Strength & Conditioning Training

Endurance athletes - The forgotten elements of training

In the quest to go longer and faster, most endurance athletes are reluctant to give up valuable training time to two key aspects that will make a massive difference to their performance in the longer term.

  • Rest and Recovery
  • Strength and Conditioning

Taking time out to rest and recover seems counter-intuitive, Shouldn’t we just get on with it? Building strength – who wants to be lugging around extra muscle that doesn’t directly contribute to performance; and conditioning – what’s that?

Next month we will begin to look at recovery; why, how and when but this month we are looking at Strength and Conditioning, what it is, why it is so important and how to do it.

Strength and Conditioning

There are three essential purposes behind this type of training:

  • Injury Prevention
  • Developing muscular force and power
  • Metabolic development

Smashing PBs - Injury Prevention

Without doubt, the greatest threat to smashing last year’s personal bests is injury; not during the race but during training. The Achilles tendonitis that forces a three-week lay-off, the hamstring that keeps pulling you up when you try to raise the pace and, for triathletes, the rotator cuff that stops a decent catch, pull and recovery.

There are two common sources of these types of injuries, lack of flexibility and poor strength in muscles and or tendons. One of the problems of endurance training is that it tends to shorten and tighten muscles since we don’t perform actions that take them through their full range of movement. A good conditioning session will stretch them and get them working through their full range.

The strength (more accurately the force) a muscle can produce is dependent on two things, the number and size of muscle fibres and our neurological capability to fire as many fibres as possible at the same time. Typically, the untrained individual may only be able to fire about 20% of the muscle fibres together.

We can quickly develop the ability to fire more fibres together, but it takes longer to build up the size and number of fibres which is why initially we gain strength quickly, and then the process slows as we develop more (and stronger) muscle fibres and our tendons’ ability to handle it.

The problem is that we may develop the ability to fire off more muscle fibres together than other parts of the muscle fibre or tendon can absorb resulting in tearing of tissue when we try an explosive sprint or jump.

Building core strength

Whether you’re a distance runner, cyclist, or triathlete, your sport-specific training is not great at building core strength. While swimming helps the triathlete to an extent, it still needs particular drills and will benefit from focused core training.

Core strength is essential because all your other muscles are anchored to the core, either directly or indirectly, When it starts to tire, the other muscles start to work inefficiently costing both time and energy.

Possibly even more important, is the impact of core strength on posture. Nowhere is this more evident on than on the running track during a training session. You’ll see many runners begin with a beautiful running style, but as the session progresses, they start to bend at the waist, their shoulders round and they begin to look down not forward. This affects their gait, their lung capacity and their breathing.

This produces a “perfect storm”. Reduced oxygen and increased carbon dioxide contribute to more lactate leading to things like DOMS. The muscles you are aiming to develop are no longer working in a way that will drive the adaptations you’re seeking. Your modified, and now poor, running style is being recorded in your “muscle memory” and will influence the way you run next session. And the additional fatigue produced makes it harder to recover.


Agility is the product of strength (force), flexibility and balance. It might be defined as the ability to move the body powerfully in any direction, instantaneously and under control. It is the quality being displayed by a gymnast doing floor exercises. Not important?

It’s the element that will get you out of trouble, avoid the unexpected pothole, spring up the step or kerb and recover your balance when the guy behind clips your heal.

Metabolic Conditioning

An entire book could be written on this subject – many have. We’re seeking to build the number of muscle fibres, the right types – fast twitch, slow twitch and mixed – their strength and even how they function at a cellular level – quantity and efficiency of the mitochondria which convert fuel into energy.

What now?

I hope this article has helped you to understand why strength and conditioning are vital to endurance athletes.

An article like this can’t give all the answers, but there are three options.

  1. The best is to go to regular sessions run by Savage Sports at Southampton Sports Centre every Thursday evening from 7.00 till 9.00. These are known as The Beast. You can learn more about them by Clicking Here.
  2. If you can’t make it there or have no time on a Thursday Savage Sports are preparing a downloadable guide – Register to be notified when it is ready here.
  3. And failing that find a good book on the subject.