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  • Writer's pictureAP Sheshy

Strength is your Best Friend

Endurance athletes, especially those who juggle multiple sports (cough cough, triathletes), find every excuse to not add strength and conditioning into their routine, the best one being, "I don't have enough time." When you start racking up the miles and training stress, you're funneled into thinking that you need a large base mileage or you need to do speed work or specific workout sessions to get stronger.

What if I were to tell you that you can get stronger, prevent (and/or rehabilitate) injury, and become faster by adding 2-3x of 30-40 minute conditioning routines per week.

Growing up in gymnastics, our 4 hour practices started like this: warm-up with stretches and plyometric exercises, jogging around the floor mat, and then we dive into conditioning for 45-60 minutes. Yes, gymnasts need that conditioning in order to be able execute every routine and tumbling pass, but so does every other athlete.

As you start racking the minutes and miles, your muscles become fatigued and begin to compensate in order for you to complete the workout. You begin to lose proper form, which can cause injury in the long run. Strength trains your muscles to help stabilize in addition to maintaining good form throughout your training and long races.

I am not a strength or personal trainer (nor a physical therapist or athletic trainer), so I can only recommend what to do based on personal experience and research. If you do have a persisting injury, please consult a medical professional.

Movement and strength requirements of swim, bike, and run


It's more than just floating on top of the water and flowing in a straight line. In fact, swimming is one of the most technically demanding sports. While I won't get into the full technical details about a freestyle stroke, there are two key things to remember about the swim stroke here: Rotation and stability. In short, rotation allows you to not only reach out further in your catch, but also makes your body more aerodynamic in the water so that you slice through the water rather than pushing through. It's important to note that rotation involves your entire body, with your hips leading the rotation. This requires a strong and stable core and hips. Some examples are:

- planks (any variation)

- kettlebell swings

- glute bridges (single or both legs)

- clam shells

- deadbugs

- cable row (ties in a bit with shoulder stabilization down below)

I would be going amiss if I didn't mention anything about the arms or shoulders. While your upper limbs do much less work than your core and hips, you should still have stable shoulders. The shoulders are probably one the common sites of injury

because of the sheer amount of smaller muscles, ligaments and bones involved to keep it stable (not to mention the amount of

joints that make up the shoulder. Versus joints like the knee and hip have larger muscles attaching to the joint to help with stabilization. Apart from having good technique and rotating in your stroke to help minimize the risk of injury, you should work on stabilizing those muscles out of the water. Exercises may include:

- internal and external rotation of shoulders (using a resistance band or a cable)

- pushups

- scapula pushups


Most people would think that the best way to get stronger on the bike is to simply ride more miles. While this is true to a certain extent, you can actually cause an injury if you ride for hours on end with poor form and stabilization. Think about it this way: say you're pedaling at 80 RPM and you're riding for an hour. That's 4,800 pedal strokes for ONE leg. Say you ride 5 hours a week: 24,000 pedal strokes for one leg per week!

Cycling requires single-leg strength, stability and power, as well as a strong core. All of this will help you maintain a more powerful and efficient pedal stroke on the bike, as well as keeping you balanced on the straight and on those tight corners. Example exercises include:

- lateral power step or lateral lunges (with or without weight)

- squats (with or without weight)

- single leg squats

- woodchoppers with medicine ball (single leg or kneeling on one knee)

- planks (front, side, and any other variation)

- medicine ball twists.

I highly recommend getting fitted on a bike (road, triathlon/TT, mountain bike), in addition to implementing a strength training routine.


In the swim, it's the shoulders that fail the most. In the run, everything can fail, and it can fail even faster than you think. Running involves forward movement (in the sagittal plane), lateral movement (side-to-side or in the frontal/coronal plane), and diagonal or rotational movement (in the transverse plane). Yes, the forward motion moves you...well, hopefully forward, but the lateral movement stabilizes your body when your feet strike the ground. And the diagonal movement transfers forces from the ground and up your spine, as well as translate into rotational movement for running efficiency (Think of opposite arm, opposite leg). Because of these three planes of motion are constantly involved in a running stride, it's vital to have strength and stability in all three. Some of the exercises you can implement are:

Kneeling lunge to standing with overhead press
Kneeling lunge to standing with "overhead press" (Didn't have a weight at home)

- Speed Skaters

- Single Leg step ups (with or without weighted bar overhead)

- Lateral banded walks and Monster Walks with band

- Toe and Heel walks in all three positions (feet pointed forward, inward and outward)

- Calf raises

- Kneeling lunge to stand up on front leg and press up with weight (see GIF)

Okay, cool, but whoa that's a lot of stuff to work with!

Very true! But you don't have to do all of these exercises in one go. For one, you usually wouldn't have enough time to do all of them, and two, you'd be very fatigued before you got to the end. Strength sessions shouldn't be longer than 45 minutes. Mine typically last 25-30 minutes, not including the warm up (foam rolling and stretching). You can divvy up the exercises into core, upper, and lower body, with one set being the big focus of the day. Here's a guideline of how to set up your basic strength routine:


- Warm Up (10-15 minutes), includes foam rolling, stretching, etc.

- Set 1: Core focus

- Set 2: Upper body, focus of the day

- Set 3: Lower body


- Warm Up (10-15 minutes), includes foam rolling, stretching, etc.

- Set 1: Core focus

- Set 2: Upper body

- Set 3: Lower body, focus of the day


- Warm Up (10-15 minutes), includes foam rolling, stretching, etc.

- Set 1: Core focus

- Set 2: Upper body

- Set 3: Lower body

(all sets evenly balanced, may be a shorter day)

*Each set contains about 2-3 exercises, with the main focus sets having 3-5 exercises. Each set is done 2-3x through.

Again, I'm no trainer. This is just an example of what I do on my strength days, which allows me to incorporate my own physical therapy exercises in addition to my strength routine. Single sport athletes may only do two of the three sets, or may have other sets prescribed to them. There are many ways of structuring a strength training program, and it's easy to become confused when faced with all of them. I've tried to keep the structure simple and flexible, so you can add variety to your routine.

It's important to make sure you don't add too much, especially right away. You may start with non-weighted and/or resistance band exercises for the first 3-4 weeks, to build that stability and neuromuscular coordination, just like you didn't run a marathon on your first run. One of the mistakes I've made was doing too many single leg exercises in one session. Coupled with my bigger weekend training blocks, my glutes decided to throw a temper tantrum after undergoing too much fatigue. My physical therapist recommended 1-2 single leg exercises per session, as well as 2 maximum single-arm stabilization exercises, to avoid future muscle temper tantrums (i.e. muscle fatigue).

Truthfully, these exercises should be at a level of difficulty were the last two repetitions are a bit more difficult, but you're able to maintain form. You don't have to exhaust all of your resources in order to the get most out of your strength sessions. You can even do many of these exercises at home. Varying and progressing through your exercises will prevent exercises-specific adaptations and allow you to work the muscles in different ways. For example, that 45 second front plank becomes way easier after a few weeks of doing it. Try doing the plank on a Swiss ball (elbows or feet on the ball), or place your feet on the TRX straps and hold it for 30-45 seconds.

Awesome, but I still don't have the time...I've got school/work/family/all other training to fit into my crammed schedule

Most of you busy bees are probably already getting up super early to get those miles in or travelling straight home or to the gym to get another endurance session in for the day. If you're designing your own training plan, look at which endurance sessions are your key sessions of the week. Some sessions can be replaced with a 30 minute strength session. Don't have to time to do all of your strength exercises? Do 2 sets instead of 3, and only do each set twice.

Those of you with access to a coach: ask your coach! I cannot tell you how many times I've heard people say, "I'm afraid to ask," or "What if they say..." Coaches are responsible for helping you become a better and stronger athlete, and they can't do much if you don't communicate or become injured. They're your biggest resource available, and they can help establish a more specific plan that is tailored to your needs and schedule.

That's all I've got for today, everyone! Check out the resources where I found this information (especially the one on running biomechanics; it's really cool)! Thank you internet for being an awesome resource database and thank you all for reading!

Happy Training!

- Anna



Another resource that I found useful personally (I didn't use it here), was Dr. Stacy Sim's book, Roar, for all you ladies out there looking for information about training with your menstrual cycle.

Shoulder Photo Credit: National Institute Of Arthritis And Musculoskeletal And Skin Diseases (NIAMS); SVG version by Angelito7 [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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