T Nation

How to Train for Strength and Endurance?


Dear CT,

it has been suggested I post this in your section. I'd love to hear your opinion as an experienced coach and athlete.

I know this is a bodybuiliding homepage but there have been quit a few articles discussing MMA for example and that is just one sport where cardio plays a huge role alongside strength. Other sports I can think of are rugby and rowing. In all of those strength is vital but it's nothing without endurance. How are you supposed to train for that?

In practice what happens is that especially rowers have a 90-200 minute cardio session followed by weight training... I wonder how much benefit there even is in a weight session after long cardio. Is there any point trying to get stronger while you do hours of cardio every day or should the increase come in offseason everything else being maintenance work?



I'm not CT, but I do have experience with combining strength and endurance.

Cardio is a loose and misunderstood term. Cardio is nothing more than raising the heart rate.
MMA would be closer to Rugby than either are to Rowing. You need a lot of aerobic endurance for rowing. You do NOT need a lot of aerobic endurance for MMA, Rugby, Boxing, etc. Yet boxers and MMAers will still pound the concrete. They are getting their desired benefits through the back door though. If you are doing hours of cardio a day you might as be a marathon runner and they're not very strong.

What you need is anaerobic endurance. Your 'cardio' is repeated maximum efforts. Are you trying to punch, kick, or grapple that guy at only 70%? Then why are you doing cardio that is only 70% of your max? Do repeated sprints, do 400m repeats, do dynamic cardio that doesn't even include running (tabata squats, kettlebell swings, etc).

Balance your training with the demands of your sport. Even a marathoner can gain strength, but with the metabolic demands of his training being so high he's only going to be able to put in 1-2 days a week for about 30 minutes. Determine your needs and available time. If you just keep adding shit on top of shit you'll overload the CNS, produce enormous amounts of cortisol and turn into a tired lump of nothingness.

If I was an MMA strength coach I'd have alternating dates of "cardio" and strength. The training for your skill won't change, that's a given. You do what you have to do to increase your technical skill. My job would basically be to get you in shape. 3 days of strength work periodized from 8-12 reps down to 1-5 reps and 3 days of dynamic and intense short duration cardio (20-30 minutes) starting with 400m repeats and sprints and periodized down to more specific and dynamic efforts.


Thanks for the reply.

I might not have made myself very clear. I'm a rower but I've also played rugby to a reasonable level. When I played rugby I did a lot of extra weight training and my fitness was fine because I did all the standard team training on top. The rowing training is a lot more frequent and longer hours, yet we do intense weight sessions. I always have various strength athletes at the back of my head saying that cardio will just decrease you strength or reduce gains if you do a significant amount. I'm basically wondering about the balance of weight training and "long aerobic sessions" (cardio) and whether there is any point doing them all in the same training phase. I personally feel it just blows me to pieces but that's probably caused by how I do weights...


Another great way to increase anaerobic endurance is weight training with super high reps (50-100). I devote one day a week to 1 set of super high reps on the deadlift, overhead squat, and bench press (do pushups to start out with until you can do 100 and then start loading it). I tried to do overhead presses, but it tore my shoulders up so I switched from regular squats to overhead to statically work my shoulders. I have been doing this for over a year and my anaerobic endurance has never been better.



I think the best way to exist at two ends of the fitness spectrum is to simply periodize your training. Hopefully you have a rubgy season, an off season, a rowing seasin, then another off season.

So one way to do it would be:

  1. Off-season 1: Focus on strength training, do 1-2 long rows for maintenance
  2. Rugby season: sport specific training
  3. Off-season 2: Focus on building endurance, do 1-2 short strength training sessions for maintenance
  4. Rowing season: sport specific training

I was a distance runner clicking off 16:00 5ks and 2:32 marathon weighing 140-145lbs at 5'5.5". Since November I've put on close to 20lbs of lean mass. As first I was still running 15-25 miles a week and still gaining weight. I then switched to mostly cycling as a means of commuting to work and running less. Anytime I run these days I still am able to jog along around 7:00-7:30 pace per mile vs 6:30-7:00 when I was a "runner". I haven't run a race since last September but I still think I can break 17:00 for a 5k even 20lbs heavier. Lesson: It takes very little to actually maintain what you've gained.

Now, if you are doing both at the same time you could do some sort of conjugate training:

Week 1: Rugby focus + strength training; Maintenance work for rowing endurance and skill.
Week 2: Rowing focus + endurance; Maintenance work for rugby strength and skill.
Week 3: Moderate deload; light work for strength, endurance and skill

So, week 1 you may strength train 3 days a week for 60 minutes. Focus on your rugby training. Then 1-2 days you would focus on rowing but using less volume and the same intensity (ie: 50% of the volume you usually do for rowing)

Week 2 you would switch it. Strength train only once that week for 30-60 minutes then focus on the endurance and rowing.

Week 3 you split the training evenly between strength and endurance but lower the volume. 3 days of 30 minute strength training, 3 days of 50% of your usual rowing training. 1 rest day.

Ultimately you will not be able to maximize BOTH endurance and strength. You will not find a 2:10 marathoner who can deadlift 500lbs and you will not find a 500lb deadlifter who can run a 2:10 marathon. At least not in the same training period.

You can however have an interesting life as a sports athlete as few people choose to try and be good at both ends of the spectrum.