As mentioned in Top 5 Triathlon Strength Workouts, strength training is an extremely important but overlooked aspect of endurance training among athletes. The reason being, if strength training is done correctly, it can recruit more (not bigger) muscle fibers which group together in what is known as a motor unit. These motor units are what make up your slow and fast twitch muscles. In other words strength training can create more of what makes you fast! Besides the benefit of recruiting more motor units, weight training has been proven to prevent injuries, provide a nice form of cross training, and cause a positive but different hormonal response than endurance training.
Just as I recommend using periodization to plan your normal endurance training, you should also approach strength training the same way. But before we jump into exactly how strength training should fit into your endurance season, lets go over some basic strength training lingo:
Reps: Short of repetition, means the numbers of times you complete an exercise movement. For example, you could do 12 “reps” of squats.
Sets: This refers to the number of exercise repetitions completed. For example you could do squats for 3 “sets” of 12 reps.
Intensity: This is usually measured in a percentage based on a 1-rep max of a certain exercise. For example if you can squat 200lbs one time, 75% intensity would be 150lbs for a given number of sets and reps. It’s important to have a good idea of intensity, however often times it’s hard to predict or find this number which is why I have athletes just pick a comfortable weight to start with and adjust accordingly (I.E. if your doing 12-15 reps and you can barely do 12, decrease the weight, whereas if you can do 15 reps easily increase the weight).
The preparation phase is the best time to tell your body that it needs to start building. At first you become sore and/or feel disappointed in the weight you can move but, don’t worry you’re just getting started!
Preparation phase strength training should be 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps at 65-75% intensity with 30-60 seconds rest, or a circuit style workout with minimal rest. I recommend doing 2-3 sessions a week.
During the base phase is where you truly start to build a solid foundation of strength, which will help you later in performance and injury prevention.
Base phase strength training should be 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps at 75-85% intensity with 60-90 seconds rest, or a circuit style workout with minimal rest. I recommend doing 1-3 sessions a week.
During the build phase, the goal of strength training is to maintain the strength you have already developed and to build more sport specific strength that continues to challenge your body.
Build phase strength training should be 2-4 sets of 6-8 reps at 85-95% intensity with 90 seconds- 2 minutes of rest, or a circuit style workout with minimal rest. I recommend doing 1-2 sessions a week.
Although the peak phase is short and involves the lowering of training volume to bring the body into “peak” fitness, strength training should continue. However, just as with your endurance training, movements should be quick, lightweight, and explosive. Such as some lunge jumps, box jumps, or side-to-side hops.
Peak phase strength training should be 1-3 sets of 4-6 reps at 65-75% intensity with 60 seconds- 90 seconds of rest, or a circuit style workout with minimal rest. I recommend doing 1-2 sessions a week.
No strength training during race week! If you’re feeling antsy? Do a couple body weight squats and push-ups to calm your nerves.
After year race season is over or you’re taking a break from a key race, have fun with strength training. Try a fitness class at the gym, workout with your family, and just enjoy the time away from structured training.