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!