Strength training is an important part of any balanced workout program and for a triathlete, this is especially true. All three sports of swimming, cycling, and running are strenuous activities that require careful attention to muscle balance to prevent injury and promote optimal performance. When you are consistently training in all three, strength training takes on a completely new component of importance.
Strength training for triathlon
Training for a triathlon is usually pretty time-intensive to gain the fitness level and specificity you need for each leg of your race. While lifting is a must, efficiency can help maximize your results without feeling too overwhelmed by your routine. (Plus, it’s nice to have time for other things in your life.) Find strength exercises that address multiple muscle groups at once, promote muscular endurance and stability, and ultimately give you the power you need.
Why you need a good lifting routine
Build muscular endurance for that extra “oomph” at the end of your race and power throughout. You don’t need to have bulging biceps to gain benefits either. Rather, you will maximize your muscles' reserves for pushing yourself to that next level. Plus, you’ll prevent injury. If you are intimidated by gyms or don’t have the time, consider a home gym set up. Ultimately, go for lower weight and higher repetition to gain endurance.
These moves will focus on typical problem areas that are common with all three sports. Complete 15-20 repetitions of each exercise for 2-3 sets. Your whole routine should take 20-30 minutes. When possible, do it 2-3 times per week.
- Choose light dumbbells.
- Get in a plank position on your hands with the elbows straight but not locked out or hyper-extended.
- With the core tight, bend one elbow as you extend the arm back and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Alternate between sides.
Keep your arms tucked in close to your side. Choose a weight that is challenging while still keeping good form.
Side Plank With Hip Abduction
- Get in a side plank on your elbow; make sure your body is in one line with no sagging at the hips.
- Lift the top leg straight up toward the ceiling.
- Keep the toes pointing forward toward the wall.
- Modify your knee on the lower leg if needed.
- Switch to the other side when complete.
You should feel this exercise in your obliques and glutes. You can add an ankle weight for extra resistance.
Prone Swimmers (Superman)
- Lie on your stomach with the arms outstretched in front of you.
- Lift one leg and the opposite arm off the ground 2-3 inches and hold 1-2 seconds.
- Focus on squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades as you lift.
- Alternate between sides.
You can progress to holding light weights in your hands when possible. You can also try doing this move on a yoga ball.
Lunge With A Bicep Curl And Overhead Press
- Get in a lunge stance while holding dumbbells or kettlebells in both hands at your sides.
- Bend both knees as you bring the back knee toward the floor (into a deep lunge).
- As you return to your original stance, curl your arms up until your elbows are bent past 90 degrees (bicep curl).
- Once you reach the top of your lunge, do a full overhead press.
- Bring the hands back to your side as you move into the next deep lunge.
Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet (no leaning forward) and knees in line with (and behind) your toes as you bend.
Single-Leg Dead Lift
- Holding light weights in both hands, shift your weight onto one leg and find your balance.
- Then, hinge forward at the hips as you reach with your opposite hand for the inner ankle (the free leg will extend behind you).
- Stay slow and controlled as you return to the starting position.
- Switch to the other side when ready.
Try standing on a foam pad for an additional coordination challenge.
Rotator Cuff Strengthening With Static Sumo Squats
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width and the toes pointing out slightly.
- Hold a resistance band in both hands with the palms up and elbows bent and tucked into your sides.
- Assume a deep wide squat that you will hold while completing your arm exercise.
- While keeping your elbows tucked into your side, pull the hands away from each other as you externally rotate the shoulders and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Focus on keeping good posture and keeping the neck relaxed. The motion should be slow and controlled.
The caveat of specificity training
Specificity training is the theory that in order to make improvements with a specific sport, you must train your body to do those specific movements. Makes sense, right? However, when you are doing three completely different sports that require slightly different muscular coordination, this can be a tough balance to find.
Multi-move exercises are the way to go
Always try to incorporate key body stabilizers into your lifting routine, like the rotator cuff, shoulder blades, glutes, and abdominals. Challenge these muscles in ways that promote dynamic strength that you can easily carry over to your swimming, cycling, and running form. As a triathlete, don’t be afraid to get creative with your lifting routine and find what works for you.
About the author: Kevin Jones is a fitness coach and enthusiast. He writes about all things surrounding health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Kevin found his love for running on the trails in the Wasatch Mountain Range and regularly participates in half and full marathons.
The newest kid on the multi-sport block is the crazy sport of Swimrun. There are many elements to this event that make it stand out from the crowd. My name is Alex Hemsley, English National Aquathlon Champion, and it’s my job to introduce you to this unique sport and how to train for such an event.
What is swimrun?
You might be thinking, "well that’s obvious, it’s swimming and running". Well yes, but maybe not as you think. Swimrun is an endurance event with distances often equalling that of a marathon or more. But oh no, you won’t just be running those miles on a road! The swim and run are broken up into multiple small runs/swims of varying distances, alternating between the two sports. Often, swimming in multiple lakes or around a shoreline and running across fells, through rivers, and over mountains. Swimrun events take place in the most beautiful locations in both the UK and abroad and you just have to remember to appreciate it while you're racing!
If you're a triathlete or multi-sport athlete, you will be familiar with transitioning from one discipline to another. In swimrun, there are no transitions: you swim in your running shoes and run in your wetsuit. Because of this, there is some specialist equipment you will want to invest in before your race.
A specific swimrun wetsuit is a must if you don’t want to get too hot on the run. There are plenty available online and more are becoming available in stores. My top tip is to make sure you follow the size guide if you don’t want horrific chafing from running in a wetsuit! Specialist Swimrun wetsuits have a built-in whistle which can be an essential item and clever pockets so you can carry gels.
Due to the uneven terrains on the run, a good trail shoe is well worth investing in as you will also be running with wet feet from the start. It is crucial that your shoes are clean before a race due to the unique biodiversity of the areas you are racing in. So no trail shoes that have lingered in a cupboard for months since last winter!
Swimrun events have pioneered plastic-free racing which, in these times of environmental decline, is so important. This means you need a container that you can use for water/electrolytes at the feed stations. My preference is a soft flask that can be folded up and put in a pocket on my swimrun suit. You can often buy them at events.
Hand paddles and pull buoys
Another aspect that makes swimrun unique is you can use whatever equipment you want... but before you think of taking your fins, everything you start the race with you have to finish the race with. So you need to be cunning with your swimming aids! Many people use paddles and pull buoys as swimming in shoes creates a lot of drag.
Pull buoys can either be altered to make some ties so you can attach it to the outside of your leg for the run or you can buy specific swimrun ones. With hand paddles, make sure you can quickly get them on and off otherwise you’ll be running with your goggles on as your hands won’t be free to take them off.
One final aspect of this is that swimrun is a team event and you can only compete in pairs. You can’t be more than 10 meters apart from each other at any one time. Some teams tether themselves together with a piece of rope cut to the specific length of 10m.
How do you train for swimrun?
You'll need to do lots of endurance swim sets both in the pool and outdoors. Make sure you follow your swim sets with a run as it feels very alien at first and feels different to running after cycling, which is the more traditional transition.
Get out on the trails and hit the hills in all weathers as it might not be a nice day when you are racing so don’t dodge the weather in training!
Train as much as you can with your partner as you need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work out what works best for you as a team. Is one person going to lead on the swim and the other on the run? Or one person does one swim and run and the other does the next. You might not follow it on race day but it’s worth having a strategy. Training together also helps you know each other’s natural cadence in swim and run so you can try to match this.
Before the race, go and do a recce where you swim in your swimrun suit and running shoes and run in your suit and wet shoes. This will help you work out what might happen on race day. Here's a recce checklist:
- Do you want to wear socks or not?
- Do you want to undo your swimrun suit?
- Will you get blisters from running in wet shoes?
- Which gels do you want and how many?
- Will you run with your hat and goggles on and if not where will you put them?
How do swimrun races work?
Prior to race day, there will be a map and details of the number of swims/runs and their distance and elevation. Study these carefully as you want to know how many you’ve got on race day and when you’ve finished the hills it’s good to know this!
Registration and race briefing will either be the day of the event or the day before. Make sure you attend and pay attention as they will tell you what the markers look like as the whole course isn’t marked so you need to pay attention! They will often inspect your trainers, so make sure they are clean.
Lay all your kit out so you know you have what you need. You will be given number bibs and these must be on you and visible at all times.
On race day, make sure you eat a good breakfast no sooner than 2 hours before otherwise running in your tight suit will make you feel very sick!
The meeting point is often close to the finish of the race so it’s all aboard a coach to take you to the start, often driving along some of the route you will be running and swimming.
And then the fun begins – you swim and run your way back to the finish! There will be feed stations along the route; these are well stocked with everything you could need including new potatoes! But remember not to get carried away or stop for too long or you might seize up or get a stitch.
At the finish, bask in the glory of completing one of the toughest but most fun multi-sports around.
This is by far my favourite event as you get to swim and run in the most beautiful locations with one of your friends. What’s not to love?
About the author: Alex Hemsley is a Team GB Age Group athlete and National Aquathlon Champion.
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.
Catherine is a swimmer who still competes around her work and family life. She talks to Sundried about life in the pool.
Have you always been into sport?
For as long as I can remember, I have been busy in the world of sport! My mum will tell you a tale that I could swim before I could walk and (apparently) when I was only a few months old I could swim naturally.
What made you decide to enter the world of swimming?
When I was younger, I was interested in a few sports. Unfortunately, I had an accident when I was 9 or 10 where I broke my arm and it needed pinning. It was so bad that the doctors said I would need to exercise my arm every day or I may lose some of the movement. They recommended swimming and I haven’t looked back since!
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
Our swimming club travelled to Holland, Belgium and Germany to compete. I still remember winning against clubs from other countries and feeling such a sense of achievement. I giggle when I look back at the pictures because even though I am on the first-place podium, the other two swimmers are still taller than me.
And your proudest achievement?
Definitely coming back to swimming as a ‘master’ even though I have a family and a career.
How do you overcome setbacks?
I think about all the factors that have led me to my setback and I think ‘What can I do next time to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
It doesn’t matter how big a person is, long distance swimming is about technique.
What are your goals for 2020?
To continue to train hard for the 400 metres Individual Medley. This truly is an endurance swim. This will mean stepping up the training both in the water and dry land training (gym work). I aim to have learnt from this year and take on more competitions.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
It’s got to be the first British Olympic champion: Lucy Morton. Lucy Morton won the 200m breaststroke event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. She is also from my hometown, Blackpool. Lucy was known to be very modest about her wins and when she retired, she opened a swimming school for disabled children. It’s just a shame I didn’t have the £8,400 to buy her medal when it was auctioned in August!
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
I always use my Sundried swim cap and goggles when I train in the water. When I am sat on the poolside or doing conditioning in the gym I love a hoodie, top and shorts combination. So, for me it is the Matterhorn Women's Zip Up Hoodie, La Singla Women's Vest and the Les Rouies 2-In-1 Women's Shorts.
We take a look at some of the most common inconveniences and issues that swimmers face when in open water and give advice on how best to tackle them so that you can enjoy and thrive when swimming in open water.
1.Your goggles get knocked off
It's a nightmare situation in an open water swim, especially if you are a contact lens wearer or have sensitive eyes. Having your goggles knocked off your face during the panic and rush of a mass swim start can leave you feeling exposed and frantic, especially if you can't find them again and have to complete the rest of your swim without goggles.
To prevent this situation from ocurring, put your goggles underneath your swim cap so that even if they do get knocked, they won't come all the way off your head and you can pull them back up to your eyes. It's normal and expected to get bashed and knocked around during a mass participation swim such as that of a triathlon, so it's important to be prepared.
2. The water is too cold
If you live in the UK, it's pretty much expected that the water temperature will be on the chilly side and that it'll probably be a wetsuit-mandatory swim for your triathlon. To stop your head getting cold, double up on swim caps to increase insulation and make sure it's pulled down your forehead to minimise the amount of skin you have exposed to the cold water.
A great idea is to acclimatise first so that the shock of the cold water doesn't make your breathing difficult and irregular. If you can, fully submerge yourself in the water before you begin the race. If you're not allowed to do this, at least splash some water over your head, face, and into your wetsuit so that your body has a chance to get used to it and it's not such a shock when you jump in to start the race.
3. You have a panic attack/feel like you can't breathe
If you're not used to open water swimming, a mass start race can easily induce a panic attack and make you feel like you can't breathe. Make sure you get plenty of practice in open water before you take on a big race to minimise this risk. It's also a good idea to get friends or club mates to make a big splash around you when training so that you can get used to the disorder of trying to find a line, pace, and breathing rhythm amongst the commotion of hundreds of other swimmers.
If you do find yourself struggling to breathe, tread water until you calm down or do some breast stroke to help you relax and find your sight. Stay well away from the pack when starting the race and find your own space.
4. It's hard to navigate without a line to follow
If you do most of your swim training in a pool, you'll be used to having a line to follow on the bottom and you only have to swim in a straight line. When it comes to swimming in open water, going the wrong way and swimming further than you need to is a common mistake and is something you can expect without enough practice.
Make sure you look up from time to time and practice sighting, checking out landmarks on the horizon. Don't just follow the person in front and recce the course before the race so you have a mental plan of where you should be going.
5. You get tired and can't stop to put your feet on the bottom
This is a common worry among those who are new to open water swimming; you feel like you have no safety net and it's scary not being able to touch the bottom. Keep a steady pace and if you get tired, don't be afraid to do some breast stroke or just tread water for a short while.
If you really get into difficulty, lie on your back and float and try to stay calm. However, keep in mind that for triathlon races, if you do this and raise one arm in the air it's a signal to the marshals and paramedics that you need rescuing so this should be a last resort.
6. There are unknown monsters in the deep
Possibly the most common reason for not wanting to swim in the sea or in rivers: not knowing what creatures might be lurking beneath the surface. This is a perfectly rational fear and it's true that there might be things like jellyfish and other marine animals in the water with you.
Unfortunately for this one, the advice is just to keep calm and carry on. A race organiser would not allow you to get into water that has dangerous creatures in it, so try to ignore anything that might be there. Substances like seaweed and waste can be known to get stuck to triathletes when they're swimming, but again, you have to just ignore this and carry on with your swimming. Your wetsuit, goggles, and hat should protect most of your skin from contact anyway.