If you are a triathlete, your off season is officially here. The first few weeks of the off-season are great; gone are the 3:30am wake-up calls to finish the 6 hour ride before the kids soccer practice at 11am. Sleeping in until 5am is blissful! But sooner than later, the off-season begins to feel too long and the goals for a faster upcoming race season become imminent and it doesn’t seem too outlandish to get back to training hard.
When I ask athletes what training hard means to them I often hear, “putting in 15-20 hour weeks,” “busting my butt for 60 minutes on the trainer,” or “going all out in the pool.” To be honest, never once, have I heard and athlete tell me that they are working hard in the weight room to increase their chances of reaching their goals during the next race season.
I can’t blame them for not mentioning weight training as a major influence on their potential. Even though there’s a plethora of information on the internet about strength training, the information is often confusing, watered down, or not even close to what research proves is beneficial for endurance athletes. Not to mention that most athletes still hold the belief that lifting heavy will make them slower.
The purpose of this series of articles is to dispel myths and to provide quality information in regards to strength training for endurance athletes based relevant professional research. Future blog posts (Part II & III) will provide information on how to design your own general framework for a strength training program (how to periodize, plus how many days per week, how many reps, and how many sets) and provide specific examples of exercises that may be beneficial for all endurance athletes.
BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING FOR ENDURANCE ATHLETES:
One of the major benefits of strength training is that it contributes to enhance endurance performance by improving the economy of movement, delaying fatigue, improving anaerobic capacity, and enhancing maximal speed (Ronnestad, et al., 2014).
Strength is generally defined as the ability to produce a force against an external resistance. Increased strength has the potential to translate to increased forced exerted against the ground when running, against the pedals when biking, and against the water when swimming. Stronger athletes tend to have a greater “kick” towards the end of a race when compared to their weaker peers, thus increasing their potential for negative splits and faster finishes.
Evidence indicates that residual effects from previous training phases carry-over into future training phases. Thus, it appears that just like endurance training, there is also a sequence or progression of strength training, that, when followed, elicits the greatest benefits.
Evidence suggests that the most effective and superior order of building strength is to increase the muscle's cross sectional area (CSA) (i.e., hypertrophy) first, followed by improving work capacity (i.e., force production capacity and power) second.
Increased cross sectional area of the quadriceps muscle was associated with increased peak power output after combined heavy strength training and endurance training in well-trained cyclists (Ronnestad etl, 2010a). Similarly, anaerobic running power can increase substantially after a period of added explosive strength training (Paavolainen et al., 1999; Mikkola et al., 2007a)
The table to the right offers a window into the most effective types of strength training for building muscle hypertrophy (CSA), strength, and power.
Now that we know that the first step towards making the greatest strength gains is to improve muscle hypertrophy or CSA, and the chart to the right provides insight into which forms of exercise could lead to hypertrophy, we finally have a starting point to work on achieving our goal to get faster in 2019.
In the next few weeks I will out line how to build your own strength training plan utilizing a periodization model along with providing specific suggestions for reps/sets. The final blog post will provide a sample strength training plan for triathletes.
If you have questions about strength training for triathletes or runners, please don't hesitate to reach out to Foundation Physical Therapy and Endurance Coaching.
Mikkola, J., Rusko H., Nummela A., Pollari, T., Hakkinen K. (2007). Concurrent endurance and exsplosive type strength training improves neuromuscular and anaerobic characteristics in young distance runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28: 602-611
Paavolainen L.M., Nummela A.T., Rusko H.K. (1999). Neuromuscular characteristics and muscle power determinants of 5-km running performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31: 124-130
Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, E. A., & Raastad, T. (2009). Effect of heavy strength training on thigh muscle cross-sectional area, performance determinants, and performance in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(5), 965-975. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-1307-z
Rønnestad, B. R., & Mujika, I. (2013). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports,24(4), 603-612. doi:10.1111/sms.12104
Suchomel, T. J., Nimphius, S., Bellon, C. R., & Stone, M. H. (2018). The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations. Sports Medicine,48(4), 765-785. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z