If you read “Benefits of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes Part I,” welcome back. If not, do it. Right now. Seriously. I’m not going anywhere.
Okay, now that you’re caught up on why strength training for endurance athletes is so important, here are some exercises you can do to get started.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Planks
WHY? Planks are an amazing way to increase your core strength and your core plays a big role during all your workouts. In fact, I’ll even say that planks are better for increasing your core strength than a traditional crunch. True story. Plus, you can do them on your sides and/or forearms, with all kinds of variations in between.
WHAT? A plank requires you to hold your body in a straight line above the ground on your toes and hands (think up position of push-up) or toes and forearms. You can also turn to one side for your plank to target the obliques a bit more but be sure you share the love on the other side as well.
When on your forearms, do yourself a favor: keep your arms parallel, palms on the floor oo in a fist position, and spine in neutral position (neutral position means head in line with spine, don’t look up or look under your body at your feet). To help with alignment, stare a couple inches above your hands. You’ll thank yourself later.
HOW LONG? Start with 15 seconds in plank position and see if you can work yourself up to a full minute in each position (traditional, forearms, and sides). A good starting point is 3 sets of 15 seconds (or as long of a time period you are starting with for your planks).
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Lunges
WHY? Lunges are a great way to target your hip flexors which are often neglected but vitally important, especially for the endurance athlete. Using only your own body weight, they’re easy to add to any routine.
WHAT? A lunge is stepping forward with one leg and lowering to the floor so that the back knee almost touches the ground. When you step forward it is crucial that your step is big enough that as you lower you make a 90-degree angle with the front and back knee. As you lower down, the front knee needs to stay behind the toe and directly above the ankle as you lower and the back knee drops straight down.
Take your step forward lunge, raise up, step forward with back foot and repeat.
If you’re really cool, there are several variations you can add to your lunge to work the lower body just a bit more. Some of these include a knee lift (as you step the back leg forward raise your knee above your hips), back leg lift (as you ease out of your lunge and stand raise the back leg behind you squeezing the glute before you step forward), arms out (in a T position), and more. You can really get creative here but the standard walking lunge is plenty to get you started.
HOW MANY? 10 repetitions on each leg. As you get more comfortable with those, you can add more reps and sets. You can even jazz it up by turning them into walking lunges.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Push-Ups
WHY? As a runner/cyclist, don’t be fooled that upper body strength isn’t important. The push-up really is a WHOLE body exercise and increasing your upper body strength will only contribute to more efficient performance.
WHAT? I’m sure you know what it is… but just in case: a push-up is the raising and lowering of the body keeping it in a straight line (similar to planks on your hands but this time we are moving up and down).
Align your hands directly under your chest about shoulder width apart, body in a straight line (butt isn’t up in the air, hips aren’t sagging towards the ground), on your toes and heals back.
For a modified position, put your knees on the ground (toes up or on the ground is fine) but your body stays in that straight line and hand position is the same.
As you lower down make sure your elbows track back (and not out) as you lower. In other words, they follow the natural elbow bend as opposed to taking them out to the sides. The goal is to lower your chest to the floor and then raise back up to start position.
If you can’t get all the way to the floor, that’s ok. Go as low as you can.
My preference is to start with the standard position and lower to modified when you need, even if that means you do one and then drop the knees.
That said, there’s no shame in starting with modified push-ups and gradually working your way up to standard push-ups.
HOW MANY? 3 sets of 10 reps.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Squats
WHY? An incredible exercise to strengthen the lower body, the power house of the endurance athlete. They target the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and even the lower leg. This move will help your legs sustain the work you demand from them during your endurance workouts and races.
WHAT? Squats are like sitting in a chair, but without the chair.
To perform a squat, start with your feet about hip to shoulder width apart with feet turned just ever so slightly out. As you lower your body down keep your chest and head up, don’t bend over at the hips. A good way to keep this position is to fix your gaze at a spot high on the wall or ceiling. Push your butt back as you lower as if trying to find that chair behind you. This helps keep your knees behind your toes which is a MUST!
TIP: I highly recommend getting a chin-up assist. This simple tool will introduce you to the motion of full on chin-ups, while giving you a lift on the way. As you get stronger, you can decrease the amount of help until BOOM! One day you’re doing them by yourself!
Similar to a lunge, your goal is to get your hamstrings parallel to the ground. As you improve your squats and flexibility, you may even get lower. It is important that your weight stays in the heels of your feet. This means when in that low position of your squat, you are able to wiggle your toes. We DO NOT want our heels coming off the ground as we squat.
HOW MANY? 3 sets of 10 is a great start.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Pull-Ups
WHY? Pull-ups are a must. Not only will your upper body greatly improve, you’ll also strengthen your core.
Don’t have a pull-up bar at home? Parks have pull-up bars all over the place!
Dead of winter and covered in snow? That’s ok. Put a broomstick across two chairs and do a seated or reverse pull-up. Where there is a will there’s a way.
WHAT? The standard pull-up involves hanging from a bar, palms facing away from you, and pulling yourself up to get your chin above the bar.
A chin-up is almost the same except your palms turn and face you instead.
A couple modifications to the pull-up is to perform a seated pull-up or reverse push-up. The seated and reverse kind would actually be a great modified type option to begin with if a straight pull-up isn’t quite on the radar just yet.
You can also add a jump to your pull-up for assistance or get a block to stand on and push off of as an assist.
Keep at it though, the more you practice, the better they get. You can even start with a flexed arm hang (lift yourself to hold your chin above the bar) and hold as long as possible.
HOW MANY? Your ultimate goal is 3 sets of 10 repetitions with no assistance. You may need some help at first. If so, start with flexed arm hangs, seated pull-ups, reverse pull-ups, or get a chin-up assist and gradually decrease the assistance it’s providing.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Straight Leg Deadlifts (aka Good Mornings)
WHY? Low back strains and hamstring pulls are some of the most common injuries of athletes. Why? Because hamstrings are being ignored by athletes.
Straight leg deadlifts will get your hamstrings burning, but will also work your lower back. That’s hugely important. The core MUST include the lower back. When our abdominals become stronger than our lower back, or our quads stronger than the hamstrings, we create imbalances. These imbalances can lead to sprains and strains from those opposing muscles trying to keep up but are unable.
WHAT? To perform straight leg deadlift you will ideally want weight you can hold in your hands. That said, even without weight it can still be an effective strength move.
Set feet about hip to shoulder width apart, hold the weight so it hangs down in front of you, shoulders relaxed. Hinge forward at the hips and lower down as far as you can keeping legs straight but NOT locked out (in other words, there should be a slight natural bend).
As you lower you MUST keep your back straight, which means no rounding of any kind. To do this, think of pulling your shoulder blades back and together. Once lowered as low as you can (the goal to get those weights to the ground, if you can go lower than that stand on a step), raise back up and at the top squeeze your glutes.
HOW MANY? 3 sets of 10 is a great start.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Kettlebell Swings
WHY? As endurance athletes, our hip flexors can be one of the most likely victims taken down by injury, mostly because they tend to be ignored in our strength building routine. No longer!
Not only are kettlebell swings a great exercise for strengthening your hip flexors and glutes, they also provide a great cardio workout too. Hello awesome sauce!
WHAT? To perform the kettlebell swing, ideally you will have a kettlebell. However, a dumbbell or any other weight you can hold in your hands can work too.
Stand with feet just outside of shoulder width apart. To begin your swing hinge forward from hips, keeping your back straight and bend your knees a bit (no need to go as low as a squat here). As you stand up thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes, the momentum from this movement is what will swing your kettlebell up in the air. Be sure the swing comes from thrusting the hips forward and squeezing the glutes, not throwing your arms up. The swing should only go to about shoulder level, no higher than that.
HOW MANY? Aim for three rounds of 10 reps to start and gradually increase your reps and/or weight as you go.
You can even turn it in to a bit of an interval swinging 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for five rounds.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Putting it into Practice
You can combine these exercises to make a great whole-body strength workout. Think tabatas (which are specific HIIT workouts): the setup consists of eight rounds of 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds work.
Sample Strength Tabata for the Endurance Athlete
8 rounds; 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds work
- Squats (or jump squats)
- Lunges (or jump lunges)
- Kettlebell/Dumbbell Swings
**Repeat each exercise for a total of two rounds before moving on to next.**
TIP: I recommend owning a Gymboss Interval Timer for such workouts, you can also download a free Gymboss app to your phone, but the actual timer is great and not too expensive ($20).
During your work intervals, be sure to give it your 100% effort so you get max results. Up the ante a little bit with these exercises by turning them into more plyometric type movements by adding jumping (ex: jump lunges and jump squats).
These exercises can be done with bodyweight only and you can add weight too. They really are a versatile choice of exercises that can be done anywhere with anything as your added resistance, in other words…perfection!
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Program Recommendations
If you need a little more instruction than what I provided above, I don’t blame you. Envisioning these moves can be hard. But alas, I have some program recommendations so you can SEE the moves with your own eyes and here the cue on how best to perform them.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes Program Recommendations: Body Beast
This is a strength focused, muscle building program, 6 days a week. The trainer is a former Mr. Israel and knows a lot about putting on serious muscle. Now, this program is geared more toward men. But women can get great results from it too. Strength training done right will not bulk you up, but it will build muscle, which you’ll want. Here’s a Body Beast review for you.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes Program Recommendations: ChaLEAN Extreme
This is a strength focused program from trainer Chalene Johnson. The program is targeted to women. You don’t have to worry about bulking up/body building physique because women don’t naturally have the genetics to do that. But strength training is underrated in its benefits, including fat loss. It comes with 15 workouts and a wonderful nutrition book called Muscle Burns Fat. Here’s a great review of ChaLEAN Extreme.
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes Program Recommendations: 21 Day Fix & 21 Day Fix Extreme
The 21 Day Fix programs do not solely focus on strength training. However, Autumn does provide workouts that target just upper and lower body strength in both programs. She also provides plyo workouts for both which would be beneficial to not just your strength training but to your cardio endurance as well. Some of the others in the program include cardio, pilates, and yoga workouts all which will deliver an element of strength even though that isn’t their sole mission. LEARN MORE…
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes Program Recommendations: The Master’s Hammer & Chisel
Built on the three phases of SSP Training— Stabilization, Strength, and Power, it’s a 60 day program, with 12, 30-40 minute workouts that combine Sagi (from Body Beast) and Autumn’s (from 21 Day Fix) proven techniques resistance training. Comes with a customizable nutrition plan, along with 7 portion-control containers that show you how to portion out the right amount of food, giving your nutrition some flexibility based on whether you want to lean out, sculpt and maintain, or build muscle. Also includes options to adapt certain exercises if you have limited access to equipment as well as a modifier who demonstrates some moves at a lower intensity. LEARN MORE…
Strength Training Exercises for Endurance Athletes: Conclusion
The biggest take away from part two of strength training for the endurance athlete….NO MORE EXCUSES! Seriously… you now know the why, the how, the when, the what. All that is left is the DO.
As an endurance athlete your strength training doesn’t have to get super complicated. You don’t even need a ton of weight. Just starting out with your own bodyweight will be plenty.
If you’re still intimidated to go it alone, get yourself a program that will get you started. You can see the form with your own eyes, you can see how the exercises are put together, and you can start improving your endurance times.
Just like becoming the endurance athlete, all it takes is one step to get started. “Don’t let the start be what stops you.”