Enhancing Endurance

Bill Starr

Weight Train to Win  Part I

Page 1

Nearly every coach and athlete knows the value of strength in sports that involve a great deal of contact: football, lacrosse, basketball, rugby, hockey, soccer and wrestling.

They also understand that achieving a higher level of strength helps anyone excel in high-skill sports that do not entail contact, such as tennis, fencing, volleyball, swimming and field events. Few, however, realize just how important the strength variable is in sports that rely primarily on endurance, such as the marathon and other long-distance running events, crew, distance skating, cross-country skiing, triathlons and other sports that require a tremendous amount of mental and physical stamina.

Endurance strength is considered by many who engage in such activities to be quite different from the type of strength needed by those who participate in sports that require only short bursts of effort followed by brief periods of rest. Those who take part in endurance sports often shun any form of heavy weight training in favor of using very light poundages, if any at all. They feel that in order to improve their endurance, they must spend more time practicing their chosen sports for longer periods of time. More than a few endurance athletes believe that lifting heavy weights is actually counterproductive because it builds larger muscles and adds unwanted bodyweight. The extra weight will slow them down, not make them faster.

Thatís a misconception. Itís not necessary to add bodyweight even when heavy poundages, relatively speaking, are used in a strength program. Itís been demonstrated numerous times that a well-designed, properly executed strength routine will have a very positive influence on the performance of endurance athletes, even when they use demanding resistance.

Why? Iíll let Professor Gene Logan of Southwestern Missouri State and noted authority in the field of physiology answer that question. In his book Adaptations of Muscular Activity, he states, ďStrength undergirds all other factors when one considers the total functioning of body movements. Without sufficient strength, factors such as endurance, flexibility and skill cannot be used effectively.Ē

It only makes sense. Before a toddler can walk, he must have enough bodily strength to support himself. After hip or knee surgery, a patient has to spend time regaining lower-body strength before becoming ambulatory. Wanting to run, swim, row or bike longer is merely an extension of the same idea. Getting strong is the key.

Of course Iím well aware that a great many other factors are involved in any athletic endeavor, but creating a rock-solid foundation of strength is critical to improving all those other attributes.

No one can deny that the amount of time athletes spend practicing the skills they need in their sport is a huge factor in their success. Stronger athletes are not only going to be able to practice longer than their weaker counterparts, but theyíre also going to be able to use better technique at the end of their session. In contrast, weaker athletesí form will falter when their strength wanes. When that happens, bad habits are formed. The well-known adage that practice makes perfect is valid only if the skills being practiced are performed correctly. Practicing sloppy technique is detrimental to progress.

For example, rowers who can produce the perfect stroke at the very end of a grueling race are going to emerge victorious over opponents who are struggling with form. A distance runner who can maintain perfect body mechanics coming down the stretch has a very definite advantage.

Someone who increases strength by 40 to 50 percent while retaining a high degree of flexibility, balance and technique in any sport is going to be a better athlete. Itís so basic, itís often ignored. Coaches and athletes are constantly seeking a more complicated solution to a simple problem. They insert all sorts of gimmicks to improve strength in an innovative manner, then throw in yet more gimmicks to enhance foot speed, leaping ability, lateral movement and on and on. A great deal of time and energy are spent during those prolonged workoutsóway too much, in fact. When energy is spread too thin, little is achieved. They trade an abundance of quantity and variety for a severe lack of quality.