Strength training for endurance athletes

We think it would be safe to say most, if not all endurance athletes acknowledge that they should probably be doing more (or even some) strength training to aid their chosen discipline. Intuitively we know this but let us dig a little deeper and have a look at some specifics on how strength training might aid endurance performance and how it is important that we do not ignore it.

To preface this, strength training is not the panacea of improved aerobic performance, a recent publication from Casado et al., (2019) took a sample of 85 elite long-distance runners and aimed to answer the question of what training variable best predicted performance. They found that “the total volume of distance run in training was a strong predictor of performance”. Noting that just the total volume of training itself explained up to 59% of performance variability between endurance athletes before even considering training type.

There is probably a number of ways we can interpret this, the reductionists view that if time running is the single largest predictor of performance why strength train?

But it would be a miss to not acknowledge the sizable evidence base supporting the implementation of effective strength training as part of a well-rounded training program. We will start with injury prevention; Hoffman et al., (2019) demonstrated that lower limb strength was predictive of the incidence of lower extremity overuse injuries during military training.

According to Wolfe’s law which states bone, in a healthy subject, will respond over time to the stress it is placed under. Scofield & Hecht. (2012) state that “high-impact, irregular, multiplanar loads and slower load-relax cycles” (those achieved during weight training) are more efficient at increasing bone mass than the lower-impact, repetitive, higher-frequency loads typically produced in endurance sports.

So, if adding strength training can decrease the likelihood of missing training and races should not that be sufficient reason to add some well-structured strength training to your program? We say yes! The cherry on the top of all this injury preventing goodness is the added long-term endurance capacity improvements as documented by Aagaard et al., (2010), showing that with the addition of heavy resistance training resulted in a 7% Watt gain over a 45min time-trial inexperienced cyclists.

Aagaard et al., (2007, 2010) propose that some of the largest gains in endurance as a result of strength training are delivered via an increased proportion of type IIA muscle fibres that are slower to fatigue and yet highly capable of producing high contractile power. Strength training has also been shown to lead to substantial gains in maximal muscle strength (MVC) and rapid force capacity (RFD) in top-level endurance athletes!

Sounds too good to be true, seemingly the largest barrier for endurance athletes completing strength training is the lack of a clear/direct and graded program from a skilled strength and conditioning coach. Many a time athletes will attempt to introduce strength training to their programs haphazardly, often resulting in training overload and an increase in fatigue!

At Axis Performance we have been managing the strength and conditioning of endurance athletes from injury through to return to performance for years, if you are now thinking it is time to improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury get in touch, we are happy to help!





Aagaard, P, & Andersen, J. L. (2010). Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports20, 39–47.

Casado, Arturo, Hanley, Brian, Santos-Concejero, Jordan, & Ruiz-Pérez, Luis M. (2019). World-Class Long-Distance Running Performances Are Best Predicted by Volume of Easy Runs and Deliberate Practice of Short-Interval and Tempo Runs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning ResearchPublish Ahead of Print.

Hoffman, J. R, Givon, U, Chapnik, L, Davidson, B, & Shamis, A. (1999). The effect of leg strength on the incidence of lower extremity overuse injuries during military training. Military Medicine164(2), 153–156.

Kaffel, D., Sellami, M., Ayachi, S., Maatallah, K., Ferjani, H., Kchir, M. M., & Hamdi, W. (2019). Contribution of bone mineral density in stress fractures of elite athletes. La Tunisie medicale97(11), 1229–1234.

Scofield, K. L., & Hecht, S. (2012). Bone Health in Endurance Athletes. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 11(6), 328–334. doi:10.1249/jsr.0b013e3182779193

VanSumeren, Matthew, Smith-Hale, Valerie, Pollard-McGrandy, Alyssa, & Jimenez, Linda. (2020). Bone Mineral Density Amongst Collegiate Male Athletes Across Endurance And Strength-based Sports: 314 Board #130 May 27 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise52(7 Suppl), 70–71.