Power Training for Endurance Athletes

Power training for endurance athletes is a much neglected form of conditioning by most coaches. It is often thought that endurance athletes with benefit from the standard array of endurance training methods only. Bu here’s the thing, endurance athletes need power too. Without power an endurance athlete is performing closer their own maximum output. This results in a lower anaerobic threshold, which is a primary indicator of performance in long distance events.

Many coaches still believe that in order to train a champion endurance athlete they need to increase VO2 max as their primary concern. This is detrimental thinking to performance. Anaerobic threshold is now seen as a major indicator of endurance performance. The higher an athlete’s anaerobic threshold, the more power output can be applied before dipping into anaerobic energy reserves. An endurance athlete performs best when they are performing within almost exclusive aerobic output. Once they go anaerobic they have crossed the line where they can no longer sustain that level of effort for the duration of the event.

Although an endurance athlete will rarely call upon maximum power during a race, they will still benefit from power training. You see power training for endurance athletes is not implemented so the athlete can actually apply that maximum power during a race. This would be a silly tactic. Power training for endurance athletes is beneficial in order for them to remain aerobic throughout an entire race and do so at a higher level of performance.

Lets say for example that you are training a marathon runner that can sprint flat out at about 32 kph. They generally run a race at around 18-20 kph. There is only 12 kph between their maximum and there endurance race pace. Do you think they would perform better running a maximum sprint at 35 kph? Of course they would. The larger the maximum the higher the performance at sub-maximal efforts. I’m not saying that a sprinter with the ability to run flat out at 50 kph would be a better marathon runner. They simply would not have the specific endurance last out the race a sustainable level. What I am saying though is that a marathon runner with greater sprinting ability will be able to transfer that higher threshold into their specific performance.

Wouldn’t you agree that any athlete, endurance or otherwise, performs better when they can sustain a higher output through the duration of the event they are performing in? I mean a cyclist who can cycle 10 kph faster than the competition would finish before them right? A 100 metre sprinter obviously performs better when he/runs faster. The same is true for an endurance athlete, they just have to do it for longer and the effort applied is lower per second but needs to be sustained much longer.

So what can you do as a coach and how will it benefit your athletes?

Power training for endurance athletes needs to be approached with caution. They are far from needing five plyometric sessions per week and a vertical jump of 40 inches. This would be detrimental to their performance whilst training for distance. They need the power within context and they need various modes of power, not just maximal muscular power.

So the following is an outline you can apply to endurance athletes for greater power output over the duration of a race. Keep in mind though that the athlete should still perform specific endurance work during this time.

  • Begin by increasing maximal power output over short duration. This includes maximal strength training, plyometric training and short sprint training. This phase can last between 4-8 weeks depending on response and need.

  • Next begin applying that power to longer durations. Maximal strength training can be scaled back to maintenance level and muscular endurance training with compound movements can be introduced. Plyometrics should change from maximal power with long rests to almost maximal but over slightly longer durations. Sprint repeat need to be longer with a shortened rest period. This will be another 4-8 week phase.

  • By now the athlete should have a pretty decent power foundation. It’s time to start getting a little more specific. Scale all other power training to maintenance work from now on. Begin performing speed training on the track. Instead of 100 and 200 metre sprint repeats, begin doing 400 at max pace. Perform power endurance work such as plyometrics with super high reps. This might mean squat jumps for 20 or 30 reps. Resistance training should now be scaled back. The weights you do should mostly be higher reps with minimal rest between sets. Everything you do here should be done with very short rest periods.

  • Now it’s time for maintenance of power within the context of specific endurance. The preceding phases were designed to build a solid foundation for power development. Now sprint work should be sustained longer such as maximal 800’s. Plyometrics can be varied but scaled back and resistance training should be performed the same as for the last phase but only once per week. In this final phase the power can be maintained both by performing the above mentioned recommendations and by doing sustained performance at just above race pace.

Power training for endurance athletes is of great benefit. It might sound counter-intuitive but you can’t argue that increased power output over the duration of an event is the primary goal. This results in faster times regardless of the distance.

I’ll leave you will one final drill you can use to maintain foundational power development. This is one many coaches are currently using to great effect.


Lets use the example of marathon training for this one.

Perform runs at just under maximal sprint pace and maintain the highest possible speed for the longest time.

Simple. It may even sound like other speed work you are doing. The difference is that most speed work has a set distance, time or pace. This is simply max pace, for max distance and max time.

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