Strength Training – Use it or Lose it

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It’s November and for a lot of us endurance athletes (and clients), this begins the off-season period of our training. While there are a lot of things that you should be doing during the off-season, like catching up on Netflix shows and having that extra scoop of ice cream, it’s also the time to focus on strength training.

While ideally you should be strength training all year long, the off-season is a great time to focus on this often overlooked and marginalized area of training. Below are some reasons to keep strength training year round. 


It is well documented that strength training improves performance, regardless of the sport. However, like all other areas of fitness including flexibility and aerobic capacity, if strength training is not done a fairly consistent basis, any gains will be lost. Don’t believe me? Stop your lower body lifting routine for a few weeks and then go back to squatting at the same weight as you left off at. Assuming you can perform even a few reps with good form at the same weight, will be you able to walk down a flight of stairs the next day without having to hold onto the railing? Probably not.


Many endurance athletes cite not wanting to put on muscle mass as a reason to not strength train. For starters, a lot of endurance athletes could probably benefit from putting on a few pounds of muscle but for the moment, let’s erroneously assume that this would be detrimental to one’s performance. ‘Putting on muscle’ is not accomplished by simply lifting weights. It’s accomplished by eating a bunch of calories, restricting cardiovascular activity and lifting weights that are fairly heavy. While there are genetic factors such as metabolic rate and muscle fiber type that will influence how easily someone gains muscle mass, the primary factor is the training stimulus.


Given the large cardiovascular element of most endurance athletes’ programs, an endurance athlete would either have to substantially reduce their cardiovascular training and, or eat a lot more calories to put on a lot of muscle mass. This just isn’t the training program of an endurance athlete. Additionally, the types of exercises that endurance athletes should be doing do not look anything like that of a body builder. A 2015 study by Beattie et al., found that over a 40 week period, runners were able to increase their leg strength without adding ‘unwanted muscle bulk.’


Without wading too deep (or at all) into the subject of doping, several pro cyclists in the past have tested positive for anabolic steroids. And if you’ve ever seen a professional cyclist, they are the farthest thing from looking ‘buff.’ Emaciated, possibly – Buff, certainly not. So why anabolic steroids? Throughout a long race such as the Tour De France or even a long racing season, being able to maintain one’s lean muscle mass is important to performance. This is where strength training comes into play. It helps endurance athletes to not just maintain lean muscle mass, but to become stronger, faster and likely reduce the chance of injury. And while you and I won’t likely be racing the Tour De France or consistently running over 100-mile weeks, maintaining muscular strength and power is jsut as critical as it is for the pros. The physiological method behind the stimulation of muscle strength is due to increases in testosterone and other hormones. These increases are part of the body’s neuroendocrine response to resistance training.


While professional endurance athletes could benefit from strength training, a likely reason why many of them don’t is due to time restrictions. In other words, many pro (and amateurs) endurance athletes view strength training as the least important training methodology and therefore it’s likely done minimally, if at all. However, you and your coaching clients are likely looking to improve not just race fitness, but overall wellness – of which full body functional strength is a part of.

Strength training should not be just an off-season activity but an ‘all-the-time activity!’


Full body resistance training should be a part of every endurance athlete’s program and it should not be viewed as an “if I have time for it” sort of thing. However, if you or your clients are going to be substantially erratic about resistance training by taking weeks or months off between training sessions – you’re likely better off using that time to take a nap 🙂

Rick Prince

Rick Prince

Founder/Director of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA).

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