Lift Heavy to Get Faster: Tips for Endurance Athletes to Increase Speed

Perform a high intensity weight training program to get faster. A major error that many athletes make is to do the wrong mode of training for their sport-or in the case of endurance athletes who who don’t lift, to simply do no training. In fact, research sows that weight training with faily heavy loads is an excellent method of improving performance for all types of athletes. Let’s review the evidence.

A recent study of elite Danish National team cyclists showed that doing concurrent strength training program with regular cycling training resulted in better 5- minute and 45- minute time trial performance, a loss of body fat but no significant hypertrophy. The study used a control group that did regular cycling training and weight training using a periodized program with loads ranging from 70 to 88 percent of the 1RM.

Results showed that the concurrent training group lost 2% body fat, increased quadriceps strength by 12%, and improved 45- minute time trial performance by 8%. Performance improved because the cyclists increased peak power and were able to work at a higher rate for longer. In comparison, the endurance only group only lost 0.8% fat, gained no strength, and had no change in  time trial performance.

There was no evidence of hypertrophy in the quadriceps in the concurrent training group, however, they did increase lean body mass by about 2 kg, indicating hypertrophy in other muscles of the lower body. Still, due to the 2% loss of body fat, the concurrent group ended with the same body weight as before the study, which is notable since endurance athletes are often scared of gaining weight because they think it will make them slower. It’s true that gaining body fat would make them slower, but if the gains come from type II muscle, an athlete can get faster as seen in this study.

Researchers suggest when endurance and weight training are done concurrently, the endurance training provides and “atrophy” stimulus that blunts the muscle growth response that is normaly produced by heavy weight training programs. The result is an increase in neuromuscular strength and greater motor unit recruitment, but no significant muscle gains.

Endurance athletes should take away a commitment to strength training to improve their speed and work rate, while shedding body fat. Strength and power athletes should understand that the “atrophy” stimulus referred to is the main reason they should never do endurance training of any kind. Similarly, recreational trainees who aren’t training for an endurance event (10K race or triathlon) should never do endurance training since their strength and muscle development will be comprimised. Even if fat loss is the primary goal, sprint intervals are the more favored mode of conditioning rather than endurance training.


Aagaard,P.,Andersen J., et al. Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Capacity and Muscle Fiber Composition in Young Top-Level Cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport 2011

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