Athletes need not sacrifice endurance for power and vice versa, study finds

Professor Hans Degens says combination training is best for the body

Athletes do not need to sacrifice power for endurance, a Manchester Metropolitan study has found

Athletes do not need to sacrifice power for endurance, a Manchester Metropolitan study has found

Athletes do not have to sacrifice power to improve their endurance and vice-versa, a university study has shown, helping bust the myth that there has to be a ‘trade off’ between the two.

Research by physiology experts published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed the idea that strength or tolerance will diminish if an athlete invests training time to build up the other is misguided.

The study, carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom and the Lithuanian Sports University (LSU) in Kaunas, Lithuania, suggests a mix of exercise of moderate intensity and long duration (endurance exercise) with exercise of high-intensity but short duration (resistance exercise), known as combination training, works best.

Mix of power and endurance is key

In fact, the study shows that team athletes who enjoy a blend of power and endurance training had as good a performance as endurance athletes in aerobic tests and as good a performance as power athletes in muscle strength tests.

The research team recommended power athletes introduce endurance training and endurance athletes adopt power training, adding that any endurance exercise such as cycling, running or swimming is particularly beneficial for all-round fitness.

For non-athletes, the team advised stair climbing, jogging and even vigorous housework as alternates to gyms and indoor exercises that may require specific equipment and motor skills.

Our study shows the trade-off between power and endurance is probably not there

Busting the myth

Lead academic Hans Degens, Professor of Muscle Physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The common assumption is that building either endurance or power, you will diminish the other.

“But our study shows the trade-off between the two is probably not there.”

The joint Manchester Metropolitan University and LSU team compared the performance in a number of controlled exercises of endurance athletes (distance runners, road cyclists, paddlers and skiers), power athletes (sprinters, throwers, combat sport athletes and bodybuilders), team athletes (basketball, football and volleyball players) and non-athletes.

The athletes in the large-scale study performed at a recreational to elite level of competition, and trained between three and 14 times a week.

Among multiple other tests such as completing countermovement vertical jumps – jumping from a standing start – and measurements such as body composition, participants were also asked to perform an incremental running test while the researchers measured their VO2max – the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilise during intense exercise, and a measure of someone’s aerobic endurance.

The researchers also tested the participants’ muscle strength and stroke volume – the amount of blood pumped by the heart per beat – with techniques called dynamometry and M-mode echocardiography respectively.

They found team athletes had a similar VO2max to endurance athletes and a similar jump power to power athletes, suggesting that superimposing regular resistance training to an endurance programme will not reduce performance in power events at the expense of endurance and vice versa.

Team athletes have 'best of both'

Prof Degens said: “Our study shows team athletes actually have the best of both and that is a fantastic observation. We did not expect to find that.

“It demonstrates that endurance training for power athletes and power training for endurance athletes is not detrimental.”

Explaining why the two training regimes may complement each other and improve overall performance, Prof Degens said: “In physiological terms, if you are doing any physical activity then you need to employ a certain amount of muscle for a movement.

“But if you can recruit a smaller proportion of that muscle to do exactly the same amount of work then you can delay the onset of fatigue – or you can perform the movement at a higher speed.”

Findings apply to everyone

Prof Degens said the findings of the study would be of interest to anyone undertaking or thinking of undertaking any kind of fitness or sport.

He said: “You could apply this to everyone, not just athletes, as we think it’s better for your health overall, although that was not something considered in our study.

“If you’re a very slender person who is more suited to endurance, or a very stocky person more suited to power, it won’t harm to introduce exercises of the other type.

“But how much combination training is needed to bring your performance up to that of a specialist endurance or power athlete is an interesting question and one that could be examined in future research.”

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