A vast majority of triathlon coaches would tell you that strength training for triathletes requires an original approach in comparison to athletes who typically rely on more explosive sudden strength, and fast twitch power.
Triathletes need strength that will last for the duration of a triathlon. While other strength training is more explosive and sudden in its performance, much as weightlifting and so on, a triathlete requires having endurance on top of their strength.
Today, we will discuss with you the fundamentals of the best practices that will help any triathlete gain the most from endurance specific strength training.
Do You Need To Do Strength Training?
As is with any endurance events, triathlons are an incredibly repetitive sport For a majority of triathletes, constant training and racing can actually weaken the muscles and cause muscular imbalances over time.
There is a fourth discipline in achieving longevity and success in triathlons, and this is strength training.
Which, when properly executed for a targeted distance event, can actually provide some improvement for sport=specific mechanics, and race day performance, as well as coveted injury resistance.
The general framework for triathletes is to plan out 12 to 16 weeks of consistent strength training in the off-season, and to then shift onto strength maintenance during the competitive season times.
What Is The End Game?
So, why do this? Well, the primary goal for strength training for triathletes is to be two-fold. This means it provides injury prevention, and a positive transfer of strength, power, muscular endurance, and efficient movement to the sports as well.
As the movement patterns of swimming, cycling, and running are all very repetitive, it is absolutely vital that any impairments are addressed early on with specifically targeted strengthening of the particularly under-active muscle groups to help prevent injury effectively.
For performance, athletes can also benefit from strength exercises that are very specific in how the movement is made and in the velocity as well.
When you formulate your training, note that many periodized strength training programs will progress athletes from general exercises to specific exercises.
This is very common with endurance sports. Exercises should move from general to more specific ones to avoid conflicting peripheral adaptations.
For swimming, cycling, and running, this means that you will eventually need to perform a portion of the strength training within the targeted sport.
Although strength work has been shown to be effective in all phases of an annual workout plan, it does make more sense that you start off your training during the off-season.
This is because doing so will avoid you overtraining yourself. Imagine you could invest a solid 12 to 16 weeks of specified and structured strength training at the start of each off-season.
If that is the case, then you will find there is a long-lasting effect and a long term delayed training effect of strength preparation that can yield great results during the competitive season.
So, while you may not find that there are gains immediately, or you may even see a slight decline, in the long term, investing in strength training can be very beneficial.
Of course, this is especially true for athletes who are training for ironman or long-distances triathlon events.
Now let’s talk through some fundamental aspects of training in this manner so that when you formulate your training plan, you execute it safely and effectively during off-season to really reap the benefits.
Embracing Your Training And Avoiding Maladaptations
When you do strength training, you will find it to be high-intensity work. So, it is very important that you perform the exercises you do when you are fresh.
Strength athletes would never do a long endurance session before they train strength, and this practice is the same for endurance athletes.
Going on a short ride, or run is alright, but it is not vital to start strength training, and you should never start your strength training feeling fatigued.
Much to this point, you could significantly ruin the benefits of your strength training session by doing excessive amounts of endurance work immediately after as well.
Doing a short or medium distance workout shortly after strength training may help to transfer some performance adaptations to your specific sport.
However, if you go at it for too long, or go too hard after performing a strength workout, you could encounter maladaptation issues. So, be cautious of this, and manage your workouts sensibly.
Focusing On Functionality
Think of your session in terms of movements and planes of motion versus individual muscle groups, this is the recipe for a balanced strength session, and is much easier to assemble.
So, for example, in order to avoid single-joint isolation (unless your goal is targeted injury prevention of course, or activating an under-active muscle group) then focus your lower body strengthening on ground-based, multi joint exercises.
So, when you perform a squat or lunge, you recruit muscles in the adequate ratios in comparison to hamstring curls or leg extensions.
When looking at other functional movements that are adequate for endurance athletes, consider incorporating exercises in a single leg stance, such as a single leg squat, a single leg RDL, or even a step-up to balance.
These movements will work exceptionally well in building up greater stability and injury resilience.
This is a basic factor of understanding the fundamentals of how your body works, and what it needs.
Avoid Mixing Endurance And Strength
Always be aware that strength training is supplemental in comparison to endurance training.
Keep your strength training exercises at high intensities, and avoid high-repetition, short rest programs such as CrossFit and other similar boot camp styles circuit training arrangements.
Your focus should be on building strength and power without getting unnecessarily fatigued. In doing so, you can make more rest between your sets and make your work-outs more intense for shorter periods of time.
Keep in mind how your body uses three fundamental energy systems: A-lactic, anaerobic, and aerobic.
If you were to keep most of your exercises as A-lactic, with 10-15 second intervals with sufficient rest periods, then your strength work would not interfere as much with the remainder of your training.
What are plyometrics? Well, they are basically high-intensity jumping exercises that have short contact time with the ground. The goal of these exercises is to increase the power in our body.
Okay, we admit, it is not for everyone, but a little goes a long way, and if you start off with lower intensity exercises such as ankle hops or running drills, and then progress yourself slowly up to high intensity practices such as box jumps, squat jumps, and bounding, this can be very effective.
Plyometrics can be a bit stressful on the body, though, so stay aware of just how many jumps you do in each session. Monitor yourself, and stay vigilant on how much you are capable of. Do not push yourself too hard.
How we work is defined as being force multiplied by distance. Power is defined as the force multiplied by distance or time. When you add speed into any given movement, the power will increase.
So, in heavy strength training, there have been demonstrations of excellent results in studies that show there are both high muscle fiber recruitment and high power.
Yet, an increase in power can also be achieved by lifting lighter weights with greater speed.
In addition to this, there have also been a plethora of studies that support heavy weight lifting as effective in training for strength in endurance athletes.
And, there have also been studies that state that light to moderate weight training is also effective in this area as well.
When using lighter weights, it is possible for you to move at a faster speed that may actually replicate your sport, similar to plyometrics. Yet, with heavy weights the speed of the movement is slow, but it does still increase power.
It has been discovered that the intensity to move with speed is as important as actually moving with speed Regardless of how much weight you are lifting, it is as important to have the intent to move that weight quickly to truly increase the power output.
Transition Your Training
The transfer of training is where your goal lies, and it is the pinnacle of concurrent training.
If you are to increase your one-rep max on the squat by 3%, you won’t see the same 30% improvement in watts on your bike. The solution is to mimic some of the motions of your sport and velocity in your training.
However, at some point, you should probably perform strength training inside your actual sport. For example, swimmers can swim with drag, or they can do tethered swimming.
Although, do be cautious with paddles, as they are a greater risk to shoulder injuries. Runners can also perform sessions to include strides or short hill reps.
Cyclists can perform A-lactic stomps at 10-15 second maximum sprints with a full recovery.
Transition your workouts into your sport.
Strength Training As A Portion Of Total Training
Adding strength training into endurance training (known as concurrent training) is typically always effective, so long as the athlete does not add their strength training on top of a presently maxed-out training plan.
If you just add in strength training to your current schedule, then maladaption will occur, or you can be prone to overtraining.
This is why the off-season, or pre-season, is a good time to add in strength training, when the volume of your training is lower.
Endurance athletes are usually well-trained in aerobics, but they can be under training in their muscular sense.
So, you should begin a strength training program conservatively. Remember that strength training is supplemental to endurance and triathlon training.
Do not get side-tracked with your desire for a better physique or big biceps. Strength work can go a long way, but sometimes less is more.
A majority of athletes embrace endurance training and strength training as two separate disciplines.
However, while this is very common, especially with triathletes, there are plenty of movements that can provide value in both senses.
Weight Training For Triathletes
Lunges are so wonderful, they can be performed in so many ways, which means that they are highly versatile as a movement.
They also directly translate into a running style, or cycling motions, as many of the same muscle groups are used when you lunge.
When lunging for strength and endurance, you should focus on trying to do 10 to 20 reps per side. Depending on how fast you perform each lunge, it will take around a minute, or just over, to complete a full set.
If you then add in a weight to your lunges, keep the load light. Even if you have very strong legs, try to keep it lighter, adding no more than 30 to 40 lbs. You should find around 30 reps, your glutes and thighs will start to burn.
You can add variation to your lunges if you like. There are many types that you can do.
- High knee lunges- these are a simple variation that includes lifting your knee toward your chest during the movement, which will activate your abdominals.Walking lunges- This is an endurance focused approach. Here you can perform the lunges in a fluid movement, as if you were walking.
- Dumbbell lunges- the most popular weighted lunges. Use a barbell plate weighing 10-45 lbs and hold it over your head as you complete your lunges.
- Twisting lunges- best when using a medicine ball as the weight. Twist to one side at the bottom of the lunge movement.
- One-arm kettlebell lunges- Holding one light-to-medium weight kettlebell in a shoulder pressed position, you can activate your core on that side. Just ensure you do equal activity for both sides. You can use this to correct any muscular imbalances you may have.
There are plenty of other types of lunges, but these are our favorites.
Keep your midsection tight as you complete the lunges to protect your back, concentrate on your knee tracking, avoiding letting your knee over extend.
Kettlebell swings are one of the best movements to train a full range of triathlon specific muscle groups, however, they are also fun too!
They incorporate a deadlift style’s squat with an explosive standing motion, all whilst swinging the weight up with straight ups so that it is in line with your chin.
It works your thighs, your glutes, your lower back and core, as well as your shoulders.
The best thing about this lift is how much control you have over the weight itself, and therefore, the volume of repetitions you can do.
It is best to start off light, especially if you are new to this, and perform around 20 reps, then as you become more experienced with these lifts, you can work up to 50 reps, or use a heavier kettlebell, it is up to you.
Deadlifts are classic, and the main purpose of them is to strengthen your lower back- a common problem area for triathletes.
Having a strong lower back is essential for endurance, and it is also one of the most difficult areas to strengthen, as most core and midsection movements simply focus on your abs.
Deadlifts are rarely done by endurance athletes, it is one movement that is viewed as being exclusive to powerlifters, but really it is one of the most effective strength movements to build up resilient lower back muscles, strong glutes, and legs.
Using deadlifts for weights is all about the amount of weight you use. Unlike a powerlifter who may only perform 3 to 5 reps with a heavy weight, you should keep the weight low to moderate and perform 20 reps.
Deadlifts should also be done with optimal form, keeping the weight with your hips back, and your knees stable, and your back straight.
As well as using a barbell, you can also do these with a kettlebell, or try out a one arm deadlift using dumbbells.
The latter could be done crossing the arm over to the opposite too, thus activating the oblique muscles. This lift should be done as a cross-training staple for any athlete, especially in endurance, as it is useful to build a balanced system.
So, with all this in mind, what can we say? Well, have clear intentions behind every training session you do. It is not a question that triathletes need to invest hours in doing steady-state endurance training to build up aerobic ability.
But when they do strength training, there are many ways to involve high-intensity and heavy-weight exercises for better power. You simply need to go about it in a smart and unique way that will translate and transfer for your sport.