Swimming, cycling, and running will inevitably take up most of your time as a triathlete, but hitting the gym and doing strength training is just as important. We chat with two professional triathletes to get the low down on how they strength train to improve their performance and get the most out of their training.
Matt Leeman - professional triathlete
Matt doesn't do strength training in the typical sense. Instead of hitting the gym and lifting weights, he uses natural factors like hills to help him improve his strength and increase his muscular endurance.
Triathlete strength training
Strength training is a big component of any sport, the common definition of strength is "the ability to exert a force against a resistance". Each sport has different demands and hence requires different classifications of strength, triathlon predominantly requires strength endurance - the ability to express force many times over.
Although I personally do not lift weights, which are commonly associated with strength training, I do triathlon-specific strength training, adapting the training of the disciplines to a strength based way of training.
There are swim specific tools that can be utilised to enhance swimming strength, the main ones I use are the pull buoy, hand paddles, and band. The muscles used in swimming are predominantly the lats (side of the back) and triceps. The pull buoy enables swimming with less kicking to maintain the body position so that the upper body can be worked more. The hand paddles create a larger surface area to increase the resistance of a stroke. The band is used to take leg kicking out of the equation and rather get propulsion from the overall movement of the body and core muscles.
The majority of the time in a triathlon is spent on the bike so having good bike strength is essential for putting together a good race, both directly, making you ride faster, and indirectly, the less the bike takes out of you, the more you’ll have left for the run. The two things that can be utilised for bike strength are the bike's gears and hills.
By doing specific intervals ‘over-gearing’ i.e. using a bigger gear than you would usually use to train your leg muscles to produce a greater force so that when we are racing we are working at a lower percentage of our overall capacity. Hills obviously give a great stimulus for developing strength, ensuring you ride on different terrain is important for developing a well rounded strong athlete.
The main ways in which I train my running strength is using hills and mixed surface terrain. I will often do a specific hill repeat session where one specific hill is targeted and run up multiple times. The beauty of hills is that it prevents you from over-striding and promotes glute engagement, which improves our ability to utilise the bigger muscles in the legs such as glutes and quads that handle fatigue better than the smaller muscles of the leg, which is very important in an endurance sport.
Claire Steels - World Champion duathlete
Claire tells us about her three favourite strength training exercises and why they are well suited to an endurance athlete.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This exercise is great for running and cycling power but also glute, hip and core stability. Unilateral exercises like the Bulgarian split squat are fantastic for developing the individual leg strength required for sports such as running and cycling, where each leg is required to produce power independently.
TRX Mountain Climbers
This exercise requires core stability and control whilst moving each leg independently. This replicates the physiological control that is required in a duathlon as a strong core is essential for efficient running and cycling.
This is a fantastic exercise for developing power through the posterior chain along the back of the body. It challenges the strength of the whole body but primarily the glutes and hamstrings. It is also a fantastic exercise for testing the cardiovascular system while also trying to produce power making it yet another great exercise for duathletes.
CrossFit is more than just a sport, it's a community and a way of life. This guide will be your one-stop manual for getting into CrossFit for the first time and will cover everything from snatches to WODs to poods and everything in between.
You don't have to be fit to get started.
This is probably the most important thing to note. A lot of people will put off trying a new sport or hobby for fear of being too unfit. CrossFit is accessible to everyone thanks to their scaled workouts. Whether you're unfit or have a disability, there's something for everyone. Don't let your nerves or insecurities hold you back and just dive straight in.
You will sweat and cry a lot.
CrossFit is a notoriously tough sport. They don't crown the CrossFit Games champions as the Fittest On Earth for nothing! You have to have the motivation and the right attitude before you start. It has to be your decision and you have to own it; if you've been coaxed into it by someone else you'll be starting with the wrong attitude and you'll find it way harder than it needs to be. Be ready to sweat a lot and cry a lot, but reap the benefits and rewards at the end of a tough WOD.
Find a local CrossFit gym, known as a 'Box'.
If you really want to dive straight in and hit this sport hard, finding your local CrossFit gym will help you get there. A CrossFit gym is known as a box and there are affiliates all over the world. You can find your local box through an internet search or by checking out affiliates on the official CrossFit website. A box will have all the proper CrossFit-specific equipment that you need, as you may not get a full workout at a commercial gym. Getting professional advice by an accredited trainer will also stop you from developing bad habits and will be available to give you advice along the way.
However, you don't have to join a box to be able to practice CrossFit. They can come with expensive memberships and you'll have to do a foundation course before you can participate in the classes. A commercial gym will have most of the equipment you need, and some people even just train out of a garage. Use what you have and don't feel like you're missing out just because you're not a member of an exclusive club or gym.
Know the jargon.
There's a lot of sport-specific terminology used in CrossFit which you won't have come across before. Knowing what people are talking about is important if you want to join in on discussions about performance, and so that you know what workout you should be doing! Here are the basics:
WOD - Workout Of the Day. A daily workout published on the CrossFit website which CrossFitters all over the world will tackle and post their results to the public forum. A WOD is also a general term to refer to any CrossFit workout.
Pood - This is a Russian term which is a unit of measurement equalling just over 16kg. It is generally used for kettlebell workouts.
Rx - This is the prescribed way a workout should be completed, with set weights and times/reps. If you Rx a WOD, it means you completed it exactly how it was written. Alternatively, you can 'scale' a workout which might involve reducing the weights or swapping out an exercise. The CrossFit community is one of acceptance and inclusion, so scaling a workout is never anything to be ashamed of.
MetCon - Short for Metabolic Conditioning. This is typically a workout that doesn't involve heavy lifts, and consists more of a body weight circuit style workout. There is also a very popular CrossFit shoe by Nike called the 'MetCon'.
Double Under - This is a movement in skipping whereby the rope passes under your feet twice before they hit the ground. It's a tough movement and you won't be able to do it straight away without practice.
Practise the lifts.
The only way to improve is to practise! If you go into the sport expecting to be perfect at it straight away, you'll be left feeling frustrated. CrossFit adopts a lot of really technical moves that athletes will spend their whole lives perfecting. Take your time and practise the exercises that you find the toughest. Scale a workout if you need to and take it easy.
Know the stars of the sport.
The CrossFit Games is the annual pinnacle of the CrossFit calendar. It's the event in which the fittest athletes in the world will congregate and compete to be crowned Fittest On Earth. As with most sports, there are star players, but CrossFit is open to anyone in the qualification stages so often there are rookie competitors too.
Fraser is the one to watch at the moment. Winner of the games in 2016, 2017 and 2018, he's competed several times and has proven how hungry he is for the sport. He has spent years honing his technique and perfecting his lifts, and it really shows. He's the biggest player in the game for now.
Froning holds the record for winning the games the most amount of times, having claimed the title four years in a row from 2011 to 2014. He has won over $1 million in prize money from his wins and is sponsored by global sports brands like Reebok, Rogue Fitness, and Oakley. He is renowned in the sport and partly retired after his 2014 win. He still competes in the team events but stepped down as the Fittest Man On Earth after his fourth win.
Smith was the athlete who claimed the title after Rich Froning stepped down. His win in 2015 was a nail biter between him and Mat Fraser, who was still working his way through the ranks. He has competed at every CrossFit games since its inception in 2009 and has never finished outside of the top 10.
While Greg Glassman is the founder of CrossFit, Dave Castro is the face most people recognise as he hosts the games each year. His personality gets him mixed reviews and some even claim he has 'ruined' the sport. Nevertheless, he is one of the most important figures in CrossFit.
Davidsdottir is one of three Icelandic powerhouses who dominate the female side of the sport. She has won the games twice, 2015 and 2016, after a mental setback in 2014. She was originally a track athlete and gymnast and her sporting background has clearly stood her in good stead for CrossFit glory.
Despite never actually winning the games, Sara is a leading figure in the sport of CrossFit. Sponsored by Nike, she is another of the Icelandic dynamos and has a very likeable personality making her the perfect CrossFit athlete to watch. Only time will tell if she'll achieve the title of Fittest Woman On Earth eventually.
Toomey is an Australian weightlifter who competed for her country in the 2016 Olympics only a few weeks after appearing at the CrossFit games. With her background in lifting, she is a strong competitor and achieved an amazing win at the 2017 and 2018 games. She is now the one to watch after beating Katrin Davidsdottir in a nail-biting final.
Follow the WODs.
Each day, a new WOD is released on the CrossFit website. CrossFitters from around the globe are invited to have a go, Rx'd or scaled, and post their results in the forum. Some WODs are for time, some for reps, some for rounds. The beauty of CrossFit is how varied the workouts are and you never know what you're going to get. You have to be ready for anything, from a heavy lifting session to a gruelling run, which is why it conditions your fitness so well. Have a go at any of the WODs that are published and compare your results to others so you can see where you stand.
The biggest WODs in the CrossFit arsenal are the Hero Workouts. Each workout is named after a member of the armed forces who died in combat and they are always notoriously tough workouts. Some of the most renowned are Murph, DT, and Fran, with true enthusiasts marking their territory by asking newbies "What's your Fran time?" All this means is how long did it take you to complete this particular workout. All of the Hero Workouts can be found on the CrossFit website and traditionally one is always completed on Memorial Day in the US.
German Volume Training (GVT) is a popular type of weight training among those who have the goal to increase the size and strength of their muscles. It can be tough and takes a lot of work, so we look at what it is and whether it's right for you.
What is the German Volume Training method?
Esteemed late strength coach Charles R Poliquin was an expert on German Volume Training and believed it originated in Germany in the mid 1970s. It is also known as 'the 10 sets method' due to its structure and was originally used in the off-season to help weightlifters increase their muscle mass.
In the most basics terms, German Volume Training consists of doing 10 sets of 10 repetitions on a single exercise for a single muscle group. This incredible load (100 reps!) shocks the system and causes the body to react by building muscle fast. It is not uncommon for lifters to see an increase of 10lbs of muscle mass in only 6 weeks of practising GVT.
The goal is to complete all 100 reps with the same weight. In order to discover which weight is right for you to start with, test a weight that you can lift for about 20 reps to failure. For most people, this is 60% of their one rep max (1RM). For example, if your 1RM for deadlifts is 200kg (440lbs), you would use a weight of 120kg (264lbs) for German Volume Training.
Is German Volume Training effective?
German Volume Training has been used for over 50 years now and has stood the test of time. Many bodybuilders, powerlifters, and weightlifters use this training method to build muscle and have found it to be hugely effective.
Some people think that the weight seems too light for the first couple of sets and question the effectiveness of the method. However, it's important to remember that you're going to be lifting this weight for a total of 100 reps and so cumulative fatigue will soon set in. Make sure you stay strict with your rest intervals and use a stopwatch to time rest periods of no longer than 60 seconds. It can be tempting to increase rest when it starts to get tough in the last couple of sets, but don't let this happen.
In order for German Volume Training to be effective, it's also important to perform the right exercises. Compound exercises such as bench press, squat, and deadlift are the best exercises to use for German Volume Training as they use the maximum amount of muscle. Isolating exercises such as tricep kickbacks and leg extensions are definitely a no-go. If you want to supplement a smaller muscle group like triceps and biceps, go ahead and do regular training afterwards.
What are the benefits of German Volume Training?
German Volume Training has many benefits and is a tried and tested method of increasing muscle mass. Due to the sheer amount of repetitions and workload, the body is forced to react and so you're pretty much guaranteed to build muscle following this method. However, be warned that it isn't easy and should be left to experienced lifters. You should also only follow this training method for less than 8 weeks due to the strain it puts on the body. Most lifters find that 6 weeks once or twice a year is optimal.
GVT is mainly used for bulking as it increases muscle and so will make you both bigger and stronger. If you're looking to cut, this isn't the right training programme for you.
Does German Volume Training burn fat?
Yes, German Volume Training certainly burns fat. A lot of people don't think of weight training as fat-burning, instead visualising running on a treadmill for hours on end and sweating buckets as the ultimate way to burn fat. However, lifting weights is proven to be very effective at burning calories, especially as it really raises your heart rate and gets your metabolism fired up.
The sheer volume of reps undertaken when practising German Volume Training means it is a fat-burning programme and the fact it takes so long also increases your calorie-burn. Additionally, because German Volume Training increases your lean muscle mass, this in turn causes your body to burn more fat at rest.
Muay Thai fighters are some of the fittest and strongest athletes in the world, wouldn’t it be great if you could find out what their workout secrets were? Luckily, they are quite well documented. Here’s a list of 5 tried and trusted Muay Thai exercises guaranteed to get you in fighting shape.
There’s a reason why basically every fighter you see will devote large periods of their training to skipping. It just works. Jumping rope is hands down the easiest way to work up a serious sweat and build that long-term endurance that sets the elite apart from the rest of us.
The best thing about it is that it only requires a skipping rope and your willingness to push through the pain barrier.
Try skipping for 10-15 minutes following a workout and watch how much difference it makes to your performance and physique.
2. Press ups
Press ups have been around basically since the dawn of time itself, meaning Muay Thai fighters have been implementing these since day dot. Push ups work all the pushing muscles of the body – chest, triceps, shoulders – and even your core as you have to maintain a straight body throughout the exercise.
Press ups can also help to build explosive punching power, a stronger resilience in fights and to top it off they make you look good too. That’s a winning combo if ever I heard one.
Try doing 75 press ups at the end of a push workout to really burn out the muscles. Once you can do that in 3 sets (25, 25 & 25), try adding a weighted vest.
Probably the hardest form of cardio and muscle building there is. But what an exercise! Burpees require you to sprawl to the floor from a standing position, then quickly shoot back and jump into the air.
They have been a staple in Thailand’s fight camps for decades, and they work the entire body at once which is brilliant for building functional strength, unbeatable cardiovascular fitness and enviable aesthetics.
Try doing 30 burpees every morning just after you get up. Doing this is a great way to get your heart pumping blood around the body, wake yourself up, and build that fight-ready fitness.
4. Bicycle crunches
It is common knowledge amongst Muay Thai fighters that a strong core may be what separates the good from the great. Having a bulletproof set of abs helps to generate extra power on your punches and kicks, it helps to brace when taking blows from an opponent and can even help your endurance.
Bicycle kicks are a fantastic way of building your abs and core as they are a functional exercise that keeps the body moving. It is perfect when compared to something like a plank where the body is stationary and it is also a cardio workout if you do them intensely enough and at a high enough volume.
If you want to challenge a fighters’ workload, do 150 of these back-to-back with a set of 50 burpees on a cardio day to really give yourself a test.
5. Body weight squats
Yes, heavy weighted squats can be good for building leg mass and power, but Muay Thai fighters want power and speed.
Heavy squats can slow fighters down with too much muscle which is why they opt for lighter weights and higher reps. This still builds that power but with it comes speed and endurance – perfect for long bouts were you need to be able to throw kick after kick, round after round.
Nothing fancy here, 5 bread and butter Muay Thai exercise that will boost your performance and have you looking like a pro fighter in no time - all you have to do is build the skill to back it up!
About the author: Darren Mitchell is a Muay Thai enthusiast and writer for the BestMuayThai blog. Darren has trained Muay Thai for several years at gyms all over the world alongside some world-renowned fighters and coaches.
The shoulders are not usually a part of the body that people focus on when trying to lose weight or tone up, but having shapely shoulders can do wonders for your overall physique. Try this shoulder workout to sculpt and tone.
Seated Military Press
The military press, otherwise known as the overhead press or strict press, is the flagship shoulder exercise as it is a compound movement working all parts of your shoulders and as such will feature as the first exercise in any good shoulder workout. This variation on a classic will take the burn to the next level and will really test your limits. Your shoulders are completely isolated so there's nowhere to hide and no way to get away from the burn.
How to perform
If you have a partner to hand you the bar, you can do this exercise anywhere. If you are on your own, you will need to sit under a weights rack so that you can rest the bar above you.
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight.
- Hold the bar close to your chest at chin height with both hands.
- As you exhale, push the bar up above your head until your arms are straight.
- As you inhale, slowly and with control lower the bar back down to chin height. That's 1 rep. Try to complete 10-12.
Because you are sitting on the floor, your legs and core will not be able to assist your shoulders and as such this is a completely isolating exercise, highlighting all weakness and really resting your strength. Start with a light weight until you increase your strength. It's meant to be tough!
Leaning Dumbbell Raise
This is a single-arm exercise which will target the deltoids and give shape and tone to the sides of your shoulders. Again, it is a highly isolating exercise and so will burn intensely but give great results.
How to perform
You will need to find something sturdy capable of holding your full weight that you can hold and lean away from. Any equipment bolted to the wall of the gym should work for this.
- Hold something study with one hand, with your feet together and close to the structure, lean your body until your arm is straight.
- With a dumbbell in the other hand, raise your arm from your side to shoulder height and back down again. That's 1 rep. Complete 10 on each arm.
- Complete all your reps on one arm before changing to the other.
Front Raise With Steering Wheel
You may well have done front raises at the gym before as they are very simple, easy to do, and yield great results. That's why we are taking it to another level by adding the 'steering wheel' movement to ramp up the burn. Take this exercise slowly to maximise results.
How to perform
- Stand up straight with your feet hip width apart and hold a plate like a steering wheel with both hands in front of you.
- Slowly lift the plate up until it reaches shoulder height.
- Hold the plate there and twist it slowly like you would a steering wheel.
- After a few twists, slowly lower the plate back down again. That's 1 rep. Try for 10-12.