Top 5 Strength Movements for Endurance Athletes

Top 5 Strength Movements for Endurance Athletes

The relationship between strength and performance is well-documented, but for endurance athletes focused on performance that relationship represents a balancing act.   The trick is to incite muscle gains while also maintaining range of motion and retaining flexibility.

This means focusing simultaneously on the “how” as well as the “what”.  By doing the right exercises in a controlled way, focused on form and high reps, athletes can incorporate strength training to elevate performance and reduce injuries.

These exercises represent some of the best.


Perhaps the best full body exercise, the deadlift uniquely ties muscle groups together as an overall fitness builder.  A deadlift involves a controlled motion to lift a loaded bar from the ground taking you from a bent position at the waist to standing up straight.  Done properly your back remains flat (neutral) throughout and knees have only a slight bend.  Your hips (not your knees) provide the power.

Performance keys:  Straight to slightly angled shins, midline stability, never put an arched spine under load

Primary Gains: Back, glutes, legs
Secondary Gains: Overall fitness
Performance Gains: Strength-builder for leg drive and stability
Alternatives: Hip hinge


The mention of squat likely brings to mind overloaded bars bending over a division one football behemoth’s back.   While that may be the same motion, the reality is that squatting can be done with only your body weight, a kettle bell or dumbbells.  The focus should be starting slow with no weight or very light weight and focusing on keeping your spine straight throughout a controlled motion.

Performance keys:  Straight back, knees aligned with feet, simple squat taking your hips beyond parallel to your knees

Primary Gains: Glutes, calves, quadriceps
Secondary Gains: Abs, lower back, shoulders and arms
Performance Gains: Overall strength, explosiveness
Alternatives: Hip Sled (though many ancillary benefits to core strength will be missed)


It’s a classic for a reason.  Pushups are a simple bodyweight exercise that requires no equipment and through modification virtually anyone can do them.  Yet despite the simplicity, pushups offer significant upticks in upper body strength.  In addition they are one of the more flexible exercises where simply varying hand placement can focus work on specific muscle groups.

Performance keys:  Touch chest to floor, if you can’t do sets of at least 10 consider modified (knees on floor)

Primary Gains: Chest, Triceps
Secondary Gains: Abs, deltoids
Performance Gains: General upper body strength– great for swimmers
Alternatives: Bench press or dumbbell flys


Building strong shoulders and improving your posture looks a lot like imitating the Village People.  In this instance however the pertinent letters are Y, T and A and the A is executed a little differently than you remember.

To execute YTAs simply grab a set of dumbells or the ends of a resistance band secured under your feet.  With perfect posture (shoulders back) and in a controlled motion, move your arms to the Y position then back to the your sides, then T and finally A.  For the A your arms will not go over your head but remain at your sides as you pivot your hands so our palms face to the front.  All three motions end with hands returning to your sides after each rep.

Performance keys:  Slow and deliberate motion, do not compromise form for heavier weight

Primary Gains: Deltoids
Secondary Gains: Lats, abs and traps
Performance Gains: More powerful pull on swimming strokes
Alternatives: Seated dumbbell shoulder work

Side Lunge

The side lunge is a variation on the standard lunge that helps engage your core while tying the motion in your hips, glutes and thighs together.  They are executed similarly to a standard lunge, but as the name implies the lead step is taken to the side of the body.  Properly executed your torso will stay tight and your weight will be on your heels.

Performance keys:  Keeping torso straight, shin directly over your foot. Heels of both feet flat on the floor throughout

Primary Gains: Glutes and quads
Secondary Gains: Hamstrings and abs
Performance Gains: Better pedaling strength, knee stability for runners
Alternatives: None


A Custom Strength Plan

Incorporating a strength program can be crucial to maximizing results for endurance athletes, but finding the right program depends greatly on your body type, current strength level and goals.  At Zoom Performance we are dedicated to understanding all factors and finding the right solutions for you.

If you are ready to take your performance to the next level, contact us for a free consultation.