Why Should Endurance Athletes Lift Weights? (Get Strong)

By Ben Sharpe

Are you an athlete who has been participating in endurance events over many years? Are you under the impression that athletes who undertake endurance events should not lift weights? If so, you might want to think twice about the later question. And I want to be clear, I am not talking about bodybuilding! 

Strength coaches who work in professional sports have known this for years. Stronger athletes are faster, can work for longer, and get injured less. Programs are built based on the needs of individual athletes and the sport in which they compete. If the sport has a large amount of body contact, athletes need to be larger to negate the impact (NFL). On the flip side if an athlete needs to run long distances they need to be efficient and not be carrying extra “nonfunctional” mass (fat). Taking this on board, if I said to you that it is important for endurance athletes to lift weights, would you believe me?

Below I list and explain the rationale behind why I think endurance athletes should undertake some form of basic periodised strength training. 

1. Efficiency:

A simple example can demonstrate this point: Take two athletes who are exactly the same in every way (height, weight, running technique etc), but one athlete is stronger. To put it simply, the stronger athlete will be faster over any distance. How? They will use a lower percentage of his maximal strength per stride. They do not have to work as hard to move their body through space. I don’t really feel the need to demonstrate this with numbers as the point is fairly simple and translates to one word, efficiency. 

  • NOTE: This example can be applied to both cycling and swimming as well as running.

2. Injury Prevention:

  • Creating a body that is more robust. We don’t want to get “big” for the sake of it. A good strength training program will have Injury Prevention (IP) work built into it. Whether this is as part of the warm-up or within the program. A key benefit of getting stronger is that the connective tissue around your joints will also increase in strength and the cross-sectional area of your muscles will increase. The reason your knees are always sore might not be “I have bad knees”, as a matter of fact, you might just have weak knees. When a structured, progressive program is implemented your strength will gradually improve and thus the strength of your joints and connective tissues will too. This goes a long way to ensure your body can tolerate the rigors of endurance events. Strong athletes are harder to break.      

3. Decreased Fat Mass (Coupled with increases in lean mass):

  • Strength improvements will more often than not, be accompanied by decreases in fat mass and increases in lean muscle mass. Besides looking and feeling better, you will have a lower body fat percentage and have what is termed as “functional mass”. This is not mass that will slow you down or make you too heavy. This is mass that will serve to benefit you and your athletic performance. In more simple terms, we want to get lean.   

Good strength programs look the same 90% of the time. It shouldn’t sound complicated or difficult to understand. “Do the simple things SAVAGELY well.”

The aim is not to put on large amounts of muscle and put on so much weight that you can’t run or ride anymore. The aim is to optimise your physique, increase your force production and overall make you a more robust athlete. Done correctly, appropriately programmed strength training is a potent tool to add to your arsenal.

If you are interested and want to hear more about the benefits of strength training for endurance performance. We can build a program tailored to your goals and current situation. Follow this link to gain access to a complimentary 1 on 1 training on-boarding session with Ben at The Performance Centre, 


About the Author:

Ben is a Strength & Conditioning coach with over 10 years of experience as a Personal Trainer, his training style places a key emphasis on what each client needs (along with what they enjoy!), and by doing this has delivered consistent results. Ben has had experience working with a varied range of clients and has a particular interest in working with busy professionals who want to prioritise their health and active retirees who want to keep on doing the things they love.

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