“Weighting” for Triathlon Season

author : Glenn
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Most of us have hectic personal and work schedules. In fact, to fit in our training it is often a daily achievement!

By Glenn Macnamara

Winter season has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. Triathlon races are as scarce as “Those Summer Nights” as triathletes enter the off season and winter preparation.  It is a crucial time for many triathletes. If you are motivated and train consistently through these cold months, you will reap the rewards come triathlon season.  Now is the ideal time to introduce gym sessions into your workout routine.  How can the gym benefit you in your training? This article attempts to answer some of those questions.
Most of us have hectic personal and work schedules. In fact, to fit in our training it is often a daily achievement!  So, how do we squeeze in some gym work?  Let's make it clear exactly what the role the gym plays in your training schedule. It is supplementary training. That is, it does not, or at least should not substitute for training in the three disciplines.  Supplementary needs to be viewed as an ‘added value’ component. In the same way, most athletes with high training volumes take many forms of vitamin and mineral supplements to assist in keeping our immune systems healthy and ensure our recovery is good.  With this view in mind, if you make gym part of your routine, then 2-3 times per week is sufficient for your training. I know a few athletes who replace a bike or swim or run session for gym work. This is not the point of the exercise! Gym work does not replace any of your sessions.
When is the best time to incorporate gym into your daily routine?
The answer to this question depends largely on how flexible you can be with work and other commitments. In the ideal world, I would recommend gym and strength work prior to your cycle. This method of “loading the legs” before cycling will give you the additional strength for the bike section of the Ironman. This principle is followed by a number of top French track cyclists.  From experience, I do not recommend gym prior to a run as it leaves your legs heavy and unresponsive. Thus, gym at lunchtime is not going to be as beneficial if you intend to run later. Allow your legs sufficient time to recover for your run training.  I have found that if I gym early enough in the day then my legs are fine to run later in the afternoon. This means, you can cycle and then gym. It won’t damage your legs too much but you won’t get the maximum benefit for the bike. It certainly is not going to harm you, but ideally, gym before you bike. This can work out very well from a schedule perspective especially if you spend some time biking indoors this winter.  For many of us, gym work generally gets done at the end of the day’s training. This can work well if you plan to ride the next morning.

How long do I gym for?
Triathletes have amazingly resilient legs! The workload placed on them astounds sports physicians, cycling and running specialists. I remember reading a report by some sports scientists at the Olympic training center in San Diego after the Sydney Olympics. It was the first time these specialists had worked with triathletes. They were amazed by the volume, intensity and recovery powers of triathlete's legs. Joe Friel, well-known cycle and triathlon coach has often guided my training questions. He is of the opinion that a triathlete needs to spend less time in the gym than a cyclist for example. A 30-45 minute session is ample for a triathlete to gain benefits.

As we mentioned earlier, repeat this gym session twice or three times per week. Friel emphasizes that the key for gym work from a triathlete’s perspective is efficiency. The exercises must make you more efficient in your swim, bike and run. Therefore, hours spent are not important. The exercises he says must be “functionally related”- that is related to the functions your legs execute in training and ultimately racing.    The experts suggest three times is optimal but sometimes that is quite a lot to ask for many triathletes. Twice a week has certainly aided me without overloading my body.   This would be considered a more “maintenance program”
What type of program?
 To begin with, especially since it is winter and race season is some months away, you can make the most of your time and aim for three sessions a week.  As your intensity and training volume increase, it is fine to drop one session a week.  Commence with an 8-week program. A maintenance programme is ideal about six weeks away from your first race. If you plan to race a number of races in a relatively short period of time, then remain on a maintenance-twice weekly program.   However, if you plan your races further part, then you can revert back to a “build” program for a few weeks and then return to your maintenance schedule six weeks away from your next race. In this latter example, let us assume your first race is 10 weeks apart from your 2nd race. You could ‘build’ for four weeks after the first race and then maintain for the next six weeks.

Tip: Avoid gym work on consecutive days. This is not ideal preparation for a triathlete's legs and body. It is better to take a day or two in-between sessions to allow for maximum recovery. So much of a triathletes training program hinges around his or her ability to recover adequately. It makes no sense to overload your legs from gym work. Gym work operates at deep muscle tissue level so it takes longer to recover.

Tip: Avoid gym work before quality run sessions.
To do gym in the morning of a run, an afternoon time trial or when you plan to do interval type training does not serve your fast twitch muscle fibers well. You are better off doing your quality work followed by a gym session.

  1. Is it better to do gym on easy training days?
     • My philosophy on this one is simply “NO.”
     • My rule is: Keep "hard days" as hard days and "easy days" as easy days. By doing the gym on ‘easy’ days your legs do not get sufficient time to recover.
  2. Will gym work make me run faster?
     • I have been asked this question on many occasions.
     • The short answer is 'no.' Studies have shown that from a speed perspective, gym work helps swimming and cycling. Cycling benefits the most from gym work because it tends to increase your wattage (or power output). From a running perspective, the gym sessions assists in the area of reducing your risk of injury.
     • Running places all sorts of stresses on your bones, ligaments and muscles. The gym sessions simply gives better conditioning to all parts of your legs. In a triathlon, you may notice you get faster following gym work. Indirectly, it helps your run pace because more than likely you will be more efficient on the bike leg of the race and therefore have a ‘fresher,' more efficient set of legs with which to work with on the run.
     • Women, triathlon, running and gym.
     I frequently recommend gym work for female runners and triathletes. They have a distinctly different running technique from their male counterparts. Quite often women develop knee problems from running simply because the muscles and ligaments supporting the knee are underdeveloped.
  3. What is the best way to start gym work?
     •I definitely recommend consulting an expert like a biokineticist prior to commencement of a gym program.
     •Why?  We all have biomechanical weaknesses in our bodies, most of us have a dominant leg. What is the percentage difference in strength between your left and right quadriceps muscles? What is the percentage difference between your left and right hamstrings? And of course, what is the difference between your calves?
     If you begin with a gym program without this information then all you really achieve is accentuating the existing gaps. Essentially, your “deficient areas” do not get any stronger. You want to develop the strength of both your legs equally. Your first step therefore has to be correcting any existing discrepancies. This may mean doing similar exercises but doing more repeats on the one leg for a given time frame. After this initial “correction phase”, reassess your incongruities. I hope this makes sense to you!

I hope this article gives you sufficient reasons to incorporate gym sessions into your schedule for the forthcoming season. There is enough time for you to feel the effects of a well-structured gym program. Next time we can look at what exercises are most likely to benefit your racing experience. Happy Gymming!
Glenn Macnamara is an elite Duathlete in South Africa. He is sponsored by EVOX nutritional and supplement company.


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date: November 28, 2004


I am an elite duathlete here in South Africa. I compete in Powerman Long distance duathlons around the world. Had some good results in the last few years like 4th in Japan, 5th in Malaysia, 6th in France and South Africa and recently 15th pro at Powerman Zofingen.
Was ranked 16th in the Powerman world rankings at the beginning of 2003.


I am an elite duathlete here in South Africa. I compete in Powerman Long distance duathlons around the world. Had some good results in the last few years like 4th in Japan, 5th in Malaysia, 6th in France and South Africa and recently 15th pro at Powerman Zofingen.
Was ranked 16th in the Powerman world rankings at the beginning of 2003.

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