Resistance Training Principles for Endurance Athletes

Believe or not, yes, even endurance athletes should be including resistance training sessions into their overall programming. In fact, you’re unlikely to see any pro endurance athletes without some sort resistance training protocol in play.

Simply put, you SHOULD be resistance training if you are a serious endurance athlete.

That being said, there are some key differences to pay attention to between resistance training for endurance athletes, compared to your typical gym rat training split.

1. Reverse Linear Periodization

Most typical strength programs you see follow loosely if not entirely along a “linear periodization” training model. Simply put as the program progresses week to week, the overall volume typically decreases, while the intensity increases.

Endurance training programs tend to do the exact opposite. This is called “reverse periodization”, in which the volume is lower to start while the intensity is higher. As the program goes on the program would regress into the typical high volume training that endurance training is known for.

This should make sense if you consider an endurance athlete’s “off-season” and “in-season”. While not prepping for a race the athlete can afford to build up their strength with more non-specific training. As they progress further into their training and their “in-season” where they are prepping for a race or actively racing, the resistance training intensity decreases so as not to effect their specific endurance progress.

2. “Normal Rest” Periods

There is a large misconception that resistance training for endurance athletes can only be programmed in the 30-60 second range, in fact large you’ll still see this recommendation from collegiate programs and strength and conditioning certifications.

We are starting to move away from this recommendation. Given only 30-60 seconds to rest between sets, an athletes resistance training programming quickly turns into a HIIT session. Which, is something that can also be programmed into endurance training, however, it’s not resistance training.

A better recommendation is around 2-3 minutes of rest for endurance athletes. This gives the athlete enough time to recover to make each resistance training set sufficiently challenging, and avoid the workout devolving into just another cardio routine.

3. Decreased Resistance Training Frequency

Whereas a seasoned lifter may be found training anywhere from 3-6 times a week, endurance athletes are really only going to need about 2 quality resistance training sessions per week. Especially when in season.

This should make sense seeing as most endurance athletes already have around 5-6 training days specific to their given sport, adding in too many resistance training sessions on top of that will tank any ability they may have to recover.

Two sessions per week is more than enough to maintain any strength gained in the off season, and more training sessions can always be added to programming when the athlete is not actively prepping for competition.

4. Have a Target Intensity/Progressively Overload Training

Where I see many endurance athletes go wrong is essentially “spinning their wheels” during their resistance training sessions.

They hit their given reps and sets for a training session but don’t really worry if the sets where sufficiently challenging or not. Resistance training for endurance athletes SHOULD have specific intensity markers to shoot for. RPE and RIR is typically the easiest to employ for endurance athletes, but % of 1RM can also be used if the athlete actually knows their maxes.

That being said not only should the athlete have these specific intensity markers to shoot for, just like any other lifter they should be looking to make progress week to week, month to month. The resistance training is their to supplement the athletes endurance training, however that’s not going to happen if it’s not taken seriously.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.