Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Strength Training for Triathlon

This is a protocol that I have used successfully for a decade.

Keys to maximizing your return:

  • Start slowly - the prep phase is fundamental
  • Use perfect technique and controlled speed of movement
  • Start embarrassingly light - the goal is improvement, not competing with the powerlifters!
  • You get the greatest return from your FIRST session of the week - one session per week offers a huge improvement over nothing.

EC Members, post your questions/background/limiters to the forum and I can guide you with how to modify this program to suit your individual strengths.

WEEKS 1-12 => PREPARATION (2x per week)

    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle or ride/run to gym
    * Squats and/or leg press (always include a set of very light or no weight to warm up)
    * Leg extension
    * Hamstring curl or single leg bridges
    * Calf raise
    * Core (see article)
    * Seated rowing
    * Lat pulldowns (to front)
    * Standing straight-arm pulldown
    * Tricep extension
    * 15 minutes stretching


    PREP 1 ==> Weeks 1-4 => 2x20-25 reps with 30 secs rest between sets
    PREP 2 ==> Weeks 5-8 => 2x15-20 reps with 30 secs rest between sets
    PREP 3 ==> Weeks 8-12 => 2x12-15 for everything, 60 secs rest between sets

Rep Note: Start each block at the top end of the rep range, gradually increase weight and reduce reps as the block progresses. End each block at the bottom end of the rep range. Remember to avoid rep failure.


    PREP 1 - never to failure comfortable speed
    PREP 2 - never to failure, rep speed slow (2-4 secs per cycle)
    PREP 3 - last two reps are strained but not to failure, rep speed slow

The key for core is 100% correct technique, slow reps speed and variety of exercises. Focus on your lower abs, obliques, lower back and glutes. The object is slow, high quality reps that fatigue the muscles. Be creative and try a lot of different exercises. The Swiss Ball is an excellent tool for core strength.

We don't want to start adding strength until PREP 3 -- so hold back and focus on preparing to crank later in the year. For the first eight weeks, get back in the groove. In PREP 1 & 2, feel free to include additional exercises if you want. However, ensure the quality of the above exercises.

WEEKS 13-16 => MAX STRENGTH (2x per week)


Your swimming and cycling may suffer in this period. Stick with it. You'll be faster when we come off the weights.

    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle
    * Squats and/or leg press (if you choose to go very heavy then better on leg press than squats)
    * Seated row
    * Core (as before)
    * Leg extension / single leg bridges
    * Standing straight-arm pulldown
    * 15 minutes stretching (personal weakness)

    o Sets (4-7, including warm up set -- if doing more than four sets, then pyramid the weight)
    o Reps 6+, ensure last two sets go to strong effort
    o Speed of lift normal
    o Set recovery three minutes (very important to take full rest), use for stretching
    o Core / leg ext / single leg bridges as per PREP 3

I like to hit one session VERY hard each week. The second session is hard but not necessarily pushing my limits. This is where you want to make your strength gains. Psyche up, listen to heavy metal on a walkman, do whatever it takes to get strong. Think strong, think power - the last sets are where the action is.

Push your limits safely and always use a spotter.

WEEKS 17-20 => MS BRIDGE (2x per week)

For the MS Bridge, compress PREP 2 & 3 into a four-week block. Start at the beginning of PREP 2 and phase yourself through the blocks in four weeks instead of the normal eight. The period of higher repetitions is important for shocking your body a little bit and enabling you to push to a new level in the second MS.


Same as Round One only stronger! Eliminate this bridge if you have a shortened base period. The bridge is only for athletes that have the time, desire or need for two MS Cycles.

If you are coping with a long winter -- this is a great way to blow off some steam!

WEEKS 25-28 => POWER ENDURANCE (2x per week)

    * Warm up 10 minutes easy lifecycle
    * Squats and/or leg press (NEVER bounce off the bottom)
    * Seated row
    * Core (as before)
    * Leg extension / single leg bridges
    * Standing straight-arm pulldown
    * 15 minutes stretching (personal weakness)

    o Sets (3, including warm up set)
    o Reps 12-15
    o Speed of lift fast (important that you push quickly, speed is more important than weight)
    o Weight - warm-up easy then mod-hard effort
    o Set recovery three minutes, use for stretching
    o Core / leg extension / single leg bridge as per PREP 3


    * Warm Up 10 minutes cycling
    * 1x20 / 1x15 Squat and/or Leg press
    * 2x20 Seated row
    * 2x20 Leg extension
    * 2x20 Single leg bridges
    * 2x20 Straight-arm pulldown
    * Cool down 5 minutes cycling

Effort - first set "steady", second set "mod-hard". Never to failure. Never so hard you think you might fail.

The goal of this session is to maintain. We don't want to add any strength. Your key sessions are now your focused swim / bike / run sessions. This is a nice way of saying... "don't wreck yourself in the gym!"

Rep speed is normal, 30-60s rest between sets.

This session should last no more than 45 minutes.


Weight: With all lifts, start lighter than you think you need. This is the purpose of PREP 1. There is no rush. Build into the strength program gradually.

Warm-up: A proper warm-up is essential, particularly once you are into the heavier lifting parts of the program.

Stretching: Post-lifting is the ideal time for an extended full-body stretch. You are in a warm, dry environment with mats. Take advantage of it. Now is the time to improve your flexibility!

Squats / Leg Press: Correct technique is essential to avoid injury and/or muscular imbalances. Never descend to angle past 90 degrees. 100 to 110 degrees is fine for the strength gains we are targeting. Never bounce! On both lifts, exhale in a controlled fashion when extending. Breathing should be controlled and deep. If you have time in your program then I really like to use single leg press (start very light and maintain ankle/knee/hip alignment).

Squats: Pelvis should rotate forward and down as the weight is lowered. The squat bar should move vertically without any forward or backward movement.

Squat Tips Summary From Video:

  • Build Slowly to allow Hip Core to gain strength before gluteals and quads
  • Build frequency first
  • Build Max strength last, usually 6 weeks after initiating hip core
  • Maintain Lumbar Lordosis (curve) to prevent back strain
  • Full, Deep Bends are excellent for flexibility training but do not perform under load

Leg Press: Never push on your knees (use less weight). Always keep back perfectly flat against the back rest.

Calf Raise: Feet should be aligned or heels slightly inwards. Legs, hip, back, shoulders should be aligned at all times. I like single leg using both a straight leg, as well as, a slightly bent knee.

Leg Extension: We are only looking for you to be moving in the range of 120 to 180 degrees. The key is the final 20 to 30 degrees. Really focus on the finish and feel your quad contract. For a more dynamic exercise then use walking lunges.

Hamstring Curls: Are best done (standing) single leg in a controlled fashion. Rock stable core, slow rep speed. Focus on quality. Good form yields benefits. However, good form also means that you will not be curling as much weight. Avoid the seated hamstring machine (looks like a chair) if possible.

Single Leg Bridges: A personal favorite to help your running form:

Seated Rowing: Back should be vertically aligned. Grasp bar so that thumbs are pointing up, elbows are drawn backwards and in towards the body. Chest remains out in a proud position and there is no rocking of the back. If you need to rock then use less weight.

Lat Pulldowns: Two movement patterns: first let your shoulders rise up around your ears -- pull your shoulder blades down and in. Second phase is when the bar is pulled to a "proud" chest. Always pull to the front and control on all phases of the lift (scapula down, pull down, release, scapula release). Training your scapular control is very useful for the management of shoulder issues in swimming.

Standing Straight-Arm Pulldown: Goal is to simulate catch and pull of swim stroke. In PREP 1 & 2, stretch cords can be used. Focus on high elbow. Maintain correct swimming form in both directions (pull down and return). Keep your scapula down, and in, at ALL times.

Tricep Extensions: Elbow should remain locked in place at your sides. Pause at full extension and keep tension on muscle at the "top" of the cycle. Feel free to alternate between rope extensions and bar extensions (these are attachments available in most gyms).

Dynamic Lunges: Not mentioned above but a good exercise for extra credit, or before/after a run workout.

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