Why endurance athletes need to do Strength Training Part 1.

I am obviously a huge fan of Strength Training. But I am acutely aware that a number of athletes and coaches (and non-athletes whose exercise program is focused on cardiovascular exercise) don’t rate strength training highly enough to make room for it in their training programs.

In part 1 of this article I’ll explain the benefits of strength training, which go beyond simply making you look better. In part 2, I will explore some of the reasons why some athletes don’t realize these benefits and explain how to incorporate strength work into your training schedule so you do get the returns without having your training time blow out.

Benefits of Strength Training

Injury prevention

The number one purpose of a Strength and Conditioning program is injury prevention. Chronic injuries, the main concern for endurance athletes are overuse injuries which result from lots and lots of small traumas accumulating over time. This is even more of an issue for older athletes whose tissue doesn’t repair as quickly. Stronger people are more resilient. They can withstand more force, higher volumes and more mechanical stress without breaking down.

Muscle imbalances.

For a joint to stay healthy there needs to be a balance between the muscles that act on the joint.

Endurance athletes, or general population doing ‘cardio’, typically train by doing the same movement repeated thousands of time. This means the dominant muscles for that activity get a heap of work and the muscles not used in that activity don’t do much at all. This leads to an imbalance between muscles, which leads to changes in posture and the way you move. This in turn decreased performance and leads to injury.

A well designed strength program will highlight and correct these imbalances. This not only decreases injury potential, it helps you move as one, whole integrated machine instead of a series of parts.

After all a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Endurance capacity will always be a percentage of your maximal effort.

For you to move you need to generate power, which we measure in watts.

The faster you run, swim, ride or paddle the more watts you need to generate. The more watts you are generating, the faster you fatigue. When you get close to working at your maximum power output, you fatigue very, very quickly.

Endurance training essentially does two things:

  1. Increases the percentage of your maximum that you can sustain for the required time or distance. Even ‘strength efforts’ like sprinting up hills or riding on a hard gear only get you working at a higher percentage of your maximum, they don’t increase your maximum.
  2. Improves efficiency so you are able to produce the same power but expend less energy doing it. This then means you will be able to sustain a higher output.

Whilst these are essential parts of improving your endurance capabilities, the other way to increase the power output you can sustain is to increase your maximum power output. Strength training is the most effective and time efficient way to increase your maximum power.

Cross training

No matter how much you love your endurance training there are a number of reasons you should not do it 52 weeks per year. These include injuries, environment, climate, psychological and physiological reasons. Strength training is an extremely time efficient way to avoid the detraining effect when taking a break from regular training. It can be structured to work around the limitations of time, location, environment and injury. And finally the intensity and volume of training can be measured and adjusted, up or down, more easily than in any other method of training.

Can you afford not to be strength training?