Strength training for the multisport athlete - Part II

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Most multisport athletes possess good muscular endurance. Yet insufficient muscular strength often prevents triathletes from taking their racing to the next level.

Strength training can boost lactate tolerance, assist in delaying fatigue and may help bridge the metabolic power gap between swimming, cycling and running as well improve performance during hill climbing, sprints and breakaways. Below is a sample strength-training program designed to improve triathlon performance and enhance injury resistance.

Essential components of a strength-training program for triathletes include: warm up, plyometrics, abdominal/core work, resistance training and recovery/regeneration. Flexibility should be incorporated into the warm-up and recovery/regeneration periods.

Single-joint exercises should be used sparingly, if at all, and have little place in training for triathlon performance. Instead, perform explosive movements (e.g. jump squats) and multi-joint exercises (e.g. squats) and pair exercises/movements together.

Warm up

Each session should begin with a triathlon-specific dynamic warm up designed to activate muscles used during swimming, biking and running. Progressing from in-place movements to walking, skipping and running, dynamic flexibility is designed to turn on the nervous system and prepare the body for the strength work ahead. As a result, additional warm-up activities, such as stationary cycling or treadmill running, aren't necessary.

Ankle rocks x 10: In place, continuous back-and-forth movement on your feet from plantarflexion to dorsiflexion.

High-knee lunge walk: From a standing position, lift and hug right knee to chest while squeezing left glute and extending up on left toes. Step forward into a lunge with right leg. Repeat stretch on other side. Perform for 20 yards.

High-knee skip: From a standing position, lift knee and foot while lifting opposing arm. Drive foot to the ground and briefly generate double-foot contact with the ground as opposite knee and foot drive up. Perform for 20 yards.

High-knee run: Rapid opposing arm and knee running motion while keeping the ankle dorsiflexed as the knees driving upward.

Straight-leg skip: Keep knee straight and foot dorsiflexed. Lift leg in front to the opposing hand. Pull heel back to the ground and generate a double foot contact as opposite leg lifts.

Butt kicks: From a standing position, kick back with your lower legs toward the glutes by bending at the knees and firing the hamstrings. Perform for 20 yards.

Inchworm: Kneeling on all fours, use your hands to walk out into a push-up position. Keep your knees straight, and walk your hands and feet together. This exercises the core, stabilizers and upper and lower body.


Before you get into the resistance-training portion of the workout, spend a few minutes on plyometric exercises. Plyometrics, or training the body to produce explosive sport-specific power, enhance the muscles' ability to store and release energy. Double-leg plyometrics include box jumps, hurdle hops and jump squats.

To perform jump squats, set your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Sit back on your heels and drop down into a squat position. Jump straight up and land in the same position, absorbing the landing.

Single-leg plyometrics include one-leg box jumps, one-leg hops and split jumps. To perform one-leg box jumps, use a four- to eight-inch box/platform. On one leg, jump up onto the box, concentrating on absorbing and stabilizing the landing with the same leg. Step down, starting and finishing in the same position.

Resistance training

Just as you use periodization during your sport-specific triathlon training, so should you apply this concept to your weight-training sessions as well. There are four phases in the resistance-training program: preparatory, basic strength, strength/power and peaking phases.

Phase 1: The goal of the preparatory phase is to develop a muscular and metabolic base by performing a high volume of work at a very low to moderate intensity. Muscular imbalances and injuries are addressed. This two-day per week program can be utilized during the triathlon off-season while the body is recuperating. Take a minimum of 24 to 72 hours rest between sessions.


Day 1 Day 2

Ball log roll: Lie on your stomach, keeping your feet and knees together. Place a stability ball under your legs just above the knees. While holding the core tight & the upper body up in a locked arm position, roll the hips from side to side. 3 x 15 Front and side plank: From a prone position, lift your body of the ground while remaining on your elbows and balls of your feet. Hold the front plank position for 20 seconds. Next, lift your body off the ground stabilizing on your right elbow and the side of your right foot. Repeat the side plank position on your left elbow. Hold each for 3 x 20 seconds

Jump squats (as above) 3 x 6 One-leg box jumps (as above) 3 x 4

Front squats, 3 x 8: Take 1:30 rest after one set of eight, then go into your first set of pull-ups paired with front squats. Complete the cycle three times:
Pull-ups or pull-downs, 3 x 8: Bend your elbows to 90 degrees while using an overhand grip on the bar. Pull your body up and chin over the bar. Lower your body until your arms are fully extended.
Walking lunge, 3 x 16 steps: Take 1:30 rest after each set, then go into your first set of dumbbell row paired with walking lunge. Complete the cycle three times:
Double row, 3 x 8: Lean forward and support your weight on a bench with one arm. Hold the dumbbell in the opposite arm. Keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor, raise the dumbbell to your lower-chest region.
Close-grip bench press, 3 x 8: Bench-press movement holding the bar shoulder-width apart. Take 1:00 rest after one set of eight, then go into your first set of swimmers' hyper paired with close-grip bench press. Complete the cycle three times:
Swimmers' hyper, 3 x 8 (each side): Lying on your stomach, with your arms stretched out in front, raise your right arm and left leg (keeping them straight). Switch to left arm, right leg after a set of eight.
Alternate bench press: Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Alternate pressing left arm, then right arm. 3 x 8 with each arm. Take 1:00 rest after one set of eight, then go into your first set of ball leg-curl paired with alternating dumbbell bench press. Complete the cycle three times:
Ball leg-curl, 3 x 10: Lying on your back with your feet and knees together, place a stability ball underneath your feet, lifting your hips and creating a straight line with your body. Without allowing your hips to fall to the ground, bend your knees to roll the ball in and out with your feet to develop essential strength for cycling and running.

Y-T-W-L shoulder circuit: Lying prone with the shoulder blades squeezed together, raise the arms to form the letters Y, T, W then L as viewed from above. Perform eight repetitions of each letter continuously.
3 x 8 + 8 + 8 + 8
Diagonal raise: Lying supine with the shoulder blades squeezed together, move the arms in a diagonal fashion across the body, beginning at 10 (right arm) and 2 o'clock (left arm), and finishing at the opposite hip. 3 x 12

Phase 2: This phase, which coincides with the beginning of your base training, is designed to increase sport-specific strength. Resistance-training volume is moderate, and intensity/loads are moderate to high. An active rest week should be taken after this phase. No resistance training should be done during this week.

Phase 3: The phase is designed to maximize the strength and power of all triathlon-specific movements by continuing to lower the volume of work and boost the intensity. Base training progresses into early pre-season training, where higher-intensity work is introduced.

Phase 4: Coinciding with your pre-competition training cycle, resistance-training volume during this phase is at its lowest level while intensity continues to be very high. Exercises should be performed quickly and explosively at a tempo of one repetition per second.


Phase Tri Phase Resistance-Training Phase Sets Reps Intensity/% of 1-RM* Frequency

1 Off-season Preparatory 2-5 sets 8-12 reps 50-75% 2-4 days/wk for 2-6 wks

2 Base training Basic strength 3-5 sets 4-6 reps 75-90% 2-3 days/wk for 3-4 wks

3 Base training & early pre-season Strength/power 3-5 sets 1-3 reps 87-95% 2 days/wk for 3-4 wks

4 Pre-season Peaking 1-3 sets 6-12 reps 20-40% 2 days/wk for 2-3 wks

*One rep maximum; so 50% of 1-RM equals half of the maximum amount you're capable of lifting Recovery/Regeneration

A proper cool down after every resistance-training session allows the body to metabolically return to a pre-training state. Static stretching of all major musculature is recommended; hold for a minimum of 20 seconds per stretch. A post-workout self-massage using a foam roller or tennis ball is an excellent mode of releasing muscle tension.

Vic Brown is the associate strength and conditioning coach at Boston University and is an avid age-group triathlete.

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