“You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”: Strength for endurance athletes

I may be late to the game on hearing this apparently very popular phrase from the world of strength and conditioning, but as an endurance athlete and coach it’s quickly become a mantra to train by.

In the world of S&C the phrase roughly translates to ‘you can be as powerful as you want (the cannon) but if you have an unstable core (the canoe) then you won’t be able to use the strength you’ve built.’

For us as endurance athletes, the point about the core is very true, however I like to take the phrase in a broader sense. For me, it means that if you want to run quickly (fire your cannon) you have to have a strong base (i.e. not be sitting in a canoe!).

You can't fire a cannon from a canoe | Called East


If you want to run quickly, you have to have a strong base


It can be difficult to define exactly what forms this strong base for endurance athletes. While everyone will have their own interpretation, I interpret it as anything that makes us consistent with our training. For example, you might be able to run a great track Tuesday workout, but without a strong base you might not be able to back it up with a good tempo session and long endurance run at the weekend because of the residual fatigue. A strong athlete can recover quickly from the Tuesday workout in time for Thursday’s and the weekend long run. Having a strong base is also what makes us more resilient to injury. We all know someone who picks up a niggle after a few weeks of intensified training, most likely because they’re training to fire their cannon whilst still in their canoe. In all, the athlete with the strong base, is the athlete who will reap the rewards of compound interest from consistent, injury free training day after day, week after week.

So how can we best go about building this all important strength? Below I’ve put my top tips.

  1. Run slowly, more often

Any good endurance program will begin with what we call a base phase: several weeks spent running slowly, as often as possible. Exactly what this means for you will be highly individual to your starting point and goal. However, it’s vital because it provides an optimal training load for your muscles and bones, so that they can cope the more arduous training still to come, absorb it, and propel you to new fitness levels. Without an adequate base phase, you risk overloading the system and becoming injured as soon as you begin more intense training. Even when you progress to more intense phases of training, easy running must underpin your training week to maintain this strength and keep that level of consistency which is so important.  What’s more, if you do some of your easy running at altitude, you can run a little slower, and cover less distance, whilst still maintaining the same musculoskeletal and cardiovascular benefits as training at altitude, reducing your chances of developing an overuse injury! Check out our research blog here for more info!



  1. Run uphill

Ask anyone who’s trained with us at The Altitude Centre and they’ll speak to our love of hill training, and for good reason. There’s no denying that overcoming gravity is one of the best ways to build running specific strength. Not only does hill training build strength, but it helps drill good running form which will become important as you progress to speedwork and tempo runs through the training cycle. Depending on what you want to achieve from your session, hill reps could be as short as 10 s or as long as 2-3 min.


  1. Lift things

It would be wrong to discuss being strong and not talk about the gym. Yes, as endurance athletes, we have a love-hate relationship with pumping iron. No, you won’t ‘get too bulky’ to run (you don’t eat enough and your running pretty much prevents that anyway!), nor does it have to leave you ‘too sore to run’ when it’s programmed properly. Studies show that each stride you take while running can put a force of 3-4 times your bodyweight through your landing leg, which over the course of a run can quite literally add up to thousands of tonnes of pressure. By strength training we are improving our body’s ability to tolerate that extreme loading with each stride, helping prevent overuse injuries. Not only that but if we can produce more force with each stride, we’ll run more quickly! Don’t be afraid to get in the gym a few times each week and lift heavy weights for fewer reps, and supplement it with more frequent banded and bodyweight work to activate important running muscles. Research shows that by hitting your strength training sessions at altitude you can see greater improvements in strength and muscle size than by training at sea level! Why not join us for a summit circuit?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and of course the exact specifics of getting run strong will of course vary from person to person. Important factors to consider include how long you’ve been running for, your injury history, and what your short and long term goals are. The best results come from following an individualised training plan, tailored to your specific needs and overseen by an experienced coach. To find out more about developing your training plan, get in touch with us below!


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