Strength Training for Endurance

When I sit down with someone to explore personal training options, we talk in detail about goals and why those goals are important to you.  “I’d like to improve my endurance” is a very common one.  It’s probably the second most common goal after fat loss.  I tend to sort my endurance clients into two camps: those looking for competitive endurance and those looking for life endurance.


Competitive endurance athletes are doing triathlons, races, or maybe playing in a soccer league.  If you are this person, by the time you’re talking to me you’ve been struggling with plateau and you know you need a different approach.  Maybe repeated injuries have been holding you back.  Maybe your body’s response to your training has changed as you have aged.  Or maybe you just intuitively know that more is not more any more when it comes to improving your endurance.  


If you are a life endurance athlete you are looking to maximize your enjoyment of a lot of things outside of the gym.  You want to explore the white mountains but know you have work to do to be able to handle those hikes physically.  You want to keep up with the kids (or grand kids).  You want to get strong and improve your endurance so that you can enjoy fun physical things out in the world.  


Usually everyone is a little of both but one resonates more with you than the other.  I am definitely a life endurance athlete although I’ve run the occasional Spartan race.  I love hiking in the White Mountains and doing the periodic international hiking trip with some old Marine Corps buddies.  I want to make sure that I am in tip top shape so I can keep up with them, hang tough with the high altitude, enjoy myself, and like the way I look in the pictures.  


Why is strength training so important for endurance?  If you want to be a stronger runner, shouldn’t you just run more?  Obviously, if you want to be a stronger runner, you do need to get some miles in but you don’t want that to be all that you do.  Using the metaphor of a race car, running will increase the horsepower in your engine.  But what if you kept putting bigger and bigger engines in a car without improving anything else?  It can’t control the horsepower and you’ll crash.  This is what a lot of running programs end up being.


“Talk to any rally or auto racer and they’ll tell you first hand they spend more time tuning their suspension and tires than their engine.  All of that horsepower needs to be transferred through a stable chassis if you want to see the fruits of your labor.” Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS.  Combining targeted (i.e. PERSONAL) strength training with a smart running/biking program is the cheat code for smashing the competition on race day or for charging up the steep part of the hike with ease.


3 benefits of strength training for endurance:

  1. Single leg strength.  When running your body endures forces of two and a half times your body weight along with fatigue over time.  This is why single leg strength training is so important.  While a solid foundation of the basics is always good, we want to make sure we aren’t doing only traditional lifts with both legs on the ground doing the same thing.  It’s simply not how we run, hike, or bike.  Weighted step ups, split squats, lateral lunges, and so on are fantastic for getting your legs stronger and more controlled.  This translates to both better power and efficiency on the race course or mountain.
  2. Cross core stabilization.  Going back to that concept of transferring your horsepower through a stable chassis, this is where core training comes in.  We can skip the sit ups and crunches.  When you’re running or walking, your arms and legs are paired with their opposites.  Left leg and right arm go forward, then right leg left arm.  What we want is more anti rotation and cross core stabilization style core training.  
  3. Metabolic finishers.  What if you could do maximal effort for 3-5 minutes and that would be as good as a medium effort over a much longer period of time?  What would be super cool and it is in fact exactly why we do metabolic finishers to round out the strength work in our personal training sessions. It improves metabolic conditioning while keeping the volume low.

Bonus: Injury avoidance.  82% of runners end up injured.  I would argue a lot of it is due to a high volume of junk miles.  I wrote about what Dr. Peter Attia calls the “garbage zone” of metabolic training a while back.  Cliff notes is that there is a lot of training that is too high intensity for sustained activity, too low intensity to stress the body glycolytically, but still delivers a lot of wear and tear on the body. All pain, no gain.  When we incorporate strength training, we can lower overall training volume as well as improve movement patterns, dramatically reducing the risk of a running injury.  


If you are ready to chat about what personal training can do for you, fill out the form at the top and bottom of this page and I will be in touch!


Serving Portsmouth, Kittery, and the broader Seacoast community, we help people finally get in shape, feel confident, and have all day energy, even if getting everything done is a constant struggle.


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