Which Is It: Strength Or Endurance?

 

I received this email question the other day from a reader of the blog:

"I keep having this argument with a friend of mine who is an ultra-runner and believes endurance is a lot more important than strength. Our goals are the same, to live an active life and also do some racing. I strength train 3 times a week, he runs 6 times a week and does a little bit of circuit-type weights once a week. We each think the other one is doing it wrong. What do you think, Coach?"

Can you relate at all? Without a doubt, different types of athletes love to debate this question. To get to the answer, let's start by defining these two abilities and then let's consider some questions.

Strength is the ability to produce force and to overcome. Endurance is the ability to resist fatigue, persist, and endure stress for a long period of time.

So, quiz time...Who do YOU think will be more successful in these instances, the athlete who trains primarily for strength or the athlete who trains primarily for endurance?

  • Which triathlete will finish the swim leg of a triathlon with greater ease, and therefore have a better chance for a faster race finish?
  • Which cyclist will have an easier time climbing that really steep hill?
  • Which trail runner or mountain biker will more easily and confidently navigate those gnarly obstacles on the trail or that steep downhill?
  • Which runner or triathlete will be the most successful approaching the very last stage of their race?

The answer is simple: endurance is only possible to the extent that one is stronger than the task at hand, be it the chaotic conditions in the open water or the steep hill you’re trying to climb on your bike, or the gnarly uphill or downhill you're approaching on the trail.

Think of it this way: Carrying 150 pounds up a hill will be an easy act of endurance for the person who has the strength to carry 300 pounds, but an impossible task for a person who can only carry 75 pounds.

It's also 100% certain that the person who has the strength to lift 300 pounds at least once will have no trouble lifting 100 pounds many times over. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee that a person who can lift 100 pounds many times over will be able to lift 300 pounds even once.

  • The stronger we are, the easier everything else becomes; weakness inhibits everything we do and makes everything harder.
  • Resisting fatigue isn't simply about enduring, it is also about your body's ability to handle and absorb shock from impact and contact, as well as repetitive motion.
  • We lose strength as a "natural" and unfortunate by-product of aging, which in turn leads to less endurance and stamina.
  • Strength is a skill. Better skills improve efficiency, which in turn improves endurance.
  • When we increase our strength, in the process we've increased all of our capacities.

Strength is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Increasing strength also increases endurance, but not the other way aroundStrength prevails.

So how'd you do on the quiz? Do these thoughts and concepts apply to your sport?

Please let me know what you think. Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS: There are many ways to get stronger and not all of them are sustainable or productive long term. I've got a plethora of future articles and smart offerings planned to help YOU get and stay strong, with the ultimate goal of keeping you healthy and improving your performance. Stay tuned!

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