It’s been some time since I wrote about strength training in general. The last article I did related to it was the article on strength training to lose weight.
That showed you guys the different types of training to gain strength, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to implement them properly.
This time around, we’re back with more benefits to strength training. And it’s a bit of a polarizing subject because this aspect of our physical fitness is often overlooked by strength athletes.
On the flip side, strength is a facet that’s often overlooked by those that are strong in this area.
I’m talking about improving endurance with strength training.
A Requirement Or Not?
As an obstacle course racer, I can personally attest to the benefits of including strength training in my routine. There many different obstacles that requires upper body and core strength, not just the legs.
Even so, with the amount of steep hills in an obstacle course like the Spartan Races, the legs need to be plenty strong to carry us through to the finish line.
But if you’re not an obstacle course racer, or if you’re just purely interested in maintaining or improving your endurance for the 5 K, 10K, or marathon, it may seem strength training is a complete waste of time.
You probably think the time could be much better spent on running more miles and getting more endurance work in. After all, we can get better by practicing that very thing, right?
Anecdote From A Coach
Take the experience of Chris Hinshaw, a well known strength coach for several elite Crossfit athletes. His athletes usually fill the podiums at the Crossfit Games and for good reasons.
Hinshaw’s background as an elite triathlete, Ironman winner, World Championship Ironman Second Place Finisher, and many other accolades speaks for his extensive experience with endurance training.
However, he had one realization that made him change the way he looked at endurance athletes and the typical training they undergo.
His body was breaking down from the years of high volume, repetitive work that most endurance athletes take on day in and day out.
He realized that although his career as a pure endurance athlete is behind him, his body could be in better shape than it was. And that other endurance athletes still competing can benefit greatly from a change of the typical routines.
I’m not a Crossfit athlete nor do I personally endorse Crossfit in anyway. I don’t feel one way or another about it except for that it has its good points, and it has other aspects that I don’t agree with. But that’s here nor there.
Hinshaw stepped into a Crossfit gym eight years ago and never looked back. Over the years, he learned the benefits that strength training has for endurance athletes that he didn’t know before.
He also saw the inverse of that equation. Endurance work for strength athletes actually helped shaped them into overall better strength athletes as well.
Over the years, Hinshaw has established his reputation of getting endurance athletes stronger and getting strong athletes to improve their endurance.
According to Hinshaw, the main reason why strength becomes a pitfall for endurance athletes is that generally, people don’t like to focus on their weaknesses.
As much as we know we should improve what we’re not good at, it sucks to have to work at those things, especially when we know we’re much better at something else.
I mean, who doesn’t like to keep focusing on what they’re good at?
For the typical endurance athlete, it’s easy to just keep churning out the miles, but when your upper body and core is lacking in strength, your performance is no where near where it could be, even in a pure endurance event.
The legs and lower body muscles are typically very well trained in endurance athletes. Due to the volume of training, the muscles have been primed to last long in a race.
The lactic acid buildup in a race is a common feeling that many have learned to cope with and run with. It’s something that’s
been accepted as part of the norm.
According to Hinshaw, some strength training can change all of that.
Just by increasing the efficiency of the leg muscles, lactic acid can be shuttle out of that area faster. Hydrogen ion buildup is slower, resulting in less feeling of the burn during running.
Running for hours on end doesn’t increase muscle strength or efficiency anymore than you already have from the beginning. Sure if you’re an absolute beginner, pure running would in fact get your legs stronger and more efficient.
But only up to a certain point.
Strength training is then require to take that further. And that’s where most endurance athletes lack.
Strength Train To Heal
Another great reason to include strength work in an endurance routine is the healing effects it has for the body.
As we mentioned, the weaknesses aren’t usually something most athletes like to emphasize. And with those weaknesses being the upper body and the core in most endurance athletes, those areas will continue to get weaker as the legs get stronger, just like in Hinshaw’s case.
And that is a recipe for injury.
But by including some upper body and core strength work two or three times a week into an endurance routine can do wonders for our health.
First, we’re balancing our the well-being of the upper and lower body. Although the lower body muscles should be stronger, they’re unevenly stronger in most endurance athletes.
Second, a little break from the constant pounding of the legs gives it some much needed TLC. As elementary as this principle is, rest is often overlooked in zealous athletes.
Third, running is a whole body movement. All muscles are involved in running, not just the legs. A weak upper body and core will compromise our form after a while, which slows us down and even worse, increases our risk of injury.
Plus, a bonus to strength training, especially the explosive type, is a great way to develop quickness and speed.
As Hinshaw explains it, aging athletes tend to shift towards endurance based sports and goals because they lose that explosive quickness and speed that’s so prevalent among younger athletes.
Well, strength training helps those that have lost those qualities get them back, or at the very least, maintain and stave off the loss of speed.
So How Do We Do It?
Obviously, to put all this into action requires actually doing strength work. It really is that simple.
Put some strength training routines into your regular workout and watch the strength gains come along with the endurance. If you’re not sure where to start for strength training, I recommend checking out this article to get started.
Now we get to the good part.
So far, we’ve only focused on strength training the upper body and core to balance out the body so to speak. We also talked about training leg strength to improve muscular efficiency.
What if I told you there’s a way to strength train that focuses on not just muscular endurance, but overall stamina as well?
And the only tweak you have to make to ANY strength exercise to get this effect is simply changing the time of each phase.
This is also known as Super Slow Strength Training, which is a form of tempo training. By increasing the amount of time we put our bodies under load, we’re focusing on increasing our muscular endurance.
There really are no limits to the exercises this can be applied to. Matter of fact, we can use this principle to apply to other “exercises” that we typically wouldn’t think of.
Using wrestling as an example, there’s constant tension somewhere in the wrestlers’ bodies at all times. This tension may shift from one part to another, but never are the wrestlers completely relaxed to the point where their form breaks down.
The moves the wrestlers use aren’t necessarily strength training moves or exercises you see in a workout in particular. But if you’re curious about how much endurance is required in a long wrestling match, just give it a try and find out.
Dr. Mercola talks about a modification to the Super Slow Strength Training technique, where he does a four second count each for the eccentric and concentric phase of various exercises.
But some have suggested that to see significant gains in muscular endurance and overall stamina, counts of one to two minutes can be used.
We’re talking about something like a one minute pushup. Yes, a single rep that takes at least one minute to complete.
We can see how this replicated the wrestling example we used before. Constant tension is placed on a body part with the purpose to increase its time and ability to withstand loads.
So for the typical endurance athlete, a one minute body weight squat or Romanian deadlift or GHR would definitely increase the endurance of the lower body.
Of course, we can’t forget to add in the same for the upper body. Exercises like pushups, pullups, dips, military press, etc. can all be lengthened in time to induce that same endurance building effect.
I’m not sure if you’ve personally tried it before, but when I tried these Super Slow Strength Training techniques for the first time, I could tell right away why it works so well.
Not only is it training muscle strength to some extent and hitting the endurance and stamina, it feels just like an intense session of HIIT. And we all know how much HIIT can do for endurance in every aspect of our physical fitness and health, not just endurance (hint: if you don’t check out this and this).
So for all you endurance athletes our there already getting in that strength work, good for you! Try out the Super Slow Strength Training if you haven’t yet.
If strength training is something you’ve been shying away from, then don’t! You’re only holding yourself back and keeping the progress from being made.
What has helped you improve your endurance? Any training principles in particular that has helped you make significant progress? Share in the comments below!