A Woman Working Out In A Gym With Weights In The Background

3 Types of Resistance Training Sessions Endurance Athletes Need

BY Phil White

Coaching clients to understand there is more to weight training than picking up and putting down heavy things can help improve success.

Resistance or weight training is often thought of as being a singular discipline. Still, when it comes to you coaching endurance athletes, there are actually three different outcomes you should work backward from when programming such sessions. This article will explore the methodology behind training for strength, power and muscular endurance. 


When writing my book Unplugged, my co-author Andy Galpin shared the story of a UFC fighter who came in to consult with him at USC Fullerton’s Center for Sport Performance. After running various performance tests on him, Andy told the intimidating warrior, “You’re not powerful.” The fighter balked, forcefully reminding the muscle physiologist that he was on a long win streak and had knocked out his last few opponents. But when Andy showed him the data, the guy accepted the reality that he had a long way to match the top competitors’ power in his weight class.

The fix? Fewer reps and lighter weights moved faster. The fighter was often looking for a burn during and after training and so would do high-rep sets and long workouts that left him feeling wiped out. In reality, this was merely developing the third quality we’ll explore later – muscular endurance. Galpin went on to tell me that if your athletes are genuinely trying to become more powerful, they should do three to five sets of three to five reps with maximum explosiveness. This could involve medicine ball slams and tosses, sprints and plyometrics like box jumps. One key that is often overlooked: advise your athletes to perform such movements early in their workouts, as power output will be diminished if they do them midway through or as “finishers.” Also, note that it can take the central nervous system up to 72 hours to bounce back from power training, so if one of your clients trains power Monday, tell them to wait till Thursday before doing it again.


Whatever I write here will get me into trouble because there are so many schools of thought around strength training. But for endurance athletes, let’s settle on defining strength as exposing your athletes to sufficient stressors so that their bodies can handle the load they’ll experience while running, swimming, or riding, both in training and competition. As my Basketball Strong Podcast co-host and former Lakers strength and conditioning coach, Tim DiFrancesco, wrote, “Resistance training won’t only make you more resilient but will also allow you to tap into speed, power, and strength you never knew you had.”

Dan John, who I’ve learned more from about strength training than anyone else, summarizes his new Easy Strength program with these principles: “lift heavy, do the fundamental human movements, keep your reps and sets low, stop your sets and your workout before you get fatigued, don’t even struggle and, basically, never miss a rep; keep plenty in the tank and keep coming back.”

Let’s look at some examples of exercises that fit within the fundamental movement patterns he’s referring to:

  • Hinge: Deadlift and kettlebell swing
  • Carry: Farmer’s and suitcase carries
  • Push: Pushups and push presses
  • Pull: TRX rows and pullups
  • Squat: Barbell back or front squat and dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squat

In any given workout, suggest that your training group picks one exercise for each of the five categories. As Dan suggests, they could do three to six reps if they’re going heavy and do two to three sets of each exercise. If they decide to do fewer exercises, they could try one of two classic rep schemes: five sets of five reps or, if using a more moderate weight, three sets of 10. Two to three days a week should be plenty to get your clients stronger.

Muscular Endurance

Pavel Tsatsouline from StrongFirst is best known for popularizing Russian kettlebell training in the West. While his most famous program is the 100 swings and 10 Turkish get-ups that form the basis for the Simple and Sinister protocol, he has taken a deeper dive into training specific energy systems and physical capabilities in recent years. One of these is muscular endurance, which pioneering professor Yuri Verkhoshansky stated, including training that has “an ‘anti-glycolytic’ direction, that is, lower glycolysis involvement to an absolute possible minimum.” In other words, improving your body’s ability to produce sustained power without relying heavily on glycolysis, an energy pathway that leaves behind a high buildup of byproducts that can leave you feeling sore and require extra recovery time.

To this end, Pavel created the Strong Endurance system. This involves repeated bouts of fast movement that push your ATP-PC system (quick, ready energy) to the limit but stop for rest before glycolysis kicks into high gear. The easiest way is to go hard for 10 to 15 seconds, stop for 45 to 60 seconds, then do another set. So as StrongFirst instructor Matt Kingstone suggests in an article, have your athletes do 10 kettlebell swings, then rest until their watches start the next minute. Your athletes could replace the swings with air squats, jumps or just about any other exercise performed at a rapid pace – the same goes for intervals on a treadmill, rowing machine, or stationary bike.

If your clients want to switch things up and do longer intervals that involve going hard for a minute or more – like running 400-meter repeats – then they should extend their rest periods until their heart rate is at or below 120 beats per minute, or they can take three nasal breaths with an eight-second exhale. Yes, this will require more extended rest periods of three, four, or even five minutes that lengthen the training session, but they’ll feel fresher and less sore the next day.

Coaching Guide Image Of Noah With A Client At A Table.

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About Phil White
Phil White is an Emmy-nominated writer and the co-author of The 17 Hour Fast with Dr. Frank Merritt, Waterman 2.0 with Kelly Starrettand Unplugged with Andy Galpin and Brian Mackenzie. Learn more at www.philwhitebooks.com and follow Phil on Instagram @philwhitebooks.

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