JKConditioning, Fitness Coach
The review paper by Aagaard and Andersen titled Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes, discusses concurrent strength and endurance training in highly trained endurance athletes.  Previous research in this area is equivocal.  Some studies show improvement in endurance performance while others have found an attenuated cardiovascular response.  This paper reviews over 50 research articles and forms an opinion on whether strength and endurance training is a good idea.

Strength vs. Endurance

 
Concurrent strength and endurance training makes sense – at least in the context of their individual definitions.  Strength training has the goal of improving strength usually measured as rate of force development and the maximum voluntary contraction in a group of muscles.

The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Ed.) textbook defines strength as “the maximal force that a muscle or muscle group can generate at a specified velocity.”

Harvey Newton, in Explosive Lifting for Sports states “strength training implies that the athlete is actually using a high enough resistance, applied with a relatively low number of repetitions, to actually gain strength.”

Mel Siff in Supertraining defines dynamic strength-endurance as “…cyclic exercises in which considerable tension is repeated without interruption during each cycle of movement (e.g. in running…)…”

In the Science and Practice of Strength Training (2nd Ed.), “strength or muscular strength is the ability to generate maximum maximorum external force…recall that in mechanics and physics, force is defined as an instantaneous measure of the interaction between two bodies.” (in this case, between your foot and the ground)

Endurance training on the other hand has a totally different goal – improving the ability to sustain a repeated task (e.g. running) or the ability to maintain a certain level of muscle contraction (e.g. front plank or grappling when wrestling).

So, you can see, both goals of training are very different from each other and they are obtained via performing exercises on opposite ends of the intensity spectrum; however, does combining the two different training programs improve endurance performance or inhibit it?  The concern goes the other way as well – aerobic training added to strength training may reduce anaerobic performance qualities and reduce high strength and power performance (but since we are worried about running fast, we’ll just consider adding strength training to an existing running routine).

To lift or not to lift

 
You’ll notice among running friends or even among the elites that they’ll say running and running alone will make me a faster runner.  “I don’t need to go to the gym, I need to run.” Or “Why would I want to fatigue myself with that type of training and negatively affect my running ability?”  These might be a few comments you might hear.  Some of these comments though, have their place because of two things:

1. Mitochondrial Dilution and 2. Increased weight.

Depending on the program, hypertrophy or the increase in muscle size can be a wanted result, say in a body builder or a dude in their 20’s trying to look like Captain America.  For an endurance, runner – this can be bad and detrimental to performance.  Muscle fibers increase in size with hypertrophic resistance training.  What’s inside the cells does not increase at the same rate (and may not increase at all) – meaning the “stuff” inside, like the mitochondria, become fewer per unit area – this is known as mitochondrial dilution.  Now, you might be asking what the heck are ‘mitochondria’?  Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of the cell because it is where aerobic metabolism takes place.  Because there are now fewer mitochondria per unit area, less energy can be produced to power the larger muscle(s) meaning that fatigue sets in much quicker.

Increased weight, on the other hand, means you have to carry more weight around the track or on the road when racing.  It’s self-explanatory why this would require more energy and be less efficient compared to running at a lower body weight.  Think of wearing a very bulky running shoe.  The oxygen cost of wearing a shoe of this nature compared to a lower profile lighter shoe is much greater and obviously negatively effects running performance.

However, Aagaard and Andersen found that the benefits of endurance training and the benefits of strength training were both seen without any negative effects to endurance running performance. The muscle size did not change and capillary density was not affected.  This bodes well for the endurance athlete.

The heavy resistance strength training protocol was found to:

  • improve neuromuscular communication (rate of force development and maximal voluntary contraction),
  • increase tendon stiffness,
  • increase the percentage of Type IIA muscle fibers.

If you’re wondering, Type IIA muscle fibers are:

  • A type of fast twitch muscle
  • AKA Fast twitch oxidative-glycolytic because they are able to use oxidative and glycolytic mechanisms for energy
  • Suited to fast, repetitive, low intensity movement
  • They possess large numbers of mitochondria making them fatigue resistant
  • High ability to recovery fast after exercise

The Bottom Line

 
Aagaard and Andersen conclude “…that strength training can lead to enhanced long-term (>30 min) and short-term (high-volume, heavy-resistance strength training protocols.”  So there you have it – it’s beneficial to add strength training to an existing endurance-training program.  But now there are many factors to take into consideration…

What to think about when lifting:

  • Am I lifting enough weight to elicit strength gains?  Is my maximum voluntary contraction improving?
  • Am I improving my rate of force development?  Am I training power?
  • Am I able to recovery properly between strength training and running workouts?
  • Have I chosen the correct exercises and am I performing in the correct order?
  • Am I using the right “tools” or equipment at the gym?

There are many things to consider when designing a strength-training program for a runner, as there is when designing your yearly running program.

Thanks for reading,

-JK

References:

Aagaard, P. & Andersen, J.L. (2010). Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports 20, Suppl 2, 39-47.

photo credit: jacsonquerubin via photopin cc

My original reason for joining JKC was to get some sage advice to help with my running. I had been looking for awhile, came across Jon, met for an assessment, and was quite happy with how that all went. Apart from the running specific strengthening and conditioning approaches, JKC is different from other gyms as I am a fan of the small group sessions where everyone has their own goals and individualized programs. As well, the run coaching is super. All the coaches go the extra mile to make sure you get the best out each training session. They are fantastic motivators! My favourite memory is deadlifting 330lbs. Making a lot of great friends and meeting some really cool people is pretty high up on that list, too.

I originally joined JKC because I was anxious about passing out and embarrassing myself since I hadn’t weight trained in a while and I’d hoped to find somewhere sympathetic. My husband @terry_hussey had been training at JKC and his success there made me miss the achievement you feel from a good workout. I went to meet Jon and immediately knew it was going to be a safe space for me. I was never judged for the fears I had and where I was starting from. Jon and Thomas made sure to check on me often, and found a way to challenge me but make me feel secure at the same time, and Terry and I were able to book sessions together, so working out became a shared win for us!

JKC is different from other gyms because of the personal growth you have outside JKC (the sessions inside JKC creates a great positive feedback loop!). You gain self confidence, learn how to show up for yourself, meet a community of newfound friends, and get the support of your trainers who are behind you 100%. I’ve left a scattered workout so proud of myself I’ve honestly shed a tear in the car on the drive home. JKC is the mental health relief valve I need to stay positive, and keep my anxiety and health related fears at bay.

log overhead press

I had tried JKC based on the recommendation of a parent of one of my students. I originally started by attending Saturday drop in classes. I was hooked. I decided to join full time when I I had taken a year off from teaching and it was the best thing I have done for myself.

First and foremost the trainers at JKC are extremely knowledgeable. I feel like they are as dedicated to my success as I am. The workouts are tailored to me, my skills and my goals. This is important. Jon and Thomas truly want the best for their clients no matter what level of fitness they are starting from. I also like being able to book a session at a time that suits my schedule. This also helps keep me accountable. Once the session is booked I am not likely to cancel!

I started at JKC because my colleagues that go to JKC all look and felt fit and healthy thanks to Jon and Thomas – if JKC helped them, I knew they could do the same for me! I think JKC stands out from other gyms because of their personal touch! They listen to you and help motivate and support. They always believe in my ability progress and learn new exercises. I’ve been training at JKC since January of 2019 and recommend them to anyone looking to learn how to lift weight properly, feel stronger, and improve their health.

I’m 30 — started at JKC Aug 2016. I moved to NL to open lululemon and we chose Jon as one of our store’s ambassadors, did one workout and have raved about it ever since! The JKC team can adapt a workout no matter what the situation — injuries, new goals, you name it! The trust and expertise can’t be matched!

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