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Tri 101: Strength

If you are an endurance athlete the focus can be on doing lots of training volume. But essential to balancing that out is doing something to build your strength.

Strength work is rarely emphasized for most folks doing triathlons, marathons and ultras. It’s kind of an after thought that is low priority on the list of workouts. I’d like to redirect that focus though and share why strength work is the secret sauce that can propel your endurance fitness to new levels and extend your longevity in your sport.

If you are over about 35 years old, there is no amount of swimming, cycling or running that will keep the lean muscle on your that you garnered easily in earlier years. That is unless you do strength work.

A famous study done on marathon runners showed this. Over a 20 year period a group of runners who did the Boston Marathon were divided into two workout types. One group did pure running and no strength work. The other group did their normal marathon training but added in regular strength work. Each group was measured for the amount of their body that was lean muscle.

Here are the results. And you can guess what they were!

The runners who did not do strength training actually lost about 1% of their lean muscle each year over that 20-year research study. This is what is expected from the basic aging process for people in general.

The other group that did strength work actually maintained almost exactly the same amount of lean muscle that they had over the 20-years of the study. In other words, even though they were 20 years older at the end, they still had the same amount of muscle that they had at the beginning 20-years earlier.

Why is lean muscle a good thing to have?

Every joint in the body is held in place by muscle, tendons and ligaments. When we move all those elements work together to keep the joints working in alignment. If any of those areas weaken or don’t work right alignment fails and injury can happen. Something gets sore or inflamed. Having strong integrity of your muscles is a huge part of making sure that doesn’t happen. And strength work is a nearly perfect guarantee that the body will move as it should.

Muscle is also a very metabolically demanding tissue. It burns calories and requires a lot to repair and replenish it. It’s a great way to help regulate overall body weight since doing strength work increases the amount of lean muscle you have.

This video gives a sample of exercises you can do at home to build that muscle.


Beyond all that, having a little extra muscle counters the breakdown that takes place in a race.

In long endurance events there is always going to be demands on your muscles that end up breaking them down. In fact, in blood analysis research done on athletes after they finish marathons and long triathlons, the muscle breakdown factors are similar to what is found in someone who just had a heart attack!

Of course you don’t have a heart attack in a race. But the message is that there is a lot of muscle being used in your endurance event. And when that takes place there is a part of your brain that is telling you to stop. Slow down. Call it a day. This is just part of sparing your body and survival. We override that call and keep going anyway. But the message here is this. Build more muscle through strength training and you will weather that slow down call much better.

Tommy Buzzcut gives his perspective on this topic!


Join us at Mark Allen Coaching to get faster and stronger!

(This is the second in a 9-part series of blogs on tips to help you train and race at your best!)

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