The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed

Affiliate Disclosure

Articles, Fitness, Workout & Exercises

Welcome to Chapter 4, Part 2 of Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance Health & Life.

In the last part of this chapter, which shows you the five essential elements of an endurance training program that most athletes neglect, you discovered the first essential element – strength – and learned why you must build strength if you're serious about your body being able produce adequate force and also last through the rigors of endurance sports without you needing a hip replacement when you're 50.

And as you also learned, strength doesn't necessarily equate to muscle mass, huge shoulders or rippling calves (unless that's a look you're going for). Instead, strength simply refers to your ability to have extra muscle fiber to draw upon in times of need, such as when you're charging up a steep trail, surging to leave someone in your dust on the bike, or fighting an ocean swell. Of course, it also means your joints, ligaments, soft tissue and bones are strong and sturdy enough to withstand repetitive pounding.

But there are two other skills that go hand-in-hand with strength (and are often mistaken for strength): power and speed.

So now that you know how to optimize strength with the proper training, food and supplement strategies, you're going to learn how to optimize the next two essential elements: power and speed.

Leave your questions, comments, feedback and edits below this post, and in Part 3 we'll move on to the two final elements: Balance and Mobility. Please note that as you learn each of the five essential elements, I'm not going to leave you scratching your head and trying to figure out how to fit them into your program. Instead, when this book is published, I'll be including a training plan in which I do all that mentally taxing work and planning for you.

By the way, the audios, videos, slides and take-away notes from the recent, absolutely epic, “Become Superhuman” live event are all available for instant download, including fantastic presentations by Dave Asprey, Nora Gedgaudas, Phil Maffetone, Ray Cronise, Monica Reinagel and more…you can get lifetime access by clicking here.


Essential Element 2: Power

Power is the ability to generate high amounts of force over a short period of time.

So while your strength refers to how much force your muscles can exert, your power refers to how quickly that force can be exerted.

For example, if you're completing a strength-oriented task, it doesn't matter how long it takes you to complete that task, whether it's lifting a weight, moving a couch, or climbing a flight of stairs. Instead, all that matters is that the task gets completed, and doing something slowly doesn't necessarily take away from the “success” of a strength-based movement.

But when your goal is power, speed counts. The speed with which you lift that weight, move that couch, or climb that flight of stairs dictates how successful you were at quickly recruiting your muscle – which is why power is often referred to as speed-strength.

So why is power important for an endurance athlete, who seems to be moving relatively slowly across a course, especially compared to, say, a 100m sprinter?

It all comes down to the fact that training for power doesn't really train your muscles as much as it trains your nervous system (Okamoto). When you train for power, your central nervous system learns to control your muscles in a more efficient way, creating enhanced muscle utilization without the negative effects of too much muscle bulk. I like to think about it this way: power simply allows you to “fine tune” your strength (which you've hopefully been building, right?).

As a matter of fact, as long as you follow the power training rules you're about to learn, such as keeping the number of repetitions low, lifting light weights fast, and moving quickly, your power training will increase your ability to maximally utilize muscle without a significant change in your muscle size (or muscle fiber tearing and subsequent soreness).

This handy advantage of being able to more effectively recruit the muscle you already have, without necessarily increasing muscle mass, means that you'll need to recruit fewer muscles fibers for any given intensity. So power is like putting a faster engine in your car without actually increasing the body mass of the car or the weight of the engine itself. This results in lower energy costs, less muscular fatigue, and ultimately, better endurance performance (7, 12). So in summary, power training for an endurance athlete bestows:

-Recruitment of more muscle fibers without addition of muscle mass…

-Ability to train for quick movements and high force potential without creating soreness…

-Better economy and efficiency, even at relatively lower speeds…

Each of these reasons is why I tend to favor more light and fast power-based workouts and fewer heavy and slow strength-based workouts as I or an athlete I coach gets closer to an actual race. We've already put in the work, possibly gotten some extra muscle fibers, and built our brute force capability with our off-season or early-season strength workouts, and now it's time to simply learn how to grab as many of those fibers as possible when it really counts.


Training Strategies for Increasing Power

There are three primary strategies for increasing power as fast as possible: plyometrics, speed-strength sets, and complex sets.

Each of these strategies are based around the same concept: the “inhibition reflex”.

You’ve probably heard this story: a small child is trapped under a burning car, and in a feat of superhuman strength, the child’s mother rushes to the car and lifts the entire vehicle, rescuing the child from certain death.

You may have also heard that chimps and gorillas can be ten times stronger than humans, and capable of bending steel bars, punching through walls or throwing huge boulders.

Now don't worry: your training is not going to require you to lift cars or bend steel bars. But both the mother and the monkey are relying on a complete rewiring of a special mechanism that the body has built in to keep a muscle from tearing from excessive force. This mechanism is the inhibition reflex, and here is how it works:

Built into every muscle is a special organ called a Golgi tendon organ (GTO). When your muscle contracts and generates a force, the GTO fires off nerve impulses to your spinal cord, and your spinal cord responds with an inhibition reflex (2). This nervous system inhibition signals your muscle fibers to limit force production when the muscle has increased tension.

While this mechanism is certainly a convenient way to keep you from, say, tearing your biceps while you're lifting a couch, it can unfortunately inhibit your sports performance when you’re trying to push the pedals hard or run up a hill. In the case of the mother saving her child from a burning car or a gorilla escaping from the zoo by bending steel bars, the brain has overpowered the inhibition reflex, resulting in a higher threshold of the GTO.

Now here’s the good news: Just like the mom and the monkey, you can increase the excitatory threshold of your GTO to improve your maximum power. In other words, you can “turn off” just a little bit of your body's natural protective inhibition. A poorly trained person will always have a GTO that kicks in before much force can be produced, but with proper training, you can trick your muscles into contracting at a higher force and speed before the muscle-protecting inhibition kicks in.

Here’s how: By teaching your body how to have a faster “stretch-shortening cycle,” you can make your GTO less likely to send signals to limit force production when the muscle has increased tension. This allows for greater contraction force than you would normally be able to produce during a movement, a strength or power exercise, or during endurance activities swimming, cycling or running (13).

The stretch-shortening cycle is simply the period of time it takes your muscle to transition from an “eccentric” phase in which a muscle is lengthening (such as when your foot lands during running) to a “concentric” phase in which the muscle is contracting (as when your foot pushes back off the ground). This entire cycle is trained through explosive, powerful movements, which are often referred to as plyometrics.

Now that you know how to trick your muscles into power, it's time to learn the three main strategies that will let you get the job done. Each of the following strategies will train your GTO by to absorb a force and then contract to produce a new force as quickly as possible, thus decreasing the time of your stretching-shortening cycle.


Power Strategy #1: Plyometrics

In simplest terms, plyometric training can be described as any activity that involves a rapid stretching of a muscle (eccentric phase) immediately followed by a rapid shortening of that muscle (concentric phase). Hopping, skipping, bounding, jumping and throwing are all examples of basic plyometric movements.

Each of these movements is based around something the stretch reflex you've just learned about – relying upon the concept that when your muscle is rapidly stretched,  elastic energy in the muscle’s tendon components is built up and briefly stored in those tendons, and when the muscle then contracts, the stored energy in that tendon is released, thus contributing to the speed of a movement or contraction.

Plyometric exercises promote high movement speed, lots of muscle fiber recruitment in a short period of time, and trained release of the powerful elastic energy stored in your tendons. This means that when your foot strikes the ground, it spends less time in contact with the ground, leaves the ground more quickly, and moves you along at a faster speed.

When training with plyometrics (or any of the other power strategies you're about to learn), the delay between the stretching, eccentric phase and the shortening, concentric phase needs to be very short, about no longer than a quarter second, and this is why all plyometric exercises need to be characterized by fast powerful movements (frankly, when I watch most endurance athletes do plyometrics they do them quite slowly and usually after they've already been fatigued by long run or a previous day's workout – so they're getting zero bang for the buck out of that “plyometric” workout). So plyometrics explosively or don't do them at all.

Here are some of the best plyometric movements you can use in your endurance training program:

#1: Depth jumps

Jump off a raised platform or box, land on both feet, and immediately jump as high as possible. For this and any other of the leg exercises in this article, you should minimize ground contact time.

#2: Single-leg hops

With one leg, hop up onto a slightly raised surface. Even jumping up onto a (non-moving) treadmill belt is fine.

#3: Bounds

Run, but with oversized strides and maximum amount of time spent in the air. Every time your foot strikes the ground, push off as hard as possible to maximize stride length.

 #4: Clap push-ups

In a variation on the standard push-up, push up explosively, clap hands, and land. You can do these from your knees if necessary.

#5: Med ball throws

Take two to four steps and throw a medicine ball explosively from the chest as hard as possible toward a wall or training mat. Extend arms fully when throwing.

#6: Med ball slams

Hold a medicine ball overhead, then slam it into the ground as hard as possible. Catch and repeat. As a reverse alternative and similar exercise to medicine ball slams, you can do “muscle-ups” when in the pool, pulling yourself up and over the pool wall.

#7: Power skips

Perform playground-style skipping, with your knees exploding towards your chest as high as possible. As with bounds, your goal is to maximize time spent in the air and powerfully drive your knees towards your chest.

#8: Jump rope

Perform double or alternating leg rope jumping, with a focus on minimizing ground contact time and getting as many jumps as possible in the allotted period of time.

#9: Hurdle hops

This side-to-side movement is included because lateral motion is missing from most endurance training programs. Over a line, tennis ball can, cone or step bench, jump side to side as many times as possible in the allotted amount of time. You can jump with one leg (more advanced) or both legs.

Here’s how a sample plyometric routine looks, and during race season or the build-up to a race, you only need to do a program like this once per week to get results:

  1. Depth jumps – 10 jumps from 3- to 5-foot box
  2. Clap push-ups – 10
  3. Single leg hops – 10
  4. Med ball throws – 8
  5. Power skips – 20 yards
  6. Bounds – 40 yards
  7. Medicine ball slams – 8
  8. Hurdle hops – 10 per side
  9. Jump rope – 20 seconds

You can go through this entire routine two to three times as a circuit, and unlike most circuits, you’ll want full rest between any sets that use similar muscles (typically between 60 seconds and three minutes). For sets that don’t use similar muscles, such as depth jumps to push-ups, you don’t necessarily need to rest. Here's a video to demonstrate:


Power Strategy #2: Speed-Strength Sets

In the last part of this chapter, you learned about how to train strength by using multi-joint moves such as squats, cleans, overhead presses and deadlifts. The only real difference between “strength” and “speed-strength” training is that for speed-strength, you perform the same multi-joint, full body lifts but you perform them quickly and explosively, often using lighter weights so that you can indeed move a weight as fast as possible. Compared to lifting weights at a slow and controlled speed, which maximizes strength, explosive training maximizes movement economy, motor unit recruitment, and even lactate threshold (12).

When Olympic lifting is thrown into your speed-strength mix, added benefits include increased VO2 max and decreased resting heart rate (15, 6). Olympic lifts involve very high power outputs, high rates of force production and large amounts of muscular coordination, including the combination of ankle, knee and hip extension. Traditional Olympic lifting (which typically involves very tight leotards and something endurance athletes rarely get exposed to unless it's time for the Summer Olympics on TV), is a standardized competition in which participants attempt a maximum lift of a barbell loaded with weight plates, using either a “snatch” exercise or a “clean and jerk” exercise. When properly executed, the snatch and the clean and jerk are two of my favorite dynamic and explosive exercises for enhancing power in endurance athletes, but they do require a good bit of instruction to learn, and can be associated with an increased risk of exercise if performed improperly. If you already know how to be doing Olympic lifts, then you should be doing them, and if not, look to a resource such as Dan John, or a local qualified weightlifting coach to teach you correct form.

But you don't have to know the snatch and the clean and jerk to get the benefits of speed-strength training. Other ballistic, explosive exercises that don't involve quite as much coaching or as steep a learning curve, include:

Dumbbell lunge jump

Medicine ball throws

Medicine ball slams


Chest Throws

Power Cleans

You should also check out the fantastic and free plyometric and power training library at

To get the most benefit out of your speed-strength sets, you should generally perform 3-5 sets of just 3-5 repetitions for each exercise that you do, using a weight that is 40-60% of your maximum weight, lifted at maximum speed. Take full recovery between speed-strength sets (2-5 minutes), and when necessary, you can also use “intra-rep” recovery, meaning you take 20-40 seconds between each repetition in a set. Yes, that can be tough for the go-go mentality of an endurance athlete, but you literally do a lift explosively with perfect form, set the bar down, walk away, come back and do the lift again.  If you're accustomed to high rep, medium weight, bodybuilding or Crossfit style weight training, this may seem much different than what you're used to, but this is what it takes to maximize power production.

Here's a sample power training workout from my book “Weight Training For Triathlon: The Ultimate Guide“. These type of workouts should begin to replace traditional strength workouts the closer you get to your race (and the plan you'll get access to as part of this book will show you exactly how to structure your season for proper workout timing).

Warm-Up: Complete 3-5 minutes of aerobic exercise such as jogging, cycling or elliptical trainer, then complete the following exercises.





Hip Flexor Kickouts





Four-Step Hip Stretch





Foam Roller Quads





Foam Roller Hip Flexors





Foam Roller Hamstrings





Foam Roller IT Band High





Foam Roller IT Band Low





Foam Roller Lateral Calf





Foam Roller Low Back





Main Set: Complete the following exercises as single sets, 1-3x through, with 60-90s rest after each set.





Overhead Press





Lunge Jumps





Skates or Side-To-Side Hops





Med Ball Slams





Cool-down: Hold each of the following stretches for 6-20 seconds. If heart rate is high or breathing is difficult, complete 3-5 minutes of light aerobic activity prior to the stretches.
Scorpion or Down Dog





Single Leg Quadriceps










Standing, Seated or Lying Hamstring





Seated or Standing Figure Four





Bridge (Optional)






Power Strategy #3: Complex Training

You may have already been aware of the benefits of plyometric exercises and explosive weightlifting just described. But it is slightly less well known that combining traditional strength and explosive exercises results in greater muscle fiber recruitment and even faster improvements in power and rate of force development (1).

“Complex Training” is exactly that: a workout comprised of a strength exercise followed by a plyometric or speed-strength exercise (9). Examples of Complex Training include:

-Squats followed by squat jumps

-Lunges followed by lunge jumps

-Front squat followed by drop jumps

-Bench press followed by medicine ball chest throws 

-Overhead press followed by overhead medicine ball throws

-Pull-ups followed by medicine ball slams

The science behind these matched pair of exercises is that the strength set “primes” the central nervous system so that more muscle fibers are available for the subsequent explosive exercise. The difference between the type of strength sets that you perform in a Complex Training vs. a traditional strength set is that your repetitions are lower and heavier in a complex set. For example, you  go heavy on the first set, rest briefly, then progress to the next set, then finally  rest long (and I'm a big fan of maximizing your time and doing the mobility work that I will be discussing later in this chapter during those rest periods). For example:

-Front Squat, heavy x 3, rest 10 seconds, progress to Drop Jump x 6, rest 2-3 minutes

-Overhead Press, heavy x 3, rest 10 seconds, to Med Ball Throws x 6, rest 2-3 minutes

Just like power workouts, Complex Training should be used more than traditional strength training as you get closer to your race.


Foods For Power

Yes, you can build your nervous system by eating the right foods.

When it comes to power, the most important consideration from a food standpoint is the support of your nervous system, since the speed with which your nerves communicate will directly influence the speed of your brain speaking to your muscles, and vice versa. The three best ways to accomplish this are via omega-3 fatty acid intake, amino acid intake and B-complex vitamin intake.

Your nerves are wrapped in sheaths called myelin sheaths, and a diet for power should be comprised of specific nutrients that support the formation of these myelin sheaths, and also the health of the nervous system as a whole. The reason I recommend omega-3 fatty acids (especially docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA) is because they are particularly important in building these sheath structures surrounding nerves (10). 

Flax seeds and walnuts are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but the amount of DHA actually absorbed from seeds and nuts is relatively low. Very good sources of more readily available omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, cloves, grass-fed beef, halibut, shrimp, cod, tuna, kale, collard greens, and winter squash.

In addition, activity in your nerves is carried out with special messaging molecules called neurotransmitters – and in most cases, these neurotransmitters are amino acids or derivatives of amino acids (8). For this reason, optimal protein intake along with balanced intake of amino acids from food or supplement sources can also be very helpful in supporting your nervous system.

Some of the best high amino acid protein sources for your nervous system include grass-fed beef, wild salmon, eggs from pastured chickens, raw organic dairy, almond and almond butter, quinoa, and spirulina or chlorella sources. You'll learn much more about the best protein sources for endurance athletes in the nutrient density section of the nutrition part of this book.

Finally, in order for the nervous system to synthesize and circulate these neurotransmitters, you need to have adequate intake of B complex vitamins, and Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are especially important in nerve metabolism (14).

Excellent food sources of vitamin B6 include bell peppers, turnip greens, and spinach; excellent sources of folate include spinach, parsley, broccoli, beets, turnip and mustard greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, calf's liver, and lentils, and excellent sources of B12 include calf's liver and snapper.


Supplements For Power

The following are my top recommended supplements for building power as quickly as possible, and most are based on the same nervous system supporting philosophy as my food recommendations.

Choline – 250-500mg, 30-60 minutes prior to workout. As soon as you take it, choline makes its way to the brain and increases focus, muscle contractibility, and even memory formation (allowing you to form new neural circuits for learning complex activities such as multi-joint lifts). Interestingly, when you take it in lower doses throughout the day (which would be fine to do by simply including choline rich foods such as walnuts, fish and eggs) the choline is used for methyl donation, which is enormously important for sustaining your metabolism throughout the day, and the 1-2 combo of this and the brain benefits are why choline supplementation is one of the most highly recommended supplements to slow or reverse the neurological decline associated with aging (16). In some studies, choline has been linked to increased endurance performance. I personally get my daily dose of choline from the Chinese adaptogenic herb complex TianChi.

L-Tyrosine – 0.5-2g, 30-60 minutes prior to workout.  L-tyrosine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is the precursor to the neurotransmitter adrenaline (also known as epinephrine). So L-tyrosine is not only able to increase levels of adrenaline in the body (quite handy prior to a power workout), but can also protect neurons from free radical based oxidation by embedding itself in the cell membrane and acting as an anti-oxidant (4). Brands vary.

Green Tea Extract – 400-500mg EGCG equivalent per day. About 30% of green tea leaves by weight are favonols or flavanols, the which are comprised mostly of compounds called catechins. Catechins are broken down into epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epi-gallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG) and epicatechin (EC). Although all of these catechins share similar brain-boosting properties, EGCG appears to be most potent for elevated brain and neuronal activity (5). Because of the high amount of brewed green tea you'd need to drink prior to a workout to get the equivalent of 400-500mg EGCG (a rough rule of thumb is that one cup of green tea contains only about 50mg of EGCG), I'm a fan of edible green tea, which you can simply grab out of a bag and munch on prior to a workout. 

Vitamin B complex. There are several forms of Vitamin B that are helpful for power development. Niacin (niacinamide) has been shown to help maintain normal function of nerves. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine HCl) is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and adrenaline, and plays an essential role in healthy nervous system function and energy production. Folate (folic acid) is essential for proper brain function. Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) is the most potent of the Vitamin B complex. It maintains a healthy nervous system by helping to maintain the myelin sheath that insulates your nerve fibers, and has been shown to help heal nerve damage. Finally, pantothenic acid (d-calcium pantothenate) plays a key role in helping maintain precise communication between your central nervous system and brain, which is crucial to functions such as powerful muscle contractions and reaction speed. I personally use a supplement called Lifeshotz to get a full Vitamin B dose in one convenient packet (although I tend to more often take this prior to swim workouts because of the antioxidant effect against chlorine).

As with my strength supplement recommendations, I'm  not saying that you need to pop all of the pills above on a daily basis, but if your goals are building power as quickly as possible, power is a limiter for you, or you simply find that you “do fast stuff slow”, I recommend you include the supplements above.

tap test app

CNS Tap Test App

Incidentally, for a cool little self-test to determine whether or not a food or supplement is having an effect on your nervous system, you can try the CNS Tap Test phone app to track nervous system performance. This app will simply test how responsive your muscles are to signaling from your brain and spinal cord by testing how many times you can “tap” screen in 10 seconds, and allows you to easily log your progress. As you'll learn in just a bit, that's technically “speed”, not power, but nonetheless, it's a good app to own.


Gear For Power 

If you're serious about building power, you'll also want to to have proper gear around for plyometric and speed-strength training. Here are some of my top power gear recommendations (many gyms actually this stuff lying around under-utilizing in a dark corner somewhere).

Power Rack – to do Olympic weight lifting and many speed-strength exercises, it's useful (and more safe) to have access to a power rack that allows you to load up a barbell with heavy weights – and it's also useful to have the type of rubber Olympic weight lifting plates that you can drop from overhead or throw around more easily. You can usually snag power racks for a decent deal off Craigslist – and if your gym doesn't have a single power rack, you should consider finding a new gym.


Agility Ladder – you've already learned about the value of plyometrics, and there's nothing quite like a ladder for teaching your feet how to “touch-n'-go” quickly. Athletes such as tennis and soccer players, who rely on speed, quick movement and ability to change direction at the last second are not the only individuals who can benefit from agility ladder workouts and drills. Because of the ability of agility ladders to teach you reduced ground contact time and increase your explosiveness from ground contact, endurance athletes can benefit from these too. Here's a good, free list of agility ladder drills to get you started.

-Stuff you can throw and swing without breaking, such as medicine balls, kettlebells, sand bags, etc. Two of my favorite websites for getting fun fitness equipment like this are “Perform Better” and “Rogue Fitness“, and you can also use instructions like this to make your own fun fitness equipment like sandbags.

Adjustable Plyometric Boxes – you'll want boxes for doing drop jumps or jumps up onto a box, and also a room in your house or area of a gym that has high surfaces to jump up onto and high ceilings for jumping without smashing your hands or head through the ceiling. You simply can't build much power without a little space to train, and some elevated surfaces to jump on and off.

Weighted Vest – Start with a light weight vest of just 5-10 pounds that allows you to move quickly and powerfully during jumps and sprints, and slowly build up from there at a pace that allows you to continue to build power and speed. If a weight vest is too heavy, you'll slow your pace down too much, and then your weighted vest workouts become more of a strength or endurance routine – and there are more efficient methods to build strength and endurance. Use a vest that fits tight to your body and allows you to move quickly without the vest bouncing around on your chest and back.

Power Sled – Being able to accelerate more rapidly and apply more force with each step is a key to getting from point A to point B quickly, and a power sled that you can load with a light weight and push quickly teaches you to produce a higher force each time the your foot touches the ground. Similar to a weight vest, you don't need a heavy load, just a light load that you can move quickly. If you don't have a sled, you can put a few weight plates on a towel and push them from one end of a hard surface (like a basketball court) to the other.

TNT Power Cable – I'm a fan of having elastic cables around for easy, portable power training. This specific brand of cable is the most powerful resistance cable you can get, and you can change from one cable resistance to three cable resistance in just a few seconds. So, if you are using the lightest cable, you can go from 10 to 20 to 30 lbs of resistance in seconds and for the heaviest cables you can go from 100 to 210 lbs of resistance in seconds. These are good for resisted sprints and explosive upper body work.

I consider the gear above to be fun “extras” that can help with power development, but it's important to realize that the most crucial power gear to have around is simply free weights or your own body weight, and the willingness to move that weight quickly and explosively.


Essential Element 3: Speed

Fortunately, now that you know the training, food, supplement and gear strategies for increasing power, you're 99% of the way to also being able to increase speed. So this section of the chapter will go fast, pun intended.

Speed is the ability to travel a set distance over as short a period of time as possible.

Let's go back to the definition of power, in case you need a quick review: power is the ability to generate high amounts of force over a short period of time.

See the difference?

Speed is force independent. As long as you do something quickly, then congratulations – you're speedy. Even if that “something” was grabbing a feather off a tabletop or winning a game of spoons. In this case, you were able to move your hand over a set distance in a very short period of time.

A perfect example of a training protocol for increasing speed is the Overspeed Training you learned about in Chapter 3. In that section, you learned that cycling or running or swimming at an extremely high turnover rate is an effective method to recruit new muscle tissue, specifically by engaging more muscle motor units than if you’d trained at lower speeds. This is called a “neural adaptation“, and you can consider it a form of training for your nervous system.

So during speed training, your brain learns how to fire faster and control your muscles more efficiently at higher speeds, and you also develop more powerful and quick muscle fiber contractions, which comes in handy for hard surges during a race or tough workout (3).

Ideally, by learning how to move your body parts quickly, you can also move your entire body over a set distance in a very short period of time. And from a muscle efficiency and  recruitment standpoint, you've already learned why this is important, even if you're a marathoner and not a 100m sprinter.


Training Strategies For Increasing Speed

Training strategies for increasing speed go hand-in-hand with strategies for maximizing power production, with the caveat that you need even less weight than you need for power training. As a matter of fact, when training for speed or creating a speed workout for an athlete I coach, I'm very careful recommending external loads, and typically keep loads at no more than 10% body weight. You simply get reduced benefits from adding external loads like heavy vests and heavy weights, as they diminish your ability to maintain a high turnover and to maximize neuromuscular recruitment.

In addition to keeping loads light enough to where you can move your body or body parts as quickly as possible, the other crucial rules for speed training are:

1) Do speed fresh. Your neuromuscular system is very fatigue prone, and, similar to power training, needs not to have been exhausted by a hard endurance training workout or strength workout earlier in the day. So a set of fast downhill overspeed runs at the end of a long marathon training protocol is not a good idea (but doing them before your long run would be a perfect way to prime your nervous system for faster leg turnover). One of the biggest mistakes most coaches make with speed training is the timing, and even for team sports like football, basketball, and soccer, speed work is often done at the end of the practice, when the neuromuscular system is already fatigued.

2) Speed is not conditioning. If you want to breathe hard, do metabolic work, or train your cardiovascular system, then go do swimming, cycling, running, rowing or any of form of interval training. Speed simply requires brief doses of low volume, fast work. This is why a “high cadence” overspeed cycling workout has you pedaling at a high cadence at low resistance, not a high resistance, and is usually done early in a workout. If you're exhausting yourself metabolically, it becomes very difficult to train your nervous system. This is also why speed training should include 100% full recovery between sets, with zero muscle burn and zero hard breathing.

3) Challenge your nerves, not just your muscles. If you're not forced to be thinking hard during a speed workout, it's probably not challenging your nervous system. This is why overspeed training on a bicycle is not done at 80 or 90rpm. It's a freakishly high 120-130+rpm that makes your brain actually tired trying to get the legs to turn over that fast.

For sample speed workouts, simply refer back to the overspeed section of Chapter 3. 


Gear For Speed 

The gear you've already learned about for building power is the same type of gear to have around for building speed – vest, sled, agility ladder, etc. The only thing I'd add into the mix is are stairs and water.

1) Stairs. Because of the “fast feet” that stairs can teach you, running up stairs is a fantastic speed-training workout, and one of my favorite speed workouts is to visit the giant Kibbie Dome (my alma-mater's University of Idaho's football stadium) and do fast feet repeat up the stairs, then fully recover at the top and slowly progress back down the stairs, for a total of 10-20 overspeed, uphill repeats. 

If you struggle with shin-splints, you need to be careful with stairs (and also read the Recovery chapter of this book), but when used for speed workouts, and not necessarily to beat yourself into an exhausted pulp, stairs are a fantastic piece of “gear” to have around. 

2) Water. Water running is an extremely helpful low-impact way to build speed and train neuromuscular turnover, especially if you're injured and can't ride a bike, run downhill or do overspeed repeats on a treadmill. To be clear, there are two different types of water running: 1) running in a deep water where you cannot touch bottom of pool; 2) running in shallow water with feet touching bottom of pool. Running in deep water is far superior for speed training.

In order to get the full benefits of water running, you must use proper form and technique, ideally with a water running belt to provide buoyancy (or if you want to be a true water-running ninja, you can grab any of the other water running gear I discuss in this article). Most athletes use an upright running posture in the water, but for proper activation of hip extensors you need to learn slightly forward, and from this position, simply move your arms and legs as you would when running on land, exaggerating arm and knee drive, and moving your limbs as fast as possible.

Using this fast cadence in deep water, a good water running workout for speed is 10-20 repeats of just 10 meters, with full “easy jogging” recovery or swimming after each repeat. This is also a great way to warm-up for  a swim workout. For more sample water running workouts, read this article I contributed to on the USA Triathlon website.

Finally, the foods and supplements for increasing speed are identical to the recommendations for building your nervous system for increasing power, so just flip back a few pages if you need to review those!



Strength, power, speed, balance and mobility are absolutely essential if you want your body to last for a long time – but most endurance athletes who can pound the pavement for two hours can't even do a single flawless rep of a one-legged squat, a turkish get-up or a lateral lunge…can you? Remember – the ultimate goal here is for you to be maximally equipped with the knowledge to put together a body that is built for the ideal combination of health, longevity and performance.

At the end of the next chapter, in which you'll discover how to optimize the final two essential elements of mobility and balance, I'll also give a sample scenario of how training to improve strength/power/speed/balance/mobility should progress over an endurance athlete's season – and of course in the final published version of this book, I'll be including access to TrainingPeaks plans that walk you through everything.

But in the meantime, leave your questions, comments and feedback below, and don't forget to check out audio, video, slides and take-away notes from the “Become Superhuman” live event.


Links To Previous Chapters of “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life”

Part 1 – Introduction

-Part 1 – Preface: Are Endurance Sports Unhealthy?

-Part 1 – Chapter 1: How I Went From Overtraining And Eating Bags Of 39 Cent Hamburgers To Detoxing My Body And Doing Sub-10 Hour Ironman Triathlons With Less Than 10 Hours Of Training Per Week.

-Part 1 – Chapter 2: A Tale Of Two Triathletes – Can Endurance Exercise Make You Age Faster?

Part 2 – Training

-Part 2 – Chapter 1: Everything You Need To Know About How Heart Rate Zones Work

-Part 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 1

-Part 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Best Ways To Build Endurance As Fast As Possible (Without Destroying Your Body) – Part 2

-Part 2 – Chapter 3: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 1

-Part 2 – Chapter 3: Underground Training Tactics For Enhancing Endurance – Part 2

-Part 2 – Chapter 4: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 1: Strength

-Part 2 – Chapter 4: The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed

Coming in Part 3 – Recovery…

-Importance of when training adaptations actually occur (during the rest and recovery period) and show how to recover with lightning speed, including every beginner-to-advanced method such as ice, cold laser, PEMF, compression, electrostim, grounding, earthing, cold-hot contrast, ultrasound, etc…

-All about overtraining and exactly how to identify it, avoid it, and bounce back from it as quickly as possible, including a focus on self quantification methods such as heart rate variability and pulse oximetry, and biomarker testing for hormones, vitamins, minerals, etc…

-Beginner-to-advanced stress relief techniques, relaxation and sleep techniques for both home, as well as for traveling – including managing late nights, loss of sleep, napping, jetlag, etc.

-Advanced sleep-hacking methods using artificial light mitigation, binaural beats, etc…

-And much more!


References (more references coming soon):

1. Brandon, R. (1999) Jumpers, Throwers and sprinters can improve their results by using the Complex system.Peak Performance, 114, p. 2-5

2. Burke, D. (1983). The afferent volleys responsible for spinal proprioceptive reflexes in man. The Journel of Physiology, 339(June), 535-52.

3. Creer AR, Ricard MD, Conlee RK, Hoyt GL, Parcell AC., Neural, metabolic, and performance adaptations to four weeks of high intensity sprint-interval training in trained cyclists., International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 25, no. 2, pg. 92-8, 2004.

4. Diaber, A. (2013). Protein tyrosine nitration and thiol oxidation by peroxynitrite-strategies to prevent these oxidative modifications. International Journal of Molecular Science, 14(4), 7542-70.

5. Hodgson, A. (2013). The effect of green tea extract on fat oxidation at rest and during exercise: evidence of efficacy and proposed mechanisms. Advanced Nutrition, 4(2), 129-40.

6. Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisloff U., Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers., Medicine and science in sports and exercise., vol. 31, no. 6, pg. 870-7, 1999.

7. Iaia, F. (2010). Speed endurance training is a powerful stimulus for physiological adaptations and performance improvements of athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, (October), 11-23.

8. Kimball. (2006). Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis. The Journal of Nutrition, (January), 227S-31S.

9. Mackenzie, B. (2000) Complex Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed 22/4/2013]

10. Novak, E. (2011). Dietary lipid quality and long-term outcome. Nestle Nutrition Workshop Series, (68), 17-27.

11. Okamoto, M. (2012). Mild exercise increases dihydrotestosterone in hippocampus providing evidence for androgenic mediation of neurogenesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(32), 13100-5.

12. Paavolainen L, Hakkinen K, Hamalainen I, Nummela A, Rusko H., Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power., Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 85, no. 5, pg. 1527-33, 1999.

13. Paton CD, Hopkins WG., Combining explosive and high-resistance training improves performance in competitive cyclists., Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 19, no. 4, pg. 826-30, 2005.

14. Singh, A. (1992). Vitamin and mineral status in physically active men: effects of a high-potency supplement. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55(1), 1-7.

15. Stone MH, Wilson GD, Blessing D, Rozenek R., Cardiovascular responses to short-term olympic style weight-training in young men., Canadian Journal of Applied Sports Sciences, vol. 8, no. 3, pg. 134-9, 1983.

16. Zeisel, S. (2012). Diet-gene interactions underlie metabolic individuality and influence brain development: implications for clinical practice derived from studies on choline metabolism. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 60(3), 19-25.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

18 thoughts on “The 5 Essential Elements of An Endurance Training Program That Most Athletes Neglect – Part 2: Power & Speed

  1. Arthur says:

    Thanks for sharing this article!

  2. andy says:

    Ben, as an Australian registered nurse, ex professional athlete, human trainer, international horse trainer. I hardly ever use the word brilliant but if the word fits then it should be used. I like your sense of humour too.

    Here is a thought, as you declare, training humans is most difficult primarily because the trainer is not in control of the external stressors. Training humans for different sports requires a knowledge of the subtle differences required for each sport.

    I learned long ago that the training of horses is just the same, it really is just knowing the subtle differences between the human and equine species of course there are enough changes for it to be said we don’t train horses exactly the same as humans but it’s close.

    The plus for me was I could control the external influences much more.

    Honestly, the government puts on races in most areas every day. Prize money is paid in some countries down to 7th place to owners.

    It’s still nice to train humans every once in a while too got a nice kid running half marathons in 1 hour 6 minutes at present.

    Observations are a nurses bread and butter increased health only comes with increased fitness. Too many of us are involved with the control and prevention of disease to realise that fitness and health go hand in glove. More power to you from my European base.

  3. cognitine review says:

    I absolutely love your blog and find nearly all of your post’s

    to be exactly I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content for you personally?

    I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on most of the subjects you write regarding here.

    Again, awesome weblog!

    1. I have select people write guest blogs occasionally, but it's not common. Thanks for your interest!

  4. Jared NCharli Cornell says:

    My confusion is that I thought Schroeder and Buchenholz preach working with 40-60% of max to compromise. In other words, you rep until there is the slightest sign of slow down or compromise in form.

    I'm just curious as to why you recommend performing 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps at 40-60% of max (preceded and interspersed with the 1-3 reps of max obviously), when, in theory, I could perform just 1 set at 40-60% of max to compromise although this would result in potentially in the range of 9-25 reps. Basically, I would take the 3-5 sets and condense to 1 set and the total number of reps in that one set would probably resemble the total number of reps in 3-5 sets if they were to be distributed that way.

    Clear as mud?

    1. If you are lifting to full explosiveness there is absolutely no way you could use anything other than creatine phosphate system – which will last 10-30 seconds without compromise. If you can do 25 reps in 30 seconds, more power to you… ;) make sense.

  5. brynda says:

    Ben, great chapter! All the links are super helpful.

  6. Horacio Lyon says:

    Ben, what's you take on Verkhoshansky's approach to Plyometrics?

    1. Well, he's kind of the father of plyometrics! I mentioned him here:…

      I do like his approach. Polliquin is another fan of Verkhoshansky…

  7. Greg says:

    Great post Ben!! To my knowledge the stretch reflex is initiated by the muscle spindle (reciprocal inhibition) but yes over riding gto inhibition is also NB for strength and power gain

  8. Trail Laddy says:

    Bit light on the info Ben ;)
    Mate I'm going to have to over this one a few times, so much in there, thanks for the post.

    1. Yeah, I figured a short post would be fine. ;)

  9. Jamie Emmer says:

    Ben, How did you do at Leadman? I did not make it this year due to some imflamation in my knees from too much competitive skiing this year without enough rest, and not being able to get my run going soon enough. I will never forget the first year I did Leadman 6 or 7 years ago, and you passed me on the run like Carl Lewis on hot coals. You are an animal. Jamie from Hope, Id.

    1. Just got back from Leadman, Jamie and I totally *yardsaled* hard on the snowboard. By the time I got onto the bike the leaders were off in the distance and I never caught them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *