Strength Training for Endurance Athletes, is it worth it?

Posted: March 31, 2015 in Strength and Conditioning for Performance

Endurance Athletes perform their sporting activities under sustained effort. Classic examples are long distance runners, swimmers, cyclists, and yes, a combination- the triathlon athletes. This topic pertains to these classic examples of endurance athletes. The common factor among these athletes aside from their very high level of cardiorespiratory fitness is that their events are closed skill and repetitive in nature. If their movements are more efficient, lesser effort is required to IMG_20130904_074128cover a particular distance and the successful athletes are able to cover certain distance in the shortest possible time. Moving the body (example- running) through the required distance, is work as defined by physics. Since power is equal to work divided by time, the fastest athlete in the race is the most powerful athlete. Here is when Strength Training enters the scene. It enables  the athletes’ strides to be a bit more powerful. If each stride is a fraction of a second faster and covers a few more centimeters, imagine the accumulated effect of thousands of strides in an endurance race. It would be ultimately be an improvement of their personal best. Strength trained endurance athletes would also be able to power through near the end and sprint to the finish. Strength and Power Training is now gaining reputation as a strategy to improve endurance performance.

Concurrent Training:


This is simultaneous endurance and strength training in a training period but not necessarily in a training session. Studies show that concurrent endurance and strength training improves  cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory fitness. A study conducted in 2008 let subjects perform Concurrent Exercises. The effects showed reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure , and more importantly increased VO2max. 1


The benefit of having concurrent training is having both the benefit of gaining strength and also of cardiorespiratory and local muscular endurance. But since these qualities are on opposite ends of the fitness spectrum, the trainee would not get the best of both worlds if there is no emphasis on one aspect. The trainee will be more rounded- will have some amount of strength and also some endurance. The goal will guide the coach and trainee on what to emphasize more- is it endurance or strength? For endurance athletes- the emphasis should be on endurance training. Strength training will be supplemental training but should not take up a big bulk of the training volume.


There was a systematic review of scientific literature on the effects of resistance training on endurance distance running performance among highly trained runners on 2008. This was done since there is a perception among highly competitive endurance runners that concurrent resistance and endurance training will improve running performance. But there are still those who would not want to try Strength Training for endurance athletes since endurance athletes traditionally did not train for strength. But after analysing several studies, the researchers concluded that resistance training likely has a positive effect on endurance running performance.2

A Guideline for Concurrent Training:


There was a recent study which aimed to determine whether the duration (0h, 6h or 24h) of recovery between strength and aerobic training influences the effects of a concurrent training program. Athletes were randomly assigned to either control (CONT), concurrent training (C-0h, C-6h or C-24h) or strength training (STR) groups during a 7-week training period. Two sessions of each quality were proposed each week with strength always performed before aerobic training. Measurements were performed before and immediately after the overall training period. Cardiorespiratory benefits were greatest in C-24h. Gains in maximal strength were lowest in C-0h.The study emphasized that the interference on strength development depends on the recovery delay between the two sequences. Daily training without a recovery period between sessions (C-0h) and, to a lesser extent, training twice a day (C-6h), is not optimal for neuromuscular and aerobic improvements. Therefore avoid scheduling both strength training and endurance training, with less than 6-hours recovery between them to obtain full adaptative responses to concurrent training.3


Using the results of the study as basis, it is better to have at least one day of recovery between your endurance training and your strength training if gains in strength is the objective. Results would be noticeable if the duration of concurrent training is around 2 months with 4 training sessions a week – two of endurance and two of strength in alternating basis. Take note that this was done on athletes who have undergone training. Weekend warriors may try lower volume and/ or lower intensity depending on their capability. One of the determining factor is the ability to recover. Even if the study says 25 hours recovery works, if the individual cannot recover well within 24 hours, then extend the recovery time and lower the intensity for the next training session until the body is able to speed up its recovery.

What Exercise would be best for Endurance athletes like runners and cyclists?


The Squat is one of the main exercises, if not the main exercise, that would be very beneficial to runners, cyclists, swimmers- both  for sprints and long distance. Most endurance athletes are either overtrained or almost overtrained thus it is important to control the volume of strength training so as not to add extra stress to the body’s ability to recover. This can be done by limiting the number of exercises to the most beneficial one. It can be just the squat and it will work as long as done properly with the optimum load, volume and intensity.


There was a study conducted to investigate the effect of maximal strength training on cycling economy.  The intervention Trek-Road-Bikes-005group performed half-squats, 4 sets of 4 repetitions maximum, 3 times per week for 8 weeks, as a supplement to their normal endurance training. The control group continued their normal endurance training during the same period. The intervention manifested significant improvements in measures of maximal strength, cycling economy, work efficiency, and time to exhaustion at pre-intervention maximal aerobic power. No changes were found in V̇o2max or body weight. In conclusion, maximal strength training for 8 weeks improved Cycling Economy and efficiency and increased time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power among competitive road cyclists, without change in maximal oxygen uptake, cadence, or body weight..4

Other Benefits of Squatting for Distance Runners:

full squat valstrengthtraining

Gorsuch, and his colleagues analyzed the effect of squat depth on multiarticular muscle activation in collegiate cross-country runners. They conducted a study which measured muscle activity with surface electromyography (EMG) during partial and parallel squats in collegiate cross-country runners (10 males and 10 females) in a randomized crossover design. They found out that there was no difference between male and female runners when it comes to muscle activation. This means that both males and females benefit from doing squats. They also found out that there is more muscle activity in the parallel squat than in the partial squat. This means that when we do the squat, it is best to do it parallel or even lower to take advantage of the available range of motion as well as the increased muscle activation. The researchers concluded that parallel squats may help runners to train muscles vital for uphill running and correct posture, while preventing injury by using lighter weights through a larger range of motion.


Click here to read more about squats.

Click here to read about squats outdoors without gym equipment.

Click here for prehab and advanced rehab of ankle sprains.

Example of a concurrent training program for endurance athletes:

This is just an example based on the studies and on practical training considerations for an endurance athlete who has access to a weights room. This is a 6 week training program 8 weeks before a race.

Concurrent training

This is a sample template. It should be modified according to the athlete’s goal and fitness level as well as time availability.



1. Concurrent Training Enhances Athlete’s Cardiovascular and Cardiorespiratory Measures. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research September 2008. 1503-1514

2. The Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Distance Running Performance Among Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review.Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.November 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 6 – pp 2036-2044

3. The specific training effects of concurrent aerobic and strength exercises depends on recovery duration. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2014)

4. Maximal Strength Training Improves Cycling Economy in Competitive Cyclists. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. August 2010 Vol 24. 2157-2165

5. The Effect of Squat Depth on Multiarticular Muscle Activation in Collegiate Cross-Country Runners. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. September 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 9 – p 2619–262

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