By Meghan Taff
Strength training is imperative for endurance athletes. There are numerous benefits and really no draw-backs for having a consistent strength training routine during the training cycles. In the off season, strength training can be done more often to build a strong base and also help the muscles hypertrophy. Most endurance athletes fear hypertrophy, but know that it doesn't always have to equal size or bulk. The muscles can hypertrophy, or grow in number muscle fibers, and therefore increase strength. However, using circuit training to work key muscle groups as well as condition the cardiovascular system is a great way for athletes to not only get stronger, but avoid any unnecessary "bulking up" as they are still working the aerobic system moving continuously from one exercise to the next to keep the HR elevated. The increase in the number muscle fibers will improve the muscle's ability to use oxygen, which as we are all familiar with the concepts of VO2 max, will only help performance and recovery. Not the mention the benefits of strengthening bones as well as smaller, less utilized stabilizing muscles. All of which with help us prevent injury during the season as we start to ramp up the repetitive aspects of our sports (ie swim, bike, run).
Strength training still has a place during the competitive portion of the season, but can be reduced as the athlete moves onto the more sport-specific training. Conditioning younger athletes to learn and respect the benefits of strength training will only set up good habits for the future and thus ensure they have a long and fulfilling endurance career. Those of us that started later in life would also greatly benefit from beginning a strength training program ASAP. We may not have the skill set to perform the activity with good form initially and supplementing a good strength training routine will help prevent injury until we can master those skills. While you would never have a basketball player only perform weighted squats in lieu of practicing free-throws or form-specific drills, strength training is an important aspect of all sports. It can help with the neuromuscular or motor planning component (ie efficiency of movement) required to coordinate movements for a particular activity.
Strength, injury-prevention, improved cardiovscular function and motor planning are just a few of the many reasons endurance athletes should be incorporating strength training into their training seasons.
Read more about strength training for cyclists here.