When you look at endurance athletes, the first thing you notice is that they’re skinny. The second thing you notice is that they’re small! There are different reasons for this:
– The workload and long efforts burn tons of calories and combined with the meal plans they follow, causes their bodies not to retain much fatty tissue.
– True endurance sports don’t support large bulky muscles. The body actually breaks down muscle tissue to support the energy systems (in some cases).
– Endurance athletes are sometimes deathly afraid of retaining too much muscle, thinking the extra weight will slow them down.
Truth is, it is a lot harder for an endurance athlete to gain a lot of muscle and that should also not be the goal. However, strength training and a moderate amount of extra muscle mass will have benefits that far outweigh the disadvantage of minimal additional weight.
The additional muscle mass and strength will make them a lot faster and also prevent many injuries. Think about stride length, power, slow twitch white muscle fibers taking over so the explosive fast twitch red muscle fibers can save themselves for later efforts etc.
Another huge benefit of strength/weight training for endurance athletes is neuromuscular. You teach your body to be more efficient by training your nervous system to activate more muscle fibers at once. When doing weight training, you activate many more muscle fibers at once and after several weeks you will notice the difference. The first 6 weeks of strength training, most results come from an improved relationship between the nervous system and muscles, don’t expect much growth in this time frame (which is also why the biggest legs aren’t always the strongest)!
The second main reason to perform strength training either in the preparatory phase or year round (depending on level, age, goals etc.) is injury prevention. It is crucial to work out your full body and keep your body balanced as well as you can. Even though you don’t need huge shoulders if you’re a runner or cyclist, it is beneficial to strengthen them enough to they can support your body and lifestyle. We don’t want to bulk them up but strength does not mean bulk. Especially the core is extremely important in preventing injuries and supporting your health.
Resistance training is crucial for endurance athletes and can hugely benefit them. There are many ways to do this. You can perfectly practice weight training with TRX® bands, kettle bells or traditional weights. Make sure you periodize correctly and learn how to perform multi joint compound exercises properly. These have to be practiced with excellent form and with care but they are superior to any isolation exercises (or machines).
By Sander Vanacker for FitGuana
Sander Vanacker is a personal trainer, CEO of Bring Back Nature, Inc. and founder of FitGuana. He believes in improving health and wellness by incorporating more nature into our lives, being active and spending more time outdoors.