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Winter Strength Training for Endurance Athletes by Dr. Marie-Christine Leisz

If you are a runner or cyclist, you probably spend most of your training time in the spring, summer and fall on the road or trail. You most likely decrease mileage during the winter, maintaining your base so you are ready to ramp training up when spring comes. Now that you have all this training time on your hands, consider using the next 3 months to get stronger and improve your cycling and running performance! As I will explain below, combining endurance training with strength training improves overall fitness. But, what is the difference between the two types of training? Endurance training – running or riding your bike - improves the ability of the lungs to take up oxygen and the cardiac muscle of the heart to pump the oxygenated blood to the rest of the body efficiently. Endurance activity also trains the Type I muscle fibers located in the arms and legs, which enable us to perform aerobic, that is oxygen utilizing exercises like running and cycling, for a long time without fatigue. The Type I muscle fibers recover relatively quickly, making it possible to train daily. Strength training targets a different muscle subset, the Type II muscle fibers. These fibers make up our “power” muscles and get bigger and stronger when we strength-train lifting weights. Type II muscle fibers utilize anaerobic metabolism to generate energy. They use the limited glycogen stores in the muscle among other substrates as “fuel”. Type II fibers can generate a lot of force but fatigue quickly as the metabolic “fuel” is depleted. The Type II fibers naturally break down on an elemental level in response to strength training. As the fibers heal, they get bigger or hypertrophy and the bigger equals stronger. That is why we get sore 24-48 hours after strength training sessions. This is also why we recommend allowing at least 48 hours between strength training sessions to allow Type II fibers to fully recover before the next session. 20

Research indicates that having a good balance of strength and endurance or an optimal combination of Type I and Type II muscle fibers, with a strong heart and efficient lungs, can enhance performance. To prove this point, Ronnstad, et al, published a review of this data entitled “Optimizing Strength Training For Running and Cycling Endurance Performance” in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports in 2014. They concluded that adding heavy weight training to a running program, helped improve running economy, running speed and power output at VO2max. VO2 max is the measure of your maximal aerobic capacity. This type of training enhanced cycling performance even more. The authors speculate that improved performance may be due to faster speed of contraction of the most efficient Type II muscle fibers and increased conversion of fast-twitch Type IIX fibers into more fatigue-resistant Type IIA fibers. This conversion also improves musculo-tendinous stiffness. This concept of stiffness is thought to “pre-activate” the muscles and tendons to create the right amount of resilience in these tissues to help store and return energy during muscle contraction and absorb shock, thus preventing injury. Not only is weight training great to enhance sport performance but it also appears to help preserve muscle fiber loss and the decrease in bone density that naturally occurs as we age. So, weight training can be beneficial but you may have noticed that the sports scientists recommend heavy weight training to gain the most benefit. When starting a weight training program, it is important to remember that any new exercise activity if advanced too fast and too intensively, will increase the risk of injury. Most athletes have lifted weights but learning to

the right method to initiate and progress a heavy weight lighting program without getting hurt, is the goal. The program must be advanced slowly so the body will have time to adapt to the good stress of weight lifting without breaking down. I strongly recommend several sessions with an experienced athletic trainer for proper instruction in technique and development of a running or cycling-specific weight training program. The exercises can be incorporated into your maintenance running or cycling training schedule and the trainer can suggest how to continue the program during the running and cycling season to maintain the positive performance effect. I know the addition of this of activity will enhance your health and well-being both for sports and daily life. Here’s to a stronger New Year!

Dr. Marie-Christine Leisz, is board-certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, with advanced training in the diagnosis and management of running and endurance sports injuries. She is medical director of the Running and Endurance Sports Injury Clinic at Courage Kenny Institute. Learn more at:

Midwest Events January/February 2018  
Midwest Events January/February 2018