Are you one of those triathletes who have tried to incorporate strength training as one of the methods to get faster?
But as a result just end up feeling disappointed, overtrained and with no visible results in your races? What if I told you that, when done properly, strength training can work to your advantage? Big time. Let me tell you how.
Strength exercises should be targeting specific muscles and should be performed with extreme care and attention to detail.
You need to only do the kind of strength training that support your triathlon fitness. The number of repetitions & sets matter, proper timing and, more importantly, the form of execution matters. In other words, you need to have a concrete training plan in doing this. Otherwise, adding strength workouts without considering the areas I just mentioned could lead to doing junk hours of training that doesn’t contribute directly to your triathlon fitness, increase risk of injury, slow down time of recovery, affect your form in triathlon and cause poor performance during training or race day.
Know that, strength training can make or break your race. It can help you become stronger or weaker, faster or slower, more or less powerful. Everything depends on your approach.
I have always been careful in avoiding giving athletes generic advice. For me, that is no advice at all. Understanding how hard you juggle your schedule between work, family and training schedules, I don’t want to disappoint you with a premade standard answer.
I admit the internet has been very generous with videos and self-help materials about this topic. When I was starting out, I was very fond of “DIYs” and gathering a lot of information online. Though it’s helpful, there is a lot of noise, that’s hard to filter through.
When I decided to fully dedicate my time, energy and money to finishing races, I immediately upped my game. With what little I had, I spent it all on finding the best coaches, reading reliable books, listening to audiobooks, and finding mentors who are experts, to help me WIN. Strength training was one of the many components I incorporated into my triathlon training. In fact, I also hired my own personal trainer when I got into strength training more, while still training for triathlon.
Throughout the time of my triathlon training experience being coached by elite coaches, reading books and coaching athletes of different levels, I have summed up the common mistakes triathletes make when doing strength training. I'm sharing these to you so you can save yourself the frustration, disappointment or worse, getting injured.
Common mistakes triathletes make when doing strength training:
Timing of Strength Training. Being sore will most likely affect your form. If you do weight training, make sure that you are not compensating in your form. Hence, timing of strength exercise execution is crucial. For example, it is risky to do strength workouts during race week or a day before a key weekend workout. In particular, tight hamstrings or calves can limit your cadence and range of motion. Notice that your cadence (or number of steps per minute) will be much lower. When cadence is affected, your form is also going to be affected.
Overdoing the strength workout. Depending on the intensity, duration, repetitions and weight used, the recovery from the strength workout may affect your performance executing triathlon training. If you are new to weight lifting, make sure to take baby steps; don’t expect yourself to be busting lots of weights in the gym right off the bat. Just like building your base in triathlon, adding weights, repetitions and duration needs to be gradual.
Being Quad dominant. Many triathletes rely too heavily on their quads to generate power on the bike and during the run. This is not only inefficient but it can lead to injuries down the road, particularly in the knees. Changing your running form to increase your cadence and shorten your stride, for example, can help reduce the load that you put on your quads. Another way to transfer the power to other muscles is by working the posterior chain which includes your gluteus, hamstrings, calves and lower backs. You have to maintain balance in these muscles. If there is muscle imbalance between the quads, the gluteus, and hamstrings, your form is going to get affected. Meaning the hip flexor is going to be tighter and the hamstrings and gluteus are more relaxed. This is very dangerous. By using your hamstrings and gluteus effectively as you run, you offload the strain on the quads which are also heavily used during the bike portion. If you spend most of your day sitting, you regularly experience knee or back pain and/or may have tight, overdeveloped quads. Aim to strengthen your posterior strength and balance your quad-to-hamstring strength ratio.
Doing strength training that’s not specific to triathlon. There are so many strength exercises to choose from and I encourage them as long as they are directly benefitting overall athlete’s triathlon performance and fitness. Strength exercise classes such as bootcamps or crossfit are great for maintaining fitness, but for busy individuals, we have to be mindful of where we spend our limited workout time. For example, if you are competing in CrossFit, by all means, attend those classes or workouts to support your goal. Or you could leverage training with a group, enjoying the class while still adding benefits to triathlon fitness by asking your instructor/mentor/coach for triathlon-strength focused workouts. That being said, assuming that your priority is to do well in triathlon, make sure you are focusing on strength exercises for triathlon performance.
Incorporating strength workouts into your triathlon training may sound good and very attractive. How could you go wrong if you are adding strength workouts? I definitely encourage you to do strength workouts as long as you are incorporating the specific strength exercises that would directly enhance your triathlon fitness at the right time and with good form.
If you need more guidance and resources about this, visit my free facebook group Feisty Fox Coaching on Fire. And discover how to increase your chances in achieving the results you want within a short period of time, while still maintaining balance in life.