There was a time when strength training was only the domain of muscle-bound sprinters, body builders and other strength athletes. But ask any of the top 10 finishers in the Olympic marathon, triathlon, cycling road race or 50m freestyle and most will tell you a periodised strength-training program forms a vital part of their training regime.
Concurrent Training Definition
The practice of simultaneously incorporating both resistance and endurance exercise within a periodised training regime is termed concurrent training1. Much of the research on concurrent training has centred on how best to combine the two forms of exercise so as to produce maximum performance. This is because if performed incorrectly, strength training can actually impair endurance performance and vice versa2.
Can You Train for Strength and Endurance at the Same Time?
Following the published findings of the first study on concurrent training in 1980, the prevailing belief was that it wasn’t possible to train for both strength and endurance at the same time, without endurance exercise significantly impeding strength gains.
Led by Dr Robert C Hickson (a power-lifter) this initial study (which included an endurance-only, strength-only and a combined strength and endurance group) showed that the combined group exhibited improvements in both endurance and strength up until week 6-7 of the study, after which strength and muscle mass actually declined3. This lead to the initial view that training for strength and endurance may be mutually exclusive.
But research since that time has found that the adaptations to endurance and resistance exercise are mediated by different molecular pathways. This in turn has lead to research efforts aimed at determining how best to modify variables of endurance and resistance exercise so as to minimise their ‘interference’ effects.
“It now appears that the genetic and molecular mechanisms of adaptation induced by resistance- and endurance-based training are distinct, with each mode of exercise activating and (or) repressing specific subsets of genes and cellular signalling pathways.”*
*Hawley JA. App Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009;34(3):355-361.
This research has resulted in the development of protocols that minimising the negative interference between endurance and resistance exercise4.
Factors Affecting Muscular Strength and Endurance
Sports scientists now know that one of the best ways to minimise concurrent training interference is by performing strength and endurance training at different times of the day.
For example, the well-known molecular pathway (i.e. AMPK) that underpins many of the beneficial adaptations of endurance exercise, is known to rise sharply following high-intensity endurance exercise and then return to baseline levels within 3 hours5. This lends itself to an early morning aerobic workout followed by a midday, afternoon or evening weights workout.
There are a number of other factors that affect the combined response to concurrent training, many of which are listed below:
- Order of exercise (i.e. strength or endurance first);
- Optimal time between endurance and strength training sessions (i.e. no time, 1hr, 3hr separation);
- Timing of protein intake in and around strength training, and;
- Nature of endurance training (i.e. high-intensity versus low-intensity) and timing of subsequent strength training session
How to Train for Strength and Endurance at the Same Time
Many of the recommendations concerning the above variables centre on optimally regulating the different molecular signals (i.e. AMPK vs mTOR) that underpin beneficial adaptations to endurance training and strength training. The points below highlight key principles that should be applied by any competitive endurance athlete looking to incorporate strength training to gain a competitive edge.
- Any high-intensity endurance training sessions should be performed early in the day. A minimum of 3 hours should be allowed before any resistance exercise is performed
- Resistance exercise should be followed by intake of high quality leucine-rich protein (i.e. whey protein) so as to maximise the muscle growth and strength stimulus activated by the mTOR pathway.
- Refuel fully between high-intensity morning aerobic sessions and afternoon resistance sessions. Endurance molecular targets such as AMPK are also affected by glycogen levels and caloric intake. So if an endurance athlete is employing a train low-compete high protocol, then the AMPK pathway may still be strongly activated after 3 hours, which would in turn significantly compromise the muscle-stimulating effects of a strength training session.
- Consider performing strength training immediately after a low-intensity, non-depleting endurance exercise session. When performed at low-intensity, endurance exercise doesn’t activate the AMPK pathway like a high-intensity session does. So performing resistance exercise straight after is not detrimental to strength adaptations
Concurrent Training Program
The other key variable in making any given concurrent training program successful is the type of strength training that is performed. For any given endurance athlete, the general aim of any strength training program is to increase strength (and associated speed) without necessarily increasing muscle size or mass.
To this end, strength programs that form part of a competitive endurance athletes training program need to include exercises that feature low repetitions (3-6 @ 80-90%1RM) and fast concentric movements.
Concurrent Training Program Example
So what does a strength training program look like for a common endurance athlete such as a cyclist or runner? Fortunately, there are numerous published studies showing successful implementation of a concurrent strength training program for endurance athletes. The key with each program is that it incorporates movements specific to the demands each given sport.
Sample Concurrent Training Program for Runners
4 x Lower-Body Exercises
- Romanian Dead lift
- Parallel Squat
- Calf Raises
4 sets of 4 repetitions at 80%1-RM with 2-minutes rest between sets for each exercise6.
Focus on performing the concentric phase of each movement as fast as possible, while maintaining good form.
Sample Concurrent Training Program for Cycling
- Half squat (on smith machine)
- Leg Press (one foot at a time)
- One-legged hip flexion (cable machine)
- Toe/calf raises
- 12 Week Program (2 sessions per week)
- Divided into 3 phases (3wks, 3wks, and 6 wks)
- 3 Sets per Exercise
1st 3 Weeks
- 10RM sets @ first weekly session
- 6RM sets @ second weekly session
2nd 3 Weeks
- 8RM sets @ first weekly session
- 5RM sets @ second weekly session
3rd 6 Weeks
- 6RM sets @ first weekly session
- 4RM sets @ second weekly session
Exercise Technique Details
Each exercise should be performed with the intention of maximal acceleration of the load during the concentric phase (lasting around 1 s), while the eccentric phase is performed more slowly (lasting around 2–3 s).
Continuously increase RM loads throughout program. Assistance allowed on the last repetition.
Click here for a more detailed overview of weight training for cycling.
Sample Concurrent Training Program for Swimmers
- Double arm cable pulldown
- Single arm cable pulldown
- Bent-arm barbell pullover
- Straight-arm dumbbell pullover
- 4-5 reps at maximum rate
- Maximum force in concentric phase, slow-controlled eccentric phase
- Increase load throughout program to keep reps at 5 or below
- 2-5 minute rest interval
- Configure exercises to closely mimic swimming stroke
- Fyfe JJ, et al. Interference between concurrent resistance and endurance exercise: molecular bases and the role of individual training variables. Sports Medicine. 2014;44:743–762.
- Nader GA. Concurrent strength and endurance training: from molecules to man. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. 2006;38(11):1965-1970.
- Hickson RC. Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1980;45:255–263.
- Baar, K. Using molecular biology to maximize concurrent training. Sports Medicine. 2014;44(Suppl 2):117-125.
- Wojtaszewski JF, Nielsen P, Hansen BF, et al. Isoform-specific and exercise intensity-dependent activation of 5’-AMP-activated protein kinase in human skeletal muscle. J Physiol. 2000;528:221–226.
- Karsten, B, et al. The effects of sport-specific maximal strength and conditioning training on critical velocity, anaerobic running distance, and 5-km race performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2016;11:80-85.
- Ronnestad BR, et al. Strength training improves 5-min all-out performance following 185 min of cycling. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2011;21(2):250-259.
- Ronnestad BR, et al. In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists’ performance. European Journal Applied Physiology. 2010;110:1269-1282.
- Aspenes S, et al. Combined Strength and Endurance Training in Competitive Swimmers. J Sports Sci Med. 2009; 8(3): 357–365.
- Gatta G, et al. The development of swimming power. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014 Oct-Dec; 4(4): 438–445.