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Put Together Your Own Successful Triathlon Strength Training Program

overhead squat

The three main reasons for following a triathlon strength training program are to:

  1. Reduce risk of injury
  2. Increase your potential to train effectively
  3. Maintain efficient posture

All of which should result in:

Improved Performance!

The first thing you need to take into consideration when thinking about starting a triathlon strength training program is where you are starting from.

If you’re new to triathlon training, or you haven’t done any strength training before, it is important you start with the basics to avoid getting injured.

Most elite triathletes will not be lifting heavy weights and doing Olympic lifting. They may do some of this, but the majority of their triathlon strength training program will focus on conditioning for injury prevention and maintaining efficiency of movement.

If you have never done any strength or conditioning work before, then build up gradually. The first time you do some conditioning exercises or lift some weights, you will probably ache the next day. So take it easy, do too much too soon. Better to build up your triathlon strength training program gradually and be able to move the next day than have to have a week off training!

A triathlon strength training program should develop along these stages:

  1. Basic conditioning
  2. Advanced conditioning - maintaining stability with movement
  3. Strength and power preparation - preparation of a good strength base
  4. Discipline specific strength and power training


Basic and advanced conditioning may be enough for many triathletes, particularly if all you want to do is stay injury free and maintain efficient technique for swim and run.

But as you progress you may want to focus on some specific strength development.

If you’re not sure where to start, then there are some basic assessments you can do to see where you are at, and which level you need to start at. Most of the exercises mentioned are illustrated by videos on our strength pages – click the links to go to the page with the exercise on.

Assess Your Basic Conditioning
And Exercises To Develop This

Having a good basic level of conditioning is really important, both for keeping you injury free and for providing a base for you to develop your strength work. This can be assessed by looking at your ability to control isolated movements.

If you are unable to achieve the minimum requirements in the table below then these exercises are something you need to work on before moving on with your triathlon strength training program.

The exercises need to be done pretty frequently (ie several times per week, or daily if you have a real weakness). They can be put together as a circuit session and should form the basis of your triathlon strength training program.

Exercise Assessment Key Points
Hip Stability
Floor Based Assessments
4 Point Hip And Knee Extension (commonly called birddog or supermans). 10 reps with perfect form – no movement of pelvis or lumbar spine, no shifting of weight distribution through movement.
Side Plank Hip Abduction see side plank hip circuits video. 10 reps with perfect form. No lateral bending of the spine, extension of lumbar spine or raising of the hips when taking leg to full outer range.
Supine Leg Lowering 10 reps with perfect form. Extension and flexion of the hip with straight legs within at least a 70 degree range whilst maintaining a neutral spine, lying on back.
Standing Assessments
Aeroplanes 10 reps of rotation both inwards and outwards. Pelvis must stay locked to the ribcage by maintaining stiffness of the trunk. You need to achieve maximal outwards rotation without losing balance. This can be progressed using a stick or bar on the shoulders.
One Leg Flexion-Extension (see single leg good mornings video) Movement should be performed on one leg, moving the free leg. 10 reps of hip extension and flexion, from at least 90 degrees flexion to at least +10 degrees hip extension, with no tilting of the pelvis.
Hip hinge (stiff leg deadlifts) – both single and double legged (see stiff leg deadlift video) 10 reps with perfect spine alignment. Can add weight in form of barbell held at thighs.
Overhead Squat 10 reps of perfect form. Maintain lumbar lordosis until hips are parallel to knee during descent into squat position. May do with stick or barbell.
Shoulder/Scapular stability visit page for more detailed info
Pull ups or lat pull down. Prone or bent over rows, push ups 10 reps with perfect form, particularly maintaining set position of scapula throughout set.
Overhead Squat 10 reps of perfect form - ability to keep arms vertical at bottom of squat. May do with stick or barbell.
Trunk strength – maintaining spine alignment against forces.
Front Bridge/Plank Maintain form for at least 1 – 2 minutes – neutral spine, keep body in straight line, no sticking up of hips or bowing of back.
Side Planks Maintain form for at least 1 – 2 minutes – neutral spine, keep body in straight line, no sticking forward/backwards/upwards of hips. Compare duration on either side to check for imbalance
Gluteal Bridge – lie on back, bend knees to 90 degrees. Raise hips up so weight on upper back and feet. Straighten one leg out, keeping thighs parallel. Maintain form for at least 1 – 2 minutes. Keep hips aligned parallel, knee at 90 degree angle. Compare duration on either side to check for imbalance.
Aleknas 10 reps whilst maintaining perfect form.

Exercises to include in your triathlon strength training program can be found on these pages:

Core Strength Exercises – Level 1

Start here with basic core exercises focussing on engaging the TA muscle as a starting point.



Core Strength Exercises – Level 2

Moving on from Level 1, a series of exercises that are slightly more dynamic, looking at overall core strength.



Core Strength Exercises – Level 3

Progress to including these exercises once you have a good basic level of core strength. These are more dynamic exercises for overall core strength.



Glute Exercises For Hip Control And Stability

Good glute strength is important for maintaining good hip position and stabilising your pelvis. Without this you are likely to end up with injuries to your lower limbs - eg knee, calf or achilles problems.


Body Weight Circuit Exercises

This is a simple way to include strength training in your programme. There are hundreds of different exercises you could do, and you don't need much, if anything, in the way of equipment.




Shoulder Stability and Strength

Prevent injury and improve functional strength and mobility for better swimming technique. All triathletes should be doing these exercises!



Advanced Conditioning And Strength & Power Preparation

These exercises can be included as a dynamic warm up before a training session, or as an active recovery session. They can also be combined with or included in a circuits session. They are an ideal development from the basic conditioning exercises for a triathlon strength training program, and can easily be incorporated into your triathlon training without causing excessive fatigue.

Exercises can be found on these pages:

Running Drills

These are great to use as part of a warm-up. Ideal for improving functional strength and control, as well as running economy.




Hamstring Control And Strength

Weak hamstrings will get injured as soon as you run fast! So look after yours - here are exercises to improve your hamstring strength for injury prevention and improved performance.


Lower Limb Conditioning

Improve the strength and stability of your lower leg, ankles and feet. This will help reduce your injury risk but improved lower leg strength can contribute to better running economy.



Incorporating Strength Training Into Your Training Programme – A Basic Guide

Core, glute and shoulder work can be done:

  • As part of circuit or before a circuit session
  • On their own
  • In warm-up/cool-down from another session

Running drills can be done:

  • On their own
  • As a warm up for a running session or a conditioning session

Lower limb conditioning can be done:

  • As part of a conditioning session
  • Before a circuit session

Hamstring control and strength can be done:

  • As part of circuit session
  • As part of conditioning session

Circuits can be done:

  • On the same day as an easy run/bike/swim session
  • Immediately before/after an easy run/bike/swim session
Strength and Power training can be done:
  • As a session in its own right. This can be a fatiguing session so think about how you are going to incorporate it – don’t do a hard power training session just before a hard swim/bike/run session.

Also remember that if you have done a hard run session the day before you might not lift as well in the gym the next day.

Examples of Incorporating Strength Training During The Different Training Phases

For more information about training phases visit our training planning page.

Foundation, Base and Build Phases

Increase resistance/repetitions/exercises as you move through these phases.

Beginner:

  • Core, glute and shoulder work twice a week
  • Circuits once a week

Intermediate:

  • Core glute and shoulder work 3 – 4 times per week
  • Circuits once a week
  • One strength session per week

Advanced:

  • Core, glute and shoulder work 3 – 6 times per week
  • Circuits once a week
  • 2 strength sessions per week – moving towards reactive and explosive strength and power in Build phase.

Preparation:

Beginner:

  • Core, glute and shoulder work twice a week
  • Circuits once a week

Intermediate:

  • Core glute and shoulder work 3 – 4 times per week
  • 0 – 1 Circuits per a week
  • 0 - 1 strength session per week

Advanced:

  • Core, glute and shoulder work 3 – 6 times per week
  • Circuits once a week
  • 0 - 1 strength sessions per week – reactive strength training, and keep explosive strength training fast with relatively light weights.

Recuperation

  • Maintain core, glute and shoulder work

Transition

  • Maintain core, glute and shoulder work
  • Light circuits

Strength and conditioning training should also not be limited to the gym. In fact the most gains in performance can come from working on strength and power in the real world.

The sort of things you could include as part of a triathlon strength training program would be:

  • Running: Hill sprints When used appropriately, these can develop muscular power in the relevant actions, improve form and control of form.
  • Cycling: Seated accelerations and standing starts These develop functional strength and power, as well as developing your technical skills.

Just remember, like any gym exercise these sessions need to be performed with good technique to gain the most from them.



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