Conditioning for the Endurance Athlete

by Mary Jo Campbell Cambridge on February 1st, 2016

Strength and Conditioning for endurance events are possibly the most misunderstood concepts that I address here in Homer. There are more triathletes, marathoners and 'ultra' athletes here than I have encountered anywhere. The chore and discipline of spending enough hours training on a bike, on the road, and in the pool is difficult,  to say the least. Add the rigors of professional and family life and you get a schedule that requires more than 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.

Rest, or recovery, is a vital aspect of training and is usually overlooked by the enthusiastic competitor. "More is better" is a common misconception and can lead to overuse, overtraining plateaus and injury.  To that I say, "more is just MORE, sometimes LESS is better!"
Recovery, in itself,  is a topic for a later blog. In the meantime, just be aware that the metabolic effects and cellular changes that occur due to physical training do not occur on the days that you train, but rather, the days that you rest. That being said, you need to build that piece of the puzzle into your training log.  You will also need to build a two week "unloading" or training lag directly before your event to allow you to peak and attain the best performance possible.  Without it, you risk wasting thousands of hours of training and preparation.

 You want to work smarter, not harder. Your time is valuable.  Depending on the length of time until you need to peak for your event, splitting your training into a morning and an evening session will help you to accomplish your goals.  This will allow for muscle glycogen recovery: "refilling the tank," work and family time. Too many endurance athletes feel that they must increase the miles that they are logging every week.(again, more is NOT better.) In reality, the smartest move is to increase the sessions spent in the gym. Time and time again, ATR athletes return from races sporting personal bests in their event.  The key to their improved effort was an increase in average power output throughout their race.  It is not the greatest power they can exert but how long that they can sustain it.

When training for endurance, we train movements, not muscles.  A functional training circuit which concentrates on multi-joint exercises that mimic similar movement patters will translate into a positive training effect. Lumbar stabilization exercises, squats, and core work; the foundation of all athletic movement, will translate to a better economy in running, swimming and biking mechanics.  With proper exercise selection and intensity, you increase average power output to improve race times and peak power for sprint portions of the race. This combined with valuable cardiovascular gains gives you MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK.  No matter how hard you train on the road or in the pool you will not reap strength and power gains from those workouts. However, when used with the correct training intervals, circuit training does cross over and improves cardiovascular endurance.

Afraid to take that step and mix things up? Consider this: One of Homer's finest endurance athletes, Martin Renner, attends three to four circuit training classes at ATR each week.  It translated to success last summer when he rode 400km in just 26 hours, to win the Fireweed 400,  a solo race across Alaska! 

Whether your goals are race oriented or just lifestyle oriented, I hope that these pearls of wisdom will help you "Finish Strong!"  For answers to specific training questions, feel free to email me at Better yet, register for a free class at and ask me in person! Whoop whoop!

Posted in Endurance    Tagged with fitness, endurance training, triathlons, strength training, marathon training, circuit training