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Strength Training For Endurance Athletes

Updated: May 11

What is strength training?

Strength training (also known as resistance training) is a type of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an outside resistance. This can be from bodyweight, weight machines, free weights or resistance bands to name a few.

Barbell clean
Barbell clean

What is endurance?

Endurance refers to the body's ability to sustain exercise for an extended period of time. There are two main components which are cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. Cardiovascular endurance is the efficiency of the heart and lungs to fuel the body with oxygen.

It is important at this stage to understand that endurance can be improved with strength training. This helps increase performance in endurance activities by improving economy. Running economy is a term used to describe the amount of oxygen our bodies use when we run at a given intensity or speed.

How often should endurance athletes lift weights?

Endurance athletes should spend between 1-2 sessions per week on resistance training. This does change slightly depending on how close you are to your event or goal is coming up.

Here is a break down of what strength training you should focus on depending on your training phase.

Strength sessions should progress with each phase of your training:

  • Prep Phase: The goal of this phase is to develop neuromuscular efficiency, stability and functional strength. Mainly bodyweight workouts and light weights. 1-4 weeks.

  • Base Phase: In the base phase your strength workouts are designed to build a foundation that can be used for power development. The goal is to translate strength training into sport-specific activity. 9-12 weeks.

  • Build Phase: During the build phase, your workouts are used to develop power, balance and neuromuscular control. Form is key, reduce the intensity if you cannot hold your form. 6-8 weeks.

  • Peak Phase: This phase allows you to focus on sport-specific training. This means decreasing the stress of a strength and conditioning training session by reducing intensity and volume. 1-2 weeks

  • Transition Phase; This phase is for rest and recovery before going back to the prep phase and building up again for the next expedition or event. 1-4 weeks

How do you train for endurance with strength training?

Training for endurance using strength training/ resistance training is done by simulating movements and targeting muscle groups which will help increase your performance.

Here is a breakdown of repetitions and sets and how you can adjust the numbers to target energy systems.

Up to 15 repetitions improves muscular endurance. RPE 6-8

Between 8-12 repetitions is hypertrophy and will help increase muscular size. RPE 7-9

Between 1-5 repetitions will increase maximal strength. RPE 8-10

Training for 5-15 seconds will help improve and target power and power endurance. RPE 8-10

Training for bouts of 15+ seconds is predominately endurance work.  RPE 6-8

*RPE = rate of perceived exertion

Is strength training good for endurance athletes?

YES! Strength training is a very good tool to use for targeting muscle groups and energy systems. In short resistance training done rightly can build muscle and help prevent injuries.

For endurance athletes this means being able to move faster for longer periods of time. Although strength training or cross training will never fully substitute training endurance, it can be a great tool for breaking through fitness plateaus or improving performance.

Strength Exercises

Bulgarian split squat

Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian Split Squat

Improving single leg strength is vital for building strength for endurance activities.

Regression - Goblet Squat, Split squat

Progression - Include weight such as a dumbbell or barbell.

Pro Tip - Try not to lean over your front knee and keep body upright.

Barbell Deadlift
Barbell Deadlift


Deadlift focusses more on the posterior chain of the legs such as the hamstrings and glutes often neglected in sports.

Regression - Kettle bell Deadlift is much better for beginners and those new to strength training as it requires less form and technique.

Progression - Kettle bell Swing or Barbell clean

Pro tip - Shins shouldn't be too far in front of the bar unless you have long legs. Back should be in a neutral position. Hips should be just above the knees and shoulders above the bar.

Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell Press
Vicky Training for climbing

It is always important to use strength sessions to focus on muscle movements and groups which aren't used in your chosen activity or sport. Even for running a small amount of upper body strength will benefit performance and reduce the chance of injury.

Training for climbing
Improving finger and grip strength for climbing

Sport Specifc

Sport specific strength training is the most important aspect of any training plan. This allows you to target muscles and movement patterns used in your activity.

It also allows you to measure goals and improvement and help to add progression into your training.

Additional Benefits of Strength & Conditioning

Mobility is flexibility and strength; It is hugely beneficial for helping to prevent injury, improving range of motion and increasing strength. Mobility should be a primary focus for any endurance athlete when training for long sessions which can cause repetitive strains, muscle imbalances and injuries.

Full body stretch

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