From the Coaches: Strength Training For Endurance Sports

There are many misconceptions about the types of resistance, or strength, training that are appropriate for endurance sports, ie, cycling, triathlon, running, etc. Two front runners are the notion that you should focus all your work on your lower body and do high reps and low weight. These notions are just plain not true.

As an endurance athlete some key components that you should consider are a strength training program that engages your entire body, especially your posterior chain; the muscles on the back side of your body. These are what stand you up and support you while you are on the bike and running. The major posterior chain muscles are your calves, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae and traps. These areas are often overlooked when thinking about how you produce power and most people default to going straight to the legs to work quads.

Engaging in hinges, lat pulls and posterior shoulder movements can go a long way toward keeping you not only pain-free, but improving your efficiency, timing, aerodynamics, breathing and power.

Another factor you may want to consider is how many reps/sets you perform, your load, and the speed or tempo that you perform them. If you are lifting loads that you can consistently perform more than 15 reps at a time comfortably you are likely not getting the best use of your time. You need to overload and change your stimulus to continue to create adaptations. If you are stable and you have good mechanics there is a great deal to be gained by lifting heavier loads or changing the timing as long as you progress carefully.

If you have been lifting weights in the gym for a long time and are technically proficient then lifting loads where you can cleanly perform sets of only 8-10 reps will be a significantly different stimulus and create true strength gains.

Let’s look at it this way. If you were to ride for one hour at a cadence of 70 RPM (lower than most), you would turn the pedals 4200 times; 2100 reps on each leg. Even if you did this to exhaustion that is still a lot of reps to failure. You will get an overload on your metabolic system and it is very hard indeed, but it is not a strength stimulus. Now, let’s be more realistic. If you did a 1 min effort at a cadence of 60 rpms. That is still 60 turns or 30 reps for each leg. This is more of a strength stimulus than 2100 reps but still not the same as doing 3-4 sets of 8-10 squats at, or close to, momentary muscular failure.

If you do not have access to a gym or external loads you can still create adaptations and challenge your strength by changing your timing and rhythm. Slow eccentric loading is a great way to increase your time under tension and improve joint stability. I have always said “If you find this easy it’s easy, go slower” Just in case you don’t believe me, the next time you do a set of pushups, do them with a 5 count down and a 5 count up.

I am not suggesting that you go wild and try to hit one rep max loads or do crazy things that may put you at risk for injury. I am simply suggesting that you not be afraid to broaden your scope of what is beneficial when it comes to resistance training. And if you have not been strength training, NOW is the time to start. The SUF Strength program is a fantastic system with progressive loading and a broad range of movements with more new plans coming in the near future.

There is certainly more to this topic and many ways to structure your strength/resistance training. What does your strength plan look like?

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Thanks for the post. I have often wondered about the difference between doing (for example) 8 reps at 20kg vs 20 reps at 10kg. Gym heads have traditionally said that the former builds muscle, while the latter is better for weight loss. I suspect this isn’t really true as I have been told (from more reliable sources) that increased muscle mass leads to increased metabolic rate and therefore more calories burnt daily.

With the SUF programme I have found that the progression often leads to longer sets. I find that just using a water bottle doesn’t give enough resistance so usually use weights (1.25kg, 2.5kg and 5kg for Goblet squats). This feels more like it’s pushing me compared to 800g of water.

That said - the idea of going slowly is also really good. Slow pushups are killers - Abi loves to shove some of them in some of her yoga too. :slight_smile:

I saw a picture of myself from a bike race a couple of weeks back and was impressed to notice that I actually appear to have shoulder muscles now. Winning! :smiley:

On a slightly different topic, with the increasing lengths of the workouts, I sometimes find I don’t have time to do everything. For example, this morning I had Yoga, followed by Int5A, followed by Cadence Builds. That’s 1h40mins on a weekday morning. I just can’t fit that in before work.

cheers,
Chris

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What oldies my Strength programme look like?
Completely collapsed in the last few months to zero. … sad face.

Being away from home for a bit, lots of ‘stuff’ in life …

Might make it a mission to do one today as it’s been in my mind. Just need (to force) some time in the working day

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Thanks @ChrisMTB,

Your “gym head” friends are missing some very key elements here. There is so much more that goes into what kinds of adaptations you create by different reps, loads, speeds and recovery. And you are not wrong that more muscle needs more fuel when working.
The real takeaway here is that in order to get a different result you have to have a different stimulus. Endurance athletes, in general do not get enough specific resistance training with loads large enough to build muscular strength. Therefore they can benefit by adding resistance training to their program. Furthermore, if you are doing strength training with high reps and low weight you can stimulate new strength adaptations by increasing your weigh and lowering your reps or changing the speed of contraction and recovery time. There is no “one size fits all system” that works for everyone.

As for the length of the current SUF STR program on the upper levels they do progress by combining back to back sets and adding more. If you find your self short on time it is ok to cut it short. You are still getting valuable work in. And if you are like most people you will prioritize riding over strength. I would say that you may get more out of your program if you had to cut a ride a few mins short rather than the strength session. Especially this time of year. (For the Northern folks)

Now just to be clear, that is not an excuse to skip the ninth hammer.

Good news, there are new strength progressions coming that will have a variety of shorter workouts that also have some variety of timing changes. So you can get all the hammers and the nails too.

Cheers,
Jeff

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If you folks knew how hard Grunter and Sir Neal work to find coaches who speak Sufferlandrian… :clap:

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Since the pandemic started I have lost my access to a weight room. I do have a barbell and I can load it with 225 tops. That is all I got lol. I also have a 50lb and 80lb kettlebells. I mostly been doing some deadlifts or Turkish get ups as main lifts then followed by a SUF workout. I also try to get in some pull ups in there.

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Sweet,
You have all the metal you need there. I love the Turkish getups as a full body move. If you are doing those with 50lb or 80lb DB’s you must be pretty solid. If you are doing a hard wt. workout and following it immediately with a SUF workout I recommend that you choose a NM Stimulus like cadence builds, however if you are doing something with longer efforts that you get some additional recovery time between workouts. Cheers

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Would you recommend eccentric overload on movements as best way to increase high motor movement and strengthen muscle fibres ?

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Thank you! I will start to do more NM workouts since I am approaching base season. I have found a lot of gains from the SUF strength workouts! I can feel it when I climb and on longer rides.

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That’s a good approach. Back in my oly weightlifting days I would do cleans and snatches every day. I was not running any during that time and my running improved.

I think power moves with both concentric and eccentric are good to develop good mechanics and can probably be done with lighter loads and higher reps. Although I like also doing these with higher loads and lower reps.

Going for the eccentric overload movements make sure you have a good foundation and mechanics.

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Totally agree - 321 on the down, hold for 1 sec and then 1 up. Works for those goblet quarts too.

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Hi Jeff (@Coach.Jeff.H),

I’m in a situation where all our gyms are closed and the closest thing to external loads are 3L containers of milk from the supermarket. :slight_smile:

Do you think it is possible to get a strength stimulus by doing reps of the dreaded ‘ERG mode spiral of death’ as a way to cause momentary muscular failure?

I’m not sure how this would be done - that’s probably a question for Grunter - but I can’t help think that when the spiral of death hits it might be more of a strength stimulus than an overload on your metabolic system…or is it an example of slow eccentric loading?

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@DancingCyclist,
You can get a strength endurance stimulus on erg mode for sure using a very low cadence. You just have to be very careful of how you do it and you can cause some issues with knees and back if you are not solid in the saddle. Even this is a concentric contraction though. Eccentric contractions are when you are resisting the weight and the weight is winning. The only way to get an eccentric contraction on the bike is to ride a fixed gear and are slowing down. This is not how I would go about it.

In the times of limitations you can still get good workouts at home. I would begin with the strength plans that are in the app as they are well done and have a very good progression. If you have maxed them out then yes, you can use the 3L milk container with the moves.

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@Coach.Jeff.H,
I think given the choice I’d rather do the SUFF strength plans, it’s definitely easier for me to monitor my alignment that way. I’ve always felt that knees are not the most stable joints and knock on wood mine are still fine. Appreciate the explanation of the difference between the concentric/eccentric contraction - makes total sense. I was probably most curious as to how to get the most out of ERG mode by turning an unwanted result into a positive training possibility…but it seems that the SUFF Strength and Yoga plans are a better route!

Besides, I realised the local petrol/gas station sells 15kg bags of firewood - so my options have more than opened up if I want to add more weight to the strength plans. Anyway thanks for the reply. Your post inspired me to turn my attention to my posterior chain, so I did the Back Strengtheners yoga workout yesterday. That was great. Cheers!

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For me coming from several years of 2 days on 1 day off weightlifting splits, the stuff strength plan is less about strength and more about flexibility stability and activation.

When I was a meat head the best ways to get strength gains was to constantly change the workout from reps, muscle groups worked together, and the types of and order of the exercises themself.

Now to ensure I still get enough stimulus I will add 1 compound movement prior to the suff exercises. Typically I will rotate deadlifts, squats, cleans(sometime with press) or weighted walking lunges.

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This helps me a lot. I’ve been trying to decide if I should be adding in 3x10 squats alongside my SUF training programs. It sounds like it would benefit me. I’m already at the gym 3 days per week for upper body training, alternating deadlifts and squats seems like a solid idea to me now.

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Just a question from a complete novice. My Background is that I used to do weight classes at the gym. Mainly with bar bells and TRX classes and used to really enjoy it, but also meant I relied on the professionals there to help me gauge load. Losing access (through irregular work travel) meant I stopped doing any. When SUF plans came along I started up Weights again. Did beginner and then intermediate plans. My issue is I am not sure what weights I should be using for different muscle groups and exercises and like others the longer sessions meant it was harder to fit in… As everyone is so different Is there a way to assess yourself? I am worried about finding the balance between overload and damage. I have invested in weights at home so have a variety… I have quite strong legs including glutes and these tend to take over…

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I have a similar background with lifting. I would suggest starting light. The suggested water bottle weight is about 6# to 8# so you might try slowly increasing and then see how you feel when you get back on the bike. I did have a teaching moment when I loaded up on the goblet squats during strength and then really suffered doing “There Is No Try”. I left notes for myself that I either needed to back down on the weight or decrease the intensity of the workout next time. Also be sure to factor in adequate rest and recovery as well when adding more weight. Good luck!

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Thank you. It is more knowing if I should use different weights for different excercises as my legs are much stronger than my arms. So should I switch in and out? I have been doing that a bit bit was unsure…

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