Improving Endurance Performance by Strength Training

Posted by Phil Batterson on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 @ 16:01 PM

Consistent training is one of the hallmarks to success in most sports. This is especially true for endurance sports that require hours of repeated movements to elicit the necessary adaptations for an athlete to excel on race day. When injury occurs, athletes are left sidelined and unable to participate in the sport they love and have invested so much time into. The prevalence of injuries related to overuse in endurance sports is extremely high. With conservative moxy-strength-book-cover_(no_shadow)estimations predicting that (19%) of runners [van der Worp et al. 2015], (11.5%) of cyclist [Dettori and Norvell 2006], and (~20%) of triathletes [Zwingenberger et al. 2013], will be injured each year. While there aren’t any promises of a magic pill that could get rid of injuries forever, one simple thing, that most, if not all endurance athletes should be doing regularly is strength training (ST).

However, most endurance athletes have stayed away from ST due to it’s stigma and association with the hypertrophic response [Schoenfeld et al. 2016]. While it’s true that ST is associated with adding muscle mass, it has been shown that this response is attenuated when strength and endurance training are performed within the same program [Wilson et al. 2012]. Maximal strength and power gains aren’t the only benefits of ST, some other, less known benefits are, stronger ligaments, tendons, and bones, as well as the creation of new neural pathways, all of which can help make an athlete more resilient. By building up a bulletproof body, athletes will be able to stay health and withstand more training stress.


Scientific Background

While there is evidence to suggest that ST is beneficial to endurance athletes, until recently, there weren’t many thorough Meta-Analyses to provide best-practice, research-based recommendations for how endurance athletes should perform ST.

A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance aimed to provide these recommendations. The results from the meta-analysis by [Berryman et al. 2017] confirming what was stated earlier, showed that endurance athletes who completed strength training programs saw benefits to economy of motion, maximal strength, and maximal power, without any detriments to VO2max or aerobic endurance, and regardless of training status. This means any endurance athlete that participates in a proper weight training program could reap the benefits of weight training no matter how trained they are.

Note: No benefits to endurance performance was found with submaximal strength training (~60% 1RM, 10-25reps). If an athlete is aiming to improve endurance performance, the empirical data suggests that following an endurance strength training protocol will not result in improvements. This is probably due to the limited amount of homeostatic perturbation that is being created while lifting at such low weights and high reps, this style of training would also result in the same type of signal being sent to the muscle, which is already getting endurance adaptation.


Practical Application

The protocols that were determined to be the most beneficial to improving endurance performance included maximal strength training, specifically, 3-5 sets of high weight (~80% 1RM), low repetition (1-8reps), 2-5 minutes between sets. Followed 2x per week for >24 sessions (12 weeks). So what does this look like in terms of a season?

Implementing Strength Training Through Phasing

Strength training should be typically completed twice a week, once racing season starts, two weeks before A races should only have one strength training day and sets should NEVER go until failure (when form starts to break down), always stop two reps short, this ensures that adequate work is being done but lowers the risk of injury from poor form or ‘muscling it’.

Much like the endurance season, strength training should also be phased. Below is an 11-13 week phased template that will give an athlete or coach the scaffolding necessary to start implementing ST, it should be noted that proper strength training protocols should include more exercises that encompass mobility, stability, and improve overall athleticism.

Weeks

Phase

Frequency

Main Lifts

Sets

Reps

Rest

Goal

1-2

Pre-Phase*

2x Per Week

Back Squat

Shoulder Press

2-4

8-12

2-3min

Perfect Form

3-5

Strength

2x per Week

Back Squat

Shoulder Press

3-5

6-10

1-3min

Develop strength through entire range of motion

6-8

Maximal Strength

2x per week

Day 1:

Back Squat

Shoulder Press

Day 2:

Hexbar Deadlift

Bench Press

3-5

1-5

3-5min

Develop maximal strength, while maintaining proper form. Rest for entire 3-5 minutes.

9-11

Power

2x per week

Hexbar Jump Shrug

3-5

1-5

2-3min

Move the bar as fast as possible, this means lowering weight to ~60% 1RM, stop when weight doesn’t move as fast as the first rep.

12-13

Peak Week

1x per week

Hexbar Deadlift

1-3

1-5

3-5min

Maintaining proper form, use slightly less weight than in maximal strength, and move bar as fast as possible.

*If an athlete has never weight lifted before start with 2 weeks of pre-phase, where the emphasis of all workouts is on perfecting proper form. The goal is to gradually work up in weight but do not sacrifice form for more weight.

Summary: Endurance athletes should be strength training, not only is it a good way to improve performance, but, with proper implementation, it can help an athlete stay healthy by strengthening tendons, ligaments, and bones. Keeping an athlete healthy is key to their success. In the next blog post, I will detail how to integrate Moxy into your strength training sessions to get the maximum amount of benefit, with the least amount of work.  

Topics: strength training