Many athletes wait till they are ‘out of season‘ to engage in a strength training program. They may be confused with what movements, sets and reps to do which is understandable. Google Strength Training for Endurance athletes and you might find it overwhelming on where to start.
Due to the repetitive nature of triathlon training, a triathlete’s dominant muscle groups the pecs, lats, quads, glutes, and hamstrings, every time you head out for a swim, bike, or run, you are strengthening these muscles.
While strengthening these key muscle groups is essential for building power and strength, it is important not to neglect your smaller stabilizer muscles which are responsible for core stability.
If you are new to strength training or re-starting, I recommend going with the basics, learning movement patterns, and adapting your tendons, bones, and ligaments, focus on hip mobility and core stability to set yourself to build more strength with heavy lifting. A strong core and hip stabilization are important as it sets the foundation and muscle balance and ability to add muscular strength, lift a heavier weight or do more intense bodyweight movements. Also, core and hip strength help prevent injuries.
Why A Strong Core Is Important
Your core is the center of all your swim, bike, and run training. Spending some time on focused stabilizer muscles that make up your core is critical for injury prevention while also strengthening your dominant muscle groups (pecs, lats, quads, glutes, and hamstrings is important,
Athletes think the “core” is primary to their abdominal muscles and it is a complex series of muscles that extend far beyond just your abs. At the front, they go from the base of your ribs all the way down through your abdominals, pelvic girdle, to the upper quad. At the back, they extend from your upper hamstrings and glutes and the areas around your hips that allow the extension, flexion, and oblique rotation.
Core stability is what helps you to support your spine, allowing you to sit and stand tall instead of slouching. Strengthening your core muscles will not only prevent injuries but will also improve your triathlon performance by increasing flexibility and allowing you to generate power in a wider range of motions.
Having a strong core and hip stability also helps to lengthen your body and creates an ideal position for swimming, biking, and running. This will allow you to complete each section of a triathlon more efficiently so that you can finish races stronger. Typically, if your core strength or stability is lacking, it shows through towards the end of races when running and even biking form breaks down.
Strength Training and Injury Prevention 7 Common Running Injuries
I know from 28 years of experience that injuries are sometimes part of the deal when you train for endurance sports. During my first 17 years in the sport, I was always dealing with some sort of lower leg or hip-related issue.
It was not until 2010 that I realized the missing component to my program was strength training. The vast majority of injuries occur either at the lower leg, hip, or sometimes the scapulothoracic region (shoulder/upper back). These injuries are often avoidable with a consistent and proper application of strength training, mobility, and core stability movement patterns.
Having realized the importance of strength training for triathletes, I continue to educate myself on the topic. This not only helps me as an athlete but also the athletes that I coach.
My strength training program is a periodized program in which I vary the amount of weight, sets, reps, and also the movements I perform during different phases.
The goal of this phase to develop the movement patterns associated with higher intensity Athletes should address strength imbalances and muscular weaknesses that predispose the athlete to injury. Strength for Injury Prevention
The following are characteristics of a training session in this phase.
- Moderate rep counts (10-12)
- Low set counts (1-2)
- Conditioning exercises (30-60 seconds)
- Rest periods longer to allow for recovery and safe movement pattern (60-90 seconds)
- Light or body weight (40% 1 RM
The Stability and Endurance Phase
The goal of this phase is to develop neuromuscular efficiency, stability, and functional strength. To adapt general body muscles and tendons to the stresses of strength training in preparation for the greater loading of the Maximum Strength Phase to follow.
Equipment needed: Bodyweight movement patterns, TRX, stability ball, dumbbells, optional machines, and cables. The following are characteristics of training sessions in this phase
- High rep counts (12–20)
- Low set counts (2)
- Conditioning exercises (60–90 seconds)
- Short rest periods (less than 30 seconds)
- Lightweight (40–60% 1 RM)
Although there are many types of strength training programs available, many athletes find it difficult to find a program that fits into their overall training plan. The off-season is a great time for increasing frequency. This can get you to much greater strength gains which you can then maintain during the next season. What I generally recommend is to three sessions per week. Prioritize strength training now, to get you in the habit to maintain it as your season progresses.
Designing your program
A well-designed strength training for triathletes program should include the following components:
1) Warm-Up & Dynamic Stretches
A good warm-up will prepare the body for exercise and reduce the risk of injury. I like to warm up dynamically with running drills and a variety of jumping jacks. I use different arm motions during the jumping jacks to get the upper body loosened up.
2) Activation Movements
The activation movements extend the warm-up and help muscle stabilization. They also increase neuromuscular proprioception.
These exercises target the glutes, core, and shoulders to ensure the correct muscles are being recruited during the resistance exercises.
3) Main Set – Resistance Training (Primary Strength Movements)
Primary resistance exercises should progress from multi-joint movements involving large muscle group (requiring large amounts of energy), to smaller movements that are less fatiguing.
You may begin with resistance exercises that target muscles in the lower body and then transition to upper body resistance exercises.
4) Auxiliary Exercises
After the main resistance training, as the cooldown process begins, I like to include auxiliary exercises that target sport-specific movements and isolated underused muscles.
These exercises typically are used to support and supplement primary exercises.
Primary movements occur during activation, the main set, and auxiliary exercises, but strength and conditioning sessions should conclude with three to four exercises that target the various parts of the core.
6) Cool Down
Static stretching is a form of stretching used during this portion of the session to aid with relaxing muscles. Stretches should be held for 20–30 seconds
Remember that even the most well-developed strength training for triathletes routine requires regular adjustments. The best way to tweak your workout routine is to constantly monitor how you feel by recording performances and effort levels in your log.
After spending a period of time strengthening your core and improving balance, your smaller muscles will be strong enough to support your advanced exercises and power moves such as squat, lunge, plyometrics, and exercises designed to improve speed and agility.
If you are already into your base training or race season but have not done any consistent strength training, it is never too late to start a program. Incorporating some key movements that target your core can be introduced at any time.
Reach out to me with questions and make it a great day.
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