Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Athletes: It’s not bodybuilding…

Strength Summary Weight Lifting

Image courtesy of SpokesFit

Strength and Conditioning (S&C) is an aspect of cross-training that has a low participation in sports like football, tennis and basketball. Endurance sports, such as cycling and running, the participation rate is even worse!

In my work with endurance athletes, the problem here lies with the name of it. That big red flag at the start: Strength.

People see the word strength and associate this with body building, and being big, hulk like people.

The reality is much further from the myth and S&C is actually a much more methodical process of breaking down the needs of the athlete and sport, and using this information to plan a training programme that is unique and designed to improve the condition of the athlete, and make them better at what they love.

Person Holding Black Barbell


Building strength is often a taboo word in endurance sports. It is often associated with being big and heavy, but this is a complete myth.

Scientific research proves that gaining muscle is done in a completely different way to gaining strength, and it is absolutely possible to increase your strength without significantly increasing your muscle size.

It should also be noted that muscle is functional weight, meaning more mass brings more power, more efficiency and, ultimately, more speed. While being strong also plays an important role in reducing the risk of impact injury and repetitive strain injuries as well.

When coaches talk about strength for outdoor sports they mean functional strength, so instead of pure, brute lifting strength, they are referring to the strength you can use.

Strength that will help you to endure hills, upper body strength to pull your body up a climb, and strength in the core to keep your body comfortable on long rides.

​Functional strength is all about keeping the body mobile and flexible, to put it simply:


​Sticking with this theory, it allows us as coach/client teams to create effective plans that boost performance, health and motivation to train.

Conditioning Kettlebell


A lot of coaches refer to conditioning as a posh word for fitness, but I like to refer to conditioning work as anything that allows the body to be better at your sport.

This means in my plans, conditioning work can be anything from air bike sprints, to Pilates based sessions. It is the name given to anything that develops the body in a way that is specific.

Confused? below are some examples of exercises that I would class as conditioning:

​- Yoga/Pilates: Movement that allows the body/mind to recover, develop flexibility, re focus and prepare itself for more training/competition.

​- Medicine ball throws: An exercise that helps to develop rotational power, strength and stability, useful for downhill riders who are subject to violent movements on the bike.

​- Single leg squat: A strength/stability exercise that works on stability, balance, co-ordination. Done as bodyweight first before developing onto light, moderate and eventually heavy weight.

Conditioning based work, is designed to develop the athletes body in a way that improves what they love to do, or compete in. This is unique to the person (as all training should be) and the sport/hobby they take part in.

Strength Summary Weight Lifting


If you notice on this blog, none of the exercises mentioned are typical “bodybuilding” style exercises. This is due to them being of little use to people who train at a sport specific level unless that person want’s to specifically develop size in their body.

Vanity based training has its place but in the field of S&C, is much less likely to play a role in endurance sports.

Authored By:

Adam Copley
Adam is a self-employed coach based in Sheffield, UK. Alongside this he is an avid cyclist and competes in cross country mountain biking across the UK. He has raced Cyclocross during the winter and is also a huge lover of road cycling. While he’s not working on his business, he is usually out on two wheels getting fitter, and enjoying the fresh air and many climbs in the peak district.

Post was originally published by Spokes.

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