Should All Athletes Have a Strength Training Program?

If you consider yourself an athlete, chances are high that you have used a strength training program before. For endurance athletes, however, there is a lot of debate about whether or not strength training is beneficial to athletic performance.

In sports like running, cycling, swimming, or rowing, some coaches and experts claim that strength training is a perfect way to build muscle tone. On the other hand, other coaches and experts believe that weight training programs will hurt, not help, endurance athletes.

Some Say Yes

Gary R. Hunter, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who teaches exercise physiology, explains a study performed that showed that middle-distance runners who went through three months of resistance training improved their running efficiency, or the effort it took them to run, because of their strength training programs.

Another professor, William J. Kraemer who studies and teaches kinesiology at the University of Connecticut explains that strength training programs are beneficial to endurance athletes because it greatly reduces the risk of injury, particularly injuries to connective tissues such as ligaments and cartilage.

Many endurance athletes, such as world class runners Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall, train for Team Running USA and perform strength training six days a week, working out all muscle groups, including those in their legs.

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While strength training for some athletes has been shown to be beneficial, others claim that it can only hurt athletic performance.

Others Say No

Since there are very few conclusive studies that have been performed about the effects of weight lifting on endurance, it is hard to know what to think.

Patrick O’Connor of the University of Georgia is an exercise scientist who does not agree with his colleagues. He believes that in endurance sports, greater muscle mass is nothing but “dead weight you have to carry around.”

Even though muscles are developed through strength training programs, O’Connor believes that the best way to strengthen those muscles is through the natural motions of the sport. For example, the best way to strengthen leg muscles of runners if by running.

Cathy O’Brien, an Olympic marathoner feels the same way. She says that she performs upper body and abdominal workouts, but does not work out her legs. She claims that “running is the best thing for running results.”

The Bottom Line

There really is no conclusive study that proves that either way of thinking is wrong. Some have found success in endurance sports by using strength training programs, and others shy away from it.

Both schools of thought make logical sense. In the meantime, we will all have to wait and see which side science supports.

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