The 5 Most Effective Supplementary Workouts for Endurance Athletes

Mackenzie Lobby
by Mackenzie Lobby
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The 5 Most Effective Supplementary Workouts for Endurance Athletes

The specificity principle states that in order to improve at a given task, one must repeatedly practice that particular task. In the fitness realm, this means that you won’t see major improvements in your running performance, for instance, by solely training on a bike. Sure, some of the strength and endurance you gain from biking will transfer over to running, but to truly become a better runner, you must run.

With that said, you can get too much of a good thing. Research has shown that upward of 75% of running injuries are the result of overuse—and those same sentiments apply to all endurance sports. These overuse injuries are caused by repetitive stress—the same movements over and over again—and they can threaten to end a season if not addressed.

Fortunately, there’s hope for avoiding these types of injuries. Supplementary training done in conjunction with your regular endurance sessions will not only make you a better runner or cyclist, but they will also help you avoid those pesky overuse injuries. What’s more, they also add some variety to your routine, which can boost your motivation.

1. High-Intensity Interval Training. While endurance sports training includes a lot of steady-state pace efforts that you maintain for a long period of time, research has shown that working in some high-intensity interval training improves endurance performance. This can mean anything from a sprint workout on the track to a boot camp at the park to a heart-pumping class at the gym. High-intensity intervals are generally short and hard, but include periods of recovery in between. By committing to even a single session each week, you will work a different energy system, which will have positive results on your running or biking performances.

A word of caution: If you’re new to high-intensity efforts, ease into them. It’s normal to experience some soreness and fatigue when you add an intense session to your weekly regimen; however, start with a few really short intervals (6 x 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy on the bike or running on the track, for example) to get your body accustomed to this new stress, as opposed to going all out on a longer interval session and possibly getting hurt.

Try this: The 30-Day High Intensity Interval Training Challenge

2. Mobility Exercises. Whether you’re a runner or cyclist, if you hope to promote efficient and economical movements in workouts or races, you need to have adequate mobility. This isn’t just about being flexible, but rather, it has to do with actively moving your body through a particular range of motion without any major hindrances. For instance, hip mobility is a big one for endurance athletes. If you’re a runner who can’t swing your leg from front to back in one fluid and efficient motion, you’re likely to run into issues at some point, either in the form of an injury or reduced performance. By working mobilization exercises into your routine, you’ll see improvements in your everyday performance both in and out of training.

Try this: 8 Hip Stretches Your Body Really Needs

3. Strength Training. It turns out that pumping a little iron can contribute to better running and cycling fitness. One study showed that following a regular strength routine for 3 months could significantly boost cycling performance. Indeed, another study that reviewed the existing research discovered that concurrent strength and endurance training leads to better economy, muscle power and performance. Building strength will also fortify you against developing injuries, such as those caused by muscular imbalances, down the line.

Try this: The Runner’s Guide to Strength Training

4. Self-Massage. The soft tissue injuries that many endurance athletes encounter are largely a result of nagging ailments that have been ignored over many miles. When you take the time to address these issues early on, you’re more likely to resolve them before they turn into full-blown injuries. Easy self-massage techniques that you can do at home are some of the best ways to deal with the aches and pains caused by training. Having a foam roller to roll out your hamstrings and IT bands, a tennis ball for your hips and glutes, and a golf ball for the bottoms of your feet can go a long way in terms of maintenance over time.

Try this: 4 Key Foam Rolling Moves for Runners

5. Cross-training. Adding in the occasional cross-training session can do wonders for your body in the midst of hard training. Activities like swimming, rowing, aqua jogging and the elliptical will all contribute to your aerobic fitness without any additional pounding to your muscles and joints or moving the same way repetitively. If you’re feeling particularly fatigued after increased running or cycling mileage, consider swapping out one of your regular workouts for one of these low-impact activities. You’ll still get in a cardio session, but you’ll give those overworked muscles a much-needed break.

Try this: 2 Beginner-Friendly Swim Workouts

About the Author

Mackenzie Lobby
Mackenzie Lobby

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including,,, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.



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