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From the Experts: Stamina from Strength by Dr. Bill Sands

Posted on 1/7/2016

By William A Sands, PhD, FACSM, CSCS, EMT, Sheffield Hallam University

Strength underpins stamina.  After all, if you’re not strong enough to do one repetition, then the question of stamina is simply out of reach.  I will use stamina and endurance interchangeably.  What is “routine endurance?”  There are really only two apparatuses for women gymnasts that have serious stamina requirements“ floor exercise and uneven bars. Balance beam requires more “mental endurance” (i.e. focus) than physiological endurance (although this may be changing).  One of the most common misunderstandings in the type of stamina needed for gymnastics is confusing short-duration endurance with long-duration endurance.  Short-duration endurance (intense efforts lasting less than two minutes) is profoundly different from long-duration endurance (efforts lasting from approximately four minutes to hours).  Unlike long-duration endurance, short-duration endurance is determined by maximal strength, not by aerobic capacity or aerobic power. 

Coaches like stories.  I hope that two stories will be helpful.  The first comes from a different activity that has some gymnastics qualities (particularly upper body strength), and the second from my own experience. 

"Improve Your Strength, Improve Your Endurance”

“Years ago a friend approached Scott with a dilemma: He'd been religiously training pull-ups for a year but had stagnated at a max of eighteen reps.  He had tried many combinations of sets and reps in a futile attempt to break through this limit.  When Scott suggested the routine outlined below, the friend was skeptical.  How could doing fewer pull-ups help him do more?  He seemed to be lacking endurance so in his mind he needed to increase the volume of pull-ups, not decrease it.

But he was willing to put his doubt aside and give this approach a concerted try.  At no time during the eight-week program did the friend do any other pull-up training of any sort: no more days of cranking off as many sets of as many reps as he could manage.  No more days of 400-500 pull-ups and the potential attendant elbow issues.  By the end of eight weeks the friend had improved his max pull-up strength to his body weight plus seventy-five pounds.  The very first workout in which he attempted to better his previous record of eighteen pull-ups he shot past his old record and sailed right up to thirty pull-ups.  He was a convert and you will be too.  This is a great example of how improving strength improved endurance." [1] p 185-186.

The point of the story above is that strength training was used to enhance endurance.  The athlete no longer continued pounding away at more and more repetitions.  At first thought, you might believe that more repetition is the logical approach.  The program used for the pull-ups is shown below.

The second anecdote comes unashamedly from my own experience.  By far the most common form of conditioning for female gymnasts is circuit training.  Circuit training is not the best approach to building maximum strength, and even the assumed time advantage of circuits can be a myth.  The supposed advantage of circuits is based on the assumption that the athletes achieve more work in less time.  However, as commonly implemented in gymnastics, circuit training uses too many exercises.  The efficiency of circuits masquerades as effectiveness“ circuits are not appropriate for gymnasts until after the strength-endurance period and the maximum strength period [2-7] (i.e. direct preparation for routines).  Moreover, don’t think for a second that you can shorten the process by jumping over the strength-endurance and maximum strength periods and go straight to direct routine preparation/conditioning.  I’ve observed gymnasts doing circuits for decades, and I am always surprised and frustrated to again note that gymnastics’ understanding of strength training is pathetic at nearly all but the very highest levels.  People can point to the national team, but I was there when the conditioning was originally designed.  The only thing that their conditioning shares with “circuits” is the name.  Too often I see gymnasts kept very busy doing too many exercises, in too few sets, too many repetitions, too little resistance, and a serious lack of focus.  The only thing the gymnasts get out of such approaches is tired.

My Anecdote:  It’s not the fatigue that makes you stronger“ it’s the resistance you work with.