The race season has ended, you've had some recovery, and now you are looking to next season. You might be wondering if you should add weight training to your routine or not?
Consider that our natural maximal muscular strength is achieved sometime in our 20s or early 30s. That's why anyone over 30 should invest some time into a strength-training program. The older you are, the more you need the gym.
Women vs. Men
On average, women tend to be about half as strong as men in their upper bodies and about 30 percent weaker in their lower bodies in terms of absolute strength. Athletic women are generally stronger than nonathletic women; however, they are generally not as strong as athletic men in the same sport.
Much of this strength difference is due to hormonal factors that give males greater muscle mass. Although women may not have goals to be as strong as men within their sport, they can use a weight-training program to increase their strength per pound of body mass and lean muscle mass.
Strength Training Adaptations
Some of the adaptations that occur when we strength train include increased muscle fiber size, increased muscle contractile strength, and increased tendon, bone, and ligament tensile strength. These changes are thought to decrease injury risk, and improve physical capacity, economy, and metabolic function--not to mention help you look darn good.
Looking good is certainly nice, but do those beautiful muscles make you faster?
Performance Improvements in Triathletes
The studies on weight training and triathletes are few. One study used fifteen triathletes to determine what effect heavy weight training, in conjunction with endurance training, had on performance.
Athletes were split into two groups: endurance with strength training and endurance only. The athletes performed field running tests and strength tests. The study found that the weight-training group had improved maximal strength, while no changes in strength were found in the endurance-only group, which you might have expected.
The study also found that the endurance plus weight training group improved running economy. This particular study did not measure improvements in swimming and cycling.
Increased body weight is one of the reasons some triathletes avoid the weight room. However, in a recent study done by the University of Science and Technology in Norway on well-trained, long-distance runners, it was found that a maximal strength-training program improved running economy without increasing body weight.
There have been a number of studies on trained and untrained sedentary cyclists, with both groups experiencing positive results. In one study, untrained cyclists who strength trained for 12 weeks improved their cycling endurance by 33 percent and lactate thresholds by an average of 12 percent.
In a separate study on trained cyclists, the addition of a strength-training program increased their cycling endurance by 20 percent, allowing them to pedal 14 minutes longer before fatigue set in. They also increased short-term, high-intensity endurance performance in the four- to eight-minute range by 11 percent.
When I looked on the publication site PubMed
, I found only one study on weight training and swimmers. This particular study, done by the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, did not find a transfer from dry land to water performance. The study concluded that it was perhaps due to the lack of specificity of the dry-land training.