News Supplementary Training

Published February 14, 2005

Supplementary Training: A Balancing Act

By T.J. Murphy

If your body is out of whack, then some of that hard-won strength and fitness you’ve busted your butt for is going down the drain. To make a real breakthrough in 2003, boost your power output with some of the hottest trends in supplementary training.

Dave Scott, the six-time Hawaii Ironman champion who is known as much for his athletic accomplishments as he is for his coaching, makes one of the best cases behind fitting in time for supplementary training and therapy. Scott, whose feats in Hawaii include a stunning comeback (at the age of 40) for second place in 1994, is talking about the new breed of long-distance triathletes and the mistake he feels they make. It isn’t that they’re not doing enough volume and intensity in their training programs; it’s that they aren’t doing enough of the "little extras" that might help harvest all of their hard work.

"If I were them," Scott says, "I’d maybe cut back on some of the longer workouts and replace it with ancillary training."

Scott goes on to say that he particularly means doing strength work that would develop and balance the "core" muscle groups that surround and support the lower spine. Not a natural runner, it was strength work like this, he contends, that allowed him to record marathons as fast as sub 2:50 despite having "terrible running form."

Scott in not alone in his belief: From the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to collegiate football teams, developing balance and core body strength has leapt to the top of the list as a training goal. More and more of the best athletes in the country are realizing that athletic performance is short-circuited if the body is out of balance.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the trends in supplementary training being taken up with religious fervor — each one a discipline or therapy that you, too, can incorporate.

Core Body Strength and Pilates
Joe Santisi, director of All American Pilates in Palm Beach, is a nationally recognized expert on core body strength. He is one of the new generation of fitness instructors leading the charge toward transforming the way we think about what it means to build strength.

"Look at what most people do in the weight room, and there’s no method to their madness," says Santisi. "Core body strength has a strong correlation to every move we make. A strong core is like having rack and pinion steering. Without it you’re limited in the flow of control and power from the engine."

The common definition of the "core stabilizers" includes all of the abdominal and lower back muscles, the obliques, the erector spinae muscles along the vertebrae, the hamstrings and the glutes. It’s not just making these muscles stronger that’s important, says Santisi, but putting them into a state of balanced strength.

One of Santisi’s mantras is "play long and strong." He and his trainers work with athletes to produce a musculature that is balanced and useful.

"A bodybuilder essentially has a tank full of gas, but with no engine to burn it. We want to build long, lean, strong muscles, with special attention to stabilizing the core and also the muscles around the joints — particularly the shoulder and knee joints."

The benefits of achieving these balances, says Santisi, is not only more power, quickness and speed, but also the prevention of injury.

Joseph Pilates, who fought through childhood asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever to become an accomplished skier, gymnast, boxer and diver, is the creator of Pilates. As a nurse, he invented equipment and exercises as a form of rehab for combat patients during World War I. The technique, which demands heightened concentration, helps sharpen awareness of body position, posture and the efficient use of muscles.

Santisi and his trainers are taking Pilates principles and applying them to the needs of athletes from different arenas.

"All athletes need to look at their imbalances," he says. "Every athlete has them; the thing is, they just get used to them. The first thing we do with a client is evaluate their posture, alignment, and ferret out the imbalances. We design programs, rooted in Pilates, that address the needs of their body and the needs of their sport." They are also designing a cardiovascular workout for athletes — also rooted in Pilates— that works the heart as well as core body strength.

How long does it take to yield the benefits of Pilates?

"The goal is to get strong in 30 sessions," says Santisi. "I’ve seen just amazing transformations in 30 sessions."

Denise Dorney, an instructor at Body Parts Pilates, is a competitive runner and triathlete. She attributes the flexibility she gained through Pilates as being instrumental to improving performance.

"I can only speak for myself, but the stretching aspect of Pilates has opened up my hips and has allowed me a longer and more comfortable stride in my running. And the breathing that is used with Pilates has helped with my oxygen intake."

To get started in this style of bodywork, it’s best to seek out instruction that’s one-on-one or close to it, as the exercises require a heavy amount of focus and relearning how you think about strength training. Dyan Quesada, who operates Core Therapy in Fort Lauderdale, mixes a variety of core body exercises and stretches into three different classes.

"Our class sizes are small and intimate, so it’s easy to address the needs of different levels of students," Quesada says.

Hot Yoga
In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, major league baseball pitcher Al Leiter (when he was with the Marlins) defended why he and his teammates were working with the Yoga College of India.

Most people think those who do yoga are freaks that sit in a room and hum, he says. "But this is a great workout."

Yoga is another discipline that addresses building a balanced core body. The form of yoga enjoying a tidal boom in popularity is Bikram yoga, a style of Hatha yoga commonly identified by the conditions it’s performed in — specifically the cranked up temperature of the room. Bikram uses 26 poses paced within 90 minutes. Aided by the warm temperature, the sum effect is to flush toxins, stretch and tone muscles and increase bone density — along with the core body goal of improving the flexibility and health of the spine.

Bikram is the branch of yoga applied by the Yoga College of India, based in Fort Lauderdale. The school has staked its sports-oriented reputation by working with the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins.

Massage and Acupuncture: A One-Two Punch
More esoteric than Pilates or yoga is massage and acupuncture, yet the two therapies have steadily grown in popularity among elite athletes. Pro cycling teams, for example, have made sports massage therapists as integral to their support crew as team mechanics. When athletes cross the finish line of a marathon or an Ironman, it’s expected that there will be a line of massage tables with able therapists awaiting the arrival of their tortured bodies.

The benefits of massage and acupuncture, however, are not limited to post-race trauma or injury rehabilitation. Sports-oriented practitioners suggest using the two therapies to achieve balance and improved coordination.

These are benefits that a group of top Florida-based age-group triathletes have sunk their teeth into. When they travel to the Hawaii Ironman they consider it a necessity to bring Mike Pagani of Meridian Wellness with them to Kona. Pagani has 16 years of experience in massage therapy and acupuncture. During much of that time, he worked with elite athletes, including four years with a professional soccer team, time logged at the Goodwill Games and the Olympics, and as a team therapist in all levels of Cat bike racing in UCSF cycling.

Pagani’s extensive knowledge of the needs of endurance athletes has helped him address the tremendous demands of athletes who train year round — like the triathletes and marathoners Pagani works with.

"I look at the present needs of an athlete, and adjust my work accordingly," Pagani says. "If they have a race coming up soon, I’ll work to accelerate their level of performance. If their race is a ways off, I’ll do deeper work that actually retards performance and assists them in building a base."

Over the years, Pagani has refined his therapeutic protocols to blend massage with the 2000-year-old Chinese art of acupuncture.

"Acupuncture has a more sustained effect, and works more on an energetic level of the body," Pagani explains. He adds that massage and acupuncture have a synergistic effect when used together.

He has also performed it to facilitate rapid recoveries from certain types of injury, as most Americans traditionally think of acupuncture. Like Tampa Bay Buccaneer John Lynch who came to him with a second-degree medial-collateral ligament strain.

"It was an injury that a doctor might have told someone to lay off of for five to six weeks. I gave John an acupuncture treatment everyday for five days straight. He was back playing within a week."

"The crux of acupuncture is not the treatment of pain," says Janet Meredith, an acupuncturist and yoga instructor in Orlando. "Acupuncture is meant to help balance out the body," By this, Meredith describes a state where heightened energy and being relaxed are not antagonistic forces, but rather one in the same.

"When I say heightened energy, I’m not talking about that nervous, hyper-type of energy. I’m talking about being relaxed and energized at the same time: an optimal state of balance and awareness."

Back to the Future
The interesting thing about Pilates, yoga and acupuncture moving into the world of mainstream athletic training is the irony of the times. In a world in love with the acceleration of high tech, each of these disciplines are about as low-tech as one can get. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t cutting edge.

"Why are athletes doing it?" Santisi asks rhetorically. The answer is simple, he says. "Because it works."


T.J. Murphy is a 2:38 marathoner and has completed four Ironmans. The former editor of Triathlete Magazine, he’s currently the editor of City Sports Magazine in San Francisco.


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