This is something that I have to drill into endurance athletes brains all the time. Yet for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter how much drilling I do the message gets lost.
Endurance athletes – you need to strength train
Yes I recognize that you do endurance activity so the idea that heavy squatting and deadlifting doesn’t seem to make much sense. Or flipping big tires around a parking lot. Or spending entire workouts doing just short sprints instead of going on another long run.
The fact is, however, that in order to improve your endurance activities you need to be doing all of the things I just listed above. The reasons are many and I am going to refrain from delving too far into the detailed physiology of it mostly because you will all stop reading!
It comes down to metabolic efficiency. All the endurance athletes out there have heard of VO2 max. This is essentially a measure of how efficient your endurance system is and how well you can get oxygen where it needs to go.
So step one with improving your endurance activity is to improve your VO2 max. And the best way to do that is with short burst of high intensity. Sprints. HIT training. That’s right, short high intensity bursts improve VO2 max far more than running, cycling, or swimming further. Research has shown hockey players and 100m sprinters have some of the highest VO2 max test results in the world.
This means that adding in short (10 seconds is a good length) bursts of close to max exercise with 30 second rests in between each set. Do this 10 times with an activity that you are comfortable and familiar with. How hard is hard enough? If you could go longer than 10 seconds – wasn’t hard enough.
The second thing we will talk about is muscular strength. You need to make your muscles strong. This improves stride length, cycle power, swimming strength and pretty much anything else related to endurance activities. You want your muscles to get stronger.
You will be able to exert more power, your joints will be better protected, you will recover faster, you won’t get as sore, and you will have some wicked muscle definition to show off at parties.
This is where people falter. They start strength training and they go way too light with way too many repetitions. The goal here is to increase strength. In order to increase strength you have to work to muscular failure in the 6-8 repetition range. So grabbing 20lb dumbells and cranking out 20 reps is not going to make you stronger!
You have to use enough resistance that your muscles fail in the appropriate rep range. While you might think this doesn’t make sense because the reps are so low that is not the case. When you do a lot of high rep work (ie. Run, cycle, swim) you are actually DECREASING your strength. So when it comes to a conditioning workout to enhance your endurance activity you want to be working the aspects of your physiology that those activities are not working. Like your strength!
Don’t be afraid of muscular failure. You need to push your muscles to that point with enough resistance that you cant get passed 8 repetitions. That is where you will increase your strength. And increased strength makes you stronger, faster, and enhances your recovery. Yay. Who wouldn’t want that?
The moral of the story is you train for your sport when you are doing your sport. When you are looking to use your time in the gym to enhance your abilities in that sport, make sure you are training the aspects of your physiology that are being ignored during the rest of your training!
-Strength Coach Taylor