Strength for Endurance
Should you Strength Train?
With so much written about Strength Training for endurance athletes?it’s pretty hard to give a definitive answer on the benefits, so I am not going to try here. Instead, I hope to get you to think about it for yourself.
What is considered the ‘acceptable norm’ is that strength is a very good thing. The longer your event, the further away from your top speed you are likely to be racing, especially for triathletes. After a long strength sapping bike you face a long strength sapping run and half way round that run your remaining strength is likely to be a key factor in your performance. If strength is a good thing then weights must be good too, correct? Not really, maybe, yes and no. This is where the views start to go their separate ways. Some stand firmly on the side of strength training with weights is great, some say that any strength training detracts from your ability to actually swim, bike and run train (Brett Sutton is a big believer in the fact that he builds strength into his swim, bikes, and runs and therefore there is no need for a gym membership) Others fall in the middle. Regardless of their views on dragging large slabs of iron up and down the gym, most top coaches build strength work into their swim, bike and run training, especially during the winter. This might consist of swim sets with paddles, low cadence big gear work for cycling or hills for running. Other brands for dishing out pain are available.
Me, me, me.
From a personal point of view, I find that a quality winter strength program does not interfere with swim, bike, and run due to the decreased volume at that time of year. I mix a couple of relatively short weight sessions with proper weights such as squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, lateral pull downs etc with some more functional and mobility type strength such as step ups?and lunges. I also do a lot of ‘strength and form’ work within the swim, bike and run in post-season. Does it help? I believe so, as in I have some faith that it does. I certainly notice that I carry better form for longer within a run, running up hills is certainly less of a slap in the face than they are when I don’t strength train. But then I also know that I have strength deficiencies in the glutes and hips and hamstrings. I am also 44 years old, unfortunately, but the process may be different for a strong 25-year-old. As an aside, I do some of these heavier strength things after a long run and anecdotally feel less tight and sore than if I had simply run. maybe the strength work is also a great stretch routine.
The question becomes can I carry some of that strength into race season when the gym time is invariably reduced. Either way, I feel more solid now, and another huge benefit is that the muscle breakdown during a bike or run workout is a lot less than when I strength train. When my training volume is lower – 12 – 14 hours a week at the moment – I train better, more consistently and with less breakdown when I strength train. Probably. That’s how it feels, but I have no way of measuring to say with absolute certainty but the logic would seem to be in line with this ‘feeling’.
Is it for you?
So, in answer to the initial question posed by this post – Should You Strength Train? The answer, I believe, is yes. At the very?least you should adopt a functional strength and mobility session once or twice a week. At the other end of the spectrum are the heavy weights such as squats built into a proper gym routine. These can be great for people like me, 40+ with known strength issues in certain areas. Then there is all that lovely middle ground for you to play with.
I think everyone can benefit from some form of strength workout. But the real question is how much, how heavy, for how long and how far into race season. That’s where it becomes an art, where listening to your body and establishing what it needs takes precedent over blindly following one or other strongly written view in a magazine. If you need more strength to avoid injury then you need more strength – no questions, no arguments. If you are a little younger, recover well and?don’t get injured then you can likely dial it back in race season and focus on the actual disciplines in your event.