Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer


Catchy title? This article is for all you parents who are trying to help your kid get in shape for a winter sport. I spoke with a mom the other day who inspired me to write this. There is a saying I use often in my talks. It is in fact the title of this article.

If you want your child to perform poorly this winter I have the answer. The answer is cross country. I have had countless parents over the years tell me that they can’t figure out why little Janie or Johnny had such a bad winter sports season. They worked so hard in the fall, running all those miles.

Lets get some facts straight. There are no team sports where you run for miles at a time. Even if you actually “run” miles in a game, those miles are actually a series of sprints interspersed with a series of walks or jogs. In the case of a rare sport like ice hockey, you actually sprint and then sit down. Running long distances does not prepare you to run short distances. There is a concept in sport called sport specific training. The concept basically means that from a conditioning perspective the best way to condition for a sport is to mimic the energy systems of that sport. If the sport is sprint, jog , walk, than the training is sprint, jog , walk. Makes perfect sense

There is another very large concept to grasp here. It is simple. Train slow, get slow. The reality is it is very difficult to make someone fast and very easy to make someone slow. If you want to get an athlete slow, simply ask them to run slower, longer. Simple. They may be in shape, but it is the wrong shape.

Another problem with a steady state sport like cross country? Injuries. Did you know that something like sixty percent of the people who take up running get injured? Those are really crappy odds.

Last and certainly not least, who dominates in sports? The fastest athlete! The athlete with the highest vertical! Yes, conditioning matters but, train for the sport.  Lift weights, jump, sprint. Gain power. It takes years to gain strength and power. You can get in shape in a matter of weeks. Most kids are playing their sport at least a few times a week in the off season so strength and power are much bigger concerns than conditioning.

So this year, don’t give the gift of slowness, If you are not a cross country runner, don’t run cross country. If you like a nice outdoor run and don’t care about speed, be my guest. If you want to get faster and get in great sport condition than train the way the best athletes train. Use a combination of strength training and interval training to prepare properly.

29 Responses to “Want To Stink This Winter? I Have the Answer”

  1. mboyle1959 Says:

    Erik- I guess the key here is that most of my readers deal with team sport athletes and that was the focus of the post.

  2. “Erik- there is some truth to what you say but if you had 2-8 hours a week to train would you do long distance running? I think it is a matter of time available? Logistics etc.” – Mike

    Again it depends on the context.

    Aerobic training and/or distance running complements some sports and some situations more than others however the same can be said about any form of training.

    Having an elite level shot-putter run distance is just as misguided as an amateur boxer spending protracted periods of time in the gym focusing on strength at the expense of his skill and conditioning work. On the other hand a distance runner may benefit from some strength training however if time and facilities are limited they may be best off focusing on distance running.

    It is about finding the right balance.

  3. Greatly written post! Thank you!

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    Erik- there is some truth to what you say but if you had 2-8 hours a week to train would you do long distance running? I think it is a matter of time available? Logistics etc.

  5. “Crazy thing is all of these 5,000 and 10,000 m runners in the Olympics have won because of their ability to sprint at the end of the race! So, even long distance competitors need to do some sprinting and if you look at their training programs they include a lot of higher-intensity work.” – Greg.

    The current Olympic champion in both events runs on average over 100 miles per week (and he is by no means alone). Granted most long distance competitors do perform some higher intensity work (emphasis on “some”) but it is not a significant part of their routine and it is not solely responsible for their success.

    Most “sprint finishes” have a stronger aerobic and muscular endurance component than absolute strength or power.

    As for distance running harming performance it is all relative. Yes some studies have shown that distance running can detrimentally affect strength, power and muscle mass but it is important to look at the context. In many cases these distance runner’s aren’t doing any strength or power training and they’re not eating in a way to promote strength, power or muscle development. If you pair moderate amounts of distance running WITH resistance training AND an adequate diet the results are very different (but unfortunately nobody has spent the time to perform a study to “prove” it).

    I suspect that similar principles apply with young athletes in the off season. Without up coming fixtures, the prospect of being dropped from the team, a motivating coach, etc young athletes are less compliant with strength and conditioning regimes (in some cases they may even be dropped altogether), and there is more dietary indiscretion.

    Distance running may contribute but it is not the demon some people make it out to be.

    As for running related injuries again, look at the context. Most novice runners have poor technique, incorrect footwear, over zealous routines, sub optimal diet and run on unforgiving surfaces. Apply that to any sport and you’re going to get issues, it isn’t restricted to running.

  6. Crazy thing is all of these 5,000 and 10,000 m runners in the Olympics have won because of their ability to sprint at the end of the race! So, even long distance competitors need to do some sprinting and if you look at their training programs they include a lot of higher-intensity work.

  7. thanks Mike

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