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Endurance Athlete's: Busting Through Plateaus

Regardless of what program or training schedule, many endurance athletes stop progressing because they aren’t balanced and overload one area of their bodies and under stimulate the opposing area.

The goal of this article is to share some information to get yourself on the right track to a well balanced body. A well balanced body will keep you strong, conditioned and able to move pain free (for the most part) allowing you to push the limits when it really counts, without the risk of over training, or injury.

I come from a competitive 8+ years in Martial Arts/ Muay Thai in which I’ve put in countless hours training and competing in Muay Thai. In order to prepare for competition. I’ve had to spend countless hours training in strength, running on trails, running stairs, circuit training, stretching, and of course training my techniques and skills in Muay Thai, obtaining 2 Canadian amateur championship belts.

8 years ago I made the transition from being a competitor to being a coach. I’ve logged in 1000’s of hours leading, advising, and coaching hundreds of local athletes, ranging from Martial Artists, runners, swimmers, and cyclists, taking their physical performance to the next level, while keeping them pain free and safe from injury.

With complete certainty I can tell you that at every level of fitness and competition (from starting a new sport or being a weekend warrior to competing in a sport professionally) the biggest obstacle to getting our desired results is keeping our training (and bodies) balanced.

We want success to be a question of bottom line execution of sport specific exercises (ex. running to get better at running) that will give us our desired results of getting better period.

However success in sports is rarely that simple. Most athletes I’ve met are often overtraining in their specific sports and have very imbalanced training which ends with imbalanced bodies and in the long run debilitating pain and possible injury.

Sometimes we’re aware of this, but usually we’re not.

In either case, the BEST opportunities we’ve got to grow include 1) work on increasing our awareness and the understanding of what’s going on within our bodies, training, and the environment around us 2) Shifting our way of thinking about training then putting it into practice to accelerate velocity with achieving our fitness goals.

Here are some powerful strategies and processes you can use to do just that:

1) Check your mindset

In fitness your mindset is often overlooked, but in my opinion, it’s the foundation to success, especially when working towards a big goal or overcoming a challenge in your way.

And by mindset I am referring to how you think about training and how your working towards your goals, (are you moving towards your goals or are you in pain and not progressing) along with how you are showing up with your energy, thoughts and emotions to engage.

Take a min to pause, take a step back, reflect on your current mindset, then if needed make some changes.

Making changes is tough because you’re usually stuck within a box of your own making, it takes an openness and willingness to challenge our existing thoughts, beliefs, and initial emotional reactions.

It’s also very helpful here to consult with others who can share a different perspective for you to consider.

This is where you don’t want to just listen to people who tell you what you want to hear. While change often creates initial mental, emotional, and physical ‘discomfort’ (your ego wants to be right!), it’s VERY important to surround

ourselves with others who can challenge our current thinking.

If your thinking is accurate, it will stand up to the challenge. If not, you’ll then have another opportunity to better align to face the challenge head on (you of course must be willing to do so, regardless of the discomfort this will likely create for you).

2) Strength Train

For many years endurance athletes denounced strength training, many would say it would add to much bulk to their frame, slowing them down. But as I’ve found out (first hand) strength training is not only beneficial, it’s necessary.

It’s one thing to be strong, it’s another to stay injury free. The aim with strength training is not to be as strong as you can possibly get, but to get strong enough, and keep your mobility up to par for your sport.

Strength training has many benefits (besides giving you the ability to lift heavy things) which include stronger ligaments, tendons, as well as creating new neural pathways, which can help you push through tough times and keep you with healthy mobility (without pain or injury) for the long term. Building a stronger and healthier body will allow you to withstand more training stress. Consistency in strength training will lead to faster race times.

Keep strength sessions to low reps and adequate rest between sets. Keeping to a protocol of 3-6 sets of 4-8 reps with 1-5 min of rest in between will insure that you tax the nervous system more than the muscular system avoiding hypertrophy and increasing maximal strength gain.

Aim to lift the heaviest weight possible without compromising form (for some of us this might mean starting from the bottom up).

3) Periodization

There are many models of periodization for endurance athletes to follow, but typically there’s a base phase, then building cycles, to competition phase. As you approach race season your focus must change or you will end up with an overworked body and less than adequate results.

Whatever phase you’re in, strength training is a necessary component of any training plan. Although in relation to your endurance phases strength should almost be at a inverse phase to your endurance training.

When on your off season (for your sport), or in your base phase, strength should be in the heavy lifting phase.

As the season reaches competition athletes should begin to increase the volume and specificity of their endurance sessions, and strength sessions should decrease in both volume and specificity.

Rather than building maximal strength as in the off season, strength training in the competition season should be modified to support the physical demands of the endurance sessions, maintain strength and help the athlete remain injury-free throughout the competition season.

What this means is that strength training takes a back seat to your endurance training but doesn’t necessarily get left behind.

Instead we focus on getting away from the same repetitive movement patterns, in the sagittal plane of motion, that resemble running, cycling, and/ or swimming, which tightens and further restricts the range of motion around your joints.

At this point we train for mobility, performing exercises that are multi joint whole body exercises. In this phase we also move in the frontal plane, or in lateral movements, and in the transverse plane, (which means to rotate) to keep the body balanced, mobile, and free from injury.

4) Be Committed

In life as in training you’ll always face setbacks and challenges on the path to accomplishing big dreams and goals.

Regardless of your current circumstances, here’s the bottom line, when you’re committed, you can never lose… you can only quit.

Sometimes it’ll be easy to figure challenges out.

Other times it wont. When we face challenges that feel very heavy, you’ll eventually find yourself questioning “is this really worth it? Do I really want this? Am I actually willing to pay the price required for success?”

In order to continue you’ll need to recommit on a new level to your goals.

You’ll need to increase your intensity of focus and effort.

You’ll need to rework your schedule, time management, focus, discipline, and more.

This will require changes within yourself. Some of which might feel uncomfortable (go back to #1 when this is the case!) welcome to transformation!

If it really matters, and you’re really committed, then don’t quit!

By enthusiastically embracing the challenge and opportunity in front of you to grow, This is where the magic happens, embrace it and push forward!

5) Have Patience

The best things in life don’t happen in a week or a month. It may take time to get to where you’re going.

If your strong and healthy to begin with you may make giant strides in your efforts towards better fitness.

If your injured in one way or another it may take time to rehab the injury before even being able to start making head way in your training for better performance.

In the end we must balance our drive and commitment to move forward with patience for ourselves and others.


Mindset matters more than we think, because our ability to execute consistently over time and tackle “heavy problems” directly flows from our internal commitments.

Having proper strength training hand in hand with proper periodization is essential to breaking through plateaus that you will encounter. Don’t discount the little things that need to be taken care of before you tackle the more prominent tasks to get to your goal.

Stay committed this is how the big guys do it they keep moving forward when most people shrink away and give up. If it’s something you want and value then stay the course and keep moving forward inch by inch.

Have patients transformational change doesn’t happen overnight, so practice patients and remember to have fun on the journey.

Vladimir Quijada is co-owner of Absolute Fitness,

Personal trainer

Head coach,

2x Canadian Amateur Muay Thai Champion

And father of 3

©2017 by Absolute Fitness Red Deer.