According to six-time Ironman world champ Dave Scott, the key to efficient running technique is a strong core—and he doesn’t mean a six-pack.
As a college water polo player, Dave Scott trained like a “madman” in the weight room to stay competitive with the bigger, stronger players in the pool. When he continued the same strength regimen as a triathlete, he began to see the benefits for his new sport—not only for improving his swim and bike, but also for maintaining his running form off the bike at Ironman Hawaii. “I’ve found that [strength training] has been paramount,” he says.
That message, though, still hasn’t gained much traction among triathletes, especially long-course athletes who need it most. Scott says when he asks pros as well as age groupers who show up in Boulder to train with him what kind of strength training they’ve been doing, it’s usually not enough by his standards to give them any real benefit.
“I hear that quite often,” he says. “They just do a little fluffy stuff. And I say, ‘Why bother? That’s like going to the pool and swimming easy breaststroke all of the time.’”
What did Scott do in the weight room back in the day that helped him run in 1989 what still remains the second fastest marathon in Kona of all time? Lots of traditional Olympic lifting that focused on improving his leg strength: squats, staggered squats, Romanian deadlifts. “I was doing what I called split leg rockers, a lunge motion, at different speeds,” he says. “I did a lot of hamstring and glute stuff.” To strengthen his abs and core, he did knee-ups in the pool and used gymnastics rings to do core exercises similar to those now done on the suspension training system TRX.
“All those core muscles help stabilize your spine and, if they’re not strong, you start to get sloppy in your pedal stroke and you can certainly see it on the run when people’s hips drop,” Scott adds.
To Scott, the key to running a fast marathon off a 112-mile Ironman bike leg is being strong enough to remain stable in the “stance phase,” the split second during which you’re balanced on one leg with your other leg extended behind you. If triathletes aren’t strong enough in this position, their knees rotate toward the center of their bodies and their arms pull back, Scott says, “so what everyone’s eye notices is a lot of upper body movement. You see this in the marathon when it comes down to the last six or seven miles. And you don’t even have to have a discerning eye or know much about biomechanics. You can just see that guy has a lot more movement in his upper body. And consequently if you look down at his lower legs, the legs will start spiraling a little bit.”
In addition to being stable in the stance phase, Scott says building a stronger core with weight training allows you to run tall and delays the body posture droop that comes with fatigue. “Even if you drop your head one degree, it brings your chest down and ends up loading your quads, and that’s the opposite of what you want,” says Scott. “You want to be able to run tall.”