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Strength training for triathlon

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Time management is a major challenge for age-group athletes.

One of the major challenges for the age-group athlete is trying to find the time to fit in your swim, bike and run training around an already busy work and family schedule. So it has always confused me when I ask for the past program of a new athlete and find how much of their actual training time was previously taken up with activities my full-time (non-working, childless) pros wouldn't have time for.

A lot of the programs I see incorporate two, sometimes three trips to the gym. A waste of valuable time in pursuit of strength that will not develop your specific skill level in any of the three disciplines. If you are a poor swimmer it's my belief that your time is better spent on actually swimming, rather than building 'strength' for something you don't yet have the ability to properly execute anyway. The same holds true, albeit to a lesser extent, for both biking and running.

Strength or gym work is a major contributor to the time management problem. That's why within our programs we incorporate it directly into the disciplines of swim, bike and run.

The reasoning is simple but very effective:

What we're trying to do is engage and strengthen the muscle groups that actually perform the discipline while using the correct skill technique for that sport. Thus when our squad swims, I'd estimate that over 50% of the work is done with swim tools. Not 'toys' or 'aids'.

Swimming We call them tools as they help us build our performance not just through strength, but through strength in the repetition of swim specific motions. Paddles, pull-buoys, and bands are essential to the budding triathlete. The types we use depend on the faults or stroke deficiencies shown by the individual. What is right for one athlete may not be right for another. However, a general principle applies where we build our strength in the water as it is more time-efficient and effective.

Cycling On the bike you'll occasionally hear from my pros 'Coach is obsessed' or 'Coach is in love with the turbo'. Well, they're right. I am. Riding a turbo is far superior to road riding. It can be controlled, it can be monitored and through smart training, I've seen the turbo turn many a poor cyclist into a good one.

In my earlier days, a turbo set was an every second ride occurrence, however with the onset of ITU legal draft races I let it go. Now that the squad has turned to a more Ironman focus I've reintroduced it as a big part of what we do. I don’t make athletes work on if it is not to their liking, however, let me be clear: It is the key to open the door to time-trialling success

Running Finally, in terms of running, you will also hear 'Sutto loves a hill!' 'What kind of hill? Any hill.' Also true. I believe that running hills is superior to anything you can do in a gym to build run strength. On top of the strength I'll guarantee you running hills are better than any drill work you do on the track. I've never seen anyone who runs on hills every third workout not enhance their basic skill level of running.

While we do encourage a lot of strength work, we don’t apologise for not helping gym memberships. There are three advantages to not going to the gym:

1) It addresses time management issues.

2) It better promotes skill acquisition in the specific disciplines.

3) It better promotes strength acquisition within the specific muscles that we use in our sport.

It is also important point to note that our strength work is year round. It is not only for ‘off season’ or ‘base season’ training! Paddles, turbo, and hills are part of our program in summer, just as they are in winter. As well as the benefits we derive from their specificity, they also have less injury risk than heavy bench press, squats or ridiculous plyometric jumping exercises by inexperienced athletes doing these only during certain periods of the year (while also having no benefit for triathlon)!

Whether you are relatively new to triathlon, or an experienced athlete. Don’t fall for 'the gym will make you faster, or gym will help avoid injuries’ - maximise your training and valuable time with efficient, result producing and consistent training, the Trisutto way.

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