Strength & Conditioning for Endurance Athletes (during the off-season)

Strength & Conditioning Coach Graham Ferris explains why endurance athletes should hit the gym during the Winter to make vital preparations for next season.

With Winter upon us and the running and cycling calendar behind us, we can look to the gym for the opportunity to cure those pestering niggles and work on those weaknesses, while we keep training intensity at a relative high.

Endurance athletes can achieve many benefits by replacing rain-soaked dark runs, for the warmer, safer environment of the gym:

Resistance training improves muscle recruitment:

  • A muscle is made up of muscle fibres and motor units. There are hundreds of motor units in a muscle, all stimulated by nerves. If the nerve signal to that motor unit is too weak then that motor unit and its muscle fibres will not contract.
  • Resistance training will aid in the stimulation of multiple motor units and therefore a greater contraction of that muscle. Multiple motor unit recruitment leads to greater force production and strength. 

Resistance training improves running economy:

  • Resistance training improves lower limb co-ordination and tendon stiffness. 
  • Co-ordinated calf contractions with knee extensor contractions coinciding with glute contractions and core stabilisations will result in a more efficient running style. This creates reduced ground contact times and less motor unit recruitment to give the same force production (Paavolainen et al. 1999)
  • These neurological adaptations result in decreased oxygen consumption when running at a relative speed.

Improve running performance:

  • An accumulation of running economy and muscle recruitment results in an increased time to fatigue. Athletes delay reaching their lactate threshold and therefore stave off exhaustion.

Rehabilitate injuries:

  • An effective rehabilitation programme can restore muscle imbalances and strengthen previous weaknesses that may have otherwise resulted in injury. 
  • Low impact work focusing solely on non-functioning muscles can get them re-firing again and your movement mechanics restored.

So, enjoy the time off from the road and look to a Strength and Conditioning programme for the Winter months while you prepare yourself for next season.

Paavolainen, L., Hakkinen, K., Hamalainen, I., Nummela, A., Rusko, H. (1999) Explosive strength-training improves 5km running time by improving running economy and muscle power Journal of Applied Physiology 86, 1527 – 1533


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