Strength training tips for Endurance Sports

For most endurance athletes, the pre-season or early base phase usually consists of lower intensity and duration of endurance training which provides a great opportunity to improve maximal strength through regular strength training sessions.

“Strength training is safe and effective for most athletes and should be included as part of any comprehensive training program”.

The benefits are huge, not only in enhancing athletic development but reducing the risk of injury and numerous health benefits, especially for older athletes.

The initial phases of strength training aim to develop basic levels of strength and lay the foundations for greater workloads and higher intensity sports specific training. It can also help in improving weaknesses, developing efficient movement patterns and will improve mobility and joint range of movement.

The early season focus should be on basic strength exercises using compound multi-joint exercises that provide more ‘bang for your buck’ e.g. Squats, dead-lifts, lunges, leg press, single leg variations, pull downs, pull ups, rows and rotational exercises.

A typical training session

Athletes should aim for 2-3 sessions per week of approximately 45 minutes, with 2-3 days between sessions. A typical session may consist of 10-15 minute warm up and mobility practice, 20-30 minute main set of strength training involving 4-6 primary exercises and 5-10 minutes of stability, flexibility or accessory work to finish.

Repetitions for the primary exercises should be relatively low to improve force output and develop maximal strength. Loading of 75-95% maximum is appropriate depending on the athlete and can be progressed throughout a 6-12 week period. A good starting point could be 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps for major exercises progressing to 5 sets of 3-5 reps for higher loads (85-95% max).

If you are unsure of your absolute maximum there is no need to complete an all-out test: select a weight that you can just lift, no more no less, for the required reps. For example, if you are aiming for 6-8 reps and you can manage 10 reps it’s too light, whereas if you only get 3 then it’s too heavy!

Appropriate sets and reps for primary exercises:

3-4 x 8 @ 75-80% (3-4 weeks)
5 x 5-6 @ 80-85% (3-4 weeks)
5 x 3-5 @ 85-95% (3-4 weeks)

Making use of super-sets, which involves alternating between 2 different exercises using opposing muscle groups is a great way to save time in the gym. This can include a lower body exercise immediately followed by an upper body exercise with 1-2 minute rest before starting the next set.

If you are completing a range of compound exercises throughout your session you will already be using your ‘core’ during these exercises so there is no need to complete numerous other core exercises. A couple of rotational or stability exercises will be enough to give you a well-rounded session.

The scheduling of strength training is highly dependent on the individual and their training program and personal circumstances. There is no ‘best’ time to complete these sessions but making it an integral part of your training program will allow you to achieve optimum health and performance in training and competition. For further advice, contact your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Sports Scientist.