How to mix Strength & Conditioning with Endurance Training

This topic was requested from Triathlete Jim who attends my Strength & Conditioning session at Elite Performance Labs.

This is a hot topic in the endurance athlete world and there are many misconceptions and myths that have arisen from a lack of understanding. Many of the topics and points that will come up below have been covered in relating blogs, so please read through past blogs for more information on topics.

So first of all, what I want to do is define some of the terms that have been used in the title. Firstly, Strength is the ability to produce force from muscular (or several) contractions. Strength can be developed and applied in a number of different ways but that is not the topic of this blog. Conditioning can be defined as the ability to prevent the onset of fatigue. This basically means that by being more conditioned we will not get as tired as quickly, therefore we can continue with our activity for a longer period of time.

The word "endurance" means "the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear". What Jim wants to know is how can Strength & Conditioning (S&C) combine with his endurance training to best optimise his performance.

Well firstly, his endurance training IS part of his S&C training - they're not two seperate entities. His endurance training is a part of his conditioning training - he is working his cardiovascular system and muscular system to allow him to continue performing for a longer period of time.

When, how & what strength work an endurance athlete needs to alongside his "cardio" work comes down to the individual athlete - not all athletes need the same programme (as we know). It comes down to the needs of the athlete, and where he is in his programming in relation to any events that are coming up. For example, if an athlete has plenty of strength but is lacking in cardiovascular fitness - then programming more cardio instead of more strength sessions will be more beneficial & visa versa. How you can tell if you're lacking in an athletic capacity is by doing relevant and valid tests and then comparing your test results to the research available on endurance athlete performance.

It is also crucial to programming acordingly to how close you are to an event. Generally speaking - the further away from an event you are the more strength work you will need to do. The closer you are to the event, the more specific cardio you will need to do and less strength work. This is to ensure that the strength work does not fatigue you as you prepare for the event with more primary training.

How to programme:

I have already said that each programme needs to be subjective to the individual depending on their specific needs, so there is not one way to programme. However, here are some basic principles when programming in cardio and strength sessions together.

1) Try and dedicate the session to the specific goal. What I mean by this is is that if you can do a specific cardio session one day and then a specific strength session another day then great. This is assuming that you have enough time to train more days and so can split the training this way.

2) If you do need to mix strength work and cardio work in the same session then do your strength work first. Strength work will improve your force output, that will improve your rate of force development, rate coding and injury resistance - all of which will help improve your cardiovascular system because your physiological capacity has increased (and make sure you are kept injury free). Research has also shown that resistance training improves running efficiency.

All of this shows that strength/force output is key. Strength work will also increase neurological activity - basically meaning that your muscles will be more activated by your central nervous system (CNS) - which will help your running. Of course you can do your cardio first, but you shall go into your strength work fatigued when doing your strength work can in fact enhance your cardio.

3) Perform movements and exercises that are relevant to the sport/goal. E.g. if you want to improve your running, doing loads of swimming will not be as helpful as doing workouts that include running.

4) Challenge the relevant energy system. For example - if your sport is more glycogic (using the anaerobic system) then chosing metabolic conditioning workouts that challenge this energy system will be more beneficial for you.

5) "Cardio training" doesn't have to be a singular movement done for a long time or lots of repeated times. Metabolic conditioning using different movements (still relevant to the sport) is a great way to improve your cardiovasuclar fitness.

I hope this helps!

If you have any questions regarding this subject or anything else health and fitness then please get in touch!

Stay Strong,