The traditional model for endurance training is volume, VOLUME, and MORE VOLUME. Runners, cyclists, and multisport athletes spend hours logging miles but few ever venture into the world of strength training. Over the past several decades, there have been numerous controversies regarding the role of strength training for endurance athletes. Those opposed argue that the anabolic (muscle growth) effects of strength training are detrimental to the goals of endurance training. However, supporters have presented many of the following data and arguments in support of strength training.

Before we continue, let’s clarify one thing…strength training alone will not make you a faster endurance athlete. The only way to get faster at running is by running/working on run specific drills, the only way to get faster at cycling is by cycling, etc. However, strength training can make you a healthier and more efficient athlete. In addition, not one strength training exercise will exactly replicate the force experienced during running, cycling, or swimming, but it can supplement your training to help 1) reduce the risk of injury by correcting weaknesses and imbalances, 2) improve economy (energy used at a particular intensity), and 3) improve sprint or short burst performance by increasing velocity and power at maximal oxygen uptake.

Injury Prevention

In order to see continual performance improvements and manage the wear and tear of endurance training, performance must be built on a solid foundation. If you continue to add miles to poor mechanics and deficient movement patterns, the body will eventual breakdown and weaknesses will manifest as injuries. Proper strength training focused on functional movement patterns and aimed at correcting weaknesses and imbalances will build a solid foundation on which to build your performance.

Improved Economy

Economy is comprised of many physiological and biomechanical factors that contribute to performance and is measured as the energy used at a particular exercise intensity. Oxygen consumption (VO2) is the measure most often used because it closely reflects energy metabolism.  Improved economy following a strength training intervention translates to less energy (O2 consumption) needed to complete a task at the same intensity as prior to a strength training intervention. Less energy at the same intensity, means more fuel left in the tank for later!! Who doesn’t want that? Improved economy has been established through a variety of strength training interventions in runners (Paavolainen, 1999; Spurs, 2003; Berryman, 2010) cyclists (Bastiaans, 2001; Sunde, 2010; Ronnestad, 2011), triathletes (Millet, 2002), and cross-country skiers (Ronnestad, 2012).

Improved Sprint Performance

 Endurance-specific muscle power is the ability of the neuromuscular system to rapidly produce force following a sustained period of high-intensity exercise  (Beattie, 2014). This ability to produce force in fatiguing circumstance may be the differentiating factor between races won and lost (sprint to the finish).  Researchers have found significant improvements in running velocity (Berryman, 2010; Mikkola, 2007) and cycling power (Ronnestad, 2010; Ronnestad, 2012) at aerobic capacity (VO2max) following strength training interventions.

Still convinced that more volume is the answer for a new personal record? Want to add strength training to your endurance regime? Ask about the SPARC Endurance program!

By: Lauren Peterson, SPARC Specialist and Endurance Coach