I am new at training for a triathlon. I have been building up my swim, runs, and biking for few months now. I have been reading a lot about incorporating strength training into my workouts, and all the benefits it has for triathletes. When doing these workouts, should I be strength training the same days as my normal swim, bike, and run days? Should I do them in one session at the gym or spread them out during the day? My question is what is the best way to go about adding in lifting weights? Should I do a run and then lift, or lift and then go for a run?
Welcome to the wonderful world of triathlon! Being a triathlete assumes a few things: one is that you’ll do double workouts almost every day, and the second is, if you are training 12-16 sessions a week, there will be a triple day as well. That’s just part of trying to fit it all in and to continually improve.
With that in mind, I’m glad to hear that you are interested in strength training. I’ve been an endurance athlete most of my life and I’ve been involved with weight training for most of my life as well and those two go hand in hard. No matter how much research says that strength training doesn’t directly impact performance, and it may not, but it definitely can keep your body moving correctly and keep the injury bug at bay. In addition, as we age past 35 we tend to lose about one pound of muscle per year, so keeping up with weights is crucial to keeping our body fat low and maintaining a lean physique, which is much more efficient than a body that’s carrying excessive fat.
The reasons to strength train are many and knowing your weaknesses is key and doing functional strength exercises critical to improvement.
In terms of how to fit strength training in, I see this as a two-part question:
From the 10,000 foot view, the off-season is the time to work on those weaknesses and since we aren’t outside needing to get those long bikes in, we have more time to work on strength training. I like to see athletes use the winter to work on the functional side of things, then slowly transition to lifting heavier weights over a period of time in the winter, and then move into an ‘in-season’ plan, and eventually that plan will transition to a ‘maintenance plan’ as you get closer to your key races.
Remember you should do strength training BEFORE your swim, bike and run workouts and you lead into that phase with specific exercises that mimic those strength sessions in the weight room. For example, before you start a phase of running hill repeats, make sure you mimic that in the weight room with step ups and lunges. Big gear training on the bike (see example below), should be preceded in the weight room by dead lifts, leg press, squats, etc. Before doing paddle work in the pool, make sure you are doing the proper exercises in the weight room like stiff arm push downs or using the Vasa Trainer at a high resistance. Typically, 4-6 weeks before we start a specific phase in training, we’ll address those muscle groups in the weight room.
While these weight room exercises are great, doing the actual strength work in the pool, on the trainer or road for cycling and on the hills for running, is what really matters. Doing them after building up strength work in the gym will allow you to get even stronger.
Here’s how I would set up a basic week of training, mixing in the strength work and swim, bike, and run training.
Monday – Coming off the weekend, so easy long swim, weights, easy bike. (90 minutes total).
Tuesday: Quality bike workout, run off the bike (75 minutes total).
Wednesday – Hard swim / weights (90 to 105 minutes total)
Thursday – Quality run workout / easy recovery bike (90 minutes total)
Friday – day off or easy swim
Saturday – long bike with tempo efforts / Run off bike (up to 3-4 hour total)
Sunday – long run / easy swim or easy recovery bike. (up to 2.5 hours total)
My example week has 13 workouts, 10+ hours of training. Core workouts can be added into any day on the calendar – even 10 minutes 3-4 x per week will make a difference.
For efficiency’s sake, strength sessions should be full body workouts and they should be done in one session for time efficiency. Here’s a link to my off-season weight program
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