The ability to combine strength training and triathlon programming can stump even the greatest minds in the sport. What we know for sure is that combining the two opposing activities is akin to sticking a round peg in a square hole. Troubleshooting, adjusting strength training sessions and knowing when to put the foot on the gas or to pump the brakes is a learned skill that varies from athlete to athlete. Combining the two can become less formulaic and more of an art form. But with careful planning around some simple guidelines, you can create a successful strength-training program suited to your experience level.
Each of the following factors should be taken into account as you begin setting up your approach:
- Injury history
- Your current fitness level (novice, weekend warrior or intermediate)
The Novice1 of 6
You are new to the triathlon world. Welcome aboard! You've picked a sport that features three disciplines. You most likely won't master all three of them, but that's OK—every triathlete started in the same place. You will get better at swimming, biking and running on a weekly basis. While the pros are trying to shave just a few seconds off their personal records, you'll be chopping minutes off each race. That's the joy of being a beginner.
As a novice, your goal should be to get to the gym once a week. 30-40 minutes is a perfect place to start, working the big muscle groups—glutes, hamstrings, back, shoulders and abs. Remember, it's OK to adjust your workout. Always use common sense and listen to your body.
The Weekend Warrior2 of 6
Your weekday training time is limited, so you perform the bulk of your triathlon training on the weekend. That doesn't leave time for much else. The good news is a little strength training is better than none. As such, you have two choices:
Knock out a fast 15 to 20 minute strength workout at home, most likely before you leave for work. Focus on bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, chin-ups and core work. You can always find 20 minutes during the week if you really want to, and it will pay dividends between your weekend triathlon training sessions.
If you absolutely can't squeak out 20 minutes here and there during the week, hit the gym after your weekend triathlon training. Again, keep the workout on the shorter end. Your focus should be on the big muscle groups: Glutes, hamstrings, back, shoulders and abs. Do just enough that you feel the effects of the workout, but don't leave yourself beat up for the next few days.
The Intermediate3 of 6
The intermediate has less to do with where you place in the race and more to do with experience. You've been to the rodeo and seen the show, which is an incredibly valuable asset in a very complicated sport. This experience puts you in the driver's seat, as you understand the necessary training program and know what works and what doesn't work.
The intermediate tends to approach their training in a large-scale sense with training blocks set up throughout the year. There shouldn't be any guesswork when it comes to strength training. One to two times a week, 45-60 minutes in the gym, while always focusing on the big muscle groups: Glutes, hamstrings, back, shoulders and abs. The second workout of the week can put more of an emphasis on core, foam rolling and stretching to give your body a chance to recover. By now you should be working exclusively with free weights or suspension trainers, no machines. Lean on your experience; it will tell how to plan the right days to train so that the strength workouts will not affect your other workouts. Listen to your body and always adjust as needed.
Fine Tune Your ApproachTroubleshooting 4 of 6
There will be days you need to temper your expectations. Feeling flat, tired and a little beat up is a normal part of training—adjust, adjust, adjust. Remember that doing some is better than nothing. If you always show up to the gym and feel like a million bucks, you aren't doing your triathlon training right.
Keep a detailed training log to help identify any patterns that might give you insight as to when the best days to hit the gym are. Back off the gym workouts before the big races. Tapering workouts will increase your performance. Finally, get help. Hire a coach, talk to other seasoned triathletes or do some research. The more guesswork you take out of this, the better you will perform.
Fine Tune Your ApproachRecovery 5 of 6
There are a few absolutes in all sports. Athletes of all experience levels should always account for sleep and nutrition. Too many triathletes experience poor performance in their workouts or races specifically attributed to a lackluster diet. Remember that food drives the whole recovery process, beginning with protein and carbs. Your muscles need protein to repair themselves after you tear them apart in your workouts, and carbs will give you the energy to continue to drop the hammer.