Endurance Athletes: Choosing your weights


The key to successfully integrating Strength Training into the weekly program of any endurance athlete is doing so without increasing levels of stress and risking the individual over training. Special care needs to be taken by the athlete and coach to carefully monitor the training loads of both the resistance and endurance (swim, bike and run) elements so that they compliment each other and result in a optimal training effect.

How do we decide what weight to put on the bar, what dumbbells to pick up or how what intensity to work at?

The way in which we determine our loading or intensity largely depends on our end goals but more specifically the ‘phase/period’ of training that we are in. What we do know is that the training program must ‘Progressively Overload’ the athlete if we wish to illicit any neural or physiological change.

Progressive Overload refers to consistently increasing the demands that we place our bodies under, in order to continually increase bone, muscle and connective tissue strength throughout the body. We can ensure this happens by controlling the key variables of the training program. By manipulating Volume, Intensity, Load and Frequency we can target the ‘direction’ of the training program and consequently the effect that it has.

athlete hamstring curl


Similar to how we use measurements such as FTP, Heart Rate and V02max to guide us through our swim, bike and run disciplines it is also useful to have a threshold figure that can help monitor our Strength sessions. With the athletes that I see face-to-face we are able to safely undergo a testing protocol that will give us their 1RM. 1RM or ‘one repetition maximum’ is the maximum amount of force that can be generated in one maximal contraction. This load is strictly for testing and rarely used as a training weight, especially with endurance athletes. For the results we are trying to achieve, the lowest I would work with amongst my Proficient athletes is 3RM, which focuses in the Strength/ Power range.

So what should you do if you don’t have someone to walk and talk you through the process? Once you are comfortable in the ‘movement’ and feeling of the exercise without any added weight you can use the following principles to achieve an effective working load:

  • With exercises using a barbell start out with just the bar (usually 20kg itself) to get a feel of the base weight. From here you can gradually add load usually in 2.5kg-5kg increments. Don’t forget to use plate clips to secure the weight plates.
  • For exercises that require the use of dumbbells or kettle bells again start lighter than you think, generally 5kg is a good baseline, but this will vary from person to person.

Quickly you will be able to identify your capabilities. If you have lost all form, chances are you have gone too heavy, remember we want QUALITY here.

Choosing your weight will go hand in hand with your repetitions, training frequency and rest, as when you alter one variable you will need to take the others into consideration.