Training for any sport with the purpose of improving and progressing involves planned cycles of stressing the body in order to stimulate an adaptation for more strength, more endurance, more speed, etc. The only way these adaptations occur is if the body is stressed beyond its own baseline. This stress, in turn, causes the body to prepare for future stresses in order to perform favorably. It is an evolutionary advantage because thousands of years ago, that stress came in the form of a predator or dangerous scenario and an individual’s ability to adapt and be prepared for those scenarios dictated that individual’s capacity for survival.
So what does that have to do with endurance sports and strength training? Many athletes make the mistake of relying only on running or cycling or swimming to help them improve in those sports. However, if the amount of stress placed on the body is always the same or similar, the adaptations will eventually slow down and plateau or will simply stop occurring. In order to continue adapting and improving, the stress on the body needs to increase. This is where strength training comes in.
Strength training can come in many forms. Lifting weights is one option, but others are hill training on the bike and run, plyometric workouts, cycling with intentionally low cadence and high gears, swimming with paddles, and hiking steep inclines. Anything that causes the muscles to work harder than your typical swim, bike, or run can be considered strength training for endurance sports.
Include strength training in your training program to help you improve in speed, power and efficiency, but it needs to be carefully planned and prescribed into your training plan so talk to your coach about how it can be applied. That extra strength might be the difference between winning the finishing sprint with that guy or girl you’ve been running with the whole way, or coming in on their heels.