How strength training could help more women

By Sabrina Gonzalez

Although it appears contradictory, recent research on strength training has actually shown it to be beneficial for endurance athletes. A number of studies have revealed that strength training produces a positive impact on endurance athletes. It has been associated with improved strength and power as well as better running performance by as much as 13 percent. These positive effects may actually be more apparent in female endurance athletes.

Decreased Risk of Injury and Disease

Strength training in general is associated with a reduction in the risk of injury in endurance athletes. With resistance training, ligaments and muscles become stronger, producing better joint stability. Older women are also at risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease associated with weak bones. Strength training decreases this by improving bone density, resulting in stronger bones that are less prone to osteoporosis and stress fractures.

More Muscle Mass

One of the biggest fears of endurance athletes is that strength training will make them bulky, which can be detrimental in competition. This fear does not always materialize; if you train properly, you will not develop significant muscle mass. For women, specifically, gains in muscle mass are typically less than those seen in males because of specific body composition and hormonal differences. Strength training will, however, produce improvements in both upper and lower body strength. Since women have weaker upper bodies than lower bodies, strength training can be beneficial in certain endurance events that involve upper body work such as biking and swimming in rough water.

Improved Performance

As early as 1997, studies on female endurance athletes have shown that they experience significantly enhanced running economy by as much as  four percent when strength training is added to their usual endurance regimen. This means that at a given speed, the athletes expend less energy, which may result in slightly faster running times. A more recent study, published in 2015, showed improved cycling economy and performance for female cyclists as well. These improvements can be crucial during competition, especially during uphill segments or in that final stretch at the end of a race.

Strength Training Tips for Women

It is important to remember that resistance training is not a replacement for endurance training; rather, it should be used as a supplement. Approximately 30 to 90 minutes of additional strength training exercises twice a week is recommended. Women have a higher amount of body fat and less lean mass compared to males and, as such, experience “de-training” faster. Thus, there is a need to integrate strength exercises in all phases of endurance training for female athletes in order to counter this event.

Many experts suggest engaging in multi-joint exercises such as squats and lunges instead of isolation exercises, where only a single muscle group is targeted. Sport-specific exercises, wherein particular movements of the sport are imitated, are likewise encouraged in order to maximize the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.