How should triathletes approach strength training?

There is no doubt that lifting weights is an important part of training for triathlon. But many triathletes don’t know why they lift weights. This in turn can lead to inefficient use of time in the weight room, and athletes often walk away not knowing if they accomplished what they were meant to do. I think it’s because there isn’t one thing that we triathletes are trying to achieve with our strength training – there are three, but we can’t achieve them all with the same type of training.

Before we dive into what those goals are, let’s define what type of training we’re talking about – I’m talking about “traditional” strength training. This may involve the use of dumbbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, machines, or any other way to create resistance, but it’s all based on the idea of ​​lifting, pulling, or pushing heavy objects to create resistance. fatigue in one or more muscles through a series of “sets”. with a repeated movement. I’m not talking about mobility training, plyometrics, speed training, or other specialized training you might do.

When using traditional strength training techniques, one of the main goals we can achieve is to reduce our risk of injury. We do this primarily by targeting our core and the muscles that support our hips and shoulders. All the force we produce for our sports passes through these parts of the body, so these muscles deserve special attention. This will ensure that they are strong enough to withstand the loads that we subject them to in our daily training.

Another outcome we can work towards with traditional strength training is to increase our work capacity. Basically, if you increase the max strength of the muscles you rely on to run (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves), you’ll be able to run at your old pace while using a lower percentage of your new, higher max strength. This means you can run longer at this pace before your muscles tire. This doesn’t mean your aerobic capacity will suddenly improve, but it does mean that muscle fatigue will be less of an issue.

A third goal we can achieve through strength training is to improve the efficiency of our movements. Asking our body to lift very heavy objects until we can’t lift them anymore is quite stressful (in a good way!) on our muscles. Our body reacts to this stress by trying to be better prepared for the next time we are asked to do something like this. One way to do this is to train your nervous system to coordinate the movements of your muscles more efficiently.

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One important thing for all triathletes to know is that it is not possible to achieve all three of these goals with the same workout. These are separate goals, achieved through different strength training programs. Yes, there may be some overlap, but most strength programs will aim to achieve one, and perhaps two of the above. We wouldn’t expect running training to improve all aspects of our fitness, so why would we expect the same in the weight room?

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a good time of year to use each of these different types of strength training. Training for efficiency and overall work capacity is quite taxing, creating a lot of fatigue that could impact other training. Therefore, it’s best to do it earlier in the training schedule, when your other workouts are lower in volume and intensity.

Training for injury prevention, on the other hand, is most important when your running, swimming, and cycling training volumes and intensities are at their peak. It can also be done in a way that is less taxing on your body overall. This makes it best suited for the busiest time of your training year, when you run, bike and swim the most.

Workouts that target these different goals should also be very different from each other, with different movements, relative weight loads, and numbers of sets and reps. The exact content of any of these workouts is beyond the scope of this article and will depend on your personal goals, experience, and needs, but it’s well worth the time to develop a good strength training routine.

If you do this, you can improve your fitness and performance AND avoid injury pain!

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and clinical exercise physiologist based in Toronto. Learn more about Darian here or email him at You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.

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