Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Thoughts on the Role of Resistance Training in Endurance Sport Programs

For me, the most important part of strength training as it relates to endurance sports is training our body to react to a variety of stimuli in all planes of movement. We use weight to challenge our central nervous system to invoke the desired neuromuscular adaptations. For example, I am not only concerned with how much we are squatting and how many times, but can we maintain sound foot mechanics at the bottom of the lift and in the change of directions? Are we getting the right response from the ankles to support the knee? How is the hip mobility; are we getting mobility from the hips or is there any cheating from the lumbar spine and knees? Can we maintain thoracic extension under the bar? Even though we are generally. In the pool, we rely heavily on movement in all three planes even though our direction of travel is straightforward. In running, even though our direction of travel is straightforward, uneven surfaces and slopes require us to move in other planes even if such movement is not readily noticeable.

As endurance athletes, if we get too focused on reps/sets, pulling pins, racking plates, and "feelin' the burn" we're simply watering down bodybuilding training for the purposes of doing stuff that bodybuilders DON'T do (such as move from one place to another).  A focus on quads, and hamstrings and pecs and lats is fine for Joe Lifter who wants to see the plates increase by 10 lbs each week and gets a thrill out of watching muscles get all big and puffy, but to build an efficient platform to carry our bodies long distances, we need a more nuanced approach that focuses on our specialized movement needs. Each lift exists along a skill progression comprised of multiple microskills. We'll use the weight not only to stimulate tissue growth but also to provide the stimulus for the body to react to for the shaping of more efficient movements.

In terms of programming, the same principles of balance apply to strength training as apply to endurance sports. We’ll address the entire realm of the loading continuum. There is a time and place for high weight, low weight, high rep, low rep, etc. However, "high weight/low reps/long rest" is a tool that is probably underutilized in the endurance sport community. We see this tendency a lot with women but also with endurance sport athletes who have been schooled to believe that heavy weights create to big and bulky bodies. This may be the case with a high weight, moderate to high rep, and low rest program, but with lower reps and longer rest, the hormonal responses to stimulate hypertrophy are not nearly as profound.

I always remind the females that we work with for the first time, "Most of you do the lightest lifting of your day when you go to the gym...Your purse, your kids, and stuff around the house all weigh a heckuva a lot more than those tiny little dumbells that you're lifting for 48 reps." Simply picking up a weight and carrying it someplace has a profound stabilization effect on the entire body cavity. The act of picking heavy things up and carrying things places has a beautiful simplicity that hearkens back to our more primitive days. If our ancestors couldn't pick up heavy things (i.e. their "kill") they and their families didn't eat. In terms of functionality, everything that we do "under the bar" is some type of modern way to replicate these strength patterns. If we can create programming for ourselves that harmonizes not only with these basic patterns but also with the particularized demands of endurance spots, then we are on the right path.


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