Common Strength Training Mistakes: Endurance Athletes


As an orthopedic physical therapist, I spend my day treating a variety of conditions. When endurance athletes walk through my door, the majority of the time the main complaint is a lower leg injury consisting of the calf muscle complex, ankle, plantar fascia, knee and the infamous “IT band” and hip. There are some factors that are directly related with onset of overuse injury in the endurance athlete:

1) Improper progression of training. For example, too sudden of an increase in load, the “too much, too soon” principle. Too little rest in between bouts of activity. Too much intensity.

2) Previous history of injury or poor rehabilitation of previous injury. This results in return to activity below normal levels, often too soon resulting in a cycle of injury and more time away from training.

3) Inadequate muscular strength and or flexibility.

Here are some common mistakes:

  • Often, most athletes are majoring in the minutiae of ‘corrective exercise’, ‘muscular activation’ or an excessive amount of time focusing on ‘muscular imbalance.’ There is so much information out there for example, muscles are ‘not firing’ and they are ‘under active.’ This results in staying in this area for far too long and often performing exercises that underload the muscle and are unsuccessful at causing a change in strength or endurance.

  • A proper programmed strength program will address the limitations that you have and sufficiently load it to build them up. If you have a limitation, work on it every day. Build a specific strategy that will address your weakness and build it into your warmup or put it in at the end of your program, so you know you are working on bringing up the strength daily.

  • The lack of heavy loading in the strength program. Loading is relative. An effort level of 7/10 – 8/10 on perceived difficulty usually is a good starting point or a repetition range that challenges you between 6-8 repetitions for 3-4 sets. The purpose of the strength program is to overload the body to elicit an adaptation for strength. Consistent use of light loads effort levels of 3-4/10 on the perceived exertion scale in an attempt to elicit strength gains is insufficient and will not yield the benefits that you are attempting to gain. This results in the misuse of time and an ineffective strength program. Remember, the main goal of training is to elicit the best benefits in the least amount of time. When you employ a strength program, make sure it is dialed in and complete to address both strengths and limiters and build the foundation from which you will pull from during your competitive season.

  • Not performing explosive movements in the strength program. This is an incredibly overlooked component to a performance program. Explosive training is essential to develop power, ability to fire up the nervous system to have stronger more rapid muscle contraction, improvement in tendon quality reducing incidence for tendon injury. Power training helps to improve the ability for the body to more efficiently absorb and recoil force for instance for the knee and Achilles tendon when running, sprinting, or pushing hard on the bike pedals when sprinting or climbing a hill.

  • Explosive movements include: Jumping to a box, two leg jumping over a distance, single leg hopping, medicine ball throws, Jump squatting with bodyweight or with a sandbag or kettlebell.

Again, this is part of a plan for progression and should be laid out in a format where you gradually improve and introduce new movements when your body is ready and has sufficiently adapted to your previous training.