Although there are different models of periodization for endurance athletes to reference when building an annual training plan, a traditional path builds from a base phase, to build cycles, to a competition phase. Endurance sessions progress from less specific to more specific as each race approaches, so athletes gain the appropriate amount of endurance, speed, and skill they require to reach their goals.
In order to support endurance goals at each phase, strength training is a necessary component of any training plan. However, the periodization of strength training is almost inversely related to the endurance phases. In this article, D3 Head Coach Mike Ricci and I discussed how lifting heavy weights can be utilized by endurance athletes in the off-season through the pre-competition season (base phases) in order to improve muscle economy, increase threshold, and maximize durability.
As the season progresses, athletes should begin to increase the volume and specificity of their endurance sessions, and strength sessions should decrease in both volume and specificity. Rather than building muscular strength as in the base cycle, strength training in the competition cycle should be modified to support the physical demands of the endurance sessions, maintain strength, and help the athlete remain injury-free throughout the season.
Fortunately, although strength can be difficult to build, it’s comparatively easy to maintain. By the time you’re about six to 10 weeks out from your first race, these are the three keys to strength training you should be focusing on:
Ideally, you should stop strength training about 2 weeks before any key races to give your muscles a chance to recover. Otherwise, keeping the weight light to moderate for in-season strength training will be effective in allowing you to get the most out of your swim/bike/run sessions. Weight training during this phase is meant to supplement the other sessions by making athletes more durable and resilient.