A common question that seems to be making its rounds at the moment is: should endurance athletes be lifting weights and incorporate strength training into their training schedule? I mean, muscle is heavy and will just result in you carrying extra weight around making you slower, right? Endurance athletes do not lift anything in races so why do it in training?
Well, the answer is not so simple. There are many different factors at play such as energy systems, duration of training, nutrition, rest and recovery to name a few. With potentially hours of repetitive training that requires a lot of fuel your body inevitably taps into muscle as a source of energy. If the muscle does not get re-strengthened and rebuilt the result will be weakness. Another factor is the limited range of motion involved with running. In order to maintain healthy injury free joints such as hips, knees and ankles the joint need to be moved through the joint full range of motion. Not doing so results in shortened muscles that put strain on joints, ligaments and tendons that cause pain discomfort and injury. With cycling you would spend a lot of time in a hunched over position. When you perform certain movements for an extended period of time then form becomes function. This will affect your posture when you are sitting at your desk at work or in front of the TV. All of these imbalances need to be addressed and corrected.
Strength and resistance training done in the correct way will not only help prevent injury and correct imbalances but also help improve performance. The aim is to improve power output. How much power can you put on the pedal of the bike or how much faster can you run? If you are quicker over 1 km then you will be quicker over 10km and if you are quicker over 10km you will be quicker over 100km. If you just go slowly then you are just teaching your body to be slow and inefficient. With regards to how your body produces energy through its energy systems you want to maximise each of these systems to benefit your performance such as your bodies’ ability to clear lactic acid. Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk and snatch are great at building power. Olympic lifters especially in the light categories are not muscular at all, not like a bodybuilder who trains to specifically put on mass. It’s about power to weight, you can add quality muscle that adds to power output and with the correct nutrition stay as small as possible.
If you are planning on running a Marathon then previous thinking was to get a certain amount of km’s under your belt in a certain time frame. New thinking is that if you improve your time over a shorter distance e.g. 10km’s then your overall time will improve but more importantly still preparing you enough for the race itself. Hours and hours of training come at a huge cost to your body. Also with most athletes having jobs and families putting in the hours can be very difficult. Therefore shorter more focused training with a more holistic approach with a good balance of endurance, strength, core and mobility will lead to better performance on race day.