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Should endurance athletes do strength training?


Nikolina Hrelec ran multiple events on the West Texas A&M women’s track team from 2015-2018. [Photo by Brian Bartlett]


A few months ago, the world witnessed Eliud Kipchoge make history by breaking the two hour mark during a marathon in Vienna, Austria. 

Since then, marathon training has gotten a lot of attention. What we know is that endurance athletes spend most of their time running, biking, swimming, etc., but the question is are they doing any type of resistance training, and what effect is that type of training having on their performance? This article is here to talk about the effect strength training has on the running economy and therefore, performance in endurance athletes.

Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is creating issues for many people across the globe, and in this case many (endurance) athletes. Before the pandemic, most athletes did some form of resistance training in the weight room. Since all weight rooms are closed due to ongoing coronavirus, my guess is that the first thing majority of endurance athletes decided to give up was resistance training. I get it, it is easier to just go and run, but did you know you can run faster if you do some form of resistance training?

Let’s talk about the question of should endurance athletes do resistance training or not? This is a topic that still gets a lot of attention and therefore, to make the decision process of including resistance training for endurance athletes easier, here are some studies to offer some insight. 

These are a few studies (Bazyler et al., 2015; Denadai et al., 2016; Millet et al., 2002; Paavolainen et al., 1999; Piacentini et al., 2013) that showed improvements in running economy and performance in endurance athletes that were due to combination of strength training and endurance training.

Now you may ask: Why is that so? Well, many endurance events are related to physiological determinants like maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and running economy. Even though VO2 max is important, there is a relationship between neuromuscular characteristics and running economy. This means that strength training is a powerful stimulus for improving muscle coordination, motor unit recruitment patterns, mechanical efficiency, and running economy. If we further discuss endurance running, it is known that runners are generating power during each one of their strides. With force being an important factor in generation of power, ability to produce more force will lead to stronger running strides. This is where strength training plays a significant role since it allows athletes to produce more force, which combined with proper running form will help them run more efficiently. How? Well, that efficient use of strength will lead to stronger push of the ground increasing the power of each stride and causing the runner to move faster. Properly transferred and utilized strength will lead to better running economy and running performance.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of strength and the role it plays in the world of endurance athletes. What I wanted you to learn from this article is that it is always beneficial to keep doing some form of resistance training. Yes, even when there is a pandemic going on and weight rooms are closed, resistance training, if done properly, will improve your results and keep you away from injuries. It is important to understand that in order to improve your strength you do not need weight room. There are many alternatives to weight rooms and all you need to do is google them. 

References:

Bazyler, C. D., Abbott, H. A., Bellon, C. R., Taber, C. B., & Stone, M. H. (2015). Strength training for endurance athletes: Theory to practice. Strength and Conditioning Journal37(2), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000131

Denadai, B. S., Aguiar, R. A. D., Lima, L. C. R. D., Greco, C. C., & Caputo, F. (2016). Explosive training and heavy weight training are effective for improving running economy in endurance athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine47(3), 545–554. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0604-z

Millet, G. P., Jaouen, B., Borrani, F., & Candau, R. (2002). Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and VO2 kinetics. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise34(8), 1351–1359.https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200208000-00018

Paavolainen, L., Häkkinen, K., Hämäläinen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (1999). Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. Journal of Applied Physiology86(5), 1527–1533. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1999.86.5.1527

Piacentini, M. F., Ioannon, G. D., Comotto, S., Spedicato, A., Vernillo, G., & Torre, A. L. (2013). Concurrent strength and endurance training effects on running economy in master endurance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research27(8), 2295–2303. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182794485


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