How much strength does a triathlete need? What type of strength? What distance triathlon are we talking about? And by the way what IS strength? Let’s start with this one first: Strength is power over time. We know all three disciplines of triathlon do require strength. In the swim, upper body strength is required to cut through choppy water or strong currents. In the bike there are inevitably a few nasty climbs where strength work pays enormous dividends. And of course in the run there is enormous strength required to hold on when your legs are screaming at you to stop- especially in the Iron man distances.
The answer lies in making it functional. All strength training must be specific to your sport or it simply is a waste a time.
I am a believer in the weights room. Provided the exercises are “tri specific” like lunges, jumps, lat pull downs, seated rows it pays enormous dividends for a very short space of time. Strength training also makes you much more resistant to injury.
But strength training is not just about pumping iron. You can build strength work into your 3 disciplines. For example in the swim: Grab the pool buoy and hand paddles to do resistance work. Do 4 x 400m hard. Rest for 15 seconds in between each one. Then rest 30 seconds. Then attack the sprints. Do 8 x 100m sprints as hard as you can. This forces you to swim at race pace when you are tired and your arms are full of lactic.
A great tip is to do this functional work directly after weights. People often combine their gym and pool workouts on the same day. For example you could go in do 3 x 15 lat pull downs, 3 x 15 seated row, 3 x 15 press ups, 3 x 15 bench press, 3 x 1 min plank. Then jump in the pool and do the routine above. Brilliant workout and you will notice faster swim times very quickly.
The bike leg is easy to add strength work as well. Simply increase resistance, or increase the gear. Your cadence will drop but keep powering through. You can also find hill repeats to do which gets you fitter and stronger very quickly. If you prefer indoor work on occasion the turbo trainer provides killer workouts. Do hard, intense intervals. For example 30 seconds sprint, 15 seconds rest. Keep this up for 30 minutes. As always keep good technique when it gets hard- do not start swaying side to side. Keep your core strong and your back straight.
The fastest way to add strength training to your run is hill repeats. The most important thing is to keep your form correct as you start to fatigue. Keep your cadence high through out. Do 10 x 200m repeats. Lengthen the interval for longer triathlon races. In the weights room, you can add squats, lunges and leg press. Do NOT do leg extensions as this exercise is non functional and not good for your knee caps.
Strength training does give you massive bang for buck. It provides variety to your training. You will not get faster simply doing the same long ride or long run each week. You must mix it up and do the shorter, faster work. Strength training once a while will not help. Add it in at least once or twice a week and you will notice massive results and you will feel like a stronger athlete.