Strength training for endurance sports

Strength training has been shown to have enormous performance benefits for athletes (and weekend warriors!) involved in power sports such as AFL football, sprinting, tennis, squash, swimming etc.   However, there are many sports and activities such as long distance running and triathlon which are endurance based where athletes don’t make time in their training schedules to include strength training.

Is strength training also beneficial for these endurance sports?

The simple answer is yes – but the benefits of a tailored strength training program are different in endurance sports then for those in more strength and power based activities.  It’s important that the design of the program should reflect these differences so the endurance athlete and weekend warrior can realise the benefits of strength training; without reducing training quality.

There are several benefits of strength training for the endurance athlete:

1. Minimize muscle imbalances

Muscular imbalances occur frequently within the endurance athlete due to the repeating of the same movement over and over.  These repeated movement patterns occur often thousands of time each week during regular training and overload the same dominant muscles used for the sport.  The muscles not used as often effectively get left behind – and thus creating an imbalance of muscular strength within the body.

Muscular imbalance exposes the athlete to a higher risk of injury due the imbalance of force which occurs across joints.  Muscular imbalance effectively means that one or more muscles on one side of the body or joints are stronger than the other.  This creates a biomechanical dysfunction whereby the joint is loaded sub-optimally.  This can and often leads to excessive ‘wear and tear’ within the joint and therefore leads to breakdown / injury.

2. Improve movement efficiency

As with all sporting and movement pursuits; optimum movement efficiency is closing linked to the athlete’s ability to stabilise their pelvis and lumbar spine.  A loss of control around these central body areas often occurs as the athlete fatigues. With fatigue comes ‘breakdown’ – a loss of quality movement and control in various structures of the body.   Strengthening the muscles responsible for central control reduces this potential for breakdown which can occur during endurance training and competition.   Greater strength in central control leads to an improvement in the athlete’s ability to move efficiently; which leads to subsequent performance gains.


3. Reduce the risk of injury

Reducing the risk of injury is an important outcome of the benefits outlined above.  This occurs as the athlete reduces and then prevents any muscular imbalances developed through training.  A prevention of injury is also the side effect of increasing strength within the muscles responsible for central control.   Loss of central control not only reduces movement efficiency but it also results in the body putting undue force in structures and tissues not designed to withstand such force.   This undue force often leads to stress on the tissue – and thus injury.

The problem with injury of course is that injury is an obstacle to training.   Any interruptions to training can have a negative psychological impact; as well a loss in conditioning required for the sport.


It is therefore critical for any person who undertakes any form of endurance training to include strength training as part of your weekly routine.  The benefits can be categorized as both performance enhancing and for reducing the risk of injury.

The strength program should be individually tailored based on your unique bio mechanical needs and training demands.   The design of the program should be based on a thorough assessment of your body; with consideration of your static and dynamic posture, movement patterns and your history of injuries.

Strength training is beneficial for improving performance in endurance sports

Image courtesy; Training Peaks



Written by:  Brendan Rigby (AEP)  Accredited Exercise Physiologist