Between track workouts, weekly pool sessions, and long bike rides, it’s easy for endurance athletes to forget all about the gym and spend the majority of their time working on their sport of choice. When they do have enough time, they perform a couple sets of high repetitions to further that endurance capacity and build long, sleek muscles. With this type of program, they’re missing two key components for successful performance: power and strength.
The ability to produce quick, forceful muscle contractions is crucial for maintaining efficient form and remaining injury free. Each time your foot hits the ground when running, you’re forced to absorb on average about 2.9 times your bodyweight in force and then explode off the ground for the next stride. If you’re not prepared to handle that kind of load, injuries occur very rapidly. Heavy lifting and plyometrics can help decrease ground reaction time and hence decrease injury and improve performance.
Where to Start?
Starting a strength-training program while undergoing strenuous endurance training can be tricky. It’s difficult to find a day to lift that doesn’t leave you hobbling through your run the following day. It’s best to start out during the off-season when event-specific training doesn’t make up the bulk of your week. However, you can introduce power and strength training into your routine, but avoid starting directly before important race weekends or during heavy training weeks.
It’s crucial to have a good base of core strength and sound form before adding weight and moving explosively. Spend at least a month focusing on planks and general strength moves like squats, push-ups, rows, and lunges. With the foundation laid, you’re ready to slowly start increasing weight and using faster moves in your strength training.
Strength Training – Endurance Style
For the majority of runners and triathletes, two days a week in the gym should provide plenty of stimuli to build strength and power. These workouts should be spaced out throughout the week with at least a day in between. To minimize interference with hard training bouts, allow at least 24 hours of recovery before attempting an especially demanding bike, swim, or run. The best thing would be to perform these workouts on hard training days after your specific training. This ensures that easy days in between hard workouts are actually easy and not sabotaged by your strength training. Start your workout with high-speed, full-body plyometrics then move on to total body strength moves.
Endurance sports primarily use one direction, forward (called sagittal in the exercise science world). Therefore, it’s important to focus your training on improving strength and explosiveness in that direction. However, to prevent overuse injuries and maximize performance, it’s important to move laterally and rotationally as well (frontal and transverse). Each training day should incorporate all three of these directions.
Aside from direction of movement, endurance sports are unique in that single leg training is critical. In running, only one leg is in contact with the ground at any one point in time. Therefore, athletes must possess good balance, but also good strength and explosive power off of one leg. The same principle applies to swimming. Athletes must be able to reach out and explosively drive their arm down to propel their body through the water. Appropriate training should reflect this unilateral need for strength and power.
Perform each workout once per week with at least a day in between.
How to Get It Done
Perform the A/B exercises back to back with 30-45 seconds in between. Rest 2-3 minutes before performing the next set.