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Compare two runners who are equal in all respects except for muscular strength and the stronger one will be faster over any distance. The lower percentage of maximum strength needed for each stride translates into greater muscle efficacy and therefore, greater endurance. If one runner can squat 10% more than another, his muscles won’t have to work as hard to move his body forward, resulting in significant endurance gains.
When muscles don’t have to work as hard, they require less oxygen to circulate blood throughout the body. This eases the demands on the heart, which in turn lowers the rate at which it beats, resulting in significantly greater endurance. Thus, greater strength does indeed equal greater endurance. Commonly referred to as functional strength, properly formulated gym workouts have been embraced by almost all high-level endurance athletes.
While most runners and cyclists focus on legs, improving upper body strength can also provide a performance advantage by improving overall muscle efficacy. Every time a muscle in your body contracts, oxygen and nutrients are needed from the blood. To continue moving with fluidity and ease, both the arms and legs draw upon the heart to deliver oxygen and nutrients, while simultaneously removing waste products. Understanding this phenomenon, it makes a lot of sense to also increase the strength of the upper body so that it doesn’t become too much of an oxygen draw on your body as a whole and increase heart rate.
Now that you have the ‘why’ strength training is important, stay tuned for the third and final instalment of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes where Brendan Brazier will provide the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ with his strength training workout to help increase endurance.