Pure Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

Excerpt from StrongFirst Certified Kettlebell Instructor Manual.  © Power by Pavel, Inc.  Reprinted by permission.

What would an endurance athlete have to gain from pure strength training?
Norwegian scientists conducted two studies on experienced athletes, one on long-distance runners (St∅ren et al., 2008) and other on cyclists (Sunde et al., 2010). These endurance athletes were put on a pure strength program of 4×4 repetition maximum (RM) half-squats three times per week, in addition to their usual endurance training. Eight weeks later the athletes not only got stronger and more explosive – without gaining any weight! – they improved endurance in their sport: their movement efficiency improved and the time they could last to exhaustion at maximal aerobic power increased.

How does it work?
The stronger the muscle, the less it has to contract to produce a given amount of force (deVries, 1980). It may be obvious, but it is profound. In the above studies, the athletes increased their movement economy and decreased their perceived effort.

How does the body perceive effort?
The nervous system measures the intensity of the neural drive going to the muscles (McCloskey et al., 1983). The muscles send back messages about the level of tension generated, the speed of movement, and the distance covered.  The brain compares the intensity of the “nerve force” with the outcome and determines the degree of effort (Cafarelli, 1982). In other words, how much bang (mechanical work) do you get for the buck (the intensity of the “nerve force”). A weight may “feel” heavy not because it is heavy, but because it takes a lot of “juice” to move it.

“The size of the neural drive required to generate a given external force is influenced by a number of factors, but principally by the force-generating capacity of the muscle. A strong muscle requires a lower neural drive to generate a given force, because the force represents a smaller portion of its maximum capacity. Similarly, a fatigued muscle requires a higher neural drive to generate a given force, because the force represents a higher proportion of its maximum capacity.” (McConnell, 2009)

This is but one of the benefits of being strong.

Join Dr. Matthew Kelly at his Strength Training for Runners Workshop on Thursday, May 10th from 7:00 – 8:30 PM to learn more!

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