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Top 2 Reasons Endurance Athletes Need Strength Training


Top 2 Reasons Endurance Athletes Need Strength Training

woman lifting weights

By Brenda O’Hara,


Strength training is a crucial factor in training for endurance events of all distances. This includes, marathons, half marathons, Ironman distance triathlons, sprint triathlons, ultra running, etc. One might assume that if they are training for a marathon, they should just be running 5-6x/week. This is false and will only lead to injuries and boredom. Strength training is not only beneficial for injury prevention, but science also shows it helps increase an athlete’s VO2max. Let’s talk about both of these aspects.


First, what is VO2 max? VO2 max is defined by Elizabeth Quinn, a board certified physician, as “the measurement of the maximal amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense, or maximal exercise. It is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kg of body weight.” In other words, the higher, or better, an athlete’s VO2 max is, the more efficiently their body can utilize oxygen during aerobic activity. In general, most exercise physiologists would say VO2 max is one of the best indicators of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.


Aside from improved oxygen utilization, strength training is a key factor for injury prevention. Most runners, cyclists, and triathletes have muscular imbalances, meaning one muscle or group of muscles, is stronger than its opposing muscle. A great example of this is your typical runner. Most runners tend to have strong quadriceps, but weak hamstrings and hip stabilizers. What is the problem with these types of imbalances? According to Quinn, they “can lead to discrepancies between limbs, produce injuries, and potentially hinder performance.”

4 Staple Exercises All endurance Athletes Should Perform

  1. Deadlifts – Deadlifts are a great compound movement that will actively engage the posterior chain and focus on strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, and low back. It’s very important these are done correctly, otherwise you are at risk for injury.

  2. Pull-ups (assisted or unassisted) or ring rows – If you are unable to do pull-ups, ring rows can be performed with gymnastics rings or TRX straps. Both exercises are great for improved posture and upper body strength (lacked by many endurance athletes).
  3. Plank hold – One of the best core exercises out there. There are many variations of planks that you can do, start by holding a plank as long as you can and gradually building time. Once you can successfully complete 3 plank holds for a minute each, try some of the variations in this video:
  4. Box jumps – Plyometric training is great for muscular endurance and power. Box jumps are great because they are simple and can be done both in and outside of the gym.

There are many components that feed into a proper strength training program, no matter what your goals are. For endurance athletes, training will change several times throughout the year based off of the athlete’s race schedule. The number of sets and reps, amount of weight, and types of exercises are all things that will vary. It’s very important to make sure you are on an appropriate program following proper progression and form. On top of these things, you should always be performing a structured warm up and lots of stretching and mobility during your training.

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