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Pritchard: Understanding of different types of training will help guide workouts (column)

By Jimmy Pritchard, Better Version of You
Jimmy Pritchard

Some endurance athletes fear the incorporation of strength training into their overall program for fear of “bulking up” or getting too sore.  Paradoxically, a great deal of strength/power athletes fear conditioning and endurance work for its strength sabotaging potential. Is it truly that harmful to go for a long ride on the trails if you wish to pack on some size?  What about if you want to run your fastest 10K time ever, would lifting weights be a mistake? While too much of anything is always a bad thing, the effect with which one training modality plays on another is dose-dependent. Intelligent programming and an understanding for what the beneficial aspects of different types of training are will help guide coaches and athletes in the right direction. 

Strength for endurance athletes

Over the past few decades, a great deal of endurance athletes have become privy to the benefits of adding some strength training to their overall training program for improved performance.  The misnomer that it will “slow them down” or add too much muscle has largely been debunked.   Endurance training is energetically expensive and upregulates cell signaling pathways that are incompatible with muscle protein synthesis, thus adding size is extremely difficult to do even if one wanted to do so.  Some of the greatest benefits an endurance athlete can see from strength training are increased time to exhaustion, increased economy, and reduced injury potential.  Strength underpins all other biomotor abilities we train in one way or another.  If we aren’t strong enough to withstand thousands of ground contacts over the course of a 10 mile run, then we will surly break down.  Obviously, strength becomes less of the predominant biomotor ability a marathon runner will train the closer they get to actual competition versus a world record powerlifter, but it never leaves and must always remain to some degree.  Stronger athletes recover faster, can train harder, and have a better chance of being more successful during competition because they can hold the necessary positions or postures for longer than a weaker opponent.  Failing to include a baseline level of strength training for an athlete in any sport is perhaps one of the most foolish things one could ever do. 

Endurance for strength athletes 

While strength for endurance athletes is a no brainer, it is not so simple the other way around.  Endurance, or more specifically the energy system demands of an athlete will vary dramatically across sport.  Similar to strength for endurance athletes, strength and power athletes should all have an aerobic base that allows them to function effectively in their given sport.  An aerobic base promotes greater recovery between exercise or competition bouts and serves as the foundation for specific energy system development.  The issue that a number of coaches and athletes run into when attempting to develop their conditioning is in choosing the correct modalities and doses.  I am a strong believer that if an athlete wants to optimize their strength/power potential, long/slow continuos endurance exercise is perhaps the worst thing they can possibly do for themselves.  Contrary to strength training for an endurance athlete, endurance training for a strength/power athlete wreaks havoc on their rate of force development, absolute strength, and fiber type distribution.  This is not to say that all endurance training is bad, and of course this vary dramatically for somebody who is a soccer player versus a javelin thrower, but my recommendation to anybody who wishes to develop strength/power is to limit long slow endurance sessions to no more than two 45 minute sessions a week.  Any more than that has been show to dramatically effective strength/power potential in a negative fashion. 

If long slow endurance training isn’t the answer to specific energy development, then what is you may ask?  I am a huge fan if High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for conditioning my athletes and clients.  There are multiple training zones one can target with HIIT, from VO2max to all out anaerobic neuromuscular power development, HIIT allows coaches to manipulate work to rest ratios and training modalities in a fashion that gets maximum results in minimal time.  It is a rather deep topic however, and one that I will cover in greater detail throughout my next article, but if you interested in learning how to actually implement this type of training check out Martin Bucheit’s work online.  He provides practical information on how to train athletes using HIIT, contrary to the majority of the popular “HIIT” articles you see online using the same 30:30 work to rest ratio for everything. 

Thanks for reading as always and be sure to check out my next article that will detail HIIT in greater detail.   

Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength & conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or jpritchard@skiclubvail.org.  Check out his website at http://www.pritchardperformance.com.


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