Strength Training For Endurance Athletes

[caption id="attachment_2971" align="alignright" width="267" caption="Strength training can improve form which will improve performance"]strength-training-endurance-athletes-triathlon[/caption] Before I got involved in this awesome (some call crazy) sport I could be found at the gym lifting like a guy in a prison yard.  I was tossing around steel plates and grunting and eating protein bars and sucking down protein drinks.  I was on a course for the no neck, concrete deodorant look.  I even did the entire just work on the upper body and not focus too hard on my legs.  Lollipop comes to mind when I think about this. I had an excuse though.  I was going through a divorce and in New York when winters last 8 months people don't see your legs under jeans but in a T-Shirt those pecs and biceps had better be popping.  I had a date with the gym every day and worked out for 1-2 hours each day with a circuit of chest one day, then biceps and triceps, then back and shoulders over the course of three days.  Then repeat and no rest day in there.  I was punishing my body but the rewards were that I was getting bulked up. 2009 rolls around and I had dabbled in endurance sports with one marathon, a few half-marathons and a sprint tri but it was time to make a commitment to the sport of triathlon.  I hired Claudia and her first training plan came out and I stared.  I flipped the calendar.  I turned over the computer (maybe it was hiding under there) but not one mention of lifting.  What was this about?  I immediately emailed her about this over sight and she promptly responded with:  there will be strength work to be done but we need to get you away from that and more toward a triathletes concept of strength training. A triathletes concept of strength training?  What was that?  Did they not use weights?  Did they shoulder press their bikes?  Seriously, what was this about and what did it mean?  Since I believe in allowing the experts to do what they do best I put my full faith into coaches plan.  I thought nothing about lifting again until the first strength training came on the screen. When I did see that first strength schedule I put myself back into the old lifting mindset.  Go heavy or go home!  A little more reading and there was a list of exercises to be done.  Calculating in my mind I would be lifting for approximately 10 hours, then get on the bike for 2 hours. would I fit this all in?  I emailed Coach and she gave me a break down of what I had to do and that I should get it done in 45 minutes.  Much more manageable. After the first couple of months of strength training twice a week I could see and feel my muscles getting leaner and more toned.  They were being developed to not just swim and bike, but to also run as well.  Coach was creating a machine (my words not hers) that would enjoy the rigors of a triathlon and not suffer through them. I am a big believer in strength training throughout the year.  By doing two workouts per week of approximately 1 hour each I am not giving up any quality time in the water, on the bike or on the run.  I am enhancing those sports by developing muscles to deal with the constant beating our bodies take as triathletes.  I relish my time in the gym and getting stronger, but it doesn't just end with weight training.  Once that is over I head over to a mat and get in a good 15 minutes of core work as well.  Your core needs to be strong to get you through these three sports and cannot be ignored. [caption id="attachment_2972" align="alignright" width="259" caption="Throw around some iron and get better at endurance sports"]strength-core-training-endurance-athletes-triathletes[/caption] When I was conducting interviews with triathletes of all levels I asked them the one thing that triathletes should not skip and almost to a person that one thing was core work.  Develop a strong core because you need it in all three phases.  With a strong core you will have better form than somebody who does not pay attention to their core.  I love screaming (in my head, not out loud) at my abs that it is time to pay the piper and be ready to suffer.  I don't want to skip a core workout or even take it lightly so I mentally prepare myself for the fatigue that my abs are about to go through.  15 minutes later I feel great and I can tell for the rest of the day that my core is sucked in and supporting my back as well. So, now you are asking yourself what is it that you actually do when you are lifting.  Funny you should ask because I do 2 sets of 12-15 repetiions of an exercise with no break in between each set (super sets) and then 30-60 seconds between the super sets.  I break down my super sets as follows and am including why I do these exercises as well:
Set 1 - Leg Extension (supports weight-catching phase of running and builds additional muscle mass) / Leg Curl (boosts pull-through for both cycling and running)
Set 2 - Leg Press (most important exercise for developing power on bike) / Lat Pull Down (improves pull phase of swim stroke)
Set 3 - Calf Raises (helps push-off for running) / Seated Row (improves pull phase of swim stroke)
Set 4 - Squats (generates power for cycling and strength necessary for hilly running) / Push-ups (improves pull phase in swim)
Set 5 - Bench Press (improves pull phase in swim) / Overhead Pullovers (works all muscles in catch phase of freestyle stroke)
Set 6 - Shoulders (supports healthy shoulders to prevent swimming injuries) / Tricep Extensions  (maintains form through back half of swim stroke)
Set 7 - Backward Lunges (targets all muscles used in push phase of hilly running) / Bicep Curls (assists in part of the pull phase in the swim and provides climbing leverage on the bike)
My core work is the P90X circuit plus the Bridges Over Kenya that you can find here: Interview with Kristin White
I found this article on written by Mark Allen for Triathlete Magazine.  It discusses each of the exercises above but goes into more detail of different phases of strength training which I plan on incorporating Phase Three in a few weeks.  Right now I am in Phase Two but the next big race is 70.3 Austin and I will incorporate the new phase of strength training 9 weeks prior to that.

Do You Do Strength Training?  What Types Of Exercises Do You Incorporate?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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