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Strength Training and Conditioning

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

trisutto strength conditioning training camper Derek learning about strength specific work in the water.

Rob Pickard is mentor for our Trisutto Coaching Certification, as well as being an experienced and outstanding coach of many years. Rob discusses the do’s and don'ts of strength training. Rob being an over 60 world champion triathlete can relate to the strength needs and adjustments of, as he puts it, the more ‘mature athletes’ who need to make for optimum health as well as controlling strength depreciation with age. Hope you enjoy ‎his perspective.

In my opinion, Triathlon racing is all about strength. Not how much power a triathlete pushes out in any one or two instances, but how much power the triathlete pushes out over the whole event. This is called strength endurance.

After battling choppy water and other competitors in the swim, then grinding away on the bike for a couple of hours, the last leg of the triathlon does not necessarily result in the quickest “pure” runner in the field winning the race. It is usually the strongest runner.

Two of the most basic training principles in any physiology textbook are:

Progressive Overload and Specificity.

The first is self explanatory. It refers to the build up of training loads (frequency, time and intensity) slowly.

The second means basically to practise what you are doing. That is swim, bike, or run and then repeat, repeat, and repeat!

So how do we build strength?

Well in the swim you can use paddles and a band, plus a part of the program should concentrate on Speed (25m all out efforts); On the bike, get out in the hills, pick an especially nice steep one and do repeats up that. Sit down in the saddle and from time to time stand up and ‘stamp those pedals’. The run is similar – use hills over varying terrain or choose one specific hill.

What about weights?

I do not have a problem with weights, but it means another session of training. It means more fatigue when tackling your swim, bike and run sessions. So at we believe it may be best left for off season work or a minimal commitment during the season.

Brett Sutton discussing strength work being incorporated into the Trisutto plans.

With that, I think weight training is great for injury rehabilitation and prevention, especially in the ‘older’ or let me say the more ‘mature’ triathlete.

Strength training should be aimed at muscle endurance; Higher repetitions and moderate to light weights. This will increase the ability of the muscle to exert a force over a longer period. Efficiency and force both improve. This a result of fewer muscle fibres being recruited to sustain a certain workload and time to exhaustion is extended.

Using your own body weight exercises are recommended such as push ups, burpees, chin ups, dips, squats and sit-ups. Circuit training (moderate repetitions, low resistance and short rests, several sets) produce slow twitch (endurance) adaptation can also be used. The aerobic gains from such a program are smaller than what can be achieved by training specifically aerobically (swim, bike, run). This is not to say that they can’t be an assistance in cross training, variety of exercise and muscle endurance, but you have to weigh up the cost in terms of time and fatigue.

Muscular strength and aerobic endurance are poorly correlated. Increasing muscle size without a proportional increase in oxidative capacity could be viewed as harmful to performance in an endurance athlete who has to carry that extra weight, especially in the run. Heavy weight training fails to improve the endurance characteristics of skeletal muscle, therefore would not improve endurance.

There are many excellent triathletes and single endurance athletes who have never touched a weight and competed extremely well and there are others who have supplemented their program with weight training. The choice is yours but take into consideration: can I get the same gains from implementing more strength work while I swim, bike and run? If using other exercises, keep it to moderate weights and high repetitions (20-30) or just body weight. The key question to ask: Is this having a positive affect on my triathlon speed and endurance?

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