Why 2022 is the year to finally take your Strength Training Seriously
By Trent Hayden, USA Triathlon Coach, ACSM PT, UNCW Professor
It’s 2022! You Made it! In many ways that is enough to congratulate yourself, so good for you 😀 Now that we have that out of the way, it’s time to assess the coming year. Through my years of triathlon coaching I keep coming back to the same conclusion. In general, we as triathletes are weak, we are injury prone (only to be outdone by our beloved crossfitters), and we run around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to do everything (you can ask me about how the headless chicken felt from personal experience). If anything in times of stress I crave control, structure, discipline, and results. So if you’re looking to get strong, kick triathlon’s ass and still be able to move that monster couch, keep reading.
What is strength training? What does that look like for endurance athletes? As you know, there is A LOT out there on this topic, all the way from don’t do it at all, to bodybuilders are endurance athletes! Well, like I always say the right approach for most people lies somewhere in the middle. You might say, hey! My Kona qualifier super friend doesn’t do any strength training? Well, that very well may work for them, which brings us to sport specific strength. Ideally, we could achieve our strength goals by either swimming, biking, or running. However, for the vast majority of triathletes this is unrealistic. The ability to recruit our muscles to achieve our goals while triathloning is tough and out of reach for most. The mind muscle connection is just not quite there, yet. So, to give you what every triathlete craves, here is a plan!!
What should our goals be? Let’s break it down, 1. To go faster for longer, 2. While not getting hurt, and 3. To remain healthy. So now that we have goals let’s move on to how we are going to structure our workouts around our other training disciplines.
This is tough, no doubt, and for many, the reason why they never begin a strength training program in the first place. How much should I do? When should I do it? I don’t have time!! I hate strength training 🙁 Well let’s solve that! First, let’s structure this in training phases. Here at Peak Triathlon Coaching we use outseason, base, build, and race! Using this format, we can focus on the differing goals of each phase to compliment each discipline while effectively getting stronger.
Before we build that structure let’s discuss types of strength. Wait what? There are more than one? That’s right, in a basic sense, we have three types, 1. Maximum Strength, 2. Muscular Endurance. 3. Power. By far the greatest bang for our buck as endurance athletes is to develop that muscular endurance. Our races are long (even a triathlon sprint is an endurance event, I know crazy right??). We need to build muscular endurance alongside our cardiovascular endurance. This is mostly accomplished during our sport specific workouts via a well structured, well thought out plan.
So what about max strength/power? Right now, most triathletes are missing out on that side of the equation. By incorporating some more explosive type movements at relatively low rep range we can gain that maximum strength, and slowly but surely inch up the “power” side of our overall power output. We can go far, and by building power, we can go faster too! What a combination!
So back to the phase based structure.
A. Outseason – We concentrate on really building up our maximum strength with both power based strength workouts and power based sport specific workouts. These workouts should be shorter with intense bursts of high efforts followed by very easy cooldowns. In a strength workout using weights (bodyweight, bands, machines, free weights) the intensity comes from the lifting of the weights during the set, and cooldown comes from the rest between sets. In a sport specific workout, let’s say a bike indoor trainer ride, we build strength through high FTP efforts followed by long easy recovery spinning.
B. Base – We would continue the power/max strength building effort during base phase as our sports specific workouts will be relatively low stress. We can leave that high stress work to strength workouts and still allow enough recovery time to heal and encourage adaptations.
C. Build – Now we will need to begin paying attention to that interplay of recovery and work. High intensity strength work should be decreased, perhaps to a single workout a week as our sports specific workouts slowly increase in both length and intensity (not necessarily in that order or combination). Lastly…
D. Race! – Finally! It’s time to race, let’s forget about strength training and throw it out the window!! Hold up! Now more than ever as we are most likely completing some of the most intense workouts of our sport specific training we need to focus on MOBILITY! You were waiting for that one right? Here, we trade intense strength building workouts for low intensity but crucial mobility training. In fact, mobility should be incorporated throughout our entire strength program but that discussion is for another day. For now, increase your flexibility and stability training (=mobility) during the race phase while we discontinue power type strength work.
So there is our structure now for…
How should we best implement this structure? See below for a very basic guide on what kinds of training should be done and when that training should be done for an athlete that needs to develop their power as a primary goal for the season.
Outseason – four days a week of strength training total. Three days of intense powerbuilding work (45 minutes to an hour) followed by a low intensity mobility workout (20 to 45 minutes).
Base – Three days of strength training per week. Two days of intense powerbuilding work (45 minutes to an hour) followed by one specific workout dedicated to mobility training (20 to 45 minutes).
Build – Continue with a total of three days of strength workouts per week. The type of training should be considered individually each week based upon the sport specific training and goals for the athlete. This one is probably the most complicated phase. Be sure to monitor recovery during this phase and don’t overdo the intensity (more on that in another article).
Race – Continuing a total of three strength training days is ideal. Each workout should focus on mobility and last between 20 to 45 minutes.
So there it is! Now you are ready to go out and lift a bus! Wait, what is that you’re asking? Oh, how do I structure the actual workouts? What movements should I do? How do I measure the intensity? Again, an article for another day, but in reality these questions are best answered and demonstrated by a coach or personal trainer. Power, mobility, the mind muscle connection are all things that need to be addressed individually based on our past athletic experience, injury history, and goals. Lucky for all of you we here at Peak are developing an online strength program that will be catered to you specifically. Through video assessment and tutorials, we will get you to where you need to be, lifting that couch and crushing the competition. Ask your coach or feel free to email me at email@example.com if you want to chat. I’m always down for a conversation about weights and triathlon!