Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

Strength Training for Endurance Athletes
Contributed by Vic Brown
Aug 29, 2008

Popular endurance

activities such as running, swimming, cycling, ultra events and adventure

racing all require a combination of speed, strength and stamina. Important, yet

often neglected, strength training prepares the body for the rigors of training

and racing.
It combats factors that contribute to overuse injuries,

encourages bone health and counteracts muscular imbalances. Strength training

can enhance aspects of aerobic and anaerobic endurance. It can boost lactate

tolerance, delay fatigue and improve running economy, which allows an athlete

to use less energy and therefore less oxygen.

All these benefits and strength training is still overlooked

when endurance athletes make time to train? A common opinion among endurance

enthusiasts is that any additional free time should be devoted to swimming,

biking or running. If not time, then knowledge is the obstacle. How do you add

a strength training component to your training?

Tradition vs. Function

Depending on which sport you do, its important to determine

what repetitive movements may lead to overuse injuries and build your strength

plan around corrective exercises.

What strength movement patterns best serve swimming, biking,

or running? Balance, stability and a strong core for all of them; biking and

running are single leg movements and require a great deal of leg and hip

strength and power; swimming requires a lot of upper body strength and power,

but it also uses a great deal of core strength and rotation.

The goal is to perform exercises that simulate the movement

you do in your sports such as a walking lunge for running or pull-ups for

swimming. Do not isolate or train muscle groups individually. Choose exercises

that will link the bodys entire kinetic chain.

Perform free-weight exercises while standing on the ground

to help work out your stabilizing muscles. For this reason weight machines are

not a good idea because they limit the amount of stabilization you need to do

to lift the weight, creating weak spots by building muscles without building

stabilization muscles. Training with equipment like dumbbells, medicine balls,

stability balls and various resistance bands will facilitate balance,

stabilization, strength, and flexibility all at once. A split squat with an

overhead press, a lateral lunge with a belly press, and a push up with a

dumbbell row are a few effective exercises to incorporate into your training

plan. To learn more and see how to do these moves, see

As a matter of opinion, many endurance athletes border on

over reaching or overtraining. Remember that the effects of fatigue are

cumulative. Proper rest is important. Recovery allows the body to adapt to the

previous phases of work. Do not lift weights on your rest days or simply add

strength training on top of your endurance training. Include strength training

when adding up total training hours per week (volume).

A proven method to help athletes achieve peak levels of

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fitness and prevent overtraining is periodization. A periodized training plan

(outlined in the chart) allows you to manipulate training volume, intensity and

specificity during different phases of the training year. A comprehensive

strength training program should meet the specific needs and demands of the

sport or event you are training for. More importantly is developing a practical

approach to meeting your real world logistical responsibilities and concerns.

Adhering and making strength training a priority in your program will keep you

healthier and put you in position to have your most successful season yet.

Vic Brown is the Associate Strength & Conditioning Coach

at Boston University and an Assistant Coach for Ali Winslow Sports, a triathlon

and endurance athlete coaching service.

A Practical Approach to Strength Training for Endurance

Eight ways to make it work with your training schedule


Schedule strength training sessions into your weekly planner

just as you would swimming, cycling, or running workouts and any other

appointment or meeting. Writing the workout down gives a sense of

accountability making you more likely to do it.


Find a gym that will fit your needs. Many fitness centers

have a pool, cardiovascular equipment and a strength training area. This

provides an opportune venue for linking workouts together and presents a

convenient site for establishing time blocks.


Many highly effective exercises can be performed using

equipment that can be purchased for a nominal amount: pair of dumbbells,

stability ball, barbell, or using ones own body weight. Performing your

strength training routine at home eliminates driving time to the gym and

lessens the possibility you will miss the workout.


Link your endurance workouts together with strength

training. Perform strength work immediately after your aerobic session. Oxygen

consumption remains elevated longer when aerobic training precedes strength

training providing a greater fat burning benefit.


Time-based programs allow for effective time management.

During the off-season, a workout could consist of a 30-minute swim followed

immediately by a 30-minute strength training session. When transitioning into

pre-season training, this time block may shift to a 45-minute swim and a

15-minute strength training session.


Use ground-based multi-joint exercises; exercise performed

standing while requiring movement across two or more joints. They provide more

muscular stimulation and often link the bodys entire kinetic chain from head

to toe while engaging your core. Isolation is out. Choose exercises based on

the movement patterns of your sport.


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These methods will decrease overall training time and allow

you to train a particular movement while simultaneously allowing for rest.

Super Sets: Choose two exercises of opposing movements and perform them

back-to-back without any rest. For example, super set push and pull exercises

such as a dumbbell bench press lying on a stability ball with a dumbbell row.

Pair Exercises: Pair upper and lower body exercises. For example, perform a

lunge matrix (forward lunge, lateral lunge, rotational lunge) immediately

followed by pull-ups.


Perform an exercise during rest between intervals to improve

both aerobic endurance and muscular strength and power. During intervals that

allow for long rest periods, try performing multi joint exercises. Mix in core

or activation exercises during short rest periods.