Endurance athletes love long distances. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Most endurance guys (and gals) place a premium on long-distance, steady state exercise. With this in mind, when training to improve distance performance, the most typical method of training progression employed is an increase in training distance. I’d like to share with you how gym training for cycling and running can significantly improve many aspects of your performance!
Now, while I would be the first to admit that to get good at running (or cycling, or swimming etc. etc. etc.) long distances you do need to undertake some longer training sessions, they aren’t necessarily the best or only way to improve endurance performance. In fact, I would go as far to suggest that increasing training distance is a somewhat illogical form of progression.
In my mind, if we train by running (or cycling) a greater distance at the same speed (or possibly even slower) that we normally use during training, we are unlikely to get faster. I would argue that getting faster (and being able to maintain that faster speed) is the name of the game, right?!
But fortunately for us there are other training methods that we can use to improve performance.
Some of these are sport specific (which we aren’t going to touch on today), whereas others involve gym based training (which is what we are going to talk about today – in case the title didn’t give it away…).
Gym training for the endurance beast
Strength and endurance training are often viewed at complete opposite ends of the training spectrum – where it is typically suggested that improvements in one will lead to subsequent reductions in the other.
But in reality, it’s not that simple.
When we really consider endurance performance, we should be able to see that it is effectively the ability to maintain or repeat a given force output repeatedly – each step (or each pedal stroke) represents force being applied to the ground.
Which is where getting stronger (or increasing the amount of force we can produce) comes into play.
You see, if someone gets stronger relative to their bodyweight, they can apply more force with each step of the foot, or stroke of the pedal. This means that they will require less relative force each step to maintain the same pace they did prior increasing their strength.
This in turn means that each step uses less energy, as it is at a lower percentage of their maximal force production. As a result, they now have the ability to move faster (and further) each step, despite using the exact same amount of energy.
Why does gym training make me faster?
So, you might be wondering how gym training can make you faster? And to answer that, we are going to have to get our science on for a second (nerd pleasure…).
You see, strength training has repeatedly shown to improve endurance performance in both recreational, and highly trained athletes. In fact, this research has actually shown that including strength training into an endurance training program will improve endurance performance to a much greater degree than endurance training alone.
These improvements have been measured by improvements in movement economy (also known as energy efficiency), increases in velocity at VO2max, and increases in maximal anaerobic running speed.
In short, it clearly demonstrates that strength training will make you faster at a given energy output.
It essentially becomes easier!
These specific strength training interventions tend to result in substantial improvements in strength, with only small increases in lean mass – this actually suggests that the strength increases observed are mainly a result of improved neural efficiency, meaning that they result in significant improvements in relative force production, and you wont really get any heavier.
Additionally, this same training has been shown to cause a shift in muscle fibre type from type IIx (Super explosive muscle fibre type) to type IIa (less explosive, slightly greater endurance capacity) fibre types, which has been shown to further improve endurance capacity.
And to top it off, strength training has also been shown to causes an increase in musculotendinous unit stiffness (say that three times fast).
This increased stiffness results in an improved ability to store elastic energy during eccentric muscle actions (eg. landing each step), which in turn increases concentric muscle force (eg. Pushing off the ground). This results in less energy used per step, and a noticeable increase in movement economy.
So, if were to summarise the science – strength training makes you more efficient.
Not to mention it also has the capacity to improve your ability to absorb force and therefore protect you from injuries (which is a topic I will save for another day)
Applying gym training for cycling and running improvements: the practical implications
So, we know that gym based training can improve our endurance performance – but how should we use this information.
Well, I would suggest including two full-body strength sessions per week into your training would be a great place to start. This would be enough to stimulate improvement in strength, and therefore improvements in efficiency.
With this in mind, the focus should be on large compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and lunges to improve lower body strength, working within strength based rep ranges (such as 6×3, 5×4, 4×6). These rep ranges have been shown to elicit neural based strength adaptations, while minimising potential muscle growth – meaning they are the perfect way to maximise your strength without increasing your body weight.
I would also strongly recommend the inclusion of loaded carries, some pulling movements (inverted rows, dumbbell rows etc.), and some direct trunk stability work if time permits, as these can go a very long way to strengthening the muscles of the upper back and core, improving posture and preventing injuries.
If you are not sure where to start, or have some questions around introducing strength training into your regime, drop us a comment and we will get back to you ASAP!
Hoff, Jan, Arne Gran, and Jan Helgerud. “Maximal strength training improves aerobic endurance performance.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 12.5 (2002): 288-295.
Kraemer, WILLIAM J., et al. “Compatibility of high-intensity strength and endurance training on hormonal and skeletal muscle adaptations.” Journal of applied physiology. (1995). Vol 78, no.3.
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About the Author
With summer just around the corner many of us are starting to think about easing ourselves back into our old exercise routines. Whether it be to lose a couple of kilos, or to ensure we feel just more comfortable spending time at the beach, most are slowly starting to climb back into their running shoes or slide back onto their bike seats.
But what if I were to suggest that this type of exercise (as in exercise of the cardio variety) may not be the best way to promote changes in the way we look or feel? While it may go against somewhat ‘traditional recommendations’, strength training is an excellent means of exercise that can cause HUGE changes in the way we look. This makes it the perfect type of training to complement our cardiovascular exercise.
Strength training can help build lean muscle
A sentence I hear on a very regular basis when discussing training or body composition goals goes a little something like this: “I don’t want to get big and bulky, I just want to ‘tone’ up”. To be honest, this thought process is extremely common for those looking to get into the weights room seriously for the first time. Which is why I then proceed to explain that weight training will not make you ‘big and bulky.’ It is actually extremely difficult to put on large amounts of muscle mass (particularly for females).
*Just quickly, if you want reassurance that this is the case, take a look at 99% of regular gym goers. Many look fit and healthy, while very few look like professional bodybuilders (even despite their best efforts).
In fact, the ‘toned’ look that many train for is actually a matter of building some muscle while losing some fat, resulting in more visible muscle definition – pretty simple really. So with all this in mind, strength training builds muscle tissue, which is integral to making large changes in body composition.
Strength training can increase our metabolism
As an added bonus, the process of building muscle – no matter how small the amount – can have a huge impact on our ability to lose weight.
You see, muscle is highly metabolic tissue, meaning that it actually requires energy to survive (it uses the energy we obtain from food). With this in mind, by increasing the amount of muscle mass we have on our body (even slightly), we can increase the amount of energy we burn each and every day – irrespective of the exercise we perform that day!
By adding some lean muscle tissue you can literally increase the amount of energy you burn when you’re on the couch or at work – which makes it much easier to promote weight loss in both the short and long term.
All it takes is performing some form of strength training 2-3 times per week.
Strength training can help us burn a heap of energy
Now, in addition to increasing our metabolism, strength training is also an effective means of promoting weight loss as is quite taxing. Strength training is a challenging form of exercise, and as such performing a single session will use a heap of energy. But where strength training differs from more traditional forms of exercise, is that it has a slightly longer recovery period associated. It is commonly accepted that muscle takes anywhere between 24 and 72 hours to completely recover after a workout (this recovery time is dependent on the intensity and volume of work performed during that training session).
During this entire period, the body is using additional energy to recover from our workout.
As a result, strength training can help us lose weight by increasing our energy expenditure both during, and after, our training session.
Bonus: Strength training helps you function every single day.
While this isn’t necessarily related to making any changes in our body composition, it is still certainly a large positive!
Becoming stronger, and through this improving our ability to function on a day to day basis, is extremely rewarding. It not only provides a clear demonstration that all our hard work in the gym is paying off, but also makes life in a physical sense much easier.
Whether it means being able to move your own furniture, pick up children without a second thought, or bring your groceries in from the car in a single trip, it doesn’t really matter – getting stronger will help you in every aspect of your life.
Take away message
When it comes to bang for your buck exercise strength training is hands down our best option. It have some great effects on our body composition, it can also improve our strength and function – both of which are essential to improving ability to get through the day.
With this in mind, performing weight training 2-3 times per week is ideal to stimulate both large increases in strength and massive changes in body composition. If you have any questions (or maybe don’t know where to start), feel free to book in with us today, so you can draw a line in the sand and get started.
Dolezal, Brett A., et al. “Muscle damage and resting metabolic rate after acute resistance exercise with an eccentric overload.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32.7 (2000): 1202-1207.
Kraemer, William J., et al. “Effect of resistance training on women’s strength/power and occupational performances.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 33.6 (2001): 1011-1025.
Staron, R. S., et al. “Skeletal muscle adaptations during early phase of heavy-resistance training in men and women.” Journal of applied physiology 76.3 (1994): 1247-1255.
Zurlo, Francesco, et al. “Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 86.5 (1990): 1423.
As someone who gets the opportunity to coach people on a daily basis, I work hard to get my clients moving with the best technique possible.
Why is technique important in resistance training?
Moving with poor or inefficient technique can lead to altered load distribution, and subsequently increased stress placed on the passive structures of our body. This can lead to an increased risk of injury (both acutely and chronically), which is obviously not ideal. Furthermore, training with poor technique can lead to muscular imbalances. This in turn leads to postural deviations, movement impairment, and again, an increased risk of injury.
Fortunately for us as coaches, technique is one of the few things we have a huge amount of control over. We have the opportunity to educate individuals on the importance of proper technique, and develop quality movement patterns through the use of appropriates exercise progressions and regressions. With this in mind, we can also improve poor or limited movement through a variety of corrective exercise strategies. In short, we have the necessary knowledge and ability to ensure that each and every one of our clients are performing a given movement well.
But, it is important to note that movement technique is entirely individual!
Is there such thing as a perfect technique?
Despite what some internet warriors might like you to believe, there is no such thing as perfect technique. Everyone has different anatomy (this includes not only limb lengths, but also things like joint depth and stiffness). All of which can significantly change their range of motion at specific joints. It is for this reason that some people can squat to a full depth with their feet barely apart, while others need a wider stance just to squat to parallel. It may mean that a conventional deadlift is out of the question for you, and a narrow sumo stance is your best option. For others, it may mean that a conventional deadlift is ideal.
Everyone is different. And it is important to reiterate that none of these techniques are wrong. In actual fact, in both cases they may actually provide the ideal position for that individual to complete a given movement. But in the same light, each technique is different – and none of them are perfect.
As coaches it is our job to find the best position possible for you as an individual to perform a given movement safely and effectively. While this position may be slightly different, there are number key things we can look for to ensure that this position is found and trained correctly.
Firstly, you need to be able to maintain a neutral spinal position for the movement’s duration. While this is true for almost any exercise, it holds significant importance for lower body dominant exercises. Think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations. This is becuase these movements place significant compressive and shearing forces on the spine. These forces are actually a good thing when a neutral spine is maintained, as they teach the muscles of the trunk to resist these forces. This is essential to building a strong and healthy spine.
BUT! When this position is lost, and the trunk moves (flexes or extends) under these heavy loads we can become susceptible to injury and dysfunction. As a result, we need to play around and find the best position for the individual. This tends to be where an individual has maximum joint range of motion, while also being able to maintain a neutral spine throughout that range of motion.
How do we determine ideal technique for an individual?
This can be done by assessing passive and active joint ranges in different positions. We can also reduce the range of movement to ensure that you can maintain a neutral spine. For example, we could use boxes or blocks to reduce a movements range.
Secondly, we need to sure that the joints remain ‘stacked’ on top of each other throughout the full movement. This essentially means that the knees and the hips are kept aligned throughout the movement’s duration. Thus limiting any potential shearing or rotational forces placed on your knees (think the knee collapsing inwards during squatting movements). Once again, suitable exercise regressions OR utilising principals of reactive neuromuscular control are utilised to ensure safe positions are maintained. Think bands pulling the knee into different positions during a split squat to teach the body to resist these forces.
Everyone is different, and as such there really is no such thing as perfect technique.
Despite this, we need ensure that each movement can be performed with the best technique possible given your individual anatomy. We try to focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement. This guarantees that the joints remained stacked on top of one another. We can regress our exercises if needed to encourage proper positioning. This can also be extremely beneficial to keeping a movements within a safe range of motion.
Remember, there is no right way to perform a given exercise. However, we can find an ideal way for a given individual at a specific point in time.