Strength Training For The Endurance Athlete


“Train to survive the training”

At 413 Fit Club, our endurance athletes train to become stronger, yes; but, really our main objective is to simply make it to the starting line. It’s been reported that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of people training for an Ironman will face an overuse injury each season, depending on who you ask. No matter what the exact percentage is, it seems to be extremely high and should be avoided. The good news is, we have some basic training principles that can help you prepare for all aspects of your training: from the warm-up, to time spent in the gym, and even your recovery. The following will guide you to a healthy race season.

First things first. The warm-up! It is common for many people (not just endurance athletes) to avoid doing any kind of warm-up. And no, doing ten minutes of “light” cardio on an elliptical just doesn’t suffice. We LOVE the dynamic flexibility routine to prepare the body before ANY and ALL workouts. Whether it is a swim in the pool, a 5 mile run, or a strength session in the gym, this routine will leave you warm and sweaty by the time you finish. This warm-up is different than traditional stretching because it is done while standing and while moving in multiple directions. An important philosophy we incorporate is to train while standing. This is great for everybody because a couple things happen from the standing position versus seated strength based exercises. We become stronger from the ground up; this means all of our smaller, accessory muscles strengthen our ankles, knees, and hips. Additionally, we only move through ranges of motion that we can stabilize compared to the traditional “sit and reach” to stretch the hamstrings through an exaggerated range of motion that we will never get into while running, cycling, swimming, etc. Download our sample dynamic flexibility routine here.

Next, we will dive into the movement mechanics of a sound training program. There are a hundred and one different recommendations on how to periodize your training regiment from reps, sets, recovery time, etc. This is not that article (I’ll leave that to your coach; if you don’t have a coach, go check out Mike Hermanson). In this, I want to educate you on movement mechanics to improve your efficiency and get the most bang for your buck while hitting the gym.

Before throwing a bunch of exercises at you, I think it would be more valuable to educate you on WHY we pick certain movements opposed to others. Our training philosophy is to “lengthen the front, and strengthen the back.” As an athlete, we should focus on posterior-dominant strength exercises to build our muscles that provide the horsepower! Our big three movers I am referring to here are the hamstrings, glutes, and lats. These are the muscles that are responsible for propelling us forward; from hip extension while running, to a strong pull in the pool. Above all else, we want to emphasize compound movements (sometimes referred to as multi-joint exercises) that are loaded unilaterally. This means that one arm or leg is working independently of the other. An example of this could be any lunge variation, or a squat with a one arm dumbbell press. Unilaterally loaded exercises are great because they challenge the core to stabilize our range of motion compared to bilateral exercises in which both arms or legs are doing the same movement at the same time.

Leading into training the core, we need to come to an agreement on what the core does and how it is loaded while performing. In short, it primarily is responsible for stabilizing the spine and transferring force between the upper and lower parts of the body. (For a slightly more in depth explanation of core strength, read here.) Having said that, our primary core strength exercises do not involve crunches or Russian twist variations. Our basic core stiffness exercises revolve around deadbugs and anti-rotational presses. Learning how to stiffen the core will help significantly in maintaining a forward lean during your run and improving your streamline position in the water.

Finally, we come to the nitty gritty of training and talk about the two small things that will really make the difference in your training season.

I call it the poor man’s massage therapist, others call it self myofascial release. Drum roll please…ladies and gentleman, I present to you the foam roller! It only takes 5 – 10 minutes a day and provides a laundry list of benefits from: increasing blood flow to muscles, connective tissues, and nerves, to restoring proper length (as some call it removing the “knots” in your muscles). It is really common for most people to hold a lot of tightness in their hips, so spending some time on the roller can help alleviate hip and back pain, as well as alleviate knee pain often caused by IT Band Syndrome. For a quick demo on how to foam roll your lower body, click here.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to leave you with the best advice for everybody to adopt. HYDRATE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT! Drinking plenty of water throughout the day (everyday) will improve your recovery, give you more energy, improve your digestion, allow you to think more clearly…the list goes on. If you are a serious endurance athlete, you have probably been informed on the importance of proper hydration. Without getting in depth on calculating the number of ounces per pound, multiplied by your activity level, and dividing by age….just drink plenty of water. How much? A gallon. And carry a gallon with you. Having a clear visual like this is the single best method to maintaining your hydration and monitoring how much you’ve drank without keeping some sort of tally.

For your convenience, below is a basic total body program for you to adopt in your training. The following program should take less than a half hour to complete from starting with the foam roller to finishing your strength circuit.

Foam Roll: 5 – 10 minutes

Dynamic Flexibility: 5 minutes

Core Activation: x 2 rounds
Deadbugs x 10
Glute Bridges x 10
Side Planks x 30 sec/side

5 rounds for time:
Alternating Reverse Lunges x 14
Standing One Arm Cable Press x 10e.
TRX Row x 15

For more information on how you can become a better athlete, feel free to reach out to me via email at or by calling (812)989-4776.

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