PR Your Next Race by Incorporating Strength Training into Your Plan

Elite endurance coach and age group triathlete, Tommy Trees, shares his strength training plan for racing faster.

PR Your Next Race by Incorporating Strength Training to Your Plan

When it comes to triathlon, time spent swimming, biking and running is key to developing in the sport. However, there are activities we can supplement to enhance our overall training and performance. 

Previously, there was great debate about whether triathletes should engage in strength training or not. Now the science is definitely in favour of it. Concurrent training (combining endurance training and strength training) has shown large increases in performance compared to when the disciplines are done independently. 

What is happening when you add strength work to your training plan? 

Push harder. Spending more time in activity will improve your ability to apply more force (which translates to speed). However, strength resistance training dramatically increases the amount of force that all muscle fibers can produce. Stronger muscles mean greater force production. Higher force means stronger propulsion with each pedal stroke, swim stroke and step. 

Move faster. Power is a combination of force and velocity. In addition to higher force, you also need to apply that force more quickly. This means training the body to increase the speed of its muscular contractions. Power-based strength training teaches muscles to push this higher force in a shorter period of time. As a runner, this means you can push harder with each stride with less ground contact time. 

More bounce. In addition to stronger and faster muscles, connective tissue also plays a key role in generating speed. Your tendons and ligaments can stretch like rubber bands, giving you additional energy when they are released. Strength training builds up this elasticity allowing you to get more spring energy. 

In today’s endurance training world, most credible coaches or sport scientists agree that strength and conditioning is one of the best ways to improve performance.

Additional benefits of strength training 

In addition to building up force, speed and bounce, there are a number of benefits to incorporating strength training into your plan. 

Prevent injury. Stronger muscles, tendons and ligaments are less likely to be overworked or strained. Strength training increases the load an athlete can carry, creating a higher ability to train before over-working a specific muscle which results in fewer strains or injuries. 

Overcome imbalances. Every athlete has natural muscle imbalances based on their unique physiology. A well rounded strength training routine will help to build underdeveloped muscle groups, allowing athletes to maintain better form in their movements. This also helps to prevent overworking a stronger or weaker area. 

Delay fatigue. Stronger muscles fatigue less quickly. Strength training creates stronger neural pathways to carry those messages farther and longer. In addition, stronger muscles are more efficient and require less oxygen and fuel to perform the same duties. 

What muscles should I be training?

Chest Improves pull phase in swim
Upper back Improves pull phase of swim stroke
Shoulder joint Supports healthy shoulders to prevent swimming injuries
Calves Helps push off for running
Adductors Targets all muscles used in push phase of hilly running
Quads Supports weight-catching phase of running and builds additional muscle mass necessary for half-marathon distances and up
Hamstrings Boosts pull through for both cycling and running
Glutes Generates power for cycling and strength necessary for hilly running
Biceps Assists in part of the pull phase in the swim and provides climbing leverage on the bike
Triceps Maintains form through back half of swim stroke

How to add strength training into different phases of training

Strength training has four “dials” to turn: sets, reps, weight and frequency. Just like your triathlon training should vary throughout the year, the same applies here. Strength work is added for each phase of training to create the maximum return. 

Preparatory phase: This phase of training is focused on preparing the body to get ‘training ready’. Approximately two to three weeks is spent priming all the areas of the body; incorporating easier efforts, lighter weights, higher reps and focusing on form and technique. 

Base phase: Base training is where much of the foundational work is done to develop your body for race day. Strength is a key component to this phase and where you need to focus on increasing your maximum strength. Here we switch to more sets with lower reps to allow you to maximise the weight and work being done. The primary goal here is to increase the weight dial each week. 

Build phase: The build phase is where your endurance training volume builds. As your triathlon training intensity starts to pick up, we need to now focus on maintaining the strength. Here, we drop the amount of sets, maintain the reps and aim to hold the same amount of weight.

Race phase: When you’re racing, it is important not to completely eliminate strength training, however, we need to be sensible. The main aim of racing is to get to the start line fresh. Here we drop the sets, reps and frequency. Try to get one quality session per week. 

Get the most out of your strength training sessions 

Warm up. It’s important to get your heart rate up before starting your strength-training routine. Begin with a five minute warmup of brisk walking, light jogging or dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching uses controlled movements to loosen up your muscles and increase your range of motion. For example, try doing some walking lunges or butt kicks.

Learn proper technique. In order to prevent injuries, you must know proper form and technique. Proper technique will make sure that you’re working the right muscles without risking injury. If you’re a beginner, it might be beneficial to invest in a single personal training session. A trainer can show you the correct positions, grips and motions while also helping you create a basic strength-training routine. If you don’t want to spend the money on a trainer, there is a lot of free content online to help you learn proper form. 

Know your options. You may associate strength training entirely with dumbbells, but they aren’t your only option. In fact, there are many modes of strength training at the gym, and even in your own living room. You can use resistance bands, weight bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, exercise balls, your own body weight, the list goes on.

Recovery. Strength training causes tiny tears in the muscles, which then heal stronger than before. These tears are good, but only if you allow them time to heal properly. The average person needs 24 to 48 hours of rest to heal in between workouts so make sure you allot yourself that time. 

Strength training program 

Below is a basic strength training program you can add into your existing triathlon training plan. 

PR Your Next Race by Incorporating Strength Training to Your Plan
PR Your Next Race by Incorporating Strength Training to Your Plan
PR Your Next Race by Incorporating Strength Training to Your Plan

. . .

Tommy Trees is Co-founder of NRG Coaching Systems (NRG Coaching) and all around elite endurance athlete. He competed for the Japanese National Triathlon Team on several occasions and has over ten years experience of training and competing at the highest level. Trees has helped athletes of all abilities achieve their goals, victories, and personal bests.