Strength Training For the Endurance Athlete Part Two: Building Speed Means Building Muscle

This is part two in Coach Kayla's series on training for endurance athletes.  You can read part one here

Before you start reading this, ask yourself this question: Do you run, or do you train? Some athletes may think they are the same, but they are very different. 

If you are a competitive runner and you don’t have a training regimen that involves lifting, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Training is holistic; it’s running, lifting, recovery work, nutrition, and sleep. It’s how you live your life 24/7. Those who compete need to train in order to be successful. If your training just consists of running, you’re missing the big picture.

As mentioned in my previous blog, as a runner, you need strength to generate more power. Power is key to covering distance efficiently. The days of shying away from the weights are over. If you are, you’re behind the relevant research and your training (and race time) has most likely hit a plateau. 

The purpose of this article series is to help you understand that it’s not just okay to lift, but essential to reaching your endurance potential. 

In Part. 2 I’ll cover:

  • How to structure your training
  • How you should be training
  • Overtraining



Now don’t get me wrong, there are some training programs out there that will work against what you’re trying to accomplish. Throwing exercises together just to get your heart rate up may seem like a good “workout”, but it isn’t making you better for your upcoming race.  It may even be harmful to just throw workouts together with no plan.

Remember that the primary goals for any training program is injury prevention and optimization of performance. To reduce the likelihood of injury and maximize athletic performance, strength and conditioning professionals organize training adaptations in a logical manner to minimize fatigue and enhance technical characteristics. (2).

Before we talk about training phases and cycles of resistance training, we need to touch on the general preparatory phase (GPP). During GPP, higher volumes of strength training should be used to enhance work capacity and increase lean body mass. Despite concerns over increases in body mass, for many endurance athletes, GPP is one of the few times during the annual training plan where increases in muscle mass can be achieved. Put another way, the amount of aerobic training most endurance athletes undertake in season prevents them from gaining muscle mass, even if they wanted to. (Put yet another way, stop worrying about “bulking up”.  That’s not a thing which is why you’ve never seen a jacked marathon runner in The Olympics.) This will potentiate gains in maximal strength and power in subsequent phases of training (2). For more information about GPP, check out Coach Kirk’s blog: Pyramid Building: Your Guide to GPP.

Strength and power should be developed by cycling four distinct phases of training: strength-endurance, basic strength, strength, and power: referred to as block periodization (6). Because of this, proper sequencing of training phases with appropriate durations will enhance fitness characteristics from prior stages of training and make them more resilient to decay.

There are three cycles when designing a program. 

  • A macrocycle is typically an annual plan. 
  • A mesocycle is a moderate-length period of training within the macrocycle. This can be broken up into various lengths of time, depending upon when you’re competing (each mesocycle will focus on a different fitness characteristic). Think of how you divide your mileage build for your spring race and your fall race into different ‘blocks’. These are your mesocycles:
    • GPP phase
    • Competitive phase
    • Peak phase - The peaking phase, or taper, requires “a reduction of the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimize performance” (2)
    • Active rest. After the peaking phase, you’ll have your race, then you’ll transition into the offseason with a period of active rest consisting of recreational activities, or light resistance training, in which both intensity and volume are reduced and recovery is the objective
  • And finally, microcycles are smaller chunks of training within the mesocycles. Think of your mileage builds over three to four weeks with a drop in mileage on the final week before going into another build. These are your microcycles.

It’s important to understand that you need to have a YEAR LONG training plan, especially if you’re competitive. These cycles give you small goals to work towards while building to your goal race/time, to make training more satisfying. 

 A single peaking phase is often impractical, however, as most athletes will compete in multiple significant events throughout the course of a competitive season. For example, if you had three competitive races spread throughout your season, you would train as follows:

An example of cycles within an annual plan looks like this:  

GPP                           November-January

Competition 1           January-April

Peak 1                        April (Race at end of April)

Active Rest 1             Early May

Competition 2          May-July

Peak 2                       July (Race at end of July)

Active Rest 2            Early August

Competition 3          August-October

Peak 3                      October (Race at end of October)

Active Rest 3           Early November



If you have limited strength training experience, the simpler the program, the better. Ideally, you should begin with building a neuromuscular base using high force-low velocity (HFLV) strength training. This would consist of base and maximal strength work. After a certain strength level is achieved, low force-high velocity (LFHV) strength training can then be implemented. This includes explosive/dynamic work (speed work with weight, throws, jumps…etc).

Manipulating volume and intensity to produce specific physiological adaptations must coincide with your competitive schedule. More specifically, if adequate time exists before your next major event, strength training volume may be increased to re-establish strength levels. If your event is right around the corner, strength training volume should bedecreased, maintained or increased cautiously to avoid fatigue before your next race (4).

Now that you understand how to tailor your training around your races, it’s important to know what exercises you should be doing. Exercises with similar movement and kinetic patterns to your sport will result in a greater transfer to performance (3). In movements such as running, exercises where your body is connected to an immobile surface, (closed-chain exercises) should be prioritized, because they require more stability and coordination, and are therefore more useful. Squats, along with other traditional lifts (deadlift, bench press, and overhead press) are primary examples. Squat strength has been strongly correlated to athletic movements that require relatively high-velocity, high-power outputs. (1) Considering the essential roles that these moves play in development of strength and power, squatting and other full body movements should be staples throughout the training year for endurance athletes (2). Lifting with this approach is the difference between enhancement of movement economy, increasing average power output, passing an opponent, and cutting your time down.

Without the recovery portion, “proper” becomes “sloppy” or “ineffective”. Always think about the quality of your miles before you think about the quantity.

Being smart about your running volume in addition to your new weight training volume is crucial. Periodizing (planning) improperly, not managing your fatigue, and over-prescribed volume (miles) and intensity could lead to overtraining syndrome. It’s not complicated:


Without the recovery portion, “proper” becomes “sloppy” or “ineffective”. Overtraining can result in nutritional, mental/emotional, muscular, neurological, and other imbalances. If everyone got faster from running more, there would be no injuries or “burnouts”. Always think about the quality of your miles before you think about the quantity. (As an aside, you can develop overtraining syndrome by combining too much resistance training, so time management and training/life balance are incredibly important in both the planning and execution stages of your training.) 

Since the primary goal for any strength and conditioning program is to reduce injury and increase performance, it’s crucial to factor in all external and internal factors for development. This means that you will no longer just “workout”…you will train. You will be honest with yourself about how your body is feeling, hydrate, practice adequate nutrition, sleep, and try and limit external stressors in your daily life. Since training is holistic, you will need to be in control of what you are able, and make peace with what you cannot. Here at The Spot Athletics, we tell athletes that we don’t care about you squatting or running today, we care about you being healthy and performing your best in the future. 


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