On Friday I was lucky enough to present at the Hospital for Special Surgery's "Treating the Multisport and Endurance Athlete" symposium. While I often speak about the ways that strength training can reduce the risk of unjury, the HSS audience was made up primarily of physical therapists, who are already quite aware of that. After all, they're the ones treating patients with the injuries that are caused by muscular weakness and imbalances. Instead, I focused on the performance enhancement angle. While there are still some coaches who argue against strength training for their endurance athletes, I'd humbly suggest that most runners, cyclists and triathletes can benefit from some (not much) time in the weight room, and that much of the resistance from my peers and colleagues who don't see the benefit is born out of a lack of understanding of the potential benefits as well as the best training methods.
Here are a couple of key slides from the presentation.
In both cases, the runners showed improvement in running economy (the metabolic cost of going at a given speed) independent of any improvements in VO2 or lactate threshold. In other words, with the same oxygen consumption, the runners were moving faster after strength training than before. While at first glance it would also appear that exlposive training is of greater benefit, I would caution against reaching that conclusion based only on this data. In fact the difference in subjects - male vs. female, x-country runners vs. road runners - may have also accounted for the difference. What is clear is that both groups benefited from strength training.
These studies are particularly interesting as well. Cyclist who added strength training to their existing riding saw no improvement in time trial performance or time to exhaustion. Those who cut back on their riding did see an improvement. Since most riders decrease their mileage in the off-season, adding a resistance training program in the winter months seems like a perfect complement to the decreased saddle time.
While nothing is going to replace the necessarily miles for runners, cyclist and triathletes, these studies are cause for optimism that strength training can be an effective supplement to keep endurance athletes healthy and get them faster.