The strength training regime of Jerry Schumacher’s Oregon based runners could be part of the reason for their continued high levels of performance and success. It’s been something I’ve been mulling over since meeting Schumacher at a coaching seminar in Melbourne earlier in the year. You know when you get the feeling someone knows or is doing something really well and you can’t quite put your finger on what it is?
Well I’ve had that feeling since early 2011 when Melbourne athletics fans were treated to a visit from Oregon based Nike Coach Jerry Schumacher and some of his squad’s leading athletes Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp amongst others.
Regular readers of this blog will have read me quote Schumacher’s interesting aside, when I bailed him up after the seminar and learned his group do as many as five strength training sessions per week. This seemed like a lot, but the more I thought about it the more likely it was that I could come up with five good reasons do to some form of strength and coordination related training each week.
While Chris Solinsky’s 26.59 10,000m American Record run was recently eclipsed by a resurgent Galen Rupp (who was that masked man?) you can’t argue with the fact that Schumacher is turning out well conditioned and very successful athletes capable of running fast and performing well in the cut and thrust of international racing. While Schumacher has a reputation for an emphasis on running fundamentals in his training scheme, it’s the strength training for running role of one of his coaches Pascal Dobert that intrigues me the most.
Is Jerry Schumacher the conservative running only coach I’ve read about?
For a guy with a reputation as a runner’s running coach Jerry Schumacher is putting significant emphasis on strength training as part of the training mix of his athletes. Sydney Olympic Steeplechaser Pascal Dobert personally supervises and constructs those five strength sessions per week (depending on the yearly competition and training cycle). You have to think that running only Jerry is placing a great deal of trust in Dobert, but also that he knows that running well isn’t just about running. In fact, Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert may well be managing the best mix of strength training for runners in the world today. I happened across this video of Dobert talking to a group of young American elites at a Nike camp earlier this year that gives some insight into his role and approach.
In my view, the runner’s running coach Schumacher may well be putting one over his competitors by downplaying some aspects of his overall approach. My suspicions have been further heightened by some correspondence that indicates his Oregon group is especially secretive about their methods.
So what gives in Portland, Oregon?
Strength work for athletes at the highest level (from my perspective) is about making tiny technical improvements as well as building resilience against injury by strengthening bones, tendons and muscles but most importantly to build the capacity to execute the skill of running under extreme pressure and fatigue.
Certain elements of strength training that I’ll touch on in this three part series of articles are great practice to compliment the development of technical and speed endurance. It’s not dissimilar to the ideas of Peter Coe who produced, with the advice of George Gandy, a strength program that may have contributed to the success of one of the greatest speed endurance athletes in living memory Sebastian Coe.
But I have a suspicion that the standard has been raised since those days and that Schumacher and Dobert are at the forefront of pushing some new and exciting ideas into the sport of running. I’ll dig into the methods they may possibly be using and their benefits as we go. There’s no doubt those green singlet wearing runners move well and look strong. I took this footage in Melbourne, where despite being early in preparations for the 2011 World Championships, a low 13 minute 5k was produced. Solinsky was below his best, but with strength was able to monster his way around the last lap even though he was gone.
Strong not skinny
One of the things I really like about the Oregon Track Club is I’ve yet to see any waif like athletes (male of female) wearing their distinctive green colors. Too often runners are sucked into believing that running lighter is better. One of my mantras is strong not skinny, you cannot get the best out of your body when it’s starved of energy. Injury, poor performance and depression are about the only rewards for following that approach.
Despite all the mounting anecdotal evidence that suggests the best runners are stronger and well fed, it is surprising how many stories I hear about coaches and athletes who still head blindly down this dark path. If I read about another runner who says you cannot eat the odd chocolate bar when running 100kms per week or more I’ll probably have a conniption.
I’m running about 50-60 kms per week at the moment and eat plenty of good stuff, but I also hit the chips, have the odd beer and destroy a decent slab of chocolate every so often. I’m not saying my diet is perfect, but I maintain a relatively streamlined physique without recourse to extreme eating patterns. And I used to be fat, so it’s not genetics, it’s the running and the modest amount of strength work I do each week that keeps things in order.
Eat good wholesome foods and plenty of it, smash the odd bar of chocolate, and enjoy a bagel or even a burger or some fish and chips now and again. One of the side benefits of running is surely to be able to eat what you like (within reason). And guess what? If you train for strength you’ll need to eat more, especially some protein – it won’t make you bulky, muscle bound or heavy, you’ll just get proportionally stronger. All the miles you run prevent big heavy muscles developing. When you’re running and hitting the gym frequently your body with crave food, you’ll feel hollow, your body is telling you it needs more fuel, so dig in and enjoy your eating.
Would you pick a fight with an Oregon Track Club athlete?
I’m not sure I’d want to pick a bar fight with Chris Solinsky, at six foot one he’s a big dude and strong with it, for that matter I’d probably think twice about an arm wrestle with Shalane Flanagan. Redhead Matt Tegenkamp would also have a long reach, perfect for searching through a crowd and landing a few blows.
All are strong, fast, successful endurance athletes. Top class runners these days are not the silhouettes of years past; the level of performance is so high now that just running miles is not going to cut it. You need to be strong, have excellent running technique and speed endurance in every event up to the Marathon.
This isn’t just an issue for the elite, as I’ve written about previously embarking upon an intelligently designed, simple strength training program is going to be relatively more beneficial for recreational and club runners than it is for top class runners. So think about strength training as being just as important as running in your program.
In the larger scheme of running sorting out your strength work is of more relative importance than high mileage, especially if you’re working on technical improvements or are new to running. Not only that, people will give you less crap when you’re out on your run. A sinewy, muscled runner is not going to get messed with at the traffic lights.
Is it the Oregon five sessions or something else?
It’s not so much that they are doing five strength sessions per week, numerous groups around the world do that or something approaching it. So the volume is the least remarkable aspect in my view. I believe the crux or the true secret of what they’re up to over there in Oregon is the variety.
Jerry Schumacher said to me that the runners never know what they are going to get from Pascal Dobert on any given day. I’ve read this confirmed by Sharlane Flanagan in this interview by Duncan Larkin. So if variety is the secret spice of the running strength training recipe, how does that get off being some performance enhancing training mechanism?
Stay tuned for the answers in the next edition of this three-part series.
Written by Brian Martin
Read parts two and three of this series:
Jerry Schumacher’s strength training secrets: part 2
Jerry Schumacher’s strength training secrets: part 3
Other articles of interest you may enjoy: