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.
On 17th May, after a serious 6-hour brick session, I was saying: "It's great! No races means more training, less recovery but my body is coping extremely well with it. No injuries, not one little niggle. Nothing!"
Not even 24 hours later, I was getting out of the water after an easy open water swim with my training partner, stripping off my wetsuit still in the water and falling a bit awkwardly to my left. Walking to my car, ready to go to physical therapy, I realised a weird sort of pain hitting my left lower back/hip area. Nothing serious, I thought (and hoped). I got a massage and got the area taped very well so the pain was bearable and we were all of the belief it would be gone in a few days.
The next day, I had another open water swim in the morning, a stability workout right after that, followed by a bike ride and – late in the evening – a run which was around 25km. Because of the tape, the pain wasn't there from the start but it kept coming harder and harder and I was glad I finished the run.
I finished the training week, hitting every session – including interval running on Sunday. The pain was at a 10 out of 10 during the cool down run so I decided to walk the last few hundred meters to my house. I knew there must be something wrong.
The next week, a recovery week, we decided to take a break from running for at least 3 days. I took 7 days – something I had never done before.
On day 8, after taking some painkillers throughout the week, I thought the pain was gone, or at least, on its way. It wasn't. A 5km run almost left me crying because of the pain after I finished. Again – I knew there must be something wrong. Really wrong.
I kept training on the bike and in the water as much as possible but the pain was constantly there. Never as bad as during the running but, it was there.
I decided to give running a go here and there and – after seeing an osteopath who suggested it was down to some bowel thing and that it should be gone in 2 or 3 days (he was right about the first, but not about the 2-3 days sadly) – I wanted to do my brick session of 4 hours on the (indoor) bike followed by an hour run at Ironman race pace (3.55 min/km).
After 4 hours on the bike – no pain. Nothing. Great! Off on the run, it came and it went from bad to worse to the point where I had to just stop after 10k, again walking back home. This time, I decided that enough is enough. There is something seriously wrong.
I went to a hospital nearby (it was a Saturday) hoping for a chance to get an MRI or CT scan as I suggested it might be a stress fracture in my sacroiliac joint and I knew that this would be the only way to find out.
The doctor sent me back home – having not done any more than putting his hands on my back, trying to feel an injury. He suggested that I could resume training after 3 days as it's surely nothing serious. He knew. At least he said that he knew. He knew nothing, as turned out.
A day later, after barely being able to get out of bed – let alone walk down the stairs – I decided to give it another shot. Another hospital. This time I got lucky: I could stay at the hospital for one night, having been promised a scan the next morning.
Even then, one of my doctors – a great doctor and really good guy as it turned out, a triathlete himself – suggested that the SJ-stress fracture was “the only thing we can exclude.”
Two hours later, he came in with an apology and crystal clear MRI scans in his hand, showing an injury that I had only seen on Jan Frodeno or Lionel Sanders' Instagram accounts.
Wow, what a crazy 24 hours. From running a painful sub 4 min/km for 10k, to being out for the foreseeable future. For me, it was quite a mix of emotions: a slap in the face but also a moment of relief. Clarity – finally. And finally no one doubted that there was a real injury. From that moment, there weren't any problems getting more scans, physical therapy prescriptions and regular talks to my doctors in order to get this done successfully.
I think it's important to share experiences like this as there will be other athletes with symptoms similar to mine, so here's my advice: if you feel or think that it's serious, be persistent in your communication with doctors in order to clear the situation and find out what's really going on with your body.
A stress fracture like mine can happen to anyone – from the very best athletes like Frodeno, to a spare time runner. It might be overtraining, it might be a couple of nights poor sleep, it might be bad nutrition for a couple of days, moving house or just a mix of it.
I'm now seven weeks post-diagnosis and here are some thoughts on how to handle an experience like that:
My first thought was that it might be great to (finally) take a break after long and hard sessions week in week out, getting some wine and ice cream (which I did on the first night after returning home from the hospital) and taking it easy. But that doesn't work.
You have to keep your nutrition as good as possible as the body needs a lot of energy to repair damage. Things like alcohol will only slow down the healing process, which is the last thing I would want. I had three days in my 7 weeks with a bit of wine, no more. Yes, I went for the odd chocolate, ice cream or so as that was just necessary to improve my mood at times.
The biggest thing was the lack of movement. My body (and brain) is used to working out every day. Getting up early, training, eating, having a nap, training, eating, sleeping and doing it all again the next day. I wasn't doing anything for 9 days, starting to get some short walks with the dog after that. Still, it was 16 days without any sort of training. No bike, no swim, no run. Nothing. The first scan after two weeks showed improvements, I was allowed back on the bike and back into the pool. Both only at very low intensity and not longer than an hour per day, but it was helping my head a lot.
Also, I introduced my girlfriend to cycling. I rebuilt one of my bikes for her and we started doing our “ice-cream-tours”. Something like 20km, very easy and with a stop at our favourite ice cream place in the middle. Great for both of us! What really helped me during that time, though, was getting my coaching company “GET Active” to life. That was initially planned for the winter but I realised that my off-season was now. So, I tried to sleep longer in the morning as sleep would help my injury and would do a lot of office work afterwards. One hour of “sport” per day.
Fast forward to week 7: After another scan and a talk with my doctor, I was allowed to do a little bit more cycling, a little bit more swimming and doing some strength workouts again but, most importantly for me, I was allowed to get on the treadmill twice a week for walking with 3x2 minutes easy running.
I felt some discomfort in the area that wouldn't be there normally but, apparently that's not the fracture, but more the fact that everything around it has weakened.
So, getting on the treadmill, I was sort of nervous that it would all begin again. I was glad I was wrong. The running felt good, despite feeling rusty, unfit and almost overweight. But the best feeling was, that after stepping down, no pain came back. No sensations, no strains.
I'm glad I've been able to take my first steps now and can go on from here. I'm taking it day by day and week by week. Patience (my biggest weakness by the way) has been the most important factor in the whole process and I know, that wanting to much too soon could take me back a week or two very quickly.
This is also an advice I want to give for other athletes, coming back from an injury, coming back from a long off-season or just for people who want to get (back) into sport: Don't rush it. It will all come but it won't come faster just because you want it faster.
Do your training, take your breaks and always remember: recovery is key. Train, eat, sleep, repeat. Don't just train and repeat.
For me, I've accepted the situation that my season is over before it began this year. I hope to be back in early 2021. After all, this is my December now, so why shouldn't next January be my summer? I try to be in in top form in January/February, hoping that races will take place and I'll be a better athlete than before.
At least one thing is for sure: I'll never take pain-free running for granted anymore and be super grateful when I'm back to full fitness, getting back in some sort of form and getting back for race preparation. Here's to 2021!
About the author: David Rother is a German professional triathlete who competes at full and 70.3 distance.
Whether you are a competitive athlete or a recreational sports enthusiast, it’s imperative to fuel your body appropriately. We’ve all read articles about consuming enough protein for muscle growth and repair, eating enough carbohydrates to fuel our training, and choosing drinks with added electrolytes to stay hydrated. What we often neglect to consider is the impact that our diet is having on the planet and how we can eat a more sustainable diet whilst not impacting our performance.
The food we eat contributes to around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions globally and if we don’t take action this figure will continue to grow. To help tackle this issue I have put together my top ten tips for eating your way to sustainability whilst still maintaining the golden ‘rules’ of what an athlete needs to consume in order to perform.
Moderate animal produce
Animal foods have a much larger carbon and water footprint than plant foods. In today’s modern agriculture, we grow plants to feed animals which are inefficient converters of plant matter into food. By cutting out the animals and eating those plants directly we can dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.
You don’t have to take the pledge of veganism to do your part for the environment. Try and make some simple swaps to plant based meat and dairy alternatives which are packed with protein and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Whether you opt for meatless Mondays or choose to have one plant-based meal each day, every little will help!
Locally source seasonal fruit and vegetables
Foods that travel long distances have a high environmental impact. Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables from your local market can help to lower your carbon footprint whilst contributing to your local economy. If you can’t live without certain foods in their off season, opt for preserved foods that are lightly processed. Canned and frozen fruit and vegetables are more sustainable than the produce grown in a heated greenhouse or shipped in from another country.
Waste less food
The average household wastes around 30% of the food it buys. A vast number of resources are used to produce food that is never eaten- soil, water fossil fuels, crop inputs.
Food waste occurs at a consumer level and so we can really make a difference by cutting back our waste by:
- Planning out your meals for the week and only buying the produce that you need.
- Freezing items like bread to make them last longer.
- Thinking of creative culinary ways to use up unwanted vegetables that would otherwise be chucked in the bin- use the leaves and stems for mixed salads, the off cuttings to make stock, and the wilted items to make hot pots.
- Use dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Buy food that meets a credible certified standard
It’s important that we start to become more aware of what is on the packaging of the food we consume. There are various logos you can look out for to ensure that the food is sourced and produced in a sustainable way.
Next time you shop, look out for the following logos:
- Fairtrade, which protects farmers and workers in developing countries.
- Freedom food, which protects animal welfare.
- MSC and ASC, which ensures sustainable seaweed production.
- RSPO, which guarantees that the standard of palm oil production is sustainable.
Avoid Highly Processed Food
The more steps involved in food production, the higher the carbon emissions due to the transportation, manufacturing, and distribution involved. A sports nutrition bar or powder with a long list of ingredients is highly processed and therefore has a high carbon footprint, compared to a handful of nuts or piece or fruit which comes from one food source with minimal processing.
Try these real food swaps to replace your favourite sports supplements:
Raisins instead of sports jellybeans
A more natural way to get your carbs in during moderate to high intensity exercise.
Homemade rice cakes instead of sports gels
White rice is high in fibre and calories for both during and immediately after training.
Chocolate milk instead of recovery sport shakes
Providing water and sodium to rehydrate, carbohydrate to refuel, and protein to repair damaged muscle fibres.
Beet juice instead of nitric oxide
Naturally high in nitrates which have been suggested to increase blood flow to your heart and muscles.
Coffee instead of a pre-workout formula
Packed full of caffeine, coffee can increase endurance performance by an average of 26%.
Buy organic foods
Organic food regulations significantly limit the synthetic pesticides that can be used in crop production which supports more sustainable soil practices; such as the use of cover crops, composting and manures.
Look out for organic food swaps on your next grocery shop, you’ll be surprised how affordable they actually are.
Reduce food packaging
Packaging can make a huge impact on sustainability, as it can fill up landfills. Fruit and vegetables have a natural wrapping and do not need to be encased in plastic. Companies are now wising up to the need for packaging modification to help combat our waste problem.
Choose to buy loose fruit and vegetables and look for brands that have the least amount of packaging to help reduce the waste that goes into landfill.
Limit your number of food shopping trips
Travelling to buy groceries is very impactful in the number of miles food travels to get to your plate.
Try to limit the number of trips you make and condense your food travel trips to reduce your travelling carbon emissions. For example, if you’re headed to the farmers market, do all your food-related trips in that nearby location for the week.
Grow some of your own food
The most sustainable way to obtain food is to grow it yourself as there are no food miles involved, no packaging, and no use of fossil fuels.
Even if you start with just one herb pot on your patio and progress overtime, that’s one thing you don’t have to buy on your supermarket shop.
Initiate conversations about sustainable eating
Perhaps one of the most important things we can all do is start conversations about the importance of sustainable eating. By sharing experiences, knowledge, and resources we can begin to foster a much more sustainable attitude towards food consumption.
Whilst we proceed with training and live our busy lives, it is very easy to forget that the food we eat has a huge impact on local communities and businesses, individual farmers, and the environment. It’s imperative that we all take a step back and start to consider how our diet is impacting the environmental, social, and economic concerns.
Do your part to support a greener, healthier and fairer future for our world, and start your journey to a more sustainable diet.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this blog, look out for next month’s edition of this blog series on how you can be a sustainable athlete.
About the author: Laura Smith is an accomplished athlete and university graduate. She has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
Getting in cold, open water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; follow these tips for preparing for the open water.
When you get in open water, take time to familiarise yourself and if you can't get comfortable, at least get acclimatised. The number one issue for panic is people setting off too quickly, either just to get on or to get warm. This spikes your heart rate and your breathing and will likely set off any anxiety that will become more difficult to control. Let your wetsuit float you up in the water and try to relax back so you can float on your back – and then on your front too.
Identify the struggles of swimming in open water
Going off course. Panicking. Swimming into people. Letting your form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to swimming in a wetsuit. Unforeseen conditions like strong currents and surf/chop.
The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is practice, practice, practice.
It's true that it is hard to get a lot of practice in open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims into open water, whether it be a lake, estuary, or ocean. Make it as high a priority as possible.
Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day.
Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!
Prepare as much as you can in the pool
Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake or sea, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits.
If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!) Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths.
Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your heart rate doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day.
Read more: Tips For Swimming In Open Water
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.
It’s been a long-contested subject that has divided opinion amongst the triathlon community. Many people make the argument that strength is not important for triathletes, and that weight training will actually make you heavier, thus slower.
However, over recent years many myths surrounding resistance training using weights have been debunked. More and more professional endurance athletes have dedicated strength and conditioning coaches. There are many benefits to resistance training, but not all are obvious.
Triathlon is a demanding endurance sport that can put high loads on muscles and connecting tissue. If not sufficiently conditioned, these structures can break down leading to injury. Weight training using loads that are higher than experienced during regular training can help strengthen these structures preventing injury.
Higher Efficiency = Better Performance
Resistance training specifically targeted towards maximal, reactive and explosive strength has been shown to increase endurance performance through increased tendon stiffness and various neuromuscular pathways.
Ultimately, your tendons become better at storing and releasing energy and your nervous system becomes more advance/efficient at controlling your muscles.
Stronger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Bigger
Yes, certain forms of weight training under particular conditions can make you gain muscle. However, putting on muscle is a lot harder than you might expect.
For muscle growth to occur, you need to do a lot of lifting at a fairly high load and be in a constant calorie surplus. For most triathletes, this is never going to be the case. A correctly put together strength and conditioning programme will minimise physiological adaptions such as muscle hypertrophy.
Also, doing a lot of endurance exercise can suppress muscle synthesis, so if you’re a triathlete with a packed endurance schedule, I wouldn’t worry.
To become a good endurance athlete you need to put in the training hours. This means doing a lot of the same movements over and over again.
The problem with this is that the body can develop muscle imbalances, where the main muscles used become strong but the less utilised muscles remain weak. This can cause imbalances and is often a prime cause of injury.
By incorporating some different movement patterns into your training programme, you can address areas of potential imbalance. This will not only help prevent injury but also make you a more rounded athlete.
Modern sports science has shown that a well-constructed strength and conditioning programme using weights can have a positive effect on endurance performance. Endurance athletes should no longer fear the weights room, they should positively embrace it. Lifting heavy weights following specific protocols will not make you bigger, but it will make you stronger, more resilient and faster. However, if you’re new to weight training you should seek professional advice otherwise you could do more harm than good.
Read more: Triathlon Strength Training Exercises
Matthew Sills is the Founder and Head Coach of Trojan Fitness having been a personal trainer in Ruislip since 2013. Matthew holds a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Surrey, and guides his personal training based on the latest scientific research and literature.