Triathlon coaches Roch Frey and Paul Huddle answer questions

Ironman triathlete Bryan Rhodes  Credit: Robert Laberge/Allsport
Question One:

Too much of a good thing?

Dear Coaches,

Ive always had skinny little chicken legs. Im 42 but fairly new to triathlon. To improve my running and cycling next season, I started doing weight training for my calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes, along with my regular three-sport workout. The weight training met my goal of building up muscle in those areas; my legs look great.

Unfortunately, all that new muscle has added 10 pounds to my frame and slowed me down on the run. I thought it was going to make me faster. Do I ease up on the weights (I do three sets of 15 repetitions three times a week hardly a challenging workout), or run more, or both? Thanks.


Jeff Weill, Sr.


Has someone been getting sand kicked in his face? Hmmm. It sounds like youre on the right track but are letting some common side effects of strength training worry you unnecessarily. What if I get huge? What about my training? What if I start reading Muscle World and hanging out with guys named Sven?

While all of these questions are important, strength training requires a level head and the realization that nothing is forever and everything can be modified. For most athletes, there will be some weight gain associated with hitting the gym. You need to realize that a four- to five-percent gain in weight during the off-season is normal and nothing to worry about.

Of course, were assuming that your gains are primarily in the form of lean muscle mass, not from beer and pork rinds. This additional bulk will come off once you start to increase your sport-specific training back to normal levels.

On the brighter side of strength training, most gains in weight come from increased lean muscle mass and, to a smaller degree, bone density. Keep in mind that every pound of muscle gained correlates to a 50-calorie increase in metabolic requirement. Yes, you should expect an increase in appetite. (Yikes! This is beginning to sound like youre going to morph into Fat Bastard!).

But if your training levels remain the same, your body won't permit gains that would interfere with running, cycling and swimming. It will adapt and always strive to make itself as efficient as possible in the activities it does from day to day.

The toughest effects of strength training to deal with in the early season are the increased level of fatigue and the sluggishness experienced in your sport-specific training. These are a common side effects and, every year they send the aerobic junkies among us scampering back to the safety of some easy miles.

Most triathletes are efficient cardiovascular machines already, though. If theyd only get off the endorphin train for a couple of months out of the year and deal with the emotional trauma of temporarily getting slower, theyd be better off. The gains in injury prevention and performance far outweigh any early-season sluggishness. If you can keep the faith, when you do back off of the gym and head into racing, you will realize the benefit of the work you have put in.

Enough chitchat. How did you decide to end up at three sets of 15 reps? If you had gone through a periodization plan for your strength training, youd have passed through different phases that varied the number of sets and reps and the resistance or weight used.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the gym is in doing the same thing over and over regardless of where they are in their training. If this is what youve been doing, then you need some change. You need to go through an adaptation phase, an endurance phase, a pre-competitive phase, and, if you feel like you need it, a maintenance phase. Each phase should last from four to six weeks and will vary the number of reps/sets and the resistance/weight lifted.

Make sure you are beginning to back off of your strength training four to six weeks before your first race. This will give you time to shed some of the bulk youve gained and translate your strength gains to speed.

Say Hi to Sven for us,

Roch and Paul

Question Two:

Race or rest?

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am just starting to get a race schedule together for next year centered around Ironman California and Ironman USA. I loved doing Wildflower last year and want to go again, but... two weeks out from IM Cali? How about as a training race?



Dear Christopher,

We appreciate your formal and respectful address, but last time we checked, were both sirs, thank you very little.

We see whats going on here. We know why you love Wildflower dont try to disguise your question as purely a training/racing issue. Weve done this race and know what goes on at the aid station at mile five of the run. Last year Roch didnt race so he stood there topless like everyone else. Somehow he didnt get the same reaction from the athletes that the aid station volunteers got. Maybe they were freaked out by his third nipple. (Its true, hes just like that villain in the James Bond movie.)

You know what? Actually doing Wildflower (that is, doing it easy as a training day) isnt as much an issue as the road trip to and from the race (depending on how far you have to travel). If youre serious about maximizing your performance for Ironman California, youd be better served to stay home and do your final long-ish workouts and stay in your groove (sleeping in your own bed, etc.).

Generally, we try to steer people away from doing other races in the last four weeks leading up to an Ironman, not because the shorter race itself will hurt you but because it disrupts recovery. So, if you love Wildflower (like we do) and cant bear the thought of not being there, then yes, its okay to do it. But you must be honest with yourself about doing it easy and truly using it as a training day.

Having said that, if you were actually paying us to coach you, then we would tell you no, you shouldnt do that particular event two weeks prior to Ironman California. Train on!

His Excellency Paul and Sir Roch

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