Outdoor strength training for triathletes is a source of much debate amongst athletes and coaches.
For me it is a no-brainer!
If you want to be any type of athlete- you need to be strong! Whether it is dancing, long jump, martial arts or triathlon- of any distance.
Strength is the ability of your muscles to generate force. We need it as triathletes to power through choppy water in the swim, to attack the hills on the bike, to leave the group behind on the run and push for the finish line at the end of a long race.
Of course throughout the normal weekly training programme we will pick up some strength but when I talk to many triathletes, they pay lip service to strength training and very often do not do much!
Most triathletes go for volume and tend to brag about number of sessions or weekly mileage.
“I run 90 miles a week”
rather than focusing on the quality of those sessions…
Better to do less, achieve more.
The more you do, the more you risk injury- from tired muscles, tendons, ligaments that are not getting enough time to recover and adapt to the loads you are placing on them. For the fastest ways to recover, click here.
Some people are scared strength training will slow them down as they will become too bulky.
Other people just hate the gym and think this is all strength training is.
It is a complicated subject for sure.
But the benefits of strength training are so fantastic, I favour it over endurance training
Some people do a token strength effort AFTER they have fit in their swim, bike and run sessions. This means they are so tired, or so pushed for time- it never gets done.
It is better to do the highest quality training to get the best results in the fastest time period.
Outdoor strength training for triathletes allows us to still train outdoors and yet gain the same benefits as indoor gym training
In many cases, a short intense bike ride doing 10 hill repeats for 20 minutes so your legs are screaming at you to stop- will get you far better race results than going out on another steady state 3 hour ride with your mates.
Bonus- and you save 2.5 hours :)
Strength training can take many forms. Today I will discuss outdoor strength training.
Benefits to strength training:
Major improvement in resistance to muscle fatigue
Improved posture during training
Improved metabolism and fat burning
Improved bone density
Improved tendon and ligament strength
Improved mental focus
and much more…
To start outdoor strength training for triathletes:
The best place to start is to add high intensity into your current sessions.
This will stimulate all the strength changes without having to go near a gym and is sport specific.
Here are some examples:
Add strength training to the pool by doing 2 things:
1) Adding intensity
So while your swim on race day might be 1.5km, you actually need to do some lung busting sprints of much shorter distances.
For example: 8 x 50 m sprints.
Swim as hard as you can for 50m, get to the end, rest for 15 seconds then do another 50m, rest 15 seconds and keep going.
Depending on your race distance, you may wish to change the distance.. but you will be surprised of the benefits even Ironman athletes can get by doing shorter distances.
400m done hard in the water- is an awesome set (and should be done) but it is NOT pure strength training!
2) Adding Tools
Using the pool buoy between your legs means you are reducing the assistance from the legs and relying on the upper body AND CORE.
This is excellent training for technique and body mechanics.
One word of caution- do not add paddles if you are not a good swimmer.
The reason is that I treat a lot of shoulder injuries from swimmers who have poor technique then load up on resistance. They are impatient (sound familiar?) to get results and go too hard, too soon.
Something will break- you will get tendonitis or a small muscle tear and require weeks of treatment and time off training.
Be sensible, make sure you have a good baseline fitness and adequate swim technique. If you are not sure- ask someone to look at you- and better still -video you.
Add in the paddles for various distances. Do some slow steady work- 1000m repeats. or 400m repeats.
The resistance is your strength training.
Improving cycle strength is easy when doing outdoor strength training. Find some hills- do them. Repeat.
So- yes- when I said easy…….
This is actually very tough…. which is why most people do not do them.
Hills are the fastest, quickest way to get massive improvements in your performance
I see it so often in races.. I am with a bunch of similar fitness triathletes… they all look super fit and fast. I feel myself starting to worry.. The voice starts in my head “what if I can’t stay with them? What if I get dropped from the pack?”
Inevitably what happens is there is a slight incline in the course or a decent hill, and they all drop off like they are standing still. I shoot forward on my own and leave them behind.
What tends to happen is many triathletes these days, do NOT do outdoor strength training-many do the exercise bike in the gym, or spin class or turbo trainer at home. They are fit- on the flat. But nothing substitutes for climbing hills regularly.
So search out the longest hill you can find, put yourself in a big gear, and climb slowly, 40-50rpm. Try to stay sitting down. Try to keep your core tight, your back strong but relaxed. Focus on power from your legs.
Focus on bike technique– remember to apply force to the pedal in the constant circle, not just the downstroke.
Do 10 reps.
Do once a week- or a couple of times a week.
I was amazed at my results after I came back from a 4 day long weekend in the mountains- where we cycled big mountain Alps 5-6 hours every day. When I returned, my times were astronomically improved, all the “hills” that I encountered at home seems flat, I felt minimal fatigue.
The improvement in such a short time by doing outdoor strength training was incredible
If you do only have a turbo or exercise bike- you can simulate it as best you can. Do hard, high resistance work. example 2 mins on, 30 seconds off….many reps.
Similar to above- find some hills.
All the top runners use hills to build strength and explosive capacity.
Find a hill, do it as fast as you can.
Some people add more resistance by carrying a heavy back pack or bolder in a back pack.
For most of us – just the hill session performed hard and fast is enough.
Usain Bolt adds resistance by dragging a lorry tire behind him.
Other athletes load up a heavy back pack with sand or bricks and run uphill.
Outdoor strength training for triathletes is amazingly time efficient, amazingly effective and produces fantastic results.
So even if you do not not like the gym much, you still need to do strength training.
Try some of these suggestions, and let me know how you get on,
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