Strength Training for the Endurance Addict

by | February 7, 2014, 10:38am 0

Today’s post is for all of the endurance addicts out there!

Over the past two years, Tim Morrill, myself, and others have been on a mission to get more players to recognize that ultimate is a speed and power sport requiring strength and explosiveness. And yet, many athletes are in the process of building up an “endurance base” with long runs on their off season. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, many people still want to think of ultimate as an endurance sport because it is played tournament style.

Just for today, I will not try to convince you that ultimate is a speed and power sport (even though it is, as I have said before). Even if ultimate is an endurance sport (which it isn’t), you still should be in the weight room.

Here’s why…

Increased Running Economy

There have been many studies about the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes. In my favorite study, elite cross country runners had 32% of the hours they usually spent running replaced with explosive strength training. After nine weeks of training they had greater improvements in 5K times vs the control group despite having no improvement in VO2max. Basically, endurance performance improved despite no enhancement to cardiovascular endurance indicators.

Turns out cardiovascular endurance not the only factor in functional endurance. Running economy plays a large role in energy expenditure. If each step you take becomes more efficient due to additional strength and neuromuscular adaptations, that will show up as a faster 5 K time or as less fatigue in game 4 of your tournament.

Even among elite, purely endurance athletes, strength training – even high speed and explosive strength training, leads to improved performance. How much more important is it then for you who are not a purely endurance athlete?

The types of explosive strength training protocols in this study involved short sprints, (20-100 m), plyometrics, and other low resistance, high speed lifts.

If you want to add a few high speed lifts to your training, here are two that don’t require a lot of technical expertise:

Russian step ups

These are a good single leg movement for power through the whole range of motion of the hip.

Snatch grip jump

This exercise focuses on developing power of the hips

Building Resistance to Fatigue

You are not an elite endurance runner, so you are probably using running as a way to increase general fitness, VO2max, lactate threshold, etc. In simpler terms, you’re trying to get in shape so that you can withstand the high volume demands of tournament play. You want to enhance your local muscular endurance to keep your legs from getting tired. You want to have core strength endurance so that your throwing form stays intact. Running is a reasonable way to do this, but lifting is much more time efficient.

The ability to tolerate acid buildup in the muscles and to use lactic acid as a metabolic fuel is imperative for multi sprint sport athletes. You are sprinting over and over again and recovering over and over again. You are moving at a pace that where the energy system in use is predominantly anaerobic.

A strength endurance protocol which produces lactic acid helps the body learn to buffer acid and use lactic acid as fuel. These protocols will get you a high work capacity and general tournament durability in a short amount of time.

Two strength endurance protocols

1. Training in the 8-10 RM range

pair 1: squat, chin up

pair 2: cable pull through, alternating incline db bench

pair 3: RFESS, rotational pushup

The goal is to do these exercises with as little rest between as possible between sets. Upper and lower body exercises are paired so that while you rest from the first exercise, you are doing the second. Do three sets of each at a weight you can move for 8-10 repetitions. Take more rest if you need it. If you feel nauseated, stop. The goal is to adapt to acid buildup in the muscles, not to vomit from it.

2. Circuit training

In circuit training, exercises are usually done for time rather than for repetitions. There is little to no rest between exercises. Circuit training is and excellent way to develop fitness but it will not give you the strength and power gains that you’ll eventually be looking for.

Click here for more info on circuit training and links to several circuit training workouts


My mission remains to get more ultimate players the weight room. I hope that more players will get getting serious about their strength training by understanding the important contribution strength training makes in an athlete’s endurance. I hope you will share this post with the endurance addicts in your life. In addition to increasing general fitness and work capacity, you can help them reap the benefits of decreased injury risk, enhanced performance on the field, and decreased soreness and fatigue the day after tournaments.

Feature photo by Pete Guion –

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