Endurance athletes typically have a few things in common. First, they love what they do, and knowing the fact that 99.9% of the population couldn’t imagine doing the sorts of races they do, whether its a Channel Swim, Ironman triathlon, mountain marathon, century ride or ultra distance run. Having the determination and dedication to complete and compete in these events is true testament to the human will, and something that only a small minority of people are capable of. The endurance athlete loves to push him/herself to the limit, overcoming barriers in training, and breaking down every wall that stands in their way on race day. Second, they also love to train. Endurance athletes are quite happy to slog out 10, 20, 30 hours per week at their chosen sport, and make the sacrifice that is necessary to achieve their goal, whether it’s simply completing the course, or a top 5 finish. The training mindset of the endurance athlete is one that is strong, whatever the weather, against the odds, and willing to go the extra mile. However, like everyone, endurance athletes have flaws. The biggest that I can determine is that they (not everyone, but the vast majority) neglect strength training, or at least don’t perform the correct type of exercises in the gym. It is this similarity that is the focus of this article. Ask any endurance athlete out there why they aren’t performing strength and conditioning as an integral part of their plan, and I can guarantee that one or all of the following 3 points will come up:
First off is the thought that performing strength training will make them heavier, sluggish and inflexible, and so strength training should be excluded from their training plan. There are a couple of things to address with this misconception. First, it is the nature of the training that the athlete is associating with strength and conditioning. Often when people think of strength training, they think of traditional bodybuilding training, which is largely dysfunctional to the endurance athlete (although still seems to be advocated in a number of endurance sports training books). However, with a functional training program that has been designed in order to specifically enhance performance, you’re not going to get huge muscle mass gains, you won’t get any slower and you won’t get less flexible. In fact, you’ll actually become faster due to increases in strength, power, economy and movement patterns, you’ll get more flexible due to the integrated nature of the training, and as for getting bigger and slower? Nope. Regarding this, the first thing to mention is that the strength gains you’ll be getting are largely going to be down to improved neuromuscular performance, without a big increase in muscle size. Secondly, in general, endurance athletes are largely ectomorphs, who find it extremely hard to gain any significant muscle size. Those two things aside, the strength and power improvements you’ll gain will totally outweigh any added weight as you’ll be stronger, more powerful and more efficient at your event(s), thus making you a superior athlete and improving your performance greatly.
From this article, you should now be thinking differently about the need for training strength for endurance sports success, and in part 2, I’ll be going into a little depth regarding just what a truly functional strength training program involves.
Andy Sloan BA (Hons), MMA-CSCC graduated from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff with a First Class BA (Hons) Degree in Leisure and Sports Management. He is heavily involved in sports and training, and as an athlete competes in triathlon and running events, from 10 mile road runs, to full Ironman distance triathlons, racking up some fantastic times along the way. You can find him at Procisionfitness.com