Strength Training Misconceptions
There are many preconceptions when it comes to strength training. Strength and size are not synonymous. The goal for triathletes and runners, when it comes to strength training, is to become stronger without adding muscle bulk. Many believe strength training will slow them down. Research done on Olympic athletes has shown that Olympic weightlifters were faster than 100m sprinters in a 30-meter sprint. Others claim that strength training will lead to decreased flexibility. These same Olympic weightlifters are the second most flexible athletes.
Swimming, biking and running are not enough to maintain strength levels. Research has revealed that beginning about the early thirties, athletes will lose approximately 0.5 lbs of lean muscle per year if they do not engage in intense strength training. Functional Strength training does not require a large time commitment. Maximal gains in strength and power can be achieved with a small time requirement (2 session of 30-50 min per week). Often times, these sessions can be conducted outside the gym.
Triathlon Specific Training
Strength training for multi-sport athletes has unique challenges. The athlete need to maximize strength without risking overtraining. The exercises selected for the strength program should be specific, require stabilization, be explosive/ power based and have an acceleration/ deceleration component. It is important to train movements, not muscles. The exercise movement s should closely resemble those of triathlon. One training component often ignored is stabilization. This is the body's ability to control movement efficiently, and provide a stable platform for the limbs to act off of. Another variable essential for a tri specific program is power development. Strength alone will not make you powerful. Strength must be converted to power in order to be useful to triathletes. Two of the best methods of training for power are the use of explosive lifts, box steps ups, jump squats, and medicine ball training.
Why is strength training important for triathletes?
Injury Prevention – This is the big reason why I think it is so important for triathletes/runners to do some form of strength training. In the past I made the mistake of going a whole winter neglecting the gym and instead racking up the miles swim, bike and running and as a result I had a season plagued with niggles that prevented me from consistent training and racing throughout the summer. Muscular imbalances created by repetitive overuse or overdevelopment of certain muscle groups are the biggest cause of injury in endurance athletes. For example glute medius weakness and inhibition is one of the most common causes of ITBS and knee pain in endurance athletes. Functional strength exercises should be used to help correct these weaknesses.
Improved Efficiency which leads to Improved Performance – A good triathlon specific strength training routine incorporating functional exercises which train movements and not just specific muscles will help increase your body’s range of movement, flexibility, coordination, agility, strength, power, stability and balance and these factors will allow you to maintain better form and technique enabling you to tolerate a greater workload at a higher intensity for a longer duration. For example a stronger core and pelvic region with increased flexibility of the hip flexors will improve your running posture allowing you to be more efficient and better able to fight the fatigue felt late on the run during a triathlon race.
What does this mean for me?- Exercises used for a triathlon specific strength and conditioning programming should involve stabilization to engage the core muscles and other joint stabilizing muscles around the joints, but also be explosive with both acceleration and deceleration elements – training movements not individual muscles is the key. This strength must be then converted into power for it to be beneficial to a triathlete’s performance come race day. Therefore a variety of strength training exercises should be worked into a program to help build power, stability, and balance. Through training your body to generate power during a heavier lifting, that will crosses over automatically into the swim, bike and run which allows you to go faster without using as much energy so at the end of a race you can call on reserves to drive to the finish line.