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How to Build a Strength Session for Endurance Athletes

Before I explain how to build the perfect strength session for endurance athletes I want to talk about my background and where I obtained my knowledge and information to support the rest of this article. My athletic career started out training for basketball. I learned how to specifically train for basketball’s functional movements and improve my fitness and athleticism to be a better performer. Once I retired from basketball my training was then focused on spartan races, mixing strength and endurance into one event. After I felt accomplished in spartan races I moved into the CrossFit space, where I learned how to move my body and lift heavier weights with proper technique. After CrossFit, I got in to power lifting/body building, with goals of lifting even heavier weights. At that point I had been setting goals in the gym to hit certain reps and weight for the three big movements. I wanted to take on a bigger challenge and that’s when I got into triathlon.

Through all of this experience I was able to take key concepts and learn from each sport the importance of maintaining a gym routine. For endurance athletes we may only step into a weight room 1,2, or possibly 3 times a week. There’s no doubt about the importance of strength training to keep the body as fit as possible. There are some people that feel that the lifting can hurt performance, but those are the ones most scared of starting a journey in the gym.

I’ve had my fair share of time off from hitting the weight room and as an endurance athlete I promise you, that is your most vulnerable time for injury.

Depending on how many days you are truly able to make it into the gym a week I have created an outline on how to plan your sessions for an optimal session when you are able to go.

I want to start by saying that you should not jump right into weights that you think you can lift. Get form down for the first few weeks if you are just getting back into it then you can increase weight.

I break up a strength session into 4 different parts. This may sound like a lot but just follow along and you’ll understand what the purpose of this is.

Part one, warmup and explosiveness. Before starting any session as an endurance athlete you need to warm the body up. I would recommend taking at least 5 minutes to do active stretching of the muscles and surrounding muscles you plan to workout. Explosiveness needs to be performed at the beginning of a session because if you break down your muscles and use your energy and try to do an explosive exercise you wont get the maximum benefit of what your goal is. By explosiveness, I mean doing a one rep effort of a powerful movement that involves multiple muscles to become activated at once. For example this might be box jumps, kettle bell swings, med ball slams, or a sled push. I would recommend spending about 5-7 minutes performing these exercises to prime the muscles for the remainder of the session.

Part two, power. Power comes from multiple muscle groups working together to complete a movement of heavier weight with an isotonic movement. Examples of this are back squats, deadlifts, bench press, and pull-ups. These movements are multi-grouped muscle movements but are not considered power unless you perform them at a higher weight with lower rep range. Some sets by reps ranges I like to use are 5x5, 6x4, 7x3. This allows you to increase weight while focusing on contraction and drive.

Part three, stability. Stability is third because we want to activate our core while we aren’t completely fatigued at this point. Stability focuses on a unilateral movement, meaning one side at a time, to optimize body awareness and core strength as well as notice and correcting imbalances in your body. This is also a good time to do multi-functional movements that target 2 or more muscle groups. For example a single leg RDL with a kettle bell row. You are now able to target the hamstring, lat as well as core for one rep. Stability should be performed at a higher rep range and lower set, for example 3x15 or 2x20. This is because you don’t want to lift heavy during this part. The goal is to go lighter but be able to hold for longer.

Part four, the build. Building is what I like to call putting it all together. This is where you do a max effort of a movement that incorporates most or all of the muscle groups that you just targeted to increase the lactic buildup and really tear the muscles down before you rebuild them with the protein shake and carbs right after. For building I like to make it fun but challenging. For example if my target muscle is chest and shoulders, I may do 3 sets of max pushups with little rest between. On a leg day this could be a kettlebell goblet squat for 100 reps. Something that is achievable, but challenges you and probably leaves you going home sweaty. After all, endurance athletes are addicted to the hurt, right? This is also great because its where your muscles become resilient. This is the end of the race, final push that maybe is your fastest mile to cross the finish line. The build is where you dig, without hurting yourself, to become a fitter athlete.

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