What role does strength training play?

This is another one of the issues where I feel my philosophies differ from that of most conventional triathletes.  For me strength training plays a huge role not only in becoming a better triathlete but is critical for achieving better overall health, reducing injuries, and obtaining/maintaining better body composition. There are three main reasons why many triathletes don’t strength train:

  1. Not enough time – This one is hard to argue with. I think some triathletes are not necessarily against strength training but it is extremely hard just to get enough swim, bike and run workouts done each week, so if the choice is bike ride or weight session, a bike ride will usually win that battle. However, I still recommend making strength training a priority at least 2 times a week even if that means one less swim session or bike ride.
  2. I don’t want to bulk up – If I had a dollar every time a have heard this one, usually it is from women, but even triathlete men have this same fear.  It is true that being “heavier” whether it is more muscle or fat, does you no favors when trying to become faster. More weight means more energy needed to cover the same distance. In fact there are even books written on this very subject such as Racing Weight, where the tag line is “how to get lean for peak performance”.  I have many issues when people make the statement; “I just don’t want to bulk up”. It is actually somewhat of an insulting and ignorant statement to make! It is not that easy to “bulk up”! With the exception of endurance athletes just about every guy at the gym is trying to “bulk up” hoping to add at least 15-lbs to 20-lbs of lean muscle to their bodies, and guess what? Most guys will never gain those 15 to 20-lbs of lean muscle despite going to the gym on a regular basis. It is just like anything else, it takes specific dieting, training, planning, and a real commitment. The nutrition for bulking up is a huge art/science as well as the omittance of cardi0– two things that endurance althletes do not practice in such a way to permit bulking. Think of it in terms of running, nobody without proper training is going to jump of the couch one day, start running, and one month later run a sub 20-min 5k. People can run their entire lives and never reach that goal. It takes serious commitment to make major improvements, whether it be gaining 20-lbs of lean mass or shaving minutes off your run time.
  3. Scared/intimidated or just too damn insecure – This is something that nobody will admit too but it occurs more than you think. To be honest the idea of incorporating strength training with triathlon training is a relativity new idea, so a lot of triathletes do not know how to strength train properly. Trust me I see it all the time! Triathlon guy comes out of spin class wearing a “sponsored” jersey, still in his cycling shoes, walks over to the weight area (cause he just read an article about how strength training can make him a better triathlete),  does a couple of triceps kick-backs, gets on an awkward abs machine, then stares at the guys on the bench press for a few seconds than finally leaves the gym. Its funny, triathletes have no problem taking swim lessons to become better swimmers, they join running or cycling clubs and they ask tons of questions in order to become better triathletes but they refuse to ask for help on how to lift weight properly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Take a weight lifting class, get a personal trainer or ask a friend that knows their way around a gym. Trust me it is not rocket science, a good “trainer” could have you lifting on your own in no time at all!

More and more you are hearing stories of people becoming stronger and faster after incorporating strength training as part of their triathlon training. There was even an article in February’s issue of triathlete magazine about how people started obtaining PRs after joining crossfit gyms. My goal is 3 strength training sessions a week. Two of the sessions are dedicated to heavy weight/low reps. The 3rd weight session is a bootcamp class that I teach consisting of slightly lighter weight/higher reps and also  plyometrics. If done property these weight sessions should not take long. The weight should be heavy and the workout rather short but intense. The focus should be on multi-movement exercises, no muscle isolation! Examples of my weight workouts could be found here.

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