By Pete Williams
TAMPA – Spend a few mornings training here at the University of Tampa under Eric Hall and you get an idea why the school’s strength and conditioning coach is one of the top sprint triathletes in Florida.
Hall, 32, doesn’t look like your typical triathlete and not just because of an intricate tribal tattoo that covers his arms, back, and torso and makes him easy to spot in crowded transition areas. At 5-foot-10 and nearly 190 pounds, he’s technically a borderline Clydesdale, though he has the lean, muscular physique of a sprinter.
That’s because Hall, unlike most endurance athletes, has embraced strength training as a key component of his endurance sports arsenal. It’s why he can kick off his Monday mornings with a 90-minute workout with UT’s baseball or softball teams, two groups of anaerobic athletes undergoing offseason programs, and still derive a huge benefit for his triathlon training.
He’ll lead the teams through grueling sessions that can include deadlifts, lunges, RDLs, weighted pull-ups, resisted runs, and any of dozens of other movements that usually conclude with a series of incline sprints in one of UT’s parking garages. It’s never the same workout twice; Hall typically spends about an hour on the following day’s workout, mixing and matching movements before posting a photo of his handwritten assignment on his Facebook page for those who want added inspiration to get to bed early.
A Dade City native who spent four years in the Army before being spotted at local running races and recruited to run at UT, Hall graduated from the Division II downtown Tampa school and in 2005 became the Spartans strength and conditioning coach, one of few in the Sunshine State Conference. He’s trained four national championship teams – volleyball, women’s soccer, and baseball (twice) – and doesn’t just coach the athletes; he works out alongside them, albeit with far heavier weights.
Such work capacity sessions might seem like overkill for endurance athletes already putting in long weekly hours, though a few of Hall’s triathlon colleagues jump in on Mondays, recognizing the benefits of increasing power output, maximizing movement efficiency, and enabling them to cut back on long, slow, distance training. Others show up on Wednesdays, when Hall leaves the weights untouched, preferring pre-hab work on the shoulders, ankles, and hips with resistance bands.
Endurance athletes are just as notorious for ignoring pre-hab as they are strength training, preferring to stay laser-focused on logging long hours and mileage. That’s counterproductive and likely to lead to injury, says Hall, who logs just 25 miles running each week and rarely swims at all outside of the 12 to 15 triathlons – nearly all sprints – he does each year. Still, he’s a contender in every race he enters, including 5Ks, where he’ll typically log a time under 16:30.
We caught up with Hall recently after one of his typical 90-minute Monday sessions.
Endurance Sports Florida: Why is it endurance athletes are the only athletes who gauge their success by the ability to go longer as opposed to faster?
Hall: It’s true, but I don’t think that way as an endurance athlete. When people tell me they’re going to do a marathon, I think, “I could do a marathon at your pace, but could you run a sub five-minute mile?” The reason I can do that kind of speed is because of my strength training. The faster you run, the more impact your body’s absorbing. There’s a reason sprinters look the way they do. I have coupled my strength training with endurance, which is extremely important. But it’s not like I just do weight lifting. I do them in correlation with each other. Over the years I’ve learned how to put them both together to where I’m not world caliber but I can still compete at a pretty high level.
ESF: Is that a tough sell to endurance athletes?
Hall: It can be. They automatically tune out because once I say “strength,” they think that’s going to make them slower. It takes a while for an athlete to buy in but I can justify it because I use it myself. I understand what power development and strength training is going to do for the endurance athlete. It makes them less injury prone, more structurally sound and makes their running economy more efficient. That’s why I don’t have to go out and log 60 miles a week (running) to have that aerobic capacity because I’m incorporating my strength training. I’m a huge believer in that.
ESF: What’s a typical running week like for you?
Hall: No more than 25 (miles) a week and I can get away with that because I have the running background. You’re also talking about a pace that’s threshold. There’s never a long, slow day for me. But I’m not training for a half marathon or marathon. My mileage would change but not my strength training. That’s what makes me structurally sound and more efficient to where I can handle more stress and endurance on the road. Running is constant impact. If I can make my body structurally sounder in my joints and ligaments that’s going to allow me to be more efficient for a longer period of time on that end run. I have no doubt I could run a half marathon or marathon right now and still compete at a high level with my minimal training.
ESF: We did some resisted runs this morning, running hard as a partner provided resistance with a band. How will that translate during a race?
Hall: The idea is to teach the body to turn over and have as many ground contacts as possible. You’re fooling your body for a duration of 20-25 seconds over a 20-yard mat. It simulates the intensity of a 200-meter all-out sprint. For that 15 yards you should be trashed as if it were that sprint. It teaches the body that duration, the oxygen debt. By the time you get three-quarters of the way done, you’re laboring and the speed diminishes. That’s where it’s most important and I look for the ability to maintain that speed.
Now think of how a race ends up – in a sprint. In triathlon, the run is a suffer fest. It’s not about who is the fastest runner. I beat the fastest runners out there all the time because I can be more efficient off the bike to recover, and run. I can get on a bike, which is a machine, and produce a lot of power, which leaves me more efficient for the run. When it comes to running, if your body is not exposed to that kind of stimulus, that kind of oxygen debt, and then you go out and try to run at race pace, what happens? It shuts down. Oxygen debt, you’re done.
I always want to train certain days of the week 15 percent faster than race pace. So I’ll run one mile – just one mile – off of my bike rides at 30 percent faster than race pace because I want my body exposed to that, even if it’s for one mile. Then I can carry that. It’s no longer foreign to my body when I get off the bike, so now I can go at my usual race pace and it’s not traumatic. The reason people suffer off the bike is that they never run faster than race pace. That’s why track workouts are so important. You’re running faster than race pace. I want to put myself in that position all the time so when it comes to a race, I’m already exposed to it. I can get off that bike and run at a good clip because I’m used to running at that faster pace.
ESF: So what’s a typical brick workout like for you?
Hall: Most of the time it’s 16 miles and no more than three miles off the bike. Last Saturday I ran just one mile off the bike but it was a 5:18. It’s only a mile, but now I know when I’m in a race situation that 5:30 won’t seem that bad because I’ve exposed my body to the stimulus. Everything I do, and what I encourage others to do, is to always think in terms of simulating race time situations.