I haven’t been an endurance athlete for many years.
That fact should not come as a surprise, considering how vocal I am about my aversion to long-duration cardio!
Plus, it’s not that surprising that I gave it up considering how poorly I cared for my body when I was running casually, let alone preparing for races!
Those days definitely left a sour taste in my mouth because I was always nursing an injury.
If it wasn’t shin splints, it was my Achilles’ tendon. If it wasn’t lower back pain, it was an IT band pull…
Needless to say, when I was prioritizing running, strength training was more of an after thought.
“I should probably lift tomorrow,” I’d say to myself on the way out the door to run.
Rarely did I make good on that promise.
Considering how often many of them train, endurance athletes–especially runners!–are some of the weakest and most injury-prone folks I know…and I put my former self in that category!
They have to be very disciplined to excel at their chosen sport, but many endurance athletes take this a step too far:
The end up overtraining and setting themselves back even further.
As a personal trainer who focuses on female fat loss, I haven’t had much experience working with endurance athletes…I just happen to know a lot of them!
I’m friends with a lot of them, and privy to the aches, pains, and frustrations that can arise when endurance athletes don’t incorporate strength training into their training programs, during both their on-and-off seasons.
A friend of mine who is preparing for a big marathon-qualifying race recently reached out for help with a strength training program.
That inspired this blog, where I want to give my best tips for how endurance athletes can get stronger, faster and better.
These tips will help endurance athletes who want to both improve their performance and get stronger without adding unwanted mass and sacrificing speed.
Give these tips a try when training for your next race and let me know how it goes!:
The foundation of your program should be multi-joint movements:
Compound movements will get you more bang for your buck without adding bulk (that’s a tongue-twister!).
Whether your goal is improving performance in your endurance sport or fat loss, incorporating full-body movements will help you achieve a lean, desirable physique that’s strong and powerful.
Movements like front squats, kettlebell snatches, kettlebell clean & jerks, deadlifts, and lunges are great for building a strong foundation and powerful force production.
Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your weaknesses by playing to your strengths:
It’s super-common for endurance athletes to have weak cores, gluteus medius, scapula and rotator cuffs.
One way to combat this is to incorporate lots of single-leg movements that require the athlete to recruit those medius muscles for balance and stability.
I like to program single-leg RDLs, single-leg squats, single-leg box squats, and single-leg step ups. These demand core control from the athlete, as well. To strengthen the rotator cuff and scapula, overhead movements are key.
Lightly-loaded thrusters, overhead squats, and barbell/dumbbell overhead presses are all good options because they’re compound movements.
Incorporate exercises to improve explosive power:
The ability to generate force against the ground is key to improving one’s performance in a sport like running.
The more explosively one can push up and off and ground, the better. Training for explosive power can take many forms, but most power generation depends on having strong glutes.
This is why I make sure to incorporate plenty of bridges, single-leg bridges, banded thrusts, and lateral band walks so that runners know what it means and how it feels to fire up the glutes!
Box jumps, sprinter starts, multi-planar skips, and exercises that require the athlete to load and extend through the hips are great movements to improve explosive power.
Take a cue from body builders:
Ha, this may sound funny since I mentioned that I would be writing about tips to help endurance athletes get stronger without adding mass, but hear me out!
Believe it or not, incorporating some exercises with heavy eccentric load will help endurance athletes get both 1) stronger; and 2) more explosively powerful…it’s all about the approach.
Studies have shown that the body can tolerate up to 1.75 times more weight eccentrically (moving with gravity) than it can concentrically (against gravity), so it makes sense to take advantage of this as an endurance athlete who needs strength to translate into power.
BUT, endurance athletes looking to get stronger, faster and more powerful will not grind out the concentric portion of the lift.
By emphasizing the eccentric (moving with gravity) and using assistance (a spotter, for example) for the concentric, the athlete performs the full lift without sacrificing the potential for greater muscle growth and connective tissue development.
And what does stronger connective tissue equal? LESS INJURY!
Also, focusing on the eccentric portion of any lift uses less energy. How is this possible? Well, most of our energy is used in lifting or pushing the weight, not lowering it down. Using less energy means we can do more work, thus more strength, size and power!
To ensure that you’re getting stronger while remaining as explosive as possible is to superset heavy eccentrically-loaded movements with something fast. For example, pairing squats with box jumps or bench press with explosive pushups or med ball tosses.
If you’re an endurance athlete looking to get stronger, faster, and more explosively powerful–not to MENTION experience less injury!–give these tips a try! If you do, let me now how it goes; I’d love to hear from you!
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