In my last article, I discussed WHY it’s so important to implement strength training into your endurance training regime about 2-3x per week, especially during your preparation phase. Then I gave you a little preview of what such a resistance-training program would look like.

Well, in this installment, I’ll dive in deeper into HOW you can structure your very own strength training program that best suits your specific endurance training goals. We will be going over example training protocols for:

  • Long-Distance Runners
  • Cyclists
  • Cross-Country Skiers
  • Long-Distance Triathletes

After examining the rhyme and reason as to why these plans are structured the way they are, you’ll be able to copy these exact workouts to introduce yourself to the world of strength training. After you gain the necessary experience, you’ll be able to tailor any of these programs to your specific needs and preferences!


Long-Distance Runners

A systematic review, which is a collection of many studies that are used in order to come to a conclusion, found that the most significant improvements found in running after strength training was best illustrated in time-trial performance, running economy, and surprisingly even VO2 max [1]. However, it’s important to note that improvements in VO2 max were only seen with explosive and reactive-strength training, which are essentially ways of training for both power and strength, as opposed to just strength.

This type of training consisted of sprinting, jumping, and strength training exercises. Examples of these types of exercises included

  • Running sprints (5-10 sets of 30-150 meters each)
  • Jumping exercises (calf jumps, hurdle jumps, squat jumps)
  • Isolation exercises (knee extensions, knee flexions)

The primary principle that the subjects followed during this time was a focus on low loads and high-performance velocities [2].Because of this, if we want to primarily increase our VO2 max levels, which is the priority of many long-distance runners, then training for power first and strength second would be the best move here.

Example Training Program for Runners

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Sprints 5 100 meters 30 seconds
Squat Jumps 2 15 30 seconds
Squats 2 15, 20 30 seconds
Knee Extensions 2 20 30 seconds
Knee Flexions 2 20 30 seconds

Cyclists

Optimal training for cyclists is going to look quite a bit different than for what’s best for runners. This is due to the greater emphasis on lower musculature strength in cyclists compared to runners.

For cyclists, it’s best to participate in heavy-load strength training. More specifically, maximal velocity should be achieved by the athlete while in the concentric phase (the “lifting-up” phase), as opposed to pure explosive power throughout the entire lift. While a focus on power is still important, placing greater importance on strength will help cyclists to increase maximal velocity during each pedaling cycle.

Example Training Program for Cyclists

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Front Squats 2-3 6-10 90 seconds
Single Leg Stiff-Legged Deadlift 2 8 60 seconds
Bulgarian Split Squat 2-3 8 60 seconds
Kettlebell Swings 2 15-20 30 seconds

Cross-Country Skiing

The primary difference here with cross-country skiers is that they’re going to have to concentrate more so on upper-body strength as opposed to lower-body strength. Exercises that would be included in an optimal protocol are lat-pulldowns and triceps presses [4].

This aforementioned study primarily illustrated to us that strength training shows its improvements most in the double-poling performance of cross-country skiers, as well as time to exhaustion.  This is great news, as this proves to us that performance is able to be maintained even after long-duration exercise.

Since there isn’t nearly as much data available on strength training’s effects on cross-country skiers, practical considerations for sets and reps aren’t as apparent. However, given the nature of the sport, it can be safe to assume that moderate loading and rep ranges would be a well-tolerated. Cross-country skiing doesn’t require as much pure strength as cycling or as much explosiveness as running, so less emphasis can be placed on these variables during the strength training sessions.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Lat Pulldowns 3 10 60 seconds
Dumbell Row 2 per arm 10 60 seconds
Bench Press 2 10-12 60 seconds
Squats 2 10-12 60 seconds
Triceps Pushdown 2 12-15 60 seconds

Long-Distance Triathletes

For these types of athletes, the most significant improvements were found in peak treadmill velocity (VO2 max) following a maximal-strength training intervention [5]. Hopping power (to determine maximal mechanical power) and training economy were shown to improve in the group that performed strength training compared to the group that only performed endurance training.

The training protocol that would be most optimal for this type of athlete would be one that focused on primarily lower-body exercises, such as the leg press, squat, and leg extension, with occasional upper-body exercises thrown in. It’s important for these athletes to train quite heavy; in the 3-5 rep range most of the time, occasionally increasing the reps to avoid injury. These athletes need not be as explosive as the previously mentioned types of athletes. Rather, the focus on strength is more important.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Barbell Row 2 5 90 seconds
Lunges 3 6-8 60 seconds
Back Squat 2 5 90 seconds
Glute-Ham Raise 2 8 45 seconds
Dips 2 5-8 60 seconds

Important Consideration

It’s important to remember what the common theme is here. In order to increase your endurance performance with strength training, you must follow the theme of what’s called specificity. Basically, specificity is training that involves similar muscle groups and imitates the sports-specific movements of your particular activity [3]. The reasoning behind this is the adaptations that occur in the nervous system during training, as well as structural changes that happen inside the muscle fibers.

Conclusion

Now go give these programs a shot and see for yourself the benefits you’ll see from them. Again, as you become more accustomed to this type of training, you can gradually ramp up the difficulty level by increasing the weights, reps, sets, and decreasing the rest times. After that, you can start to experiment with different exercises so that you can see what works best for you.

Good luck!


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References

1.Beattie, K., Kenny, I., Lyons, M., & Carson, B. (2014). The effect of strength training on performance in endurance athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 845-865. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0157-y.

2.Mikkola, J., Rusko, H., Nummela, A., Pollari, T., & Häkkinen, K. (2007). Concurrent Endurance and Explosive Type Strength Training Improves Neuromuscular and Anaerobic Characteristics in Young Distance Runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(7), 602-611. doi:10.1055/s-2007-964849

3. Rønnestad, B. R., & Mujika, I. (2013). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(4), 603-612. doi:10.1111/sms.12104

4.Øfsteng, S., Sandbakk, Ø, Beekvelt, M. V., Hammarström, D., Kristoffersen, R., Hansen, J., . . . Rønnestad, B. R. (2017). Strength training improves double-poling performance after prolonged submaximal exercise in cross-country skiers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28(3), 893-904. doi:10.1111/sms.12990 5. Millet, G., Jaouen, B., Borrani, F., & Candou, R. (2002). Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and .VO(2) kinetics. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 34(8), 1351-1359.

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About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) Certified Coach, a level 2 certified Training Peaks coach, a USA Cycling certified power based training coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a licensed physical therapist assistant. He is also the creator of Zwift's "Build Me Up" Flexible Training Plan. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com for any cycling or training related questions.

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