This article was originally posted over at Integrated Strength.
I have always been better at things demanding endurance over pure power or strength.
I played soccer throughout my teenage years, and whilst I was never the fastest over 10, 20 or even 60 m, I would always be running hard toward the end of the game.
I also ran cross country, and again, whilst my top speed was never the fastest, I was always there or there abouts come the end of the race due to my ability to maintain a consistent pace (although I was not comfortable with the discomfort of high intensity work, and gave up way too early way too many times).
After my soccer career was over (it is hard to play on Sunday mornings when you are working in a bar until 3 AM every Saturday night), I took up cycling recreationally. Again, I rode long, not fast.
Then one day I decided to start training in a gym seriously. I was somewhat blessed, in that I was reading Men’s Health a fair bit, and the first program I did was a total body workout by Alwyn Cosgrove, a far cry from the body part splits most misguided teens start training on, considering Alwyn is one of the premier fitness professionals in the world.
Once I started training, my desire to know everything about everything kicked in, and I started reading voraciously about training.
Stumbling upon T-Nation, I learnt that strength and size were king, and cardio was for weak, emaciated men.
So all I did was lift. And eat.
I got bigger. And stronger. Going from around about 72 kg (underweight) to 92 kg at my peak (overweight). I was pretty strong, but not very powerful.
Meaning, I could lift (relatively) heavy weights, but not very quickly, and I still couldn’t run that fast or jump that high.
Not mention my endurance now sucked, but hey, you’ve got to be unbalanced to be balanced, right?
If you can’t detect the sarcasm, the answer is no, not right. In fact, wrong.
You see, I was never a competitive endurance athlete. Or a strength athlete. Or anything that required me to be so highly specialised. Yet specialise is what I did, neglecting one physical quality in pursuit of another.
The problem: I was (and still am), a guy that wanted to be strong, powerful and have a big enough tank to play a game of football or go for a run at will.
I also wanted to look good, both in and out of clothes, as well as be able to move freely, without pain. Basically I wanted to feel like a human being should, when they are in great health.
Like so many people though, I lost sight of the bigger picture.
There is nothing wrong with focusing on a specific quality for a short period of time in order to improve it. In fact, this is more often than not, the optimal way to achieve results quickly.
However, the key is to have a baseline ‘program’, and return to that after the intense burst.
Let me give you an example.
When you are mapping out your training, outline the following physical qualities:
Of course, you should be addressing mobility and flexibility, as well as recovery, but I view these as human maintenance rather than performance enhancement (even though they do enhance performance).
Now, whether you are training for a 10 km run, a powerlifting meet or the beer drinking competition at your company Christmas party, be sure to include some work for each quality, whilst most of your focus goes towards your goal.
How much will depend on how much you want to specialise, and what your needs and current abilities are, but the important point is to not neglect any quality.
That way, you always maintain a base level of each quality, and when your focus shifts, you can progress quickly.
It also means you are a more well rounded physical specimen. Which is always desirable. Who doesn’t want to be a well rounded physical specimen. I mean, just say it out loud. It sounds awesome. Imagine being that?
Anyway, here are some brief descriptions of each quality:
Power is the ability to produce force quickly. Think jumping, throwing and sprinting. By design, activities that require power are very short duration. This is because these activities are quite intense, and require large amounts of energy.
Power is important, not only for athletic performance, but for life performance. As we age, we lost power quicker than any other physical quality. Ever seen an elderly person move quickly? It’s rare. It shouldn’t be.
Power training should be done when you are fresh, either at the start of a workout, or on its own.
Jump, lift quickly and (medicine ball) throws are good (simple) options.
If power is the ability to produce force quickly, strength is the ability to produce force.
Strength underpins every physical quality, from power, to endurance.
Getting stronger improves just about everything, up to a certain point.
Getting stronger is fairly simple. Lift something heavy. Then, next time, lift something heavier. Over time, keep lifting something heavier, more times.
The ability to repeat and sustain effort can be broken down into more complex subcategories. But let’s just call them all endurance.
I think most people skew towards endurance training, because it is easier.
I mean, sure, running is hard, you feel tired afterwards, but you can just run, and survive the distance and pat yourself on the back.
For me though, endurance is more than just being able to survive, or endure the distance. It is about being able to produce a high output repeatedly.
Endurance is easy to train for, but also easy to stuff up.
You need at least 6 hours between strength and endurance sessions to not interfere with the adaption.
You also need to tailor the type of endurance you are after.
Don’t get too worried though, some is better than none, and besides, this article is about principles, not applications.
My own experiences and mistakes are good, because they teach me things that I can use to help you.
Try not to make them, especially after I’ve just explained to you how not to.
As an aside, I know I rave about kettlebells, but I’m pretty sure that kettlebell training (the proper way – high rep ballistics) builds all three qualities simaltaneously.
A pretty good baseline if you ask me.