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:
- One-legged Squats – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
- Back Lunges – 3 sets of 15 on each leg
- 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
- Plank – 30 seconds
Rest for 90 seconds after each set before moving on to the next.