Why do professional athletes go to the gym?

Any athlete, even amateur ones, aims to improve his or her sports performance, so they can keep motivated. For professionals, it's much more than that: they must always keep in shape, always be improving, and always strive for excellence. To achieve their goals, they have to use the most adequate and intelligent training techniques and strategies: among other techniques, professionals have to work on their economy of effort. 


What is effort saving?

Effort saving has to do with the relation between oxygen consumption, body weight, and the speed at which an athlete runs. This is an essential factor in understanding the difference in athletes' performances. Different athletes can do precisely the same workout, with equal volumes and intensities, and they will all have different performance results.

Athletes with a better economy of effort consume less energy and less oxygen than athletes with worse savings. This factor is essential in all disciplines within athletics, although it is even more important for long-distance runners: they run long races with a great amount of energy expenditure.

Effort economy can be influenced by numerous variables, such as athlete's physiognomy, biomechanics, physiological or environmental factors.

This technique is commonly confused with stimulating muscular strength. For professionals, "explosive" strength training is of the essence, since this type of training aims not to increase muscle mass but to stimulate the muscles and increase their elasticity and power. Doing small jumps, using steps, and training running techniques are considered suitable exercises to achieve this type of effect.

Good strength and muscle power allow faster acceleration and speed maintenance on uphill runs. In addition, aerobic endurance increases muscular power and strength, so the athlete will run with less effort and have better fatigue resistance.

Speed workouts are also considered excellent for improving effort economy because they force muscle groups to work more intensely than aerobic workouts. The result is that the lighter the strides become, the less energy is required to expend in the running.


What the studies say

In a systematic review of studies in this area published in the Sports Medicine journal, Denadai et al. (2017) sought to find a relationship between strength training and running economy. The researchers concluded that athletes who underwent strength training for 6 weeks were able to achieve a 2% effort economy. With 16 weeks of training, this number jumped to 8%. In other words, higher levels of effort economy during running can be achieved if athletes undergo an even more extended strength training program.

Professional and semi-professional athletes are usually coached and know that they must follow a particular exercise protocol. Anyone who wants to enhance their physical qualities, which will improve their performance in long races (and the same goes for cycling and other disciplines) should remember to introduce strength training into their regular training plan. Have a good workout!