Many endurance athletes do not spend enough time on strength/weight training. According to a 2018 meta-analysis of available studies, if you’re an endurance athlete (runner, swimmer, cyclist, or cross-country skier) who only does sport-specific endurance training, you are missing out on significant performance-related improvements that you could make if you were to add strength training to your program.
Berryman et al.1 hypothesized that combining strength training with sport-specific endurance training would improve middle- and long-distance performance more than sport-specific training alone. The researchers investigated the effects of combining strength training with traditional sport-specific endurance training on middle- and long-distance performance in running, cycling, cross-country skiing, and swimming. They did this by searching through three databases and analyzing the results of 28 studies that met their criteria. The results of the selected studies included tests and measures of performance, muscle ﬁtness, and aerobic ﬁtness in healthy humans.
Looking through the 28 studies, Berryman et al.1 were able to conclude that combining a strength training program with a sport-specific training program for running, cycling, cross-country skiing, or swimming was associated with moderate improvements in middle- and long-distance performance in those sports. One important discovery made by the researchers was that strength training significantly reduced the energy cost of locomotion, which is an encouraging revelation for middle- and long-distance athletes because, in simple terms, it means that strength training can make their movements more efficient.
Simply put, the energy cost of locomotion is defined as the amount of energy that’s required for movement. Therefore, the less energy you need to move, the more efficiently you will be using your energy.
Berryman et al.1 concluded that runners, swimmers, cyclists and skiers were able to improve their efficiency when they added strength training to their routines without experiencing any detrimental effects on their VO2 max or aerobic endurance. Subgroup analyses also revealed that beneficial effects on performance were consistent irrespective of the athletes’ level.
The researchers stated that these results provide a framework that supports the implementation of strength training in addition to traditional sport-specific endurance training to improve middle- and long-distance performance, mainly through improvements in the energy cost of locomotion, maximal power, and maximal strength.
Unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to determine how much of an impact gender and age had on combining strength training with sport-specific endurance training.
- Berryman N, Mujika I, Arvisais D, Roubeix M, Binet C, Bosquet L. Strength training for middle- and long-distance performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2017;13(1):1–27.