Leap-Year Liftoff

With longer days looming, it's high time to build stronger, faster legs

Apr 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Just because April is the cruelest month doesn't mean you have to sit back and take it. With all due respect to Eliot, it's also a fine time to hone your competitive edge and start visualizing yourself burning past show-offs on the trail, or spiking a volleyball down the throat of some would-be Karch Kiraly. Before you make your rivals bleed in battle, though, you'll need to sweat in training—on the bike path and in the weight room—with a shake-off-wintertime conditioning program that targets those twin pillars of just about every summer sport: your legs. Not to suggest that you've passed all this time sitting on the porch watching the grass turn green, but getting by and getting down are very different things. And with just three months till prime world-domination season, it's time to come out of hibernation.

To get you into fighting shape, we've designed a regimen that will build a baseline of leg strength and performance for most summer activities, from running the diamond to hoofing it up to that secret alpine lake for a day of fly-fishing. But—and here's what makes the program kick—it also includes specialized drills to help you master those sports of summer that demand the greatest skill and preparation: biking, in-line skating, and that dog's breakfast of potential strains and tears, beach volleyball.

Your workout begins in the weight room with a handful of easily mastered lower-body exercises (see "Quadrophenia," just below). "Weight training gives you the ability to generate high power quickly," says Craig Griffin, an endurance track coach with the U.S. Olympic Cycling Team. "You want explosiveness, like in a cannon. The better you pack and prime the charge, the more firepower you have. In sports, it's a matter of recruiting and firing as many muscle fibers as fast as possible."

Aside from making you look like the all-powerful supreme being that you really are, this conditioning will also toughen up ligaments and tendons. Without training, those easily overlooked connectors could make themselves known, rather painfully, on your first ferocious leap at the ball. "Tearing an Achilles tendon is like getting hit in the back of the leg with a baseball bat," says Mike Boyle, a longtime conditioning consultant with the NHL's Boston Bruins. "Connective tissue is much more vulnerable to injury than muscle. But decreasing the risk of injuries in general is the best reason for a conditioning program." Righto. That, and being in prime shape to mount a sneak attack on the competition come July.

Enough talk. Your program consists of three four-week phases, with the final week of each serving as a recovery from the weight room. Throughout the program, you'll only be doing a handful of leg and torso drills. During phase one, the hypertrophy stage, you'll lift light weights with a high number of repetitions to build muscles while training your body to perform the exercises correctly (and toughening those tendons and ligaments). In phase two you'll add more weight and reduce the number of reps, strengthening the muscles as much as possible. The third stage emphasizes "Stone Cold" Steve Austin-like power: You'll back off a bit on the weight, but lift quickly, perfecting better, stronger, fastermovements that you can draw on when the time comes to power up a long, grinding grade. But we're not consigning you permanently to the weight room; the sections that follow spell out regimens of specific drills for cycling, in-line skating, and volleyball. And after this stint you'll be through with the gym and able to turn your attention fully to the great outdoors. Stay focused on attaining peak condition, and by the time summer rolls around, you'll be ready to lord it over your rivals—without risking humiliating penance in a knee brace.


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