Strength Training for the Endurance Athlete

Runners run, cyclists cycle and swimmers swim. For the most part that’s just how it is: endurance athletes sticking close to their sport of choice, with very few venturing into the forbidden realm of strength training. In fact, if you talk to many athletes and avid exercisers, the two forms of training appear to be totally mutually exclusive.

New scientific findings, however, paint a very different picture. Many experts even point to strength training as a reliable way for endurance athletes, especially runners, to greatly reduce their risk of injury.

The Arguments For

Of course, your musculoskeletal system is deeply involved in everything you do, even when you hardly notice it.

A quick look at the human knee, for example, shows a complicated system of muscles used, not only to move your leg, but also to support the movement. If any of those muscles are weak, it places more stress of the others to compensate.

This effect grows when you widen your lens and look at the body as whole. There are muscles that act as shock-absorbers, muscles that keep you steady and, obviously, those that move you forward. All of these need to be strong enough to meet the demands of your sport and keep you injury-free.

While you could make the argument that running builds the muscles needed for running, that’s only true to a point. Any endurance activity builds endurance. In order to build a more solid support system, strength needs to be developed.

Designing Your Program

To be most effective, your strength training program needs to be tailored to your sport. Although balance training would be vitally important to a runner, it doesn’t mean as much to a swimmer or even a cyclist. Swimmers would likely also want to put more emphasis on their upper-body than runners or cyclists would.

Consider the unique challenges of your sport, then, when deciding on which exercises to include in your program.

Since the goal here is to reduce the risk of injury rather than to cause injury, it’s best to start light on the resistance and work your way up. Body weight training is a perfect modality for endurance athletes since it isolates certain muscle groups, requiring them to bear nothing but the weight you use doing your endurance training. Eventually, additional weight could be added to increase the difficulty of a given exercise.

To keep your progress steady, without interfering with your endurance training, dedicate one day to your strength training each week. If you really have to scratch the cardio itch, you can still do a light cardio cool-down for 10 minutes at the end of your workout.

An example workout, aimed toward a runner, might look something like this:

  1. One-legged Squats – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
  2. Back Lunges – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
  3. Push Up on an uneven surface – 3 sets of 10
    • Place your hands on a pillow or balance plate
    • Modify the movement to make it easier, if you need to, by kneeling
  4. Plank – 30 seconds

Rest for 90 seconds after each set before moving on to the next.


Workout While You Work: Treadmill Desk Basics

Chances are you multitask plenty on the job. Do you check emails and update spreadsheets while on a conference call? If so, you’re in good company. However, there’s a group of office workers taking multitasking on the job to a whole new level: they’re working out while they work.

No, these people aren’t Phys Ed teachers, personal trainers or professional athletes. They’re everyday people who work in an office sitting at a desk. Except they’re not sitting down while they type. They’re walking… on a treadmill… at their desks.

Not your average gym treadmill

These special treadmill desks were created so employees who were often sedentary throughout the work day could get physical activity on the job.

Treadmill desks, also called “walking desks” or “treadmill workstations,” consist of a treadmill with a desktop securely balanced on top of the treadmill’s console. An employee’s workstation equipment – including a computer, keyboard, phone and more – sits at a comfortable height so the employee can work and walk simultaneously. Users should walk at an extremely slow pace – only 1-2 miles per hour. This speed is intentionally slower than a normal walking pace so that employees can carry out routine work activities without breaking a sweat.

The perks of walking while you work

The past few years, study after study has revealed just how harmful sitting for long periods of time is for our health. Sitting over four hours per day (as most office workers do) has been linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a shorter life expectancy.

With that said, there’s also an obesity epidemic going on. Not getting enough exercise is partly to blame for our nation’s expanding waistline. In fact, 80 percent of adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity. Using a treadmill desk seems like a great solution for these problems.

Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, would likely agree. Dr. Levine is credited for creating the first treadmill desk back in 2005. He wanted to find a way to help himself and others get in extra activity throughout the day to help meet weight loss goals. Dr. Levine estimates that the average work-walker burns 100-130 calories per hour. So, if an employee uses a treadmill desk for 8 hours a day every workday, he or she could shed up to one to two pounds per week.

Treadmill desk enthusiasts cite more benefits beyond weight loss. Users claim that treadmill desks can help ease back pain and leg neuropathy and improve circulation.

Where to find a treadmill desk

People are using treadmill desks in corporate settings and in their home offices. Several fitness equipment companies make different models, with prices ranging from approximately $500 to a few thousand dollars.

Note that these treadmills differ from traditional treadmills – they don’t have an incline, have a lower range of speed, and are quieter. They’re designed for walking only. However, if you’re crafty and into DIY projects, it’s possible to repurpose a regular treadmill and turn it into a walking desk.

Have you ever tried a treadmill desk?


Image suggestion:

this photo isn’t ideal, but I doubt Livestrong wants to highlight a competitor’s treadmill

Elliptical vs Treadmill

Walk into almost any gym and you will be confronted with one common feature: row after row of treadmills and ellipticals. Although these machines are both classified as “cardiovascular equipment,” both have individual qualities that will suit some exercisers better than others.

Before purchasing a piece of equipment this fundamental to a balanced exercise program, it’s important to consider which would be best for your fitness level, workout style and budget.

Elliptical Machine Benefits

The elliptical machine features two pedals that move in a smooth, uninterrupted circular motion that allows for an impact-free workout. This can be invaluable for individuals with injuries or weaknesses in their knees, ankles, hips and lower back.

Additionally, two long handles extend upward from the base of the machine and place resistance on your upper body. This full-body workout means that you have the potential to burn significantly more calories per hour with an elliptical than if you were to use a treadmill or exercise bike.

There are some potential drawbacks to ellipticals. Because the structure of the elliptical machine controls and limits your range of motion, the movement may take some getting used to. The stride length is also built into the machine, although some allow for slight adjustments, and exercisers with shorter strides may find themselves hyper-extending their knees, which can be problematic over time.

Another factor to consider is that you set the pace on an elliptical (unlike a treadmill, which provides a motorized speed). This can sometimes make it challenging to maintain a constant speed, and if you aren’t highly self-motivated, it can be tempting to go easy.

Selecting an Elliptical

As with any piece of exercise equipment, it’s important to compare elliptical machines until you find one that perfectly fits your needs. Look for a durable machine that will be able to fully support the weight of all its users and has a heavy enough flywheel to offer a smooth, quiet workout. Higher quality ellipticals are designed to mimic your natural body posture and movement.

There are many other elliptical features that allow you to tailor the machine to your needs. Consider an elliptical buying guide to help you fully understand these aspects.

Benefits of Treadmills

Apart from the benefits associated with all forms of cardiovascular exercise, the key benefit of treadmills is their accessibility. The running or walking motion required to use a treadmill is natural, comfortable and familiar.

Many home treadmills also fold up for easy storage. While running outside can be made difficult by terrain or weather, treadmills offer an even surface and the climate control of your home or gym.

Another advantage is that treadmills have a sort of built in motivation. The belt speed and the incline will adjust automatically when you follow a program, reducing any tendencies to relax during a workout. Although you can stop or slow the machine at any time, the automated pace prevents you from easing up unintentionally.

The treadmill running surface is cushioned to reduce the stress on your joints from repeated impact, but this is still a concern for exercisers with a history of joint problems. Also, some people find treadmills repetitive, making them less likely to exercise as often as they should.

LIVESTRONG LS13.0T Treadmill

Finding the Perfect Treadmill

When shopping for a treadmill, look for a machine with a solid frame and a wide running belt. These features will allow you to use the machine comfortably without modifying your natural stride. The highest rated treadmills have larger motors that allow the belt to rotate smoothly and quietly.

Integrated support for media players is an additional feature that may help to alleviate some of the boredom experienced when running indoors. Features that allow you to track your progress through multiple workouts will also make your routine more enjoyable.

Which is Best for You?

If you already enjoy running outdoors but find that your cardio routine suffers because of the weather, a treadmill might be your best choice. People who suffer from joint pain, however, would likely benefit from using an elliptical. Also, if you have difficulty incorporating an upper body workout into your schedule, you may find that the elliptical helps you save time by including these muscles in your cardio.

Regardless of which machine you chose, you’ll want to select a quality model that will last you a long time and help you reach your fitness goals.

Which works best for you: ellipticals or treadmills?