with those of traditional running.  Participants can improve their fitness, but the amount of strength gained  will  be less than a typical resistance program, similarly  the amount of endurance achieved  will be less than a typical cardiovascular programme.  So, don’t mix up strength and stamina in one session!




What does Mo Farah’s coach think  about strength training?

If you don’t believe what I have written in this post, you can see with your very own eyes what does Mo Farah’s coach (Alberto Salazar)  think about strength training for distance runners: http://www.flotrack.org/coverage/249744-Workout-Wednesday-Season-7/video/684139-WOW-Rupp-in-the-Weightroom#.U0HHWfk7ssA

(Transcription of video)  “…Back on 30 years ago there was an old philosophy about strength training for distance runners that used to say, yeah,  light weights and lots of reps, and I really don’t  believe in that. When you do something like that , at some point there is no stimulus for further growth.  If you are just doing lots of reps and light weights, you are going to maintain where you are at but you are not going to grow.

(Regarding bulking-up) It’s very hard to bulk-up. I’ve never seen a single athlete of mine bulk-up by doing this stuff. Bulking up means  not only lifting very hard but  eating a ton of stuff and it is very hard to gain weight. (…)The only ones that may have gained a little bit of weight have been the girls, maybe a couple of pounds because they  muscularly  haven’t been as toned and sometimes  they lean up  and weight a little  more , but is muscle, is good functional muscle  that actually allows them to compete better…”


Victor Sarramian


Core strength for runners and triathletes (part 2)

This post is a follow-up of my previous entry on core strength for runners and triathletes. I have   have put together some tips and exercises to work your core effectively and safely. I’d be great to   hear your views on the post. Enjoy the read.


As I have mentioned in my previous post, athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct  technique are probably getting enough core training.  The squat and the deadlift exercises will activate the longissimus, multifidus and external obliques muscles to a higher degree than core exercises such as the bird dog, pelvic thrusts, planks or bosu ball work.


(1) Incorporate core work during the warm up:  Perform one or two sets of Overhead/back squats  with a light load and hold the bottom position for 5 seconds in each repetition. It will improve your trunk stabilization under load and you also warm-up for your main set of lower body lifts.

Fig 1.Overhead squat.









(2)Use up the rest periods  between main  sets.

We can utilize the rest intervals between sets of major lifts  to do some core work. For example, I like to include 1 minute of  core work such as the “barbell roll out” within a 4 minutes rest period between sets.

(Note that it is advisable to rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets  when performing major lifts with endurance athletes.  Long rest intervals produces greater increases in absolute strength and muscular power and does not promote muscle growth, which affects running economy negatively)

Fig 2. Barbell roll-out: Great exercise for triathletes and swimmers, it mimics the pulling action of frontcrawl.

Fig 2. Barbell roll-out: Great exercise for triathletes and swimmers, it mimics the pulling action of frontcrawl.








Running is the most specific exercise you can do to work your back extensors, the erector spinae is more activated during running than during a specific “core” exercise intended to target this muscle.


Front  and  side planks are great  exercises but they tend to get monotonous. You can progress and spice up the plank in many different ways: (1) Reduce base of support  by lifting one arm and the opposite leg without compensating your flat back position. (2) Add movement to the plank. Extends one leg at the hip, while keeping the knee flexed 90 degrees, to lift the foot toward the ceiling  for two beats and then return to the start position for another two beats. The hip flexion makes the plank exercise more challenging and develops the gluteus maximus. (3) Plank on an unstable surface: Place the elbows on the ball and perform a “stir the pot” motion. (4) Add weight: Have a partner sitting on your back or placing a weight on your back. You can add weight to a side plank too by holding a kettlebell  or a dumbell. (5)Add a twist: Start on a side plank position to move into a front plank.


Fig3. The side plank challenges the athlete’s body against gravity in the coronal/frontal plane, and is an ideal exercise to train the quadratus lumborum. Fig 4. Stir the pot.


Although runners move predominately in the sagital plane, there still is body movement in the transverse and frontal planes that must be controlled adequately by the neuromuscular system. During midstance of the running gait cycle, the foot and ankle unlock to allow absorption of ground reaction forces. During this phase, the body is challenged   to control excessive or abnormal motion in the frontal and transverse planes.

5 - Copy

Fig 5.Russian twist on swiss ball.

Fig 6. Standing reverse wood chop with a medicine ball. This exercise is a resistive diagonal pattern of the trunk that demands a high level of lumbo-pelvic stability and combines upper and lower-chain integration as the ball is moved in a diagonal pattern across the body.

Fig 6. Standing reverse wood chop with a medicine ball. This exercise is a resistive diagonal pattern of the trunk that demands a high level of lumbo-pelvic stability and combines upper and lower-chain integration as the ball is moved in a diagonal pattern across the body.


















Functional movements require acceleration, dynamic stabilization and deceleration (eccentric contraction). The  wheel/barbell roll-out exercise activates a big portion of the trunk musculature, include eccentric and concentric phases and also incorporates a pulling action of the arms that mimics frontcrawl & butterfly strokes.  Great drill for triathletes and swimmers.


Fig 7. Abdominal wheel roll-out.









Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components of the core musculature as primary power generators. Besides, the gluteus maximus and medius are hip abductors that promote suitable knee alignment on  foot contact. Elastic-band side-steps and hip extensions are two good choices to activate your gluts.  Needles to say that the gluteal complex is fully activated in a deep squat,  when  the centre of the hip joint passes below the top of the knee.

8 - Copy

Fig 8. Deep squat.










A  lifting belt squeezes your abs in tight as you activate your core to stabilize the spine. The problem is that belts can be overused and can lead to a weaker core. This is because your abdominals won’t fire as hard if you have a belt that supposedly does the job for you.

Research has shown that weight belts do not elicit the biomechanical benefits in trunk stabilization and support that they are commonly thought to provide and they don’t help to minimize the risk of lower-back injury. Moreover, the false sense of security provided by a belt may make you feel invincible and you could end up pushing yourself beyond your capabilities.

Fig 9. Lifting belt.

Fig 9. Lifting belt.









Unfortunately, common practice amongst trainers and coaches is not always based on evidence, but widespread beliefs and opinions. Work-outs  that incorporate  repeated spinal flexions make up  a good example of  poor exercise  selection without  a solid theoretical foundation.

The rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall hardly ever function as spine flexors, they are more often used to brace and stabilize the spine.

In addition, repeated bending of the spinal discs is a potent injury mechanism, evident in individuals who do actively flex the torso,  such as cricket bowlers and gymnasts.

In today’s society we spend countless  hours  in front of a computer or a TV and we often do it with some degree of spinal flexion, which in return may  cause low back pain, rounded shoulders…

Why do we need  to replicate the cause of pain or potential pain with exercises that promote more spinal flexion?  We have literally dozens of exercises to choose from to work the core in a safe manner.  Exercises such as abdominal crunches and bicycle crunches  replicate an injury mechanism and doesn’t create the athleticism that enhances performance. Keep the spinal bends for essential tasks such as tying shoes rather than using them up in training.


Fig 10. Poor  exercises to work your core.










Bauer, J.A., A. Fry, and C. Carter. The use of lumbar-supporting weight belts while performing squats: Erector spinae electromyographic activity. J. Strength Cond. Res. 13(4):384–388. 1999.

John M. Cissik . The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33 (1) 2011.

McClay I, Manal K. Three-dimensional kinetic analysis of running: significance of secondary planes of motion. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Nov;31(11):1629-37.

McGill S. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32 (3) 2010.

Michael Fredericson, Tammara Moore. Muscular Balance, Core Stability, and Injury Prevention for Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 16 (2005) 669–689.

Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-77.

Víctor Sarramian

Is Core Strength so important for runners?

“Core training” is a hugely popular but controversial topic. In the past few years, athletes, running magazines and fitness “professionals” acknowledge core training as an important factor to improve performance and prevent injuries. Despite these claims, the scientific literature is hardly conclusive about the benefits of core training, since there is not enough evidence to support that this mode of exercise should make up a substantial part of a strength and conditioning programme.

First of all, what is the “core”?

The “core musculature” can be defined generally as the muscles that support the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex in order to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and kinetic chain during functional movements. Core exercise is one which channels motor patterns to ensure a stable spine.

 Which muscles make up the “core”?

 The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators.






Why should I strengthen my core?

In theory, the core impacts athletic performance in several ways:

  • Stabilizes the trunk and pelvis, which could be beneficial to technique.
  • It is a vehicle to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body, the dissipation of energy through the core is minimized during movement, allowing for an improved power potential.
  • Lower back injuries may be prevented as a result of a stronger and more efficient trunk. The muscles of the trunk control the pelvis, and poor control in this area can contribute to lumbar injury.
  • Finally, the core’s muscles may actively be recruited to perform an athletic movement (e.g., one involving rotation)

.The research looking at core training and performance would seem to suggest that if core training has a role in performance, it is very small. This means that if the goal is performance enhancement, the S&C   coach should not be investing a great deal of time on core training. In fact, improvements in this area are likely skills specific, and the athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core training. If the goal is performance improvement, coaches can probably achieve this effect through the use of major lifts such as  cleans, snatches, jerks, pulls, deadlifts, and of course, squats.

.Additionally, some technique flaws that are typically associated with a lack of core strength are caused by fatigue elsewhere. For example, we don’t over swing the arms because the core is weak, we are just trying to compensate the fatigue of the legs by changing something at the upper body. In fact, the trunk doesn’t fatigue first when we race.  When we lean forward of backwards when  running under heavy fatigue, we are just compensating for a loss of stride frequency and/or length.

.The erector spinae is more activated during running than during a specific “core” exercise intended to target this muscle. Therefore, don’t waste your time performing back extension exercises because running is the most specific exercise you can do.

.The squat and the deadlift exercises will activate the longissimus, multifidus and external obliques muscles to a higher degree than core exercises such as the bird dog, pelvic thrusts, planks or bosu ball work.

.In conclusion, athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core trainingy (read my previous post to know more about it).  I am not saying that you shouldn’t do any core training at all; some exercises to target the abdominal wall would be advisable. On the other hand, extensive core work outs may be pointless, providing that you run and know how to perform some multi-joint lifts.

.If you don’t have the time, skills or access to a gym or qualified strength and conditioning coach, you can take advantage of the core exercises I will post in a few days. In the meantime, keep running and have a happy new year.


  • The scientific literature is hardly conclusive about the benefits of core training, since there is not enough evidence to support that this mode of exercise should make up a substantial part of a strength and conditioning programme.
  •  Athletes who perform ‘‘traditional’’ resistance exercises with the correct technique are probably getting enough core training, this training may be supplemented with some specific core work.


  • Leonardo da Vinci first described the concept of muscle grouping around the spine. He suggested that the central muscles of the neck stabilized the spinal segments, whereas the more lateral muscles acted as guide ropes supporting the vertebrae.
  • The spine is inherently unstable. The ligamentous spine (stripped of muscle) will fail or buckle under compression loads of as little as 2 kg or 20 N  Level walking can produce up to 140 N of compression force to each side of the spine with each step.  A 90kg athlete lifting a barbell loaded to 145kg during a half-squat would be applying 900kg or almost 8,900 N of compressive force onto the lumbar spine. Extreme lifting also has been shown to produce loads on the lumbar spine of up to 36,400 N.


Barr, K.P., M. Griggs, and T. Cadby. Lumbar stabilization: Core concepts and current literature, part one. Am. J. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 84. 2005.

Brown, T.D. Getting to the core of the matter. Strength Cond. J. 28(2). 2006

Faries, M, Greenwood M. Core Training: Stabilizing the Confusion. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 29 (2) 2010.

John M. Cissik . The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33 (1) 2011.

McGill S. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32 (3) 2010.

Rennie, G, Yule, S. The Barbell Rollout. UKSCA. 17, 2011.

Víctor Sarramian

Self Myofascial Release aka Foam-rolling

I am sorry to have been absent for a few weeks, I have been very busy developing my new website, which you can check out here: http://victoriaparkfitness.com/

Enjoy the read!


What is fascia?

  • Fascia is connective tissue that spreads throughout  the body in a 3D web. The fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ, all the way down up to cellular level.

What are its functions?

  • Provides support, stability and cushioning. It is also a system of locomotion and dynamic flexibility forming muscle.

How does it respond to trauma?

  • The fascia tightens due to micro-trauma over time (mileage) or acute injury such as contusion or tendon strains.  The fascia loses pliability, becomes restricted and is a source of tension for the rest of the body.  Fascial restrictions can create abnormal movement patterns that can pull the bone structure out of alignment. This phenomenon  prevents normal muscle mechanics (i.e., joint range of motion , muscle length, neuromuscular hypertonicity, and decreased strength, endurance, and motor coordination) and reduces soft-tissue extensibility.

What can you do about it?

  • Myofascial release is a hands-on  technique  performed by a therapist that reduces adhesions seen between layers of fascial tissue. In other words, elongates and softens the fascia.
  • The good news  is that you don’t have to pay a therapists every time you want to release your fascial tissue. Self Myofascial Release (SMR) has become of increasingly common practice for treating soft-tissue restrictions.  You can use your own body mass on a foam roller to exert pressure on the soft tissue. The SMR technique (also named foam-rolling) involves small undulations back and forth over a dense foam roller. The small undulations place direct and sweeping pressure on the soft tissue, stretching it, and generating friction between the soft-tissue of the body and the foam roller. The friction  causes warming of the fascia, provoking the fascia to take on a more fluid-like form, breaking up fibrous adhesions between the layers of fascia and restoring soft-tissue extensibility .
  • Foam rolling can be implemented as a recovery and maintenance tool  into a number of different rehabilitation and training programs to promote soft-tissue extensibility, potentially enhancing joint ROM and promoting optimal skeletal muscle function. Furthermore,  foam rolling may correct  muscular imbalances, alleviates muscle soreness, relieves joint stress, improves neuromuscular efficiency, and improves range of motion. All that  without a loss in muscle activation or force.
  • It is commonly  advised to foam-roll the desired  area at least two times (60 to 90 seconds bouts). Foam-roll slowly,  starting at the proximal portion of the muscle, working down to the distal portion of the muscle or vice versa.

Find below some examples:






  • Barnes M. The Basic Science on myofascial release. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 1997;1(4):231–238.
  • Healey, K; Dorfman, L; Riebe, D; Blanpied, P; Hatfield, D. The Effects of Foam Rolling on Myofascial Release and Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 25():S30-S31, March 2011.
  • MacDonald, GZ, Penney, MDH, Mullaley, ME, Cuconato, AL, Drake, CDJ, Behm, DG, and Button, DC. An acute bout of selfmyofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res 27(3): 812–821, 2013.