Sunday, November 13, 2016

Body Armor for Endurance Athletes

Endurance athletes must strength train in order to improve their performance…period.  The old school version of thought was to just practice the sport that athletes were in until they got faster.  I know that swimmers back in the 60’s would swim roughly 10,000 yards in a single practice, and would practice at least five times a week.  How many miles in the pool would that be?  You do the math.  Today we have a better understanding about athletic performance and how to improve it.  This means strength training.
Endurance athletes are notorious for breaking down1.  Endurance sports tend to be catabolic in nature, meaning that the constant training can actually break down, or catabolize the body.  They are a bit like a vehicle, if they constantly have the engine running, eventually the vehicle will start to break down.  First it will be small things, small injuries or overtraining symptoms, but if not treated these can cause the entire vehicle to just stop working altogether.
The best way to prevent this catabolism is to strength train.  By strengthening the body, you give an athlete body armor that fights off those injuries and overtraining.  The following are key lifts that are important for any endurance athlete.
Front Squat
This is a great lift for any athlete as it keeps the athlete in a more erect position throughout the movement.  In back squats, it is common for the athlete to lean forward due to the weight, which can cause low back pain and injury.  This lift can be performed with a barbell, or other modalities such as kettlebells or dumbbells.
Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is a funny looking lift to be sure, but its main purpose is extremely important.  The glue bridge is hip extension under a load, generally performed in a forceful motion.  This is very similar to another power movement, the power clean.  The benefits of the glute bridge is that it can be first attempted using bodyweight, and then progress with weight to make sure technique is not an issue.  In a sense it is the poor man’s power clean, just not as technical.
Deadlifts can have a bad rap.  The name alone sounds ominous.  However, studies have shown that performing a deadlift with proper form…can have huge benefits to posture, strength, speed, and injury prevention.  This is a must do for endurance athletes in order to bomb-proof their muscles against injury.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to programming for any athlete is experience level.  This means technique experience, not how many years that they have spent in the weight room.  Without proper technique you are just asking for injuries regardless of sport.
If technique is up to par, then the next thing to remember is the relationship between volume and intensity3.  Because endurance athletes need to train for their sports which generally means longer training days, strength training time can be limited.
In the last blog, I gave an example of what a sample resistance training week for a triathlete might look like.  As you can see, there are only two training days.  This may come to a shock to some, who think that we must lifts three days a week at a minimum, but two days a week is all anyone really needs to either maintain or improve muscular strength4.  Plus, when sticking with the volume versus intensity, two days a week is all that an athlete can spare sometimes.
Here is the example I gave in my last blog Combining Strength Training and Endurance Training:
Front Squat
Hang Clean
Push Press
Another example when applying the three key lifts for endurance athletes could look like the following: (For simplicities sake, we will keep it the same days as the first example)
Barbell Front Squat
2x5 @ 65% 1RM
3X3 @85% 1RM
Kettlebell Deadlift
3X5 @ 85% 1RM
Obviously there will be additional warm-up sets and assistant lifts for these two workout days, but these two lifts will be the core lifts of those days.
Strength training is crucial for all athletes regardless of sport.  However, evidence has shown that endurance athletes need proper strength training to not only improve performance, but to also help prevent injuries.  We all want health athletes that perform at their peak level.  By creating a safe, and intelligent strength training program, we can ensure that for endurance athletes.

1.     Rusin, J. (2014, December 31). Weight Training for Endurance Addicts | T Nation. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from
2.     Read, A. (n.d.). 4 Key Strength Exercises for Endurance Athletes | Breaking ... Retrieved October 24, 2016, from
3.     Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
4.     Swain, D. P. (2014). ACSM's resource manual for Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription (9th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog, great use of imagery with vehicles. Very informative and thoughts many individuals are probably unaware of. I bet if more high school programs had something like this it would make huge improvements in young athletes.