Shifting Gears from Strength to Endurance Work: Part II

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In Part I of this series, we started to discuss the different physical capacities known as endurance, strength, and power.  Evidence is mixed but there it appears possible that strength gains may be hindered if one engages in endurance work at the same time.  The jury is still out.  What about endurance and power?

Endurance Work Seems to Inhibit Max Power Production

The previously mentioned NSCA document Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training for Strength/Power Athletes discusses several studies in which endurance training hindered the production of maximal power.  That is, short-duration, high intensity activities such as sprinting, jumping, shot put, discus, and Olympic weightlifting will be compromised if an athlete trains for endurance while also training for one of these events.  Similar findings are found here, here, and here.

As for why this interference occurs, it’s more than I can go into here.  If you want to get into it, you might look at this ACSM document by Nader titled Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training: from Molecules to Man or Stone’s Maximum Strength & Strength Training – Relationship to Endurance?

Strength & Power Work Enhances Endurance Performance

In contrast to the negative effects endurance work has for the strength and power athlete, strength and power work seem to benefit the endurance athlete.  Heavy strength training has been shown to increase running economy in triathletes, cross-country skiers, and cyclists.  Explosive (power) work has been shown to increase running economy (here, and here) when part of the runners’ endurance work was replaced with plyometric/jumping work.  There are many more studies with similar findings.  I’ve also posted a series Strength Training for Runners Part I and Part II that covers these issues.

Final Considerations

Please remember though that everyone is an experiment of one and that a program that works very well for one person may not work well at all for another. You may lie somewhere along a continuum. Perhaps you need more strength.  Perhaps you’re strong enough. The only way to find out is experiment and observe your results. Joel Freel offers a valuable observation on his blog:

“Will weight lifting help every athlete become more economical and therefore faster? Nope. I’ve coached a few endurance athletes who came to their sport with a long history of body building or power lifting. These athletes had plenty of strength. They needed less. Athletes who are the peak of performance probably won’t benefit either. If I took a Kenyan runner who had just won the New York City Marathon and put him on a weight lifting program for several weeks it’s doubtful he would be a better runner. But if someone who was a complete novice–say to cycling–lifted weights doing cycling-related strength exercises for several weeks he or she would undoubtedly improve cycling performance without even turning the cranks once. Most of us fall between these extremes. And most of us will improve our endurance performances by lifting weights. My experience tells me this is so.”

 

In my experience, it’s vital to recognize that if you’re increasing stress in one direction, then you must decrease stress in another.  For example, if you’re training for an endurance event then you must scale back your strength work.  Otherwise you’re stressing the organism too much and something’s going to break.

A little bit of strength and/or power work seem to compliment endurance work pretty well.  Err on the conservative side when deciding your loading parameters.  Two workouts per week at most seem ideal.  Select one or two exercises (squats and/or deadlifts for example for strength work; body weight jump exercises or barbell cleans for power work) and start with perhaps one set.  Next week add two sets followed by three sets the third week.  Don’t work to failure.  These workouts shouldn’t be terribly taxing.  See what happens.

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