Christian Fitness - Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

Strength Training for Endurance Athletes – Part I

Do you run? Bike? Swim? On your own? In races? Both?

If you answered YES to ANY of these questions congratulations, YOU are an endurance athlete!

One more question for you: Are you strength training?

If you said “no,” I have to ask, “Why not?”

If you said “yes,” how do you know if you are doing the best exercises to increase your endurance training?

I went from running 360 minutes a week to running roughly 120 minutes a week… that’s a 67% DECREASE!

Strength training is absolutely necessary for endurance athletes for so many reasons. This doesn’t mean you will have to lift like a body builder, nor will you always have to lift super heavy.

But strength training is a MUST for endurance athletes. I want to explore each benefit of strength training one by one. We can also discuss a few exercises you can start adding to see improvements in your endurance game.

Before I dive into the benefits of strength training, let me just share a quick little something. I used to run at least an hour a day, six days a week. In those days, rarely, if ever, did I do much strength training. My pace was decent but it never saw much improvement.

I then began doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. In particular, I did programs like T25P90X3, and Insanity Max:30. You know what else I did? That’s right… strength training.

Now before you think I’ve lost my mind doing so much training, you should know that I decreased my running time down to usually just three days a week. Not only that, I cut my runs to 30-40 minutes, with a rare 60-minute run thrown in on occasion. Essentially, I went from running 360 minutes a week to running roughly 120 minutes a week… that’s a 67% DECREASE!

You know what happened? No joke…  I took almost two whole minutes off my average pace time! Those of you in the endurance world know how big two minutes is. Pretty sweet huh?

Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #1: Injury Prevention

Strength training works wonders in keeping us from getting injured. The more we incorporate resistance training into our routine the stronger our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons become. The repeated movements of endurance training can take a toll on these same parts. By strengthening them through resistance training we allow our bodies to become better able to handle the stress our endurance workouts put on us.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #2: Speed Improvements

Yes, you read that correctly… you’ll get FASTER! Muscular strength and endurance can live in a linear relationship. One can improve the other.

As an endurance athlete much of your resistance training will focus not just on your muscular strength but your muscular endurance as well. Guess where we need muscular endurance? On a long _________ (fill in the blank with your favorite endurance activity). Without getting into the biology of it all, I’ll simply say that having stronger muscles better equips you to stay strong. This will also help you deliver maximum output throughout your workout while keeping fatigue at bay.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #3: Endurance Efficiency

What does “endurance efficiency” mean? It means your body is more efficient at the work you put it through. For the endurance athlete, this is hugely important as it also helps you become faster.

For example, as an endurance athlete your primary focus is your endurance training and it should come first. In fact, research has shown that endurance athletes who strength train immediately AFTER their endurance workout improved their VO2 max (VO2 max is the amount of oxygen your body is able to consume while you work at maximum intensity).

What is the one element endurance athletes need most? OXYGEN! If you are able to take in and utilize more oxygen while you are working out, you will become a more efficient endurance athlete.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #4: Muscular Power

Adding strength training to your workouts will increase your muscular power as well. This is great for all endurance athletes but for those of you sticking to say a 5k type distance (like me), this will be exponentially beneficial for you. Because a 5k for instance is what we would call a “short” endurance length, the power you gain from strength training translates to better performance in your run/bike/swim/race. These benefits also exist for longer distance endurance athletes, just not to the same degree.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #5: Decreased Body Fat, Increased Lean Tissue

As has been discussed here on Body Tithe University already, adding strength training to our exercise regimen aids in decreasing the amount of body fat we have and increasing our lean tissue. In an endurance workout, we are carrying our own body weight for the duration of the workout. The less weight we have to carry, the easier it is on our body.

Benefit of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes #6: Fewer Workouts

Believe it or not, by adding strength training to your routine, you can do fewer endurance workouts and still improve your performance. Pretty nice eh? So not only will you improve in your endurance sport, you’ll do so while putting less stress on your body.

Benefits of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: Conclusion

So, have I talked you into it yet? I hope so. After all, there is no downside, except perhaps stepping out of your comfort zone a little.

If I have talked you into it, you might be at a loss on where to begin. I’ve got you covered there too… but that will have to wait until Strength Training for Endurance Athletes Part II.

For now, I want you to focus on the benefits, and take a look at your schedule so you can start planning a new, shorter regimen. If you’re working out at home, you can start researching some fitness equipment options too (at the bare minimum, you’ll want some dumbbells, a bench or a stability ball, and ideally, some resistance bands and a pull-up bar).

So until next time, start reorienting your mindset about strength training as an endurance athlete. So you’ll find that less is more… and “more” rocks!