Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

There tends to be 2 different types of people who train. One lives for the gym, and the other centers on endurance sports. These two, for years, had never really had anything to do with one another. I still remember my old cycling coach’s answer when I asked about gym work in the off-season, he answered with a simple “does it look like George Hincapie spends any time in the gym?” With most endurance sports, the big worry is that the athlete will gain weight and become slower by lifting more. Well, let me say this, that’s complete bullshit.

That answer that I lived by my entire pro cycling career was an over simplified answer given to me by a coach who had no idea how to use the gym to further my goals. I don’t fault him for that, it’s how he coached, and I will never say he held me back. But I am older and wiser now in my training, I have been educated on how to squeak out that little more that will make the big difference later on. If I had known then what I know now, I may have been able to turn a sprint just that little bit harder.

Nowadays this same idea, that the gym is useless, has started to gain some traction, especially with the obstacle course racing crowd, after a multitude of videos and books on training by some who they look to as “experts”. No I’m not saying these people are not smart, nor am I saying it won’t work, it will, for a while. Eventually though, these athletes are going to need more and that’s where the gym and a coach who understands their needs as an athlete comes into play.  Below I’m going to detail several myths that have come up through the endurance world and why they are false.


Myth #1: I will get bulky by lifting.

The truth is, getting bulky takes a lot of work. People with this goal spend hours in the gym, and I’m not kidding. To get that physique requires a specific amount of reps at a specific amount of weight with a specific amount of rest. And, after they leave the gym, they eat all the time. It takes roughly 2800 calories to build a pound of muscle per week, that’s an extra 400 calories a day on top of what you’re already taking in. If you’re an endurance athlete, chances are you’re already eating a ton, I eat about 3500 calories per day just to maintain my weight, plus another 350-1000 to offset my training. The thought of having to tack on another 400 above that makes me nauseous.

The truth is that if you want to get bulky, you will, but as an endurance athlete, chances are that’s not going to happen. You will get more definition, which may look like bulk, but it’s really just muscles being more developed than they were before. Even if you do gain a little weight, you’re going to burn it off once the season hits anyway, so don’t worry about it.


Myth #2: I might get hurt.

Ok, I can see this one a little more, but only if you don’t know what you’re doing and you jump into something you’re not prepared for. Walking in cold off the street and suddenly trying to do a 1 rep max snatch is a sure fire way to get hurt (I’m looking at you, a certain program that will not be named). However, with knowledgeable coaches, a solid program, and knowing your own limits the weight room is a very safe place. And once you spend some time in classes (like our Mtn Fitness) you will develop the confidence needed to execute complicated lifts, lift heavy (within your abilities), and make friends too.


Myth #3: I don’t really need it.

Ok, there are some people that no matter how well I word this and lay it out, they won’t believe me, but here goes.

Last year how many overuse injuries kept you from participating, how many times were you sidelined due to a fall or other injury, or how many times did you find yourself just unable to keep going?

For most endurance athletes, they will answer at least once, probably multiple times if you get the honest truth. Strength training can help with all of those issues.

Injury prevention is critical for endurance athletes; by having stronger muscles and increased bone density, due to lifting, injuries decrease. This is especially true for obstacle course racers and trail runners. The type of pounding the body receives and the uneven ground these racers compete on is much different than normal runners or cyclists. By strengthening areas like the lower back, hips, legs, and shoulders they will find they are less fatigued at the end of a hard training session, and can compete better during races.

The mindset to keep going is strong in endurance athletes, arguably better cultivated than in strength athletes. The tricky part with this mindset is that once they are done, they are really done. This is especially true with obstacle racers where they are being bombarded with more than one mode of movement, and have different demands on their phosphocreatine system and anaerobic systems. The gym will provide a training medium for both of those, and will give them the knowledge that they can, in fact, handle whatever is being asked of them.


Myth #4: It’s too expensive.

My response to this is “how much does it cost for an overuse injury, or not finishing an event that you paid for?” To me this is so much more expensive than anything I could charge.

I know that there are gym memberships out there for $10 per month, and I know many people use them and get results. But that $10 per month gets you access, nothing else. When you’re looking for a coach to guide you through your goals, has knowledge of the sport, and will take responsibility for writing your training this is not going to be $10 per month.

To join us it’ll cost you 1 latté per day. That’s it. Skip your Starbucks in the afternoon on your way home, or maybe only go out once that week to dinner, instead of twice, for a month and you’re covered. As an athlete, you must think of it as an investment in yourself, as opposed to a cost.


Myth #5: I’ll get slow if I lift.

This is my favorite myth only because it’s such nonsense. During the off-season you should be a little slower than your peak season anyway. Even if you never lifted and only did your sport, you’d still be slower than in-season. The off-season is the perfect time to work on this, while still maintaining a base endurance level.

Matt and I are great examples of this. Matt squats over 400 lbs now, but is still able to run an 8 min mile pace for 5+ miles. I can hit all of our strength standards and still run a half marathon in sub 1:50. Those are not overly fast times, but they aren’t slow either. Our elite OCR athletes are starting to hit 9-10 miles for their hour time-trial and they lift heavy.

It’s more about how you lift, not if you lift. Putting on a lot of extra size and decreasing your body’s ability to transport nutrients to and waste from the working muscles is what makes an endurance athlete slow. We want you to lift heavy, for a few reps, build the strength up, but not put on a lot of extra size. That is the key, strength without extra size.

The bottom line for any training is to make the athlete better. For endurance athletes that means expanding their idea of what training is to include time in the weight room. Keep it focused on the sport needs, keep it heavy, and keep the reps within the proper ranges and you will have the best season you’ve ever had.

If you want to talk more about how we can help either through classes or our online training please contact us at


Aspera Non Spernit


-Coach Chris