She had put triathlon training on hold. <This IS a post about improving at endurance athletics, I promise. Stick with me.> Her focus was on being ‘pain-free’ and having a ‘fit & healthy body composition’. While working on those goals, Kristi went on vacation & jumped in for a fun triathlon her family has done every year when they take that same vacation. And she got the results she listed in that text above. Without training for it. Seriously, she didn’t train. She really did not run more than 4 miles in the last 6 months, and her other endurance workouts were a secondary focus to her two main goals.
What HAS Kristi done in the last 6 months to make her capable of completing a triathlon stronger than ever? She fixed her limiters – in her case this meant activating muscles that simply weren’t firing at any capacity. And – she strength trained. Hard.
When Kristi was first back in to train after her vacation, she went on about how STRONG she felt swimming, that she’d never felt that strong before. Ah. I love that. These moments, the ones when the client I’m working has that “it works!” moment, these are the ones I love the most. When they go out, perform, and realize that there is another way. That they’ve learned a better way. That they’ve gotten better. Because when we’re in the gym training, at least initially, they’re going on trust. Which I value immensely. To be given that trust. I’ve worked hard for 11 years to earn the trust and prove that I can be trusted to get my clients to where they want to go. But once they have a moment like the one Kristi had?…well, there’s no going back. What is proven cannot be unproved:
Getting stronger is The Key to getting better at endurance athletics.
Going to put this here so we can just get it out of the way: please stop thinking that you’re going to get so big from lifting weights that your athletic performance will suffer. You won’t. It won’t. I promise.
Most endurance athlete training programs go about ‘getting better’ via more cardiovascular activity. Different types of runs. Perhaps adding some brick workouts. Those work up to a point for creating greater work capacity. More miles only gets you so far though. At some point, you’ve got to make the machine itself stronger. You’ve got to make it capable of putting out more horsepower. And the way to do that is to get stronger, physically-like-within the muscle, within the bones…your “house”…it has got to be stronger.
You’re going to have to cover the same distance as everyone else when you do an endurance event. You’d be well-served to have the ability to contract your muscles with greater force & efficiency, thereby allowing you to generate greater speed & power. In addition, ideally, you’d be able to cover the same distance and expend less energy than your competition so that you beat them (or if you’re not the competitive type, that you improve upon your previous race times.) To do either of these things, you must be stronger.
My friend James, who is really good at finding studies that tell us interesting things, found the following: a study showing the type of muscle fibers that develop in powerlifters (powerlifting is a strength sport, specifically, competitors compete by performing the squat, deadlift, and bench press at their best attempt maximal weight) and extrapolated what that means for endurance athletes.
You’ll notice that the powerlifter muscle is made up of large amounts of both of the fiber-types that would be beneficial for endurance performance. This is what we want — muscle that can produce force, has fatigue resistance, and can efficiently utilize fuel substrates. We should look to develop a similar profile as endurance athletes, only we will train and use the muscle differently afterward.
Lifting heavy weights with a varying volume (but still relatively low compared with conventional recommendations) dependent on the specifics of your training program will provide the stimulus required to create this muscle composition.
What’s the take-away? People who lift heavy weights, with intensity, had an ideal muscle fiber make-up for being good at longer-distance running. Pair that with the cardiovascular strength that endurance athletes build up with the time spent cardio-ing, and you’ve got a winning combo. Kristi is down the path of ‘winning combo’ training and she’s only going to get better from here. I canNOT wait for that!
So what’s the point I’m getting at? Stronger. You need to be stronger. As an endurance athlete. As a human.
In the coming blog posts, I’m going to be diving into more on what strength training for endurance athletes coming into season needs to look like. And to kick that concept off, I’m going to drop this thought right here: your strength training time is STRENGTH training time. Not glorified cardio time via circuit training and high-repetition exercises. More on that later though.
For now, if you’re an endurance athlete looking at their in-season training program…take a really hard look at where you can swap things around so that you can fit (more) strength training into your program. Once a week isn’t going to benefit you as much as twice a week will. And despite time being a quickly diminishing factor in everyone’s lives, if we can coordinate you so that you’re getting a strength stimulus in 3x/week in-season? Yep yep yep. That’d be legit.
And if you'd like some help figuring out what your in-season strength plan should look like, drop me a line on my Coaching Page. We can work on it together.