Endurance Athletes & Weight Training: Is it Necessary?

Defining what an endurance athlete is can be a tricky task. Wherever you look, you’re bound to find a plethora of descriptions and definitions labeling endurance athletics. To sum it up briefly, an endurance athlete is someone who pushes his/her body to intense levels for extended periods of time. Things like cycling, swimming, cross country events, and ironman competitions all can fall under the category of endurance athletics. The question we’re going to ponder over today is whether weight training is necessary for endurance athletes. Finding an answer to this question is also multilayered. Not much in the way of tangible research proves any significant benefit to an endurance athlete who participates in weight training. Sure, the idea of strengthening muscles theoretically improves your endurance, speed, and maybe fatigue when viewed on a basic level, but there is more we have to grapple with in order to fully understand the answer.

Positives of Weight Training for Endurance Athletes:

Endurance athletics does indeed require a healthy body (obviously) and strong and healthy muscles, cardiovascular system, and all the pieces and parts that make your body durable. According to some, weight training can help improve your running game, prevent injuries, fix your imbalances, and raise your resting metabolic rate. All of these things should help an endurance athlete in the long run (no pun intended) to staying healthy and competitive during an event.

Even still, you should base your workout around the type of endurance sport you’ll be competing in. As most of you know, the type of athlete you are will most likely build strengths and compound weaknesses (a long distance runner, for example, may have strong quads and calves but irregular glutes), so building your regime around patching up those weaker parts will create a healthier you.

Think about it, though: If your muscles are healthy, and you can limit your fatigue (or extend the points in which your body begins to feel fatigue), you’re ultimately better for it. Obviously, no one is saying you shouldn’t exercise or build some sort of workout routine, but weight training could have some positive results. It all depends on your point of view and your experiences, your strengths and weaknesses, and you willingness to perhaps go outside of your comfort zone.

Negatives of Weight Training for Endurance Athletes:

I’m a big fan of the Cleveland Indians. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland’s 2nd baseman, bulked up a few years ago before an upcoming season. By bulking up to an unhealthy level for himself, Kip played with tight muscles that limited his performance. Worse yet, he wound up partially tearing his oblique (along with having consistent hamstring issues) and missing parts of the next two and half seasons. He’s finally back to form and using his injuries to mentor younger players, but it’s something to consider when thinking about strengthening your muscles to higher levels in order to theoretically increase speeds or fight off fatigue.

Now, other research has shown that there isn’t necessarily a direct link between strength training and any endurance improvements. The issue that can occur while adding weight training to a regimen is that you may not build up any endurance, speed, or ability to fight off fatigue. In fact, some studies (this one for cycling) have shown that strength and weight training actually harm your endurance activities. In this particularly study, cyclists found that their overall times actually slowed and that they felt heavy and tired during the process. You have to consider: if you’re adding muscle weight, are you truly improving your ability to compete in endurance athletics? Sure, you may have more strength, but did you take into account that you’ll also weigh more? Additionally, many endurance sports require specific skills necessary to compete. For example, rowing requires pinpoint mechanics, meaning added strength won’t necessarily do you any good if you’re an inadequate rower.

Who Could Benefit?

There’s a few types of athletes in endurance athletics who could benefit from a solid weight training program:

  • Athletes new to their respective sport could experience boosts in performance when committing to a routine. Better muscle strength logically improves the effectiveness in these types of athletes as they begin to shape their bodies into full fledged endurance machines.
  • Established athletes may want to focus on weight training in their off seasons, so as not to lose their current levels of endurance and strength and to keep them fresh for the upcoming slew of competitions. Additionally, endurance athletes can maintain smaller workout routines to keep actively fit in between big competitions.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, weight training for the endurance athlete really depends on the type of athlete and activity. Clearly, cyclists would probably be recommended to steer clear of adding too much muscle weight, and you’d think runners may feel the same way. Proper methods for your specific sport also seem to trump adding extra strength to your resume. Many athletes wrongly assume that more muscle mass means improvement in their field; and for some, this may be the case. Others, however, have reported no actual link to performance increases, and some have seen detrimental results. Your best bet is to determine the type of endurance sport you’ll be participating in (if you’ve already established that and have been competing for a while, perhaps consider looking into improving technique or principles of your specific sport). We want to keep you all healthy and at the top of your game, so be sure to speak with your local trainers to decide what will work best for you, your body, and your sport.

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