Updated: Apr 28, 2020
This article is some thing I would usually write between seasons to remind athletes the importance of strength training, however as we have now most of us cannot swim, it may be a good to time refresh your memory or to utilise the time.
As a coach I will always incorporate strength within a training program which would generally make up to 10-20% of the plan. As a general rule, I try to follow roughly 50% bike, 20% run, 20% swim, 10% strength and conditioning. However, by incorporating hills on both the run and bike, and paddles in the pool will also constitute towards strength, its just more sports specific.
Obviously, like an out and out strength training program, this also needs to be periodised throughout the season. However, as we now find ourselves without any access to pools or lakes, it may be a good idea to to incorporate a little more into your home routine, especially the key muscle recruitments in swimming, of shoulders, chest, arms and core.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of controversy across various platforms which states that strength training is not needed for triathletes, but in fact there is plenty of evidence to suggest that strength training shows a positive relationship with swimming, cycling and running performance, in particular, endurance performance, with results of positive performances outweighing negative performances in comparative research reviews.
Based on the evidence, stacking on pre-season lean mass and then promoting muscle density may help the athlete become more robust throughout the race season. However, unlike bodybuilders, triathletes are not particularly interested in aesthetics. In fact, hypertrophy is of neither use nor ornament during the race season, due to hypertrophy predominantly utilising and promoting fast twitch muscle fibres for muscle growth, rather than the slow twitch muscle fibres needed by the triathlete.
Therefore, the athlete should incorporate it within the periodised plan by building strength first, with 4 sets of 8 reps @ 85% of one rep max, eventually leading onto 4 sets of 20 reps @ 50-65% of one rep max for endurance. This helps the working muscle cope with the demands of constant contractions whilst trying to avoid injury. The strength sets also helps to manipulate the lactate systems which will also help during high working intensities to stop the muscles from flushing in lactic acid – the body’s natural by-product when the muscles are working at capacity. Essentially, the higher you raise the lactate threshold, the faster and longer you can train and race.
Over the winter I will be concentrating on David Warden’s 5 phases of strength training which will lead up to the start of the race season, then continuing with competition maintenance thereafter,
Anatomical Adaptation is to help the physiological systems adapt to training stimulations as preparatory phase, as failing to do so may lead to severe soreness and prolonged recovery days. These sessions are 3-5 sets, 20-30 reps, 60-90 seconds rest between sets, @ 40-60% of 1 rep max, 2-3 times per week.
Maximum Transition is designed to prepare the body for the heavier loads of the next phase of maximum strength. These sessions are 3-5 sets, 10-15 reps, 90-180 seconds between sets, @40-60% of 1 rep max, 2-3 times per week.
Maximum Strength is the primary purpose of gym based strength training. This phase is when power is primarily developed for the triathlete. Although power is called upon in a steady-state event, it is crucial during a draft-legal event, as the athlete needs to be conditioned for the explosive nature of cornering, overtaking, and dropping other athletes. These sessions are 3-6 sets, 3-6 reps, 120-240 seconds between sets, @50-80% of 1 rep max, 2 times per week.
Strength Maintenance, which like most other fitness components or skills, need to be maintained. The strength maintenance phase, is developed to sustain the new abilities to generate force whilst not interfering with critical sports-specific endurance and speed training beyond this phase. These sessions are 2-3 sets, 6-12 reps, 60-120 seconds between sets, @60% first set-leading onto 80% of 1 rep max, once per week.
Many coaches may determine strength training at this point to avoid an unwanted build-up of additional fatigue to the high load of cardiovascular exercise. However, continuing a more sports specific program of over gearing or hill reps on the bike, or running with resistance such as climbing or sled pulling, will replicate resistance training, but allow the muscles to function in the same way as training and racing.
Furthermore, high mileage or LSD (long steady state) sessions on the bike and in running will help build your endurance and road handling techniques. LSD sessions are often trained in the lower heart rate zones of 1 and 2, which helps the athlete gain a high volume of training but with less injury risk. LSD sessions also allow the athlete to build strength endurance by working on different terrain such as hills and trail runs, which will help the performer towards the back end of his/her races, where a lot of athletes will usually fade away.
LSD sessions also help produce mitochondria, the main role of which is to produce the energy currency of the cells. To put it in basic terms, the more mitochondria we have, the faster our bodies reproduce ATP which is what releases the energy from our muscles – also known as the Krebs cycle, or to elaborate, making the athlete more efficient.