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.


The Perks of Workout Buddies

couple running at duskIt wasn’t until she was 60 that Ginny Hlavenka, of Holmdel, NJ, got in shape. “I never thought exercise was for me. I found it boring and could never stick with it for more than a few weeks at a time.”

Until her friend invited her to tag along at a water aerobics class. “The class was hard, but it was also enjoyable. My friend and I were laughing throughout the hour. I got exercise and had fun at the same time, something I thought was impossible.”

Ginny returned to the class with her friend the next week. And the next one, and the one after that. In fact, Ginny and her group of friends have been attending the same water aerobics class for the past five years.

Friends and benefits

Ginny’s experience is hardly unique. Many studies show that workout buddies are good for health and fitness. Exercising with a friend can:

·         Hold you accountable. Ginny says,“I’m not sure I’d enjoy water aerobics if I took it at another gym. My friends and the instructor are what really make it for me. After a long day at work, I often consider skipping, but I know everyone is counting on me to show up, so I go.” People who work out with friends are more likely to stick with their fitness regimens because someone is counting on them. This can help you lose weight or meet other goals faster.

·         Add years to your life. Exercise, in general, is good for your health, but getting fit with others may be even better. Two recent studies looked at the health effects of social interaction. Results from one study showed that people who are physically active with others were more likely to report that they were in good to excellent health. The other study found that socially isolated individuals were more likely to die at younger ages.

·         Boost athletic performance. For over 100 years, research has shown thatathletes perform better with a group or in front of a group. Sports psychologists say that you’re more focused and less distracted by pain when you train with others. Getting fit with a training buddy and having some friendly competition can push you to be your best.

Find a fitness partner

These tips can help you find a fitness mate:

·         Chat up people in group fitness classes. If you attend the same exercise classes regularly, chances are you’ll make a few friends like Ginny did. Invite them to take other classes with you, too.

·         Join an intramural or athletic club. Most cities have club soccer, kickball, or softball teams. If you join a team, you’ll have organized practices and games. Or search for local running or triathlon clubs or ask a running specialty store. These groups often host regular training runs.

·         Encourage your loved ones to get active with you. Catch up with your girlfriends on the elliptical trainer instead of over a glass of wine. Ask your coworkers to join you on walk instead of going out to lunch.

Do you exercise with friends? I love running with others – they really help the miles fly by!