Today, I want to dispel a myth that even in 2017 continues to have traction...
With the help of a few good articles that I've curated for you below, I aim to end any lingering doubts about the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.
For the truths are:
- No, strength training will NOT cause you to "bulk up" and lose agility
- No, training with weights will NOT put you at greater risk of injury (if done correctly)
- Strength and power DO carryover exceptionally well to sports performance and will in fact improve your endurance event outcomes
Perhaps you're well aware of this already and you're just looking for a few extra strength exercises that will directly improve your swim, bike or run times. The great news is, you'll find plenty of that in this article as well.
So, let's begin with the swim:
Strength Training For Swimming: 6 Key Gym Exercises
The exercises selected for this article from 220 Triathlon are intended to increase your power and range of motion, for greater distance on every stroke.
1. Lat Pulldown (or the "straight arm pulldown")
2. Triceps kickback
3. Hip extension with cable
4. Swiss ball jackknife
5. Cable rotational pull
6. Hip flexion with cable
I particularly favor the lat pulldown (referred to as a "straight arm pulldown" in the article), given that it's a very effective, multi-joint movement that belongs in every sports training routine.
Here's the technique, as described in the article:
"Sit on the lat pull-down machine seat with your legs held under the padded restraint and your hands gripping the bar at twice shoulder-width. Pull the bar down powerfully to your chest, then let it travel back up under control. There should be tension in your muscles throughout each [repetition]."
I would add that you should slightly arch your lower back to increase lat activation, which will deliver the best carryover to your swim.
How To Use Resistance Training To Improve Your Cycling Strength
What I love about this article is that if offers excellent strength movements for improving your cycling performance ... that can be performed at home!
The 10 exercises are:
1. Bench press
2. Swiss ball back extension
4. Biceps curl
5. Bent-over rows
7. Shoulder press
8. Dumbbell wood chop
9. Single-arm triceps extension
10. Prone fly
Also in this article, I love the exercise selection, which offers versatility in your programming. You're not likely to get bored with this lineup, which is important for consistency.
Of the 10, my favorite for improving cycling performance would have to be the squat. There simply isn't any other exercise that delivers the same increase in posterior chain (low back, glutes and hamstrings) power, which is crucial in cycling.
Let me offer a slight but important tweak to the squat technique described in the article, however.
First, the stance. Yes, feet can be shoulder-width apart, but can also be wider, depending on your leverages. Experiment with what feels most natural, and go with that width. Also, your toes should be pointed out about 30 degrees.
Next, rather than lowering by bending at your knees, instead "sit back" as if you're lowering to sit on the toilet. This might sound odd and cause you to image falling back to the floor, but trust me when I say that, with practice, this will become very natural and, over time, this technique will build stronger legs and glutes.
Lastly, rather than a neutral-spine position, you should instead arch your low back, and do indeed keep your chest up as suggested in the article. When you do this, the weight will stay directly over your heels (image a plumb line being dropped from the dumbbells or barbell to the floor... it would land at your heels), improving power transfer and making the movement more efficient.
The importance of strength training for runners - Strength exercises for endurance athletes
"The goals of resistance training for runners may not be to add muscle mass and muscle bulk but could be to improve muscular strength, improve muscular endurance, maintain current muscle mass, pre-habilitation to decrease risk of injury and post-rehabilitation when an injury occurs."
Although I would add that in some instances, adding lean muscle mass might in fact be very beneficial to an endurance athlete, depending on his or her current body composition.
One could replace a few pounds of fat with a few quality pounds of lean muscle, remain at the same weight, and be faster and more powerful. And strength training would be the ideal mechanism for achieving that.
So, what exercises are recommended? I'll break them down below:
1. Squats and lunches (for increasing quadriceps and posterior chain strength and balance)
2. Leg curls (for improving stability through increased posterior chain strength)
3. Bench press (to enhance running form through improved chest and triceps strength)
4. Dumbbell squats with press (to improve full body strength and power)
5. Planks (for increasing abdominal core strength)
6. Single-leg heel raise (to improve calf strength)
7. Backward heel walking (to improve dorsiflexion, which is the action of pulling your foot toward your shin)
NOTE: Want a complete, 5-Phase weight training program designed specifically for endurance athletes? Click here.
Strength training isn't just for strength athletes like bodybuilders or powerlifters, but for anyone who wants to be better at physical activity in general.
Endurance athletes can especially benefit from incorporating regular weight training into their overall training programs, even to reduce the amount of event-specific volume needed to improve in the swim, bike or run (or all three). Incorporate some of the above into your regimen, and enhance your performance ... and your physique.