I have a few questions for you.
Are you over 35 years of age? Do you have a limited amount of training time? Do you want to reverse—or at least slow down—as many aspects of the aging process as possible? Are you an endurance athlete looking for an extra edge? Do you want to boost power, reduce fatigue, guard against injury and increase your late-race energy reserves?
Well, who doesn't? And strength training can be the tool to help you accomplish each of these universally sought-after benefits. In fact, strength, or resistance, training is one of the most commonly overlooked means to improve endurance athletic performance.
All too many triathletes sacrifice strength training in favor of additional swim, bike or run sessions. This is unwise. In fact, a well-executed strength-training program can allow you to carve up to 25 percent out of your swim, bike and run volume while improving performance and enjoying better race-day results.
I fought going to the gym for years until I reached my mid-30s. Suddenly, speed work started to look more like steady-state training, and I could no longer override a lack of power on climbs with desire. My race performances started to suffer. I could see that even with a huge volume of miles out on the roads, my fitness was not what it was in my 20s.
Adding resistance training was the next step, but I had a problem. I had no idea how to design and integrate a strength program into triathlon training. I was also intimidated by the gym because I felt like the scrawny weakling on the beach compared to the hulks pushing around weights that would crush me. So there I was, the Ironman champion, embarrassed to go into the gym.
But my desire to win was even stronger than my embarrassment. I was introduced to a top strength coach, a woman named Diane Buchta. She led me through an entire season of weights, focusing on building overall body strength and, eventually, muscular speed.
The results were dramatic. In the first full season I used the program described below, I won the Triple Crown of Triathlon: the Nice International Triathlon, the Zofingen duathlon and the Hawaii Ironman.
Getting With the Program
I have boiled the program down to what I consider the 12 key exercises to develop overall body fitness for a triathlete. The workout is done twice a week throughout the year, and each session takes about 45 minutes. Separate the two weekly strength sessions by at least one day. The exercises, their order, the muscle groups they work and their sport-specific benefits are as follows:
1. Lateral Pull-downs (upper back; improves pull phase of swim stroke)
- Beginning position: Grasp bar with arms straight and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push chest forward; arch lower back
- Ending position: Pull bar in front of head down to shoulder level