Strength Training for the Triathlete

Recently I was discussing training strategies with Joe Pro, one of our resident triathletes. I asked him what a typical week of training consists of. He trains 6 days/week and it’s all on the treadmill, in the pool, or on the bicycle. He wasn’t necessarily against training for strength. In fact, he understands what strength can do for his endurance. However, he simply doesn’t want to give up a day of endurance training, thinking it will hinder his progress especially since most of his teammates train endurance most days of the week. I get that.

First and foremost, training should be as specific to the performance as we can get it. Why do we need strength in an event with such low intensity? At what point during a triathlon are we required to squat 100lbs or even our own body weight? Any training that doesn’t directly seek to improve aerobic capacity (endurance) doesn’t present much upside does it?

Before we get started it should be noted that strength training is a brooooaaaaaadddd term used to describe ANY form of training with the goal of improving muscular strength. Keep a broad mentality when you hear the word strength. Read: not huge, bulky, stiff, inflexible, or 1000lb deadlifts exclusively.

Here’s what strength training can do for the triathlete:

  • Injury prevention, strength training the muscles opposite those used in running, swimming, and biking will help to counter the thousands of repetitions triathletes experience during training and races.
  • Increased power (FTP or functional threshold power is something every cyclist wants to improve)
  • Increased strength of the muscles involved in swimming, biking, and running.

High volume repetitions cause injury to joints; Strengthening stabilizer muscles takes stress off these joints.

Ultimately we need aerobic capacity (endurance) to sustain us during long events, no argument there. However, without adequate strength, the muscles responsible for producing strides during running, strokes during swimming, and pedaling during cycling won’t be able to sustain adequate force needed to improve race times and orthopedic health is compromised if no plan is in place to counteract the high volume training that is so closely tied to triathletes.

The intermediate and advanced triathlete that neglects strength training will be leaving faster times on the table. Any triathlete that neglects strength training risks overuse injury.

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