This post will be a little technical but try to stay with me as this will make you better understand the importance of strength training for endurance (events/athletes).
First and foremost, endurance and cardiovascular fitness are two different things, hence being good in one does not mean you are good in the other. In fact, an athlete needs to train both entities separately to be really good at endurance sports and to mitigate injuries.
What is the difference?
Endurance is the ability to endure work repetitively.
Cardiovascular fitness is merely the means which we fuel this ability to maintain work over time.
Think of the former as sculling and the latter as a step fitness class. One cannot maintain the kind of work capacity in a sculling event as compared to a step class if he/she does not have prerequisite strength.
Work can be divided into 2 major components, which can again be subdivided into smaller categories.
1) The mechanical aspect
- Muscular aspects
- Neurological aspects
2) The metabolic aspect
- V02 max (Central)
- Anaerobic capacity (Peripheral)
Often times when training for endurance sports, athletes fall into the trap of doing high repetitions and low load of an exercise. Just because a world class coach said so, does not equate the means to an end.)
Also, too many endurance athletes have a stigma that if they want to swim/run faster, they have to swim/run more. That is only fulfilling part of the equation as seen below.
To be fast, an athlete requires power and needs to preserve the power output for a duration of time. That is power endurance.
Looking at the above equation, there are two ways in which an athlete can be faster.
1) increase the ability to do more work in the same amount of time
2) make the athlete more efficient so he/she can do the same amount of work in less time
With regards to 1) work = force x displacement, simply increasing the amount of force one can exhibit, increases the power to a large extent.
With regards to 2), refer to the VO2 max equation below.
Looking at [SV max (stroke volume) x HR max (Heart rate)], those are cardiac factors which can be enhanced via metabolic aspects as mentioned above.
Now, looking at [A-V O2max] which is basically the difference in oxygen between the arterial venous return. This constitutes a whopping 50% in terms of V02 max. What affect these are muscular factors that are achieved via efficiency of movement.
Make no mistake, both factors 1) Work and 2) Efficiency are largely achieved from strength training as an important priority. This will be further elaborated below.
Poor maximal strength = poor relative strength = limiter of power output = poor elasticity = poor efficiency of movement = higher metabolic cost
Also, with an increase in maximal strength, neuromuscular efficiency improves. They are responsible for intramuscular adaptations such as:
- recruitment of fibres to generate force
- rate coding
- synchronization of nervous system to fire muscle fibers
With an improvement in intramuscular adaptations, the higher levels of forces the athlete is able to generate per repetition will equate to less demand on the muscular system for the same amount of work.
Intermuscular adaptations which I strongly believe is where technical proficiency in the skill of the sport and proprioceptive training comes into play.
Increased maximal strength comes the ability to increase the contractile properties of the tendons which can be further developed via plyometrics, which again are only effective if the athlete has a good base of relative strength to begin with. The more strength one has, comes the ability to accelerate, explode, to decelerate and change directions. The more the athlete can perform in plyometrics, the stiffer the tendons, the more efficient the athlete.
With an increase in tendon stiffness, the endurance athlete needs to produce less relative force per rep of a skill in the sport he/she is in, which creates a decrease in metabolic cost of muscular contraction, reducing the demand of oxygen so that the remaining oxygen is able to be used to endure more repetitions in the race.
"But I will be too big for endurance work"
Firstly, strength training is largely neurological.
Secondly, strength training should be largely improving relative strength and not a bodybuilding protocol.
Thirdly, due to the high demands in metabolic training from both the peripheral and central adaptations, you will lose all excess of muscle mass that is not needed as the body always seeks to be efficient. That means almost every muscle fiber gained in strength training, will be put to use in an endurance event or it will be lost.
For those that are currently doing HIIT, triathlons, swimming, marathons etc, I hope you see the benefits of why strength training is important and stop doing just the sport itself, hoping to get stronger because it will limit you from your potential.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!