To Lift or not to Lift

Few would argue against the benefit of strength training for performance across all athletic disciplines. Unfortunately, many endurance athletes skip the weights for fear of bulk or lack of time. By better understanding the science of strength development and the respective stimuli created by endurance training we can create safer more efficient programs for athletes. 

Balancing 10-20 hour weeks of cycling, running, swimming and even all three is a tough task for any athlete. Toss in the life stressors of work, family, travel or social engagements and you find yourself picking and choosing between workouts. Unfortunately, most endurance athletes choose more miles over more weights( or sleep but more on that in a different post). Athletes skip the weights for fear of weight gain, lack of time, or lack of structure. 

In this post we will cover the science of training strength and endurance together, otherwise known as concurrent training. We’ll take a look at research done on this topic that can help us better understand how and when to program strength sessions as well as when to not. 

Concurrent training has been covered in numerous studies but one of the earliest was done in 1980 by R. C. Hickson. Hickson constructed a study with 18 participants split into three groups, Strength(S), Endurance(E), and Concurrent (S&E). Strength participants exercised 5 days a week, endurance 6, and Concurrent followed both protocols. After a 10 week period the participants we’re retested to see if there was any change in performance. Both the Strength and concurrent group gained strength and leg mass while the endurance group did not. The endurance and concurrent group both witnessed gains in their VO2max while the strength group did not. This study showed that you can gain both strength and endurance at the same time, however it also showed an interesting trend at around 7 weeks. While the strength group continued to gain strength the concurrent group slowly plateued. This gives us insight into programing strategies for concurrent programs. 

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A more recent study also helps us better understand this trait as well as creates more insight into timing and frequency of workouts. Keith Baar Ph. D of UC Berkley conducted a study titled Using Molecular Biology to Maximize Concurrent Training. While we won't get too in-depth about your physiological responses well cover a few things briefly. Strength training seems to have a fairly straight forward physiologic response with mTOR protein signaling while endurance is anything but straight forward. It is also significant to note the duration of response for each activity. 

Baar reaches 4 conclusions based on his research and reviews of Concurrent training. 

  1. High intensity endurance training sessions should be performed early in the day 
  2. Resistance exercise should be supported by leucine rich protein sources to maximize uptake 
  3. Fully refuel between the morning high-intensity endurance training session and the afternoon strength session. 
  4. You can improve endurance response to lower-intensity endurance training by performing strength sessions after a non depleting endurance session. 

While he notes that these suggestions are in no way absolute they still give us a supported rationale towards structuring a program. 

Conveniently, the offseason and pre season contain more base training. Base training can be categorized into his suggestion regarding strength session timing. After a long slow bike or ride perhaps you could incorporate 30-45 minutes of focused strength work. 

His suggestions also support practices that many athletes already follow, wake up and get your ride done and then get a strength session in during the evening. This will give you ample time to refuel through out the day, 

A note on pre season training as well. 

Most programs follow linear progression. This means you move towards performing more race style efforts as the event draws near. I like to think of strength training as following a reverse periodization schedule. During the off season and early pre season you have more intensity during your strength sessions. AS the race draws  near you move towards more base workouts that keep everything strong and balanced but doesn’t over tax the body.

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So what's the take away? 

From the literature we can see that you can develop strength and endurance simultaneously though maybe not to the same extent as strength alone. We can take what we have learned so far and develop more intelligent program design that allows your body time to recover and avoid competing with itself. Increasing your focus on timing and nutritional support can help block the antagonistic affects of long term concurrent training. This will lead to strength gains alongside your endurance training which can aid in performance as well as injury prevention. 

Don't over do it but don't under do it. Find your happy medium and know that you you're not being counterproductive by spending a little extra time in the weifghtroom... unless you're sacrificing sleep, don't do that. We'll talk about sleep next week. 

- Patrick