STRENGTH MATTERS! The WHY and HOW of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes
So, on top of the swim training, hill repeats, base miles, interval training, long rides, equipment maintenance and planning, we're suppose to carve out time to STRENGTH TRAIN?? YES! Here's why you NEED to add in some solid time on specific strength building exercises for your sport and your body.
The long and short of it is... STRENGTH TRAINING REDUCES INJURY. And this is important because, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, "Overuse problems constitute the majority of injury cases among iron-distance triathletes." (Andersen et al. BJSM, 2013) The article goes on to report that 87% of the 174 study participants experienced some form of overuse problems over the course of their 26 week training program. Overuse injuries are a major problem facing almost ALL endurance sport athletes and significantly affects their ability to train and therefore perform.
Although that info sounds grim... take heart my endurance sport friends. A recent systematic review of over 26000 athletes and 25 randomized controlled studies (now that's a sample size!!), showed that "strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3 and OVERUSE INJURIES COULD BE ALMOST HALVED" (Lauersen et al. BJSM, 2014). This same analysis reported that "Our data do not support the use of stretching for injury prevention purposes, neither before or after exercise". (Stay tuned for the blog post "to stretch or not to stretch... that is the question").
So, let's break it down.
- Most athletes have overuse injuries. (Andersen et al. 2013)
- Injuries to the knee, lower leg, and low back are most prevalent. (Andersen et al. 2013).
- Proper strength training can reduce the risk of overuse injuries by half. (Lauresen et al. 2014) and lead to performance improvements.
Drawing from the above literature, the endurance athlete should be incorporating strength training into your weekly training plan. In order to make real changes and see benefits, 2 training sessions/week, doing 2-3 sets of 4-10 reps over a 12 week period, is enough to see marked strength improvement (Ronnestad and Mujika, SJMSS 2014). As a physio, I believe it's important to strengthen your body in the way you're going use it. Here are a few of my favorite strengthening ideas for those into long-haul sporting.
1. Kettlebells - besides being super affordable, kettlebells are efficient, follow functional movement patterns, can be done at home, and can kick you butt in 20 minutes. It's a great core, glute, and lower extremity workout.
2. Glute work-outs - Glute strength is imperative for efficient running form, as well as for deep core recruitment, thus reducing LB injuries. Single leg step ups, side planks, and resisted hip extensions are all great options.
3. Any kind of body weight training - squats, push-ups, chin-ups, lunges, all can be performed at home, can be weighted for more load, are functional, and offer important proprioceptive training to muscles and joints that can also aid in injury prevention.
4. Make it sport specific. If you're a swimmer, resisted stroke patterns would work. Runner? Hill work, glute extensions, squats, would all be beneficial. If you're a cyclist, core work is imperative.
It can be tricky to figure out what exercises are best for your body, your injury history, and our sport training. Need help developing an exercise training plan? Book a consultation and we can figure out how to balance an injury-preventative, performance boosting program that's best for you.