Real World Evidence That Endurance Athletes Are Missing the Boat

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It’s no surprise that one of my jobs as a strength coach is to get athletes to buy into this whole “lifting weights will make you better” thing. Basketball players are notorious for turning their backs to the weight room. Instead, many will spend their free time participating in pick up games, or worse, spending their entire off-season traveling around the country playing in tournaments and showcases, thinking (falsly) that by doing so, they’ll become a better basketball player. While I can certainly understand the rationale, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that it is called an OFF-season for a reason. Without taking the time off to address overuse injuries, strength imbalances, soft tissue restrictions, not to mention fatigue, an athlete oftentimes does more harm than good. Get him (or her) into a solid strength and conditioning program, and you can almost guarantee that good things will happen.

SU Basketball

Along similar lines, the same can be said about *cue Darth Vader theme music* endurance athletes. Given the choice between a colonoscopy or lifting weights, I’d venture to say that the vast majority of endurance athletes would choose the former over the latter.

Despite the vast amount of data which demonstrates how strength training can help improve running economy, force production, as well as VO2 max (coincidentally, all of which help you run faster), most endurance athletes still avoid the weight room like the plague. Instead, they’d rather pile on the mileage, thinking that by doing so, they’ll improve their times. How are those shin splits treating you?

Shin splits

While I could sit here and site research and bore you (and me) to tears trying to prove my point, I’m not going to do that. Naw, I’d much rather use a real world example. Meet current CP client, Aimee:

1. As a former division I basketball player at Boston College, she’s about as competitive as they come. We’re still figuring out the details of our soon-to-be EPIC game of H.O.R.S.E.

2. After graduating from college, most of her exercise consisted of “casual jogging,” a spin class here or there, random stairmaster sessions, as well as participating in recreational basketball and soccer leagues. In her words,

“basically I was going through the motions, doing the minimal amount of work that I needed to do to stay in average shape.”

3. Fast forward a few years, and she began running more seriously to hold herself more accountable.

“This worked to some degree, but I knew that I could/should be doing more. I knew that I had to make changes to my routine if I really wanted to see significant changes and improvements in my running and my overall fitness.”

12 months ago here is what a typical week looked like for Aimee:

Monday – stairmaster or similar

Tuesday – run, short mileage or speedwork

Wednesday – stairmaster or similar

Thursday – run, medium mileage

Friday – off

Saturday – run, longer mileage

Sunday – off

Enter a little CP in her life, and here’s what a typical week looks like now:

Monday – CP training session

Above is Aimee last April a week before the Boston Marathon racking pulling like a champ (and not playing me in H.O.R.S.E).

Tuesday – run, usually speed work/intervals

Wednesday – CP training session

Thursday – run, medium mileage distance on hills

Friday – spinning class and/or 20-30 minutes of metabolic circuits (designed by CP coach)

Saturday – run, medium or longer mileage

Sunday – off

As you can see, in the year that she’s been training at CP, she’s running less and lifting more. As it were, her times have been steadily improving. Shocker.

2008 Boston Marathon time: 3:40:36, 8:25 pace

2009 Boston Marathon time: 3:35:12, 8:13 pace

Additionally, two weekends ago, Aimee ran the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon (without really training for it) and posted her best time ever at 1:39:53, averaging a 7:38 pace.

It still dumbfounds me that the bulk of endurance athletes out there won’t incorporate strength training into their repertoire, and just confirms that they’re missing the boat entirely. I don’t know if it’s dogma, stubbornness, or both- but it seems pretty evident to me that if one can improve their running economy by upwards of 6-8 %, all while decreasing injury rates (less mileage), it’s a no-brainer. Lift weights, for the love of god!

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