The X Factor. How to Program Phase X
The curious ones amongst you will have noticed that each and every event program has 'phase x', an alternative program to compliment each phase. What is 'phase x'? How can you get the most out of it? Read on. The key here is that phase x is designed to be used in conjunction with the primary strength program.
The Primary Program
The primary program is designed to develop all key muscle groups and best prepare you for the event. This will include specific strength exercises for your calvies, quads, hammies, adductors, glutes, and core, as well as some exercises focusing on technique, balance and proprioception, and training the chain - teaching your muscles to work as a team in a running specific pattern. Phew! That is why you start with the primary program.
Phase x is an alternative program with a dynamic focus, specific to the event demands. The exercises are a blend of plyometrics and rapid strength training. This is how we force your brain and muscle connections to be more efficient, for each contraction to be faster, and how we continue to improve your running economy, the holy grail of training for any event. These exercises target the neurological demands of the event, such as stairs for UTA, sand for MRUM, and runnable muddy trails at Tarawera. Essentially, this is intended to make it possible for you to own the hardest parts of the event.
How to Program Phase X
There are so very many ways to get the most out of this program, so I will make specific recommendations to different situations.
For those going super long, I understand that strength training is difficult to maintain when your legs are tired and your brain needs a break from training. Phase x is short (20'ish minutes), punchy, and leaves you feeling slightly disappointed at the lack of residual fatigue from one of these sessions. This is how you can maximise your strength training benefits while minimising the impact on your running training and life outside of running. Simply alternate the primary program with 'phase x' if strength training twice each week, otherwise make the switch to purely 'phase x' training once or twice each week.
12+ Weeks of the Primary Program
12 weeks is the maximum amount of time that I recommend committing to a single strength training program. You are welcome to progress more quickly so long as you pass all the strength testing milestones required for the next phase. Spending more than 12-weeks performing the same program is a recipe for a strength plateau and no one wants to reside in the land of diminished returns! I know it is comfortable to perform exercises that are familiar and you have finally mastered, however now is the time to reinforce some of that neurological wiring with an 8-week block of Phase X before returning to the old favourite primary program. You never know, perhaps you will hit those strength milestones required for phase progression after a few weeks of phase x.
There are certain times of the year when all of your favourite events seem to be clustered together. This is the perfect time to dedicate to phase x. By completing a couple of the shorter, more dynamic exercise programs each week you are still allowing your body to recover from one event and best prepare for the next while not neglecting all your hard work pumping iron.
What an option! This is a really great way to get the very most out of your strength training. Again, there are multiple ways to achieve this. The first is to simply perform the primary program once per week and the dynamic program once per week. Easy. You can structure them into your week depending on the other sessions so you can target your long run or easy runs with heavy legs while keeping fresh for intervals. Another way to structure phase x is when you are going through a more dedicated strength building block, typically after a goal race while you enjoy a little break from structured running training. During this period you could perform the primary strength program twice per week and phase x once per week. This is the only time that I would perform 3 strength training sessions each week as I find 1-2 sessions sufficient to achieve our goals.
The focus of these exercises is to perform each movement as explosively as possible. If the exercise is weighted (weight vest, hand weights, barbell...), you try to perform the movement as quickly as possible. For example, weighted squats would be performed at up to 60% of your maximum squat weight, but you are rising up from the squat as FAST as you can. When you can no longer rise up quickly, you rest and move on to the next exercise. This makes reps less relevant, but the goal is to lose that dynamic ability within 10 reps.
By increasing your tissue tolerance, you are protecting against risk of injury. Strength is not likely to change running mechanics but instead serves to raise the the tissue capacity ceiling. This allows you to run at a lower % of your total capacity for longer. Check out the full range of strength training programs for runners right here. Please get in touch with any questions.