Leg Day: 5 Top Exercises for Endurance


You’ve taken the plunge and signed up for a long-distance triathlon. You’re feeling fit from the last season, determined and enthusiastic. As it starts getting colder, your gym training sessions will slowly increase, and outdoor training sessions decrease.

During the off-season, hitting your strength and conditioning sessions hard will help improve the endurance of the muscles, ensuring that they can perform under the highly stressful conditions of endurance racing. Athletes should not take lightly the massive benefits strength training through means of resistance can have on their overall performance.

Top tip: Remember to warm up properly before each S&C workout, read more about why this is important.

Endurance training through Strength and Conditioning…

When isolated, endurance training forces muscular adaptations such as an increased mitochondrial density. This is performed through a process known as mitochondrial biogenesis which directly correlates to increased production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

In short, this means there is more energy available to the working muscles, meaning you can train and compete harder and for longer. This could make the difference between smashing your target or just fulfilling it #ReachNewLimits.

Set SMART targets

In order to be successful and SMASH your goals in sport, you need to ensure you are setting SMART targets. This is a method used by athletes across a wide spectrum in sports to make sure goals are set correctly. Using the acronym below you can tailor your goal setting to your performance sport.

Specificity – Goals must be specific to your sport and what you are trying to achieve.

Measurable – They must be measurable so that you can tell WHEN the goal is achieved.

Achievable  – It must be achievable and act as a motivator.

Realistic  – Set realistic goals to motivate yourself to succeed

Time-Based – Put a timescale on the goal to push yourself to train hard towards it.

During endurance sport and training the lower body encounters a tremendous amount of stress, therefore it is important to ensure you train for this. Below are our top five leg day exercises to get you conditioned to SMASH goals and win races!

Squats

Target Area: Quadriceps (quads), Hamstrings and Gluteus Maximus (glutes)

The quads, hamstrings, and glutes are used throughout all three disciplines. In particular when you are putting your all into cycling up those tough hills! Many runners will experience problems further down the line if they haven’t strengthened their glutes, so be ahead of the game and cross out any problems before they even occur.

  1. Position yourself underneath the bar, with your feet roughly shoulder width apart. The bar should sit on your back just below the trapezius muscles.
  2. Ensure that you have the support racks in place to protect you against serious injury should you fail to complete the required rep range.
  3. Keeping the body aligned, squat down to 90 degrees and then explode upwards to complete the rep.
  4. Continue this for 8 – 10 repetitions for muscular hypotrophy (building muscle). You should find these last couple of repetitions challenging.

TO WORK ON ENDURANCE, decrease your selected weight and perform this exercise between 12 and 20 reps. WARNING – You may find it challenging and stiff to walk the following couple of days.

Alternative: goblet squats

These are similar to a normal squat. However, you are using a dumbbell rather than the barbell.

  1. Position your hands underneath the weight and with your fingertips pointing upwards.
  2. Ensure your elbows are positioned inwards.
  3. Squat down and up.

The same rep range applies. This exercise allows you to get a deeper range and hit those areas of the muscles that are not utilised very often.

Lunges

Target area: Quads, Hips, Glutes, Hamstrings, Stabilization

Lunges look to target similar muscles to that of squats, so why both? We recommend a mixture of each due lunges isolating each leg, as well as ensuring the strength across your legs is symmetrical, lunges will also build your stability. When tackling long distances, this will save you a lot of energy if your form is stable and strong.

  1. Start standing straight, either holding dumbbells in each hand or with no dumbbells (depending on your ability).
  2. Take a wide step forwards and land with your front knee bent in a right angle. The front knee should never stick out further than your toes at any point, all the weight should be placed on the front heel and not the toes.
  3. Your back heel will be off the ground, and that back knee facing downwards in a right angle as well.
  4. Stand back up, either moving your back leg forward to meet your front (walking lunges) or moving the front leg backwards to meet the back leg.
  5. Repeat this movement on the other leg.

For each set, repeat 15 of these on each leg, and complete 3 sets with a 1-minute rest in between.

Calf raises/Standing calf raises

Target area: Calves

Keeping your calves strong is imperative for endurance sports. Insufficient calf strength throughout long-distance running could result in cramping in the calves, a painful experience that can certainly be avoided by strengthening them up.

There are a variety of different ways that this exercise can be done. For either one of these methods, we advise you to do 3-4 sets of 20 reps, with a 1-minute rest in between each set.

Standard calf raises

  1. Stand on the edge of a step on the balls of your feet, with your heels hanging off the step.
  2. Push up from your toes and balls of your feet, so that you’re on your tip-toes, and then lower back down again.

Standing calf raises

  1. Start by standing straight on the floor.
  2. Push up from your toes and balls of your feet, so that you’re on your tip-toes, and then lower back down again.
  3. This version gives less of a stretch in your calf. However, to make it harder you can hold dumbbells in your hands.

Gym alternative calf raises

  1. Using a leg press, adjust the weight as needed.
  2. Putting your legs in the centre of the leg panel, push against it so that your legs are straight.
  3. Then, slowly walk your legs down to the end of the panel and adjust your position so that your heels are hanging off the panel.
  4. Now, push up from your toes and balls of your feet, so that you’re on your tip-toes, and then lower back down again.

Deadlifts

Target area: Hamstrings, Glutes, Lats, Core and building posture.

Deadlifts are one of the best strength and conditioning exercises for the hamstrings. Not only are they good for strengthening your legs, but they also improve your posture when done correctly. Maintaining a good posture throughout training and racing will ensure that no further sprains will happen on the back or shoulders.

For beginners, we suggest you practice with a very low weight to make sure you get the technique correct, before progressing up in weight. Your back must stay straight throughout all movements in this exercise.

  1. Start with a barbell close in front of you on the floor, with your feet flat on the floor, the same width as your hips.
  2. By bending using the glutes, and hamstrings lower your arms to the ground to reach the barbell. Remember, your back must stay straight.
  3. Hold the barbell with your hands just over shoulder width apart, and using power in your hips push your hips forward, while straightening your legs.
  4. For endurance, repeat 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with a 1-minute rest in between.

TRX Alternating Knee Tucks

Target area: Abs and Obliques, Stability.

Although this doesn’t strictly work the legs and concentrates more on the abs, keeping the abs and obliques strong and stable will benefit you hugely when it comes to long distance.

  1. Start in the press up position.
  2. Feed each foot through the TRX straps so that they’re around the middle of the foot, sitting between the ball of the foot and the heel.
  3. One after another, pull alternating knees towards your chest and back as fast as you can.