Will endurance training help in the performance of strength and power athletes?

Posted: April 7, 2015 in Strength and Conditioning for Performance
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Evidence leads to the conclusion that Strength Training helps endurance athletes (click here). Aside from enhancing the efficiency of movement, it also contributes in lowering the incidence of injuries. But does endurance training help improve performance of strength and power athletes? The answer is not so simple but it goes back again to the athlete’s main goal. If the main goal is to improve overall performance, training that also also improves a type of  endurance may help. But if the goal is to increase maximal strength, long slow duration endurance training will not help. The answer is not a simple yes or no because training to improve endurance- Cardiorespiratory and local muscular endurance, can be done as a long duration- low intensity training, and/or high intensity interval training. Long duration- low intensity training does not help in improving maximal strength but high intensity interval training may indirectly have a positive effect on improving maximal strength especially if repeated bouts of near maximal to maximal effort is required. However, most athletes may not necessarily need to exert near maximal to maximal effort in a single movement. Their sport may require explosive power but the load may not be maximal. The sports where maximum load is attempted are Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, and since the load is maximal, it is lifted once for three attempts with rest in between. While jumping, throwing, punching,  sprinting, and the like all require explosive movements and need to be repeated many for the duration of the game. But there may be no rest or short rest in between repetitions and the load is submaximal. It is in these sports wherein high intensity interval training is very useful. That is still in addition to a very good strength foundation.

 

To determine if endurance training helps in the performance of athletes who rely on power and speed, an investigation was designed and completed to evaluate the compatibility of cardiovascular endurance and neuromuscular power training. Baseball players were used for this study since they rely on mostly power and speed. They were divided into two training groups with lower body power measured before and after their playing season. The Endurance Group performed moderate- to high-intensity cardiovascular endurance training 3-4 days per week throughout the season, while the Speed Group participated in speed/speed endurance training. There was a significant difference in lower body power between the two groups during their playing season. Power output of the endurance group decreased by an average of 39 watts while the speed group’s power improved by an average of 210 watts. This leads to a conclusion that athletes who rely on speed and power, like baseball players, basketball, volleyball, and the like, should rely more on speed or power interval training for their conditioning.1 The difference in numbers is quite obvious. This may translate into an athlete able to sprint faster or jump higher which increases their chances to scoring higher and ultimately winning over their slower opponents.

 

However, the beneficial effects of endurance training cannot be overlooked as well. It elicits favorable muscle adaptations such as enhanced blood supply, energy use, and fuel storage capacities.2 A good aerobic capacity also helps anaerobic performance by aiding in eliminating anaerobic metabolism by-products. Higher levels of aerobic power help to delay the onset of fatigue which reduces injury potential as well as errors in movement and in making decisions in a game.3

 

If maximizing the efficiency of the anaerobic system is the goal, then it means the ability to recover in between bouts or sets of exercise, or between plays in a game, should be maximized.

For the top athletes of Weightlifting and Powerlifting, their ability to recover in between sets of near maximal to maximal lifts is so much higher than a beginner or an athlete who is into other sports. This is a manifestation of the Principle of Specificity of training. Another factor is that top athletes of these sports are most likely born with muscle fiber types, limb length, psychological attributes, and other traits that would give them an advantage over other athletes. Well thought of training programs further enhances these attributes and the ultimate manifestation would be best performances by the athlete. We can analyse it like this: fitness components are like rooms and the body is the building. The floor area of a building is limited- so much like the genetic ceiling of each individual is finite. The sizes of the rooms would depend on what room we want to emphasize. A building designed for a house would have bedrooms, kitchen, toilet and bath, living room, and those who have a bigger building can afford to have study and entertainment rooms. A person who has more genetic endowments and is much more motivated to train has more potential – more “rooms”. If that building will be redesigned as a restaurant, then the bedrooms would be eliminated to make way for a bigger kitchen, and a big dining area- the rooms which make up a restaurant. An untrained individual is like a building with the rooms not yet laid out. Modifying the layout of a building with its limited floor area is similar to training an athlete for a particular sport. It enhances the fitness components required for that sport. To enhance one aspect, other aspects may have to be sacrificed- and those are the aspects which are at the opposite end of the desired spectrum. So training for an predominantly aerobic endurance sport lessens the potential “floor area” for manifesting the maximum strength within that athlete’s genetic potential. But it should be understood that this is more important in the sports at the extreme ends of the explosive power – aerobic endurance spectrum.

 

For the general population however, it may be possible to enhance both maximum strength and aerobic capacity since their level of development is low to start with. But once their genetic potential is being realized, like in athletes, making gains in strength and aerobic capacity would become harder. Both strength and aerobic capacity will be competing for resources within the human body needed for recovery. Training for these components taxes the body. Both are stressors that the body has to recover from in order to improve.

 

Since strength/power and endurance are at the opposite ends of a spectrum, maximizing strength may mean sacrificing some aerobic capacity- the type which is used for sustained effort with low intensity- such as long distance running. If the goal is to increase strength and power, what needs to be emphasized is the type of training which enhances ability to recover between bouts of very short but very high intensity effort. Time required for long slow duration training is long. Not only does it compete for recovery, it also competes for training time. So a better way to support an athlete’s ability to recover between bursts of powerful movements is to incorporate high intensity interval training rather than long slow duration aerobic training. Train with short bursts of cyclic movements like sprints with very short recovery periods- shorter than that required for full recovery of the atp-pc & glycolytic system. This is a better way of supporting maximal strength development rather than using low intensity- long duration activities. Train Better, Live Better!

References:

  1. Non-compatibility of Power and Endurance Training Among College Baseball Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. January 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 1 – pp 230-234
  2. Is Long Duration Aerobic Exercise Necessary for Anaerobic Athletes? Strength & Conditioning Journal. April 2013 – Volume 35 – Issue 2 – p 44–46
  3. Quantification of the Aerobic Component in Strength/Conditioning Programs. Schmidt, Richard J. National Strength Coaches Association Journal. April 1981 – Volume 3 – Issue 2 – ppg 40-41
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