Shifting Gears from Strength to Endurance Work: Part I


Springtime in Denver means it’s time to bicycle.  So now I’ve shifted my focus from heavy strength and power work to endurance work.  (I never did hit 500 lbs. on the deadlift.  I did however pull 435 lbs. for two reps.  I’m content with that.)  Endurance activity and strength/power work lie at two opposite ends of the exercise/movement/exertion continuum.  From what I’ve read and in my own personally experience, it’s very difficult if not impossible to develop a high-end level of strength while also training for an endurance event like the Sunrise Century (which I’ll be doing in June.)  Simply put, trying to maximize one area of performance means the other will suffer.  If you try to maximize all areas then you won’t reach your potential in any one.

Terminology: Endurance, Strength, Power

I’ll define some terms.  Endurance work is something like long distance cycling, running, or cross-country skiing.  These are long-duration activities executed well below the participants’ maximal abilities.

Maximal strength work is often a slow moving, short duration type of thing. If you attempt to lift a maximum weight you won’t be moving it very quickly. Heavy deadlifting, bench pressing and squatting typically move slowly. These activities can only be sustained for a very brief amount of time–several seconds at most–before the muscles fatigue significantly.

Power sports require a combination of strength and speed. Think of a shot putter, long jumper or an Olympic weight lifter. These athletes must move a fairly heavy object very quickly. Maximal power may be expressed in two seconds or less.  Power sports and endurance sports occupy the furthest opposite ends of the exercise spectrum.

So what happens if we decide to mix endurance work, strength work and power work together?

Endurance Work May Inhibit Strength Abilities

The National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a document titled Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training for Strength/Power Athletes.  Here we have evidence that suggests mixed results for combined strength and endurance work.  Several studies suggest that endurance work impedes strength gains.  Other studies show no interference.

Confusion and questions come up when we start to dissect the studies.  The article states:

“Differences between these studies may have been due to differences in the length of the studies, experience level of the subjects, and the training protocols utilized. For example, studies differed with respect to the specific exercises performed, whether strength and endurance training were performed on the same or different days per week, the sequence of training modes (strength before endurance or endurance before strength).”

We don’t have a definite answer to this question.

In my personal experience I run into difficulty if I ride/run a lot while also lifting a lot.  I become too sore and stiff from one activity to perform well at the other.  So I have to reduce one type of stress as I increase the other. Further, I find that riding my bike up mountains quite sufficiently addresses my strength needs. (Now we’re starting to get into the SAID Principle or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  Then we start to ask whether strength developed in the gym has any effect on strength expressed on a bike…)

In subsequent posts I’ll examine the effects of endurance work on power performance.  Then we’ll drive the other way up this street and ask the question, “To what degree does strength and power work affect endurance performance?”



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