By Joseph Beckerley - Performance Strength Lab
What is Endurance? Endurance means bearing hardship; staying power, continuity or lastingness. Athletics is being agile; prepared to participate in sports.
In 2010-2011 I trained for the Boston marathon, then competed in the Carlsbad Marathon, and later that year the California International Marathon. During training for these 3 events I was running 35-50 miles a week, but also mixing in triathlons. As a triathlete, I now required additional days of training swimming and cycling. Juggling running, swimming, cycling, working, and a new baby at home, I decided to cut strength training from my training plan to concentrate on getting in the miles.
I noticed during all three of these marathons that I ran strong for the first 20-22 miles then towards the end of the race, I felt my muscles in my legs reach fatigue. My form dramatically deteriorated – and my pace dramatically dropped. This was not “hitting the wall,” as my breathing and cardiovascular endurance felt fine.
Although the races are very different, my finishing times worsened as I ran the “easier” races. Boston 3:03, Carlsbad 3:06, then CIF 3:09. I had ran a sub-3 hour marathon prior to CIF when I qualified for Boston. I was starting to question if I would ever run a sub-3 hour marathon again. I worried that I had “peaked,” that maybe those days were behind me. But then it became clear to me I need to include strength training back into my plan, at least two times a week, so I could stay strong late in the races. Since incorporating strength training back into my training I have returned to a sub-3 hour marathon pace, won the Southern California Trail Running Series, placed in the top three in triathlons and finished my first ironman feeling strong. Strength training made me faster and let me endure longer than I ever had before.
It turns out that I am not the only one that has found that combining strength training and endurance training can work wonders. Sports and exercise physiologists have proven that implementing resistance-training programs into endurance athlete training programs can be highly effective, as long as periodization and specificity are taken into consideration.
Strength training can make you faster
A recent review article in the European Journal of Sports and Exercise Science looked at the results of 9 different studies of highly trained cyclists. They concluded that combining strength training with endurance training consistently improved road-cycling race performance. It made the athletes faster – in one of the reviewed studies, cyclists improved their time trial speed by 8%. That means if you were competing in a 20 mile time trial – you might shave 5 minutes off your time. It also made them more powerful – in one study the cyclists’ peak power output increased by 13%. These changes occurred after only a couple months of incorporating strength training into their training programs. Another study, in Finland, found similar results in runners. They found that 9 week of strength training reduced their athlete’s 5K time from 18 ½ minutes to 17 ½ minutes. For these athletes, the improvements they saw from strength training could make the difference between seeing the podium or not.
Strength training can make you endure longer
The same European review article I mentioned above also found that, across 9 different studies, strength training consistently enables cyclists to be able to sprint at their top speed longer. After only 10 weeks of strength training, cyclists in one study were able to sprint at their maximal aerobic speed 20% longer. This same effect was found in distance runners. A group of trained runners were asked to do a very basic strength program for 8 weeks – and this dramatically improved their running. Their running economy at marathon pace improved by 5%. That could easily determine whether you make the cut off for Boston, or not. In the study, the length of time that they were able to hold their maximal aerobic speed improved by 21%. That could easily mean the difference between 1st and 2nd place if you were neck and neck with a competitor for the finish line.
The goal should not be to get bigger (although a little bigger is okay), the goal is to improve your strength to body weight ratio. The weight you carry over 26.2 miles, or through the three legs of a triathlon needs to be helping you make it to the finish line. Lean muscle, developed through a periodized strength program, can do exactly that. Improvements in strength will make you faster, and make you last longer. They will allow you to sustain attacks, climb hills faster, take off with more power, and sprint to the finish line. Furthermore you will see gains in every pedal, every stride and every swim stroke as you become stronger and more efficient.
Here at Strength Performance Lab we can help you determine the best way to incorporate strength training into your training program. We are confident that by determining the most effective strength-training program for you, and for your goals, we will help you enjoy newfound strength, and help you finish faster than you ever thought possible.
Ellery, S., Keogh, J., & Sheerin, K. (2012). Does maximal strength training improve endurance performance in highly trained cyclists: A systematic review. European Journal of Sport and Exercise Science, 1(3): 90-102.
Paavolainene, L., Hakkinen, K., Hamalainen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (1999). Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Journal Applied Physiology, 86: 1526-1533.
Storen, O., Helgerud, J., Stoa, E., & Hoff, J. (2008).. Maximal Strength Training Improves Running Economy in Distance Runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 8(6), 1087-1095.
Keywords: distance running; strength training; endurance performance; power; running economy; concurrent training; endurance athlete; resistance training.