We’ll tell you why strength training is so essential for your endurance performance and how to combine the two correctly.
Quickly lace up your running shoes and off you go. There is hardly a sport that seems as simple as running – which is why so many people love it. However, if you want to increase your weekly mileage and aim for best times, you will soon realize: Running (but also cycling, swimming, skiing, etc.) involves much more.
Strength training and the right diet, for example. If you have only just started in your sport of choice, you will see rapid progress. The aerobic system adapts quickly, but – watch out for the beginner’s mistake (we’ve all made it) – the tendons and ligaments can’t keep up!
Just because someone has the cardiovascular fitness to run 30 kilometers does not necessarily mean that their muscles, bones and connective tissue are ready for this sustained exertion.
And this is where strength training for endurance athletes comes into play. Whether you are a runner, cyclist, triathlete or cross-country skier, strength training strengthens your ligaments, tendons, muscles and connective tissue and prepares you for the stresses and strains of your sport.
But what exactly does strength training actually do? How do you use it and what should you look out for?
In this blog, we looked in detail at the topic of strength training in endurance sports.
One of the biggest factors when it comes to strength training is time. We all have a stressful everyday life. A job, family and let’s be honest: endurance training is very time-consuming! When strength exercises are added to the mix, many people switch off.
Let’s try a change of perspective: try not to think of strength training as “If I have time, I’ll just do it”. Instead, you should realize how many benefits a few minutes of extra exercise a week can bring (more on this later).
Secondly, you can theoretically train your muscles anywhere and at any time. You don’t necessarily need a gym or expensive equipment, but can also train from the comfort of your own home with minimal equipment.
You could even do an exercise sitting on the wall while the coffee is brewing or calf training while brushing your teeth!
A common theme in endurance sports is that strength training or resistance training leads to more muscle mass and weight gain and should therefore be avoided at all costs.
We can say this much straight away: It is and remains a myth that you will suddenly look like a bodybuilder if you lift weights!
To build significant muscle mass (hypertrophy), you would need to consume a large amount of calories each day and perform specific strength training exercises in set cycles that are not comparable to an endurance-based strength training program.
You should also do very little endurance training, as this inhibits muscle hypertrophy by burning calories that could be used to build muscle.
After all, the goal of resistance training should be to get faster and stronger, not necessarily bigger or wider.
“Strength training describes physical training with the aim of improving motor skills,” is a definition by Andreas Wagner et al.
The decisive factor here is the use of muscle power.
The higher the strength level, the higher the selected training intensities must be in order to maintain and, above all, increase the maximum strength level.
So if you are already used to lifting a lot of weight, you need to add more weight in order to benefit from the positive effects of strength training.
On the other hand, this also means that if you have just started or would like to start incorporating strength training into your daily training routine, it is best to start with your pure body weight.
Strength training basically involves performing specific exercises without or with equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, strength training machines, resistance bands, kettlebells and medicine balls in order to gradually overload the muscles.
This requires your muscles and connective tissue to adapt to the heavy loads and become stronger and more resistant.
According to studies, endurance athletes particularly benefit from strength training when they work with loads that require more than 70 percent of their maximum strength level.
Maximum strength is the greatest possible force that the nerve-muscle system can exert against a resistance.
For example: If you can do exactly one squat with a certain weight, then you have reached your individual maximum strength.
According to Yale Medicine, around 50 percent of regular runners get injured every year!
As already mentioned, strength training strengthens the muscles and connective tissue, which can help stabilize the joints and thus reduce not only the risk of muscle but also joint injuries.
For example, there is a study of highly trained Danish youth riders who were able to increase their performance in a 45-minute time trial by 8% by doing additional strength training with higher loads!
Ronnestadt and Mujika looked at numerous studies in which well-trained cyclists and runners completed muscle strength training alongside endurance training. The two authors drew a positive conclusion:
Recent research on highly trained athletes has indicated that strength training can be successfully used to improve endurance performance.
Let’s stay with cycling: To be able to attack successfully on the mountain or for decisive sprints to the finish, you need a lot of power. In some cases, the riders have to produce power outputs of over 1,000 watts. The situation in track cycling is even worse when it comes to reaching maximum speed in a short time from a standing start. Top athletes achieve peak performances of over 2,000 watts here!
However, it doesn’t just require strength in the legs, but also in other muscle groups that you might not immediately think of.
Mountain biking or cross cycling puts a lot of strain on the musculoskeletal system. Well-trained muscles are the best protection against such stresses!
Targeted strength training can build up a kind of protective muscular corset and strengthen the stressed structures. This effectively reduces the risk of injury and wear.
One-sided strain can also be compensated for by targeted strength training and muscular imbalances can be prevented. For many athletes, whether in running or cycling, the core muscles are underdeveloped and can lead to a variety of complaints.
Building up the core muscles through exercises such as planks, for example, can lead to better running form and posture towards the end of the race as well as more efficient running form.
A study by Storen et al. from 2008 with long-distance runners showed that eight weeks of heavy strength training improved running economy and the runners’ time to exhaustion. This study is consistent with the results of a study by Paavolainen et al. which found that explosive strength training optimizes 5 km running times by improving running economy.
In summary, the following benefits of strength training in endurance sports can be summarized:
We now know that strength training offers many benefits and should therefore not be neglected in your training plan. But when and how do you best incorporate a strength unit into your ‘main workout’? How often does it make sense and at what time?
The good news: you really don’t need much to train strength. A visit to a fitness studio is also not a must. At this point, however, we would advise beginners in particular to be instructed by a trainer when starting out.
After all, the exercises should be performed correctly and contribute to injury prevention, not cause them!
Otherwise, beginners can start without weights and pure body weight.
Helpful equipment for your home gym would be:
Before you lift your first weight and start blindly, you should ask yourself what phase of the season you are currently in.
If the season is over for you and you want to build up/maintain your basic endurance in winter, for example, you can prioritize strength training and put it before your “main training”.
If you are in the middle of marathon training, then the focus should be on running.
So, as is so often the case, it’s all about timing!
Generally speaking, fall/winter is ideal for your strength training. The competition season is then over for most endurance athletes and weights can be easily integrated into recovery training.
In principle, the following applies:
If the timing is wrong, the so-called “interference effect” occurs. The adaptations of strength and endurance training clash and prevent the adaptation of the other. The training effect does not materialize.
The “interference effect” only comes into play when the same muscle groups are stressed. The upper body can also be trained just before endurance training, for example.
Frequency & number of repetitions
During the winter break, you can therefore complete 2 – 3 strength units per week. A training session usually lasts 30 to 60 minutes. It would be best for the muscles to train each one regularly. However, because this is not always possible, you can achieve more during the season with just one strength training session a week than someone who does nothing at all.
James Alexander from La Trobe University in Melbourne and a team have looked at the five most common runner myths. One of them: The best form of strength training is training with low resistance and a high number of repetitions. The researchers have actually found out exactly the opposite and instead make the following recommendations:
Accordingly, strength training should be carried out 2 – 3 times a week over a period of at least 6 weeks in order to improve endurance running performance, running economy and maximum sprint speed.
Continuity is the key here. The performance benefits improve if the “program” is continued and disappear after about six weeks after the training has ended.
Specifically, they recommend lifting loads at 60% to 80% of the maximum number of repetitions or the heaviest weight (as also described above) that can be lifted with maximum effort in a single repetition, for 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 15 repetitions.
We would recommend 2 – 3 sets of 10 – 15 repetitions each. This is an attempt to utilize the advantages of strength AND endurance.
Make sure you take enough breaks between exercises and sets – at least 2 minutes from one set to the next!
The choice of exercises, weights, sets, repetitions and recovery depends on individual abilities and needs, injury history, goals and training experience, the authors continue.
It would therefore be ideal if you could get support from an experienced trainer. If you have no experience with strength training, you should increase your training gradually.
Height and type of weight
In endurance sports, strength training remains a supplementary activity, so it makes no sense to completely “shoot yourself in the foot” with every strength unit and risk not being able to run or cycle for two days.
Normally, once you get used to strength training (and if you do it regularly twice a week), your muscles will get used to it well and fortunately there will be no muscle soreness!
For people with experience in strength training, the weight should be chosen so that the last repetition really is the last repetition (and not 5 more would be possible).
The same applies to core strength training! If you have been able to plank for 60 seconds your whole life without any effort, you will not be able to adapt your muscles with a 60-second plank. Here, too, variation and exercise through heavier variations is essential!
If you start your strength exercises with classic exercises such as squats, deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, bent-over rowing and overhead presses, you already have a broad base, which of course needs to be further specified. It is always best to consult with or be accompanied by a trainer.
For runners, the extensor chain of the lower extremities is particularly important – i.e. the entire posterior muscle chain, starting with the calf muscles, the back of the thigh and the buttocks.
In order to be really stable in every stance leg phase, it is important to train the lateral muscle chain. These include the lateral leg muscles, hip muscles, lateral trunk muscles and oblique trunk muscles.
Holistic strength training for runners should therefore include coordinative exercises in the single-leg stance, various running-specific core strength exercises and strength exercises with weights for the whole body.
The situation is similar for cyclists: The goal in the weight room should not just be to strengthen the lower extremities. The core muscles and the muscles of the upper extremities should also be specifically trained. This is because a muscularly well-stabilized upper body enables the cyclist to transfer more power to the pedals.
We find these 10 exercises particularly effective for endurance athletes. They contribute to stability, strengthen the often neglected core muscles and can be performed simply with or without weights at various levels of difficulty:
So what might a week of combined endurance and strength training look like? Here is an example of a training plan.
Ideally, you will have a trainer with whom you can discuss your program. If not, try to include the aspects mentioned above (timing etc.) in your considerations.
Monday: rest day
Tuesday: Interval training in the morning, 30 minutes lower body in the evening
Wednesday: Recovery Run
Thursday: Easy Run + 30 minutes Upper Body
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Long run
Sunday: Recovery Run
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: Zone 2 training
Wednesday: Easy ride
Thursday: Strength training
Friday: Rest day
Saturday: Long ride (2 – 3 hours) + subsequent strength training
Sunday: GA1 45 minutes
Just as in endurance sports, the right nutrition also plays a major role in strength training.
If you lift weights with empty stores, you can certainly imagine that the training effect is zero.
You should therefore make sure you start your strength training well strengthened. Ideally, you should also eat your last meal 2 to 3 hours beforehand. Even if you don’t have the same impact movements as when running, you should make sure that the food is well tolerated.
It is helpful to keep the entire training week in mind and to include stress factors such as work, family, etc. in this process. All this takes strength and energy. That’s why it’s so important that you remember to feed both workouts well.
You do not necessarily have to eat anything during the session.
However, it is crucial to replenish protein and carbohydrates – yes, carbohydrates are also important in order to achieve the full training effect.
If you also pay attention to essential amino acids, you’ve done everything right 😉
With the correct combination of the 8 essential amino acids according to the MAP formula, “optimal protein synthesis” takes place. This is important for building, maintaining and repairing new muscle mass, among other things.
You will find this composition in our RECOVERY 8 which is therefore ideal for aftercare. Connected With the natural regeneration accelerator mango, RECOVERY 8 provides optimum support for muscle regeneration.
You can find more natural sports nutrition that will help you with both your endurance performance and strength training HERE.
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