Training Both Ends of the Spectrum: Strength & Endurance


For years I’ve been faced with a question to which I have yet to find the answer. The more I Iook for the answer, the louder I hear the question, and that is this:

Which do I love most, strength training or endurance training? Do I love lifting heavy stuff or spending hours running and biking? It’s as much of a question now as it’s ever been.

The truth is I love both activities. I love to lift weights and I love endurance activity. I can’t choose one. Periodically my interest swings more to one or the other but I have yet to find a way to de-emphasize one and specialize in the other. Why does this matter?

Concurrent training likely causes some conflict at the cellular level in terms of trying to achieve gains. That is, lifting a lot may interfere with endurance adaptations and significant endurance work my inhibit strength, power and muscle-growth adaptations.

From what I’ve come to understand, aerobic conditioning seems to inhibit gains in strength, power and muscular hypertrophy more so than the other way around. As regards endurance performance, carrying around extra muscle mass makes running and biking more difficult—especially when going uphill.

(Want to read more about this? has a good discussion of research on the topic titled Should we avoid concurrent training to maximize hypertrophy?)

If nothing else, I often feel like a party of one. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only person who is enthusiastic about both lifting for five reps and under as well as suffering, sweating and panting for over an hour. I don’t meet many others who share my enjoyment of both types of activity.

Because of all of the above, I’m excited about an ebook from Juggernaut Training Systems called the Hybrid Athlete. I’ve been following a sample program from the book for a couple of weeks now and I’m enjoying it. I’m lifting more than I have in a while and at the same time I’m running, biking, and hiking a lot.

There are several different sample programs but it’s not a book of cookie cutter workout templates. The book discusses the underlying mechanisms at work during both strength and endurance training.

Most important, this book discusses recovery and the need to strategize lifting and endurance workouts. For someone trying to train hard on both ends of the exercise spectrum, managing recovery is crucial. Thus, there are ways to train for strength while resting the endurance systems and vice versa such that the athlete won’t be overwhelmed, burned out, and possibly injured. The Hybrid Athlete discusses all of this.

Finally, what makes me respect this work is that the writer, Alex Vada, has walked the walk. He’s competed in Ironman traithlons as well as put up impressive numbers in the power lifts.  He’s relied on academic learning and experience in the gym, on the road, and in the pool to develop this book.

Follow this link to learn more about essentials of the hybrid athlete training.



4/24/14 Workout


This was a challenging workout. We’ve changed barbell exercises from the deadlift. This new exercise is something like the first pull of a power clean in which we pull the barbell up to the high hang position and hold for five seconds. I’m calling it a “high hang hold.” That was followed by a bunch of double push jerks and 1-arm snatches. I realized I can better work on my technique with the 12 kg bells rather than the 16 kgs.

  • High Hang Hold: 225 lbs x 3 reps x 5 seconds – 260 lbs. x 3 reps x 5 seconds – 295 lbs. x 3 reps x 5 seconds
  • Double push jerks: 12 kg x 200 reps
  • 1-arm kettlebell snatch: 12 kg x 150 reps done continuously
  • Bike ride: 1 minute on/1 minute off x 5 times repeated twice.


Goals & Motivation


Choices to make: strength or endurance?

I feel fantastic these days. My varied lingering aches and pains are dwindling to fleeting annoyances.  I actually feel like some sort of athlete!  And now my mind turns to various athletic goals.  I have strength goals–pulling 500 lbs. on the deadlift, mastering the barbell snatch, and cleaning and jerking my body weight (at the very least) for instance.  I also have endurance goals such as running a marathon and doing the Epic Single Track mountain bike race series at Winter Park next year.  I want to do it all! But as I’ve mentioned before (here and here) it’s not realistic to pursue both high-end strength and endurance goals at the same time. If you work hard enough in one direction, then your abilities at the other end will suffer.  From the injury and burnout perspective, doing a lot of endurance work plus heavy strength/power work will very likely put you in a bad spot very quickly. So I’ve got to choose, and it’s a tough call.

Short-term reward vs. long-term benefit

I mentioned previously that getting stronger helps one’s endurance abilities but it doesn’t work the other way.  Increasing one’s endurance work tends to make one weaker.  Further, dropping weight via dropping muscle mass makes running and biking much easier.  Hauling around extra weight never helps.  The whole idea of losing strength and mass is sort of tough to swallow.  But if I continue to lift to the degree that I’ve enjoyed–then I’ll impede to my endurance abilities.

As I’ve thought about all this, I realize I’m facing the sort of dilemma faced by many of us who want to get in better shape.  The issue boils down to a short-term reward vs. a long-term goal. We know in some part of our brain what we should do, but in some other part we desire something else in the here-and-now. We’d like to be thin some day for example but a bowl of ice cream is looking mighty good right now.  Or maybe I’d like to have more muscle mass and better bone density, but I really feel like watching TV right now.  Does this sound familiar? In most cases, the short-term reward wins out. This can be a titanic struggle at times.  It’s you vs. your brain!

Add weight to be strong.

One of the most respected and knowledgeable strength coaches in the country is Mark Rippetoe, owner of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club, and co-author of the books Starting Strength and Practical Programming for Strength Training.  (If you want to get stronger, stop reading right now and order both books.  They are superb.)  If he’s talking, I’m listening.  Recently, I watched a video from his site about tall athletes.  (I’m 6’3″ and that qualifies as reasonably tall.)  It’s a forum discussion with Rippetoe, former Olympic weight lifting champion Tommy Suggs, big time powerlifter Jim Windler, and strong man/nutritionist John “Johnny Pain” Shaffer.  An audience member asks about training concerns for tall athletes.  (See, tall people have long limbs or levers. Long levers can’t move as much weight as short levers.  Thus we tall people have a few questions sometimes on what we should do to get stronger.) The discussion moves to eating and body weight.  Shaffer recommends one weigh 3 lbs. per inch of height–as a starting place— in order to be able to use your levers effectively.  For me that’s 225 lbs.  Right now, I’m just about 200 lbs. Here’s the video in case you’re interested:

Roundtable: Tall Athletes from stef bradford on Vimeo.

Roundtable: Tall Athletes from stef bradford on Vimeo.

Weigh more.  Go slow.

So, to be strong–really strong–I should eat to get big.  But the creator of the universe is a comedian and he or she has dictated that if I’m big I’ll also have a really hard time running very far or biking up through the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado.  It’s obvious: As body mass goes up, endurance performance goes down and vice versa.

I’ve had personal and dramatic experience with this sort of thing.  Back in college I went to Europe for four weeks to take “classes.”  (It was a vacation disguised as school.  Had a wonderful time!)  At the time I was riding bikes with a group from a local bike shop in Denton, TX.  I didn’t touch a bike while overseas.  I ran a lot.  I lifted a very few times and I walked constantly.  I dropped about 1o or 15 lbs without thinking about it.  I got back to TX and the next time I rode I smoked everyone but the very fastest rider in the group.  So I became a much better cyclist without improving my cycling skills.  The weight made the difference, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Here’s some more evidence.

An article on Peak Performance Online cites a study from the University of Georgia that compared run times of men vs women.  Part of the study had the subjects perform a 12-minute run test.  Here’s a discussion of the results:

“Males did significantly better on the test, running an average of almost 3300 metres in 12 minutes, while females covered just 2750 metres. Although male performances were about 20 per cent better, males didn’t run more economically than the females, and male V02max values were only slightly (5 per cent) higher. What caused the big difference in performance?”

“As it turned out, percent body fat averaged 20 per cent in the females but only 11 per cent in the males. When Sparling analysed the data, he found that 74 per cent of the variation between male and female performances could be accounted for by the difference in body fatness, while a much smaller amount (20 per cent) of the difference was determined by the males’ higher V02max values. The higher amounts of body fat in the female runners acted as ‘dead weight’, increasing the energy cost of running and making quality running paces seem more strenuous.”

Now, clearly fat and muscle are different types of tissue, but too much muscle will still count as “dead weight” during a ride or a run.  So the debate in my head continues.  Fortunately, as I’ve eluded to before, strength work does help endurance athletes.  So as it stands, I can still get a lot stronger and improve my endurance performance.  The downside is that I will not reach my genetic potential in strength so long as I continue the endurance activity.  I’m also going to focus on reducing my body fat.  I don’t carry too terribly much body fat but I also don’t work much to reduce it, and I probably should.

Train to Failure or Train to Success? Part II


In Part I of this post I gave evidence that training beyond our limits or “training to failure” may not be the best

This guy could never fail.

strategy for enhancing athletic performance (or just every day performance for that matter.)  Training smarter but not necessarily harder is a concept worth considering.  The correct amount of training at the correct intensity is key, not just more more moreharder harder harder!! Observations and instruction to exercise at an appropriate intensity are found in both the endurance running world and the strength and power realm.

Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running is a superb text for anyone who’s a serious runner or run coach.  At the other end of the physical performance world is Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People!. This is also an excellent book on very heavy strength training, primarily the deadlift and side press.  Both books encourage top physical performance through very hard work.  Both authors though consistently tell readers that most workouts should essentially be moderate in intensity.  Running workouts should not be races.  Weightlifting sessions should not be hell-bent-for-leather torture fests.  Rather both activities should leave the participant feeling energized.

Scottish ultramarathoner Bruce Fordyce is quoted in Lore of Running:

“My training advice is going to be different… because I place my emphasis on rest and recovery.  I do believe in hard training, but there is only so much hard training that the body can take. , and the timing and duration of any hard training phase is very important.  During the hard training phase, never be afraid to take a day off.  If your legs are feeling unduly stiff and sore, rest; if you are at all sluggish, rest; in fact, if in doubt, rest.”

Further advice from other running coaches cited by Nokes includes:

  • New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard: “You can’t train hard and race hard at the same time.”
  • American coach Jack Daniels:
    • “Don’t leave your race on the training track.”
    • “Alternate hard and easy days, in fact only two to three hard days per week.”
  • American exercise physiologist Stephen Seiler:
    • “Build the program around two high-intensity interval sessions per week.”
    • “Most of the non-interval training should be at fairly low intensities.”
    • “If you are not training easily enough on the easy days, you will not be able to train hard enough on the hard days.”

So we have words from the endurance running world on the importance of focusing your hard efforts to a few specific workouts.  As well you should balance these high-effort bouts with truly easy recovery work.  How about the other end of the spectrum?  How do we train for maximal strength without failing?

“If after your exercise, your bath and your rub-down, you feel fit to battle for a kingdom, then your schedule is right.”
– Earle Liederman, Secrets of Strength, 1925

Power to the People! presents the idea of training with very heavy weights–not to the point of fatigue.   The idea being that it’s tension of the muscles via lifting very heavy weights for a very few reps (five or fewer) that leads to greater strength, not the fatigue of the muscles that occurs when using many reps.  Tsatsouline states:

The most intelligent way to develop strength is to lift much heavier weights than than most weekend warriors play with but to terminate your sets before your muscles fail.”

Further,  he cites Russian strength expert Robert Roman:

“…besides, as the result of fatigue [from many reps], the last reps of a set are performed against a decreased excitation of the nervous system.  This impedes the formation of the complex conditioned reflex loops needed for further strength development.”

So in practical terms, what are we talking about?  The experts are suggesting that most of our workouts should be of the submaximal variety.  Don’t make every run a race.  Make your races races.  If your running workout consists of 20 sprints then at the end you should feel like you could run 22 sprints.  If it’s a long-run day then you should finish knowing you could run one more mile.   Feel good at the end!

When lifting, terminate your sets before total exhaustion sets in.  End the set and/or the workout knowing you could lift a few more reps.  Feel that you’ve conquered the workout, not that the workout conquered you.

Am I advocating easy workouts?  NO!!  What I’m suggesting is that your hard efforts should be very focused and specific.  Don’t dillute your hard work by trying to go hard all the time.  (If you do, you’ll probably just be going “medium-hard.”)  Further, your hard work must end in success and not in sloppy failure.  Otherwise you will only have set the stage for more sloppy work.  Work very hard when it’s called for and balance the effort with easier efforts, relaxation and restoration.  Then come back to the next hard workout ready for success and new achievements.