Strength vs Endurance Training: How do you mix oil and water?

“I feel like crap, but my watts are up”  “I feel great but my heart rate was so high” I drive my athletes crazy with always asking them how they are feeling.    Technology is giving us greater and greater methods to track this data, but the greatest one is learning how you feel. I have seen so many cyclists become prisoners to data.   I know it is subjective, but the mind is the ultimate fitness tracker and so teaching an athlete to establish bench marks to measure feeling and exertion are very important. 

The Maximum Overload’s program goal is to increase your ability to sustain your maximum sustainable power output on a bike.  This is what will win the race most of the time.  However, if you have not lifted much in the past and then follow with a ride at first it will be trying.  You will feel sluggish, heavy in your legs, sore, slower, etc.  This will typically pass after 3-4 weeks of consistent training.  Shortly you will see gains in power, your rides become more effective, efficiency increase, ancillary fatigue in the lower back, shoulders etc. diminishes, all of this by doing something that in the scheme of a cyclists training calendar takes very little time and returns such a boost to your performance. 

There is a lot of discussion in the strength and conditioning circles about how much time “endurance” athletes should spend strength training and vice versa.  So it is not just endurance coaches that are hesitant to lift weights.  The power sports are afraid of any adding longer duration endurance training to their routines. 

The timing of training for one outcome can negatively impacts the other.  So there are a few things to consider.   At Sirens and Titans we train a number of athletes both endurance and non endurance strength and power athletes.  We are constantly working on better ways to take parts of one type of training to enhance the other.  It is even more important when you have limited amount of training time with an athlete today.   In the strength and conditioning circles there tends to be a perception that you can only do one or the other.   Take a look at premier league soccer players today versus 10 years ago and you see how much bigger they have become andyet they can still run for a 90 minute game.  Some of them look like rugby players, yet soccer is considered one of the most aerobically taxing of sports.  Today’s sportsmen both endurance and non endurance have to be both strong and be able to produce power at extremely higher levels for longer and longer periods of time. 

So what is concurrent training and how do you most effectively utilize what we have learned in the training of both types of athletes to get the most from Maximum Overload Training.  Concurrent training is the mixing of strength and power training in the gym with endurance training on the bike. 

Training time is more and more valuable so concurrent training is something that needs to be considered.  I have seen how adding a mix of this training can improve performance and reduce training time. 

Having a primary objective for each workout is of great importance.  This is even of greater importance if you are concurrently training as a cyclist.  

Many strength coaches training big power athletes believe that any amounts of endurance training will diminish the ability to produce strength and power.  On the face of this it does not make that much sense.  If this was the case then why does it take so long to make gains if all you do is strength and power training?   You are not going to change fast twitch muscle fiber to slow twitch and vice versa with small amounts of training in the other area.  An endurance athlete can improve Maximum Sustained Power output on longer term efforts by adding short term strength and power training without adding body weight.   This also will result in the athlete being able to obtain bigger overloads in the aerobic energy system in subsequent training on the bike.  I call this “opening the window” to other areas of fitness that are positively correlated and improve and support your training on the bike.

 I have seen cyclists that will go months without any short term intensity because of some conventional training methods that dictate this in the winter.  They seem perfectly fine with this idea.  However, when I ask them what they think would happen to their fitness for racing a bicycle, if they did nothing but 100 meter sprints for 4 months?  They usually respond with a gasp and they would lose all of their fitness.  Then I ask them what they think happens to their ability to go hard if they don’t go hard for 4 months straight!  So, you must open the window to all the necessary energy systems necessary for your sport.  At some times the windows are open wider and other times not so much.    I have looked at this principal from a completely different perspective than most endurance coaches.  The point is you need regularly question tried and true training conventions. 

Coming back to concurrent training there are some definitions necessary to better understand how strength and endurance improvements come about, and the primary enzymes that impact these improvements.

AMPK- Activated protein kinase.  Without going into all the physiology involved understand that this enzyme is activated when large amounts of ATP are needed for exercise that is long in nature.  ATP is necessary to fuel this type of exercise.  AMPK increases your ability to uptake substrates of sugar and fat to fuel the exercise.  You also see the role of epigenetics involved in giving your muscles more endurance as a result of this enzyme being regularly present.  Greater capillary density and mitochondria are evidenced when longer amounts of endurance training take pace with the activation and presence of AMPK.  Higher intensity intervals increase the levels of AMPK.   Many trainers think that High Intensity Intervals provide a halo effect that bumps the metabolism and results in weight loss.  However, AMPK increases fat metabolism and sugar uptake as a fuel source for supporting this type of exercise and will make changes in the gene expression.  (Exercise &AMPK Activation, Derek Beast, Charlebois Feb 2005)

MTorc1-mammalian ‘target of rapamycin complex 1   

MTorc1 activity is required for muscle growth and increased strength.  It is most active during resistance training.  This enzyme regulates protein synthesis.  As it increases, there is an increase in protein synthesis and subsequently muscles get stronger and bigger.  So if you want to increase strength you need to increase the presence of this enzyme.    Amino acid supplementation activates this enzyme and that is why adding this to a post workout recovery drink and prior to resistance training can be helpful in developing strength.  Your body has a way of seeking homeostasis so you can’t just keep adding amino acids and expect strength.  So adding amino acids before and after heavy resistance exercise is helpful in maximizing strength gains.  If you do not time the amino acids effectively your body will reduce the activation of mTorc1 to seek equilibrium.  You want mTorc1 as high as possible for as long as possible for maximum effect.   (Sports and Exercise Nutrition pg. 126. Susan Lanham 2011)

So how should you think about both of these enzymes and the interaction?  The problem lies in the fact that one enzyme turns off the other.  This is why strength coaches are so opposed to doing both.  However, you can strategically incorporate these together effectively by following a few rules.  What we have to do is reduce the impact of one enzyme on the other.  AMPK is increased with high intensity intervals efforts.  You can increase this further by training in a low glycogen environment.   If you are going to follow your endurance training with a strength session add some carbohydrates to your diet after the workout.  Higher glycogen will reduce AMPK after the workout to help negate the impact on mTorc1.  Make sure that the strength portion is low on volume and high on intensity.  This is also tactically easier to accomplish for most athletes as intervals can be mentally and physically very taxing.  Higher glycogen will reduce the impact of AMPK on mTorc1.  You can also add a pre resistance workout protein drink to activate mTorc1.  This can also be switched around when the desired result is focused more on the endurance side of the coin. 

All sports have a power times an X factor.   The X factor is the level of power needed how many times (X) to be most competitive in a sport.  Cycling has a very high X factor.   When looking at training both strength and endurance simultaneously you need to look at the X factor of the sport and the needs of the athletes to take the best advantage of these enzymes and the impact on endurance and strength.  

Understand there may be a time when your training is highly focused and you will not perform any concurrent training, however if used strategically it can enhance your ability to perform the primary training objective for your sport and better utilize limited available training time.  


Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSC