Triathletes are well known for training hard and training consistently. But it is training effectively which is most important.
It is effective strength training triathletes need to pay more attention to. In strength training triathletes often get it wrong.
They often turn it into a cardio session doing too many reps and very light weights.
There is no point spending more and more hours training if it is producing no results.
Overtraining and chronic cardio leads to underperformance, burn out and injury.
The one thing which drives me mad is wasting time. If I can get the same results training 15 hours a week rather than 25 hours a week- I am extremely happy.
But even more important so is my body which means, it will be more rested and I will perform better on race day.
The #1 Mistake in Strength Training Triathletes Make
The fastest way to get dramatic triathlon results in less time is through strength training.
The #1 mistake I see in my students ALL the time is the temptation to turn their strength training session into a cardio session.
(Of course another huge mistake strength training triathletes think is that they are too busy for strength training and skip it altogether!)
If you think you are “too busy” to get to a gym, try TRX exercises which you can set up at home or take to a local park and set up easily.
But let’s assume you are one of the enlightened ones who does do their strength training twice a week. (Check out these top 8 strength training exercises and make sure you are including these weekly-don’t worry that the title is for women-scroll to the 2nd half- the exercises are the same!)
Most strength training triathletes sessions contain low weights, high reps sessions.
Is this you?
For example: They might hold 5kg dumb bells and do squats 3 x 20 reps.
What a terrible waste of time!
This is just another cardio session.
Nothing wrong with cardio sessions- but if you are planning on doing a strength session, DO a strength session.
Find a weight that you can lift 3-5 times only.
Then do that followed by a 30 second rest.
So if we go back to the squat example.
Let’s assume you are a 90kg male.
Let’s assume you have done your baseline fitness already and some basic strengthening.
Dumbbells are simply too light for your squats.
(Remember it is fine at the beginning if you are new to strength training to start here but aim to move on quickly from this)
You NEED to be using a barbell.
I cannot tell you exactly what weight to lift as it will differ with each person’s fitness, strength and injury profile, however you want to be somewhere in the order of squatting 40-80kg….(80lbs-180lbs)
Use the same principles for your deadlifts, your overhead press, your chin ups.
Ensure your form stays excellent. If your technique start to fail because you are fatiguing, stop and go home.
The session is over.
Let me give you an example:
Lets say your program says do 3 x 5 squats with 50kg. Take 30 seconds rest between each set.
But on the second set you could only manage 4 reps instead of 5 reps.
Stop there. Do not push through with bad form.
And do not drop the weight to 40kg to carry on. (This would then move it into cardio training territory)
Stay at 50kg. But if your form fails, this session is over for today. You would either go home. Or you may switch to upper body strength work. When you get fatigued and carry on with bad form, you increase risk of injury, you reinforce bad habits and delay recovery time. Not clever!
Think MAXIMAL strength, NOT another cardio session.
Your strength sessions will be short. Remember you already do plenty of endurance work.
Benefits Of Maximal Strength Training Triathletes Gain
Strength training triathletes is so important for both strength and performance.
- Improved explosive strength
- Improved ability to climb hills
- Improved sprinting,
- Reduced time to fatigue
- Potent anti-aging effect by stimulating release of testosterone and growth hormone. ( Both these important hormones tend to decline in everyone from age 30).
Dr Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD agrees.
Discussing the lack of care most endurance athletes have for good spinal posture when running and cycling, he says,
“when the 11lbs head is destabilised, the athlete defaults in to a “stress breathing” pattern. (This makes workouts more difficult than they should be).
He also comments that cyclists who have bad posture in the aero position with a curved back and hinged neck and shoulders “look like a dog taking a poo on the bike”
(Sadly I cannot get this image out of my head now when I see cyclists like this!) Ha ha!
Dr Starrett believes the way to combat this is strength training.
Certainly the traditional cardio training methods for runners and triathletes are not bullet proof. There are an estimated 30 million runners in USA, and 80% of them get injured in a given year.
Here is his excellent book Becoming a Supple Leopard 2nd Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance. It is worth picking a page a random and making sure you can do all the exercises on it- Both the strength ones AND the mobility ones.
Trust me you will be shocked at the ones that look so simple- but are almost impossible to do!
Dr Starrett says “strength training allows you to identify and train weaknesses that cause your form to breakdown during an endurance workout and therefore eliminate 99% of the reason for injuries and inefficiencies that compromise performance.”
For any athlete over age 35yrs, your natural power will be declining. You will benefit dramatically from strength training triathlete specific sessions and speed work. The fatigue that causes triathletes to slow down in latter stages of workouts (or a race) is NOT cardiovascular fatigue but muscular fatigue. Strength training will reduce this dramatically.
Jacques DeVore developed the concept of Maximal Sustained Power. ( He is an ex-professional cyclist).
Jacques says for strength development harder is not always better, instead heavier is better.
How Heavy Do I Need To Go For Adequate Strength Training in Triathlon?
We are not competitive body builders so once we reach respectable strength for our sport there is no need to go heavier. This simply increases injury risk and produces diminishing returns.
If a triathlete can deadlift around 180lbs, that’s respectable.
Dave Zabriskie Tour de France rider trained with Jacques towards the end of his career when he was struggling to stay with the peleton.
He had never done strength training before!
His leg press went from 210lbs to 470lbs. His deadlift went from from 150lbs to 245lbs.
This resulted in his 20 mile hilly time trial improving by 18%. No other training method had achieved this results. He not only stayed with the peleton after that, he often led it!
Strength training triathletes produces amazing results. Do not end up wasting time doing 3 x 20 reps of 2 kg dumbbells.
Do not do this. Go heavy. Lift little. Have plenty of rest in between. Then go home.
Do not allow your form to fail.
As always record your results. You will see changes in just a few weeks.
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