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Do endurance Athletes need to strength train?

The benefits of adding strength training to your training program

Endurance sports are typically associated with long hours of training focused on cardiovascular fitness and endurance. However, many athletes and coaches often overlook the importance of strength training in endurance sports, particularly in older age groups. Strength training can provide numerous benefits that can enhance endurance performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve overall health and well-being. 

Increased power and injury prevention

One of the most significant benefits of strength training for endurance athletes is increased power output. This increased power output translates to faster speeds and greater efficiency during your swim, bike, and run sessions. Endurance events such as cycling, running, and triathlon require the ability to maintain a high level of power output for an extended period. Strength training can improve an athlete’s ability to generate power, making it easier to maintain a higher pace throughout a race.  

Additionally, strength training can help reduce the risk of injury in endurance athletes. Many endurance athletes are at risk of developing overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature of their sport. Incorporating strength training into an endurance athlete’s training regimen can help improve muscular imbalances and reduce the risk of injury. Strength training can also help increase bone density, reducing the risk of stress fractures, which are common among runners especially.  

As athletes age, maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important. The aging process causes the loss of muscle mass, and this can have a pretty major impact on your performance. Spending some time in the gym can help older athletes slow the pace of muscle loss and increase muscular strength. The additional time dedicated to gym sessions can also help reduce the risk of overuse injuries. This becomes increasingly important as we move up age groups. Our bodies don’t tolerate high-intensity training as well as they once did. Being proactive and building muscle and strengthening tendons combined with good recovery practices can help mitigate this risk. 

Plus so much more…

With strength training also comes all the associated benefits of improved overall health and well-being. Strength training can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Additionally, just like many endurance sports, strength training can help improve mental health and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Not to mention the sports we participate in can be mentally challenging. Mental fortitude goes a long way when you get into a dark place on the course, having some additional success in the strength training arena can give you one more thing to pull out to help get through that tough spot. One more thing in your bag of tricks. If you can deadlift twice your weight you can make it to that light pole.

Finding the time

When it comes to incorporating strength training into your training regimen, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, it’s important to prioritize compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as squats, deadlifts, and lunges. These exercises are more effective at improving overall strength and power output than isolation exercises such as bicep curls. These exercises are very beneficial at the beginning of your training cycle during the base phase, and your off-season. As you get closer to your A race you will want to adjust this a bit to incorporate more plyometrics and explosive movements. 

Secondly, it’s important to progressively overload the muscles. This means gradually increasing the weight or resistance used during strength training sessions. When you are finishing your last set the final few reps should feel difficult (without breaking form). Once those final few reps are no longer difficult you want to put on more weight. Progressive overload is essential for continued improvement in strength and power output. Just like in your running program, you need to increase the load to see the improvement. 

Finally, it’s important to prioritize recovery and rest. Endurance athletes often have a busy training schedule, and it can be tempting to skip rest days or neglect recovery. However, recovery is essential for muscle growth and repair, and neglecting recovery can increase the risk of injury and impede progress. Strength training should not take the place of your rest day. The opposite actually, you will need to recover from these sessions just like you would those intervals you did on Zwift. As the old saying goes, lifting destroys your muscles. Sleep builds them. Or something like that. 

Don’t wait

Though it’s often neglected it’s hard to argue against strength training being an essential component of an endurance athlete’s training regimen, particularly in older age groups. Besides, who doesn’t want to see those power numbers go up the next time you’re riding with your group? I feel strongly enough about this that I will often suggest my athletes cut a ride or run short 20 minutes if they need to find time to get their gym session in. If you have any questions or want to talk about how you can better incorporate (or start incorporating) strength training into your week click the button below. We’re always happy to discuss how we can help you get to the finish line happy and healthy!