Strength Training For Triathletes

Strength Training For Triathletes

As an undergrad in the Kinesiology Department at TCU, I learned a lot about muscle physiology and different training methods lead to different physiological changes.  Importantly, I learned how strength training is important for EVERY type of athlete, no matter the sport, be it badminton, marathon or Greco Roman wrestling.  Try to think of a sport in which you do not want to be quick or fast?  None come to mind.  Well, maybe curling in the winter Olympics.  Anyone who is not strength training will not reach their full potential.

As triathletes, our races last anywhere from 1 hour up to 10 hours for a Full Ironman.  With this in mind, triathletes often think that they need to be in the gym lifting light weight and with high repetitions.  Why?  We assume that we need to keep working on our endurance in the gym?  No.  When we are out on the roads running and cycling, and swimming in the pool, we are essentially doing thousands of light weight reps.  We are getting that aspect of muscular endurance and developing our Type I, slow twitch, muscle fibers the majority of the time.  So, instead of doing a ton of reps at light weight, our gym time should be sued for low reps and high weight.  You may be thinking, ‘I don’t want to get big!’  It won’t happen.  Hypertrophy, or building muscle mass, is a completely different type of variable manipulation than what strength and power are.  The exercise focus triathletes and endurance athletes need is development of strength and power.  Strength is important to develop first, so that we can be more powerful.  Strength is the ability to do the most work, or, lift the most weight.  Power,  on the other hand, is defined as the amount of work over a unit of time.  This is important for triathletes.  We may need a quick burst of speed in the middle of the race to crest a hill without losing momentum.  In order to do this, we need to train our muscles to perform that way.  This happens through manipulation of sets, reps, and rest during strength training.  In strength and power training, rest intervals are longer between sets.  You need to rest that time in order to replenish the ATP/PCR system.

What I show below is sample strength training weeks for a triathlete.  There are no sit-ups, crunches, or exercises like that.  These are a waste of your highly valuable gym time.  You are better off doing an Olympic lift or a core lift.  Olympic lifts are the clean and jerk.  Core lifts are bench, squat, and dead lifts.  Your core will be working much harder during these lifts than during 50 sit ups. Some people think that it is too much work to learn how to do Olympic lifts, but for the amount of benefit you get from them, it is worth it.  Below is a sample strength & power focus, 2-week sample training.  During these exercises, one should be focusing on completing the lift to the best of one’s ability in technique, while also reaching the weight percentage goal.  During the power phase, it is especially important that the athlete is focusing on high velocity and lifting the weight as fast as possible.  The plan consists of an Olympic lift, two core lifts, and then an auxiliary lift. Triathletes really don’t need to lift more than 2 times a week during the regular season.  However, during off season when other training is less intense, lifting 3-4 days a week may be even more beneficial.

1RM is the maximum weight you can list if you are only doing one repetition of the lift.  I do not illustrate or describe the individual exercises here, because it is best to learn them from a professional at the gym.  These exercise can be dangerous without proper training and supervision.

Sample Week 
Day 1 Week 1 (Strength) Weight % 1RM Sets Reps Rest
Power clean 85 – 92 3 4 3-4 min
Bench 85 – 92 5 4 3-4 min
OH Press  85 – 92 5 4 3-4 min
DB military press 3 10
Mobility/foam roll
Day 2 Week 1 (Strength) Weight % Sets Reps Rest
Jerk 85 – 92 3 3 3-4 min
Squat 85 – 92 3 4 3-4 min
Deadlift  85 – 92 5 4  3-4 min
Glute/Ham raises 3 10
Day 1 Week 2 (Power) Weight % Sets Reps Rest
Power clean 78 – 85 4 3 3 min
Bench 78 – 85 4 3 3 min
Push press  78 – 85 4 3
Glute/ham raises 3 10
Mobility/foam roll
Day 2 Week 2 (Power) Weight % Sets Reps Rest
Push Jerk 78 – 85 4 3 3 min
Front Squat 78 – 85 4 3 3 min
Deadlift  78 – 85 3 3 3 min
Pull ups 3 10

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