Why should Triathletes Sacrifice Training Time to Strength Training, by the 4D Personal Trainer in Oxford

The cycling and swimming worlds have appreciated the benefits of strength training for years, and it forms an integral part of the training athletes in these single discipline sports follow. Why is it participants in a sport that incorporates both of these disciplines, and one more, generally dismiss it. Is it because of the extreme time pressures of training 3 different disciplines, and a belief that time spent on the bike, track or in the pool is going to be more beneficial? Is it because they believe that endurance athletes don’t require strength? Or is it simply because of the age-old myth that strength training equals weight training and weight training means getting big, bulky and muscular?

Whatever the reasoning, triathletes in general are missing out on the huge benefits available to them through strength training and the entirely fair advantage it can give them over the competition. The fact is it can and will increase performance and speed, and in most cases is the missing link between a good time and a great time. The benefits of strength training are well documented and more recently significant research has been completed looking in to the direct affect of strength training for endurance athletes. Its clear from these studies that time spent working on strength and power is equally as valuable as time spent swimming, cycling or running. A very interesting study carried out by researchers in Finland several years ago showed that a 5-km run time could be significantly improved by adding strength and speed work to the normal running training of the athletes. Of key interest to triathletes will be the reasons given why times of the participants improved: primarily down to the increases in efficiency of movement as well as muscle power. In other words, if each stride requires less energy, you can run faster for longer! The full article can be found on the web at the journal of applied physiology: goto http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/86/5/1527 .

This is all very well I hear some of you cry, but what reason does an amateur triathlete have to start incorporating strength training when all I do it for is fun and fitness! On top of the performance benefits of training with resistance, it provides many highly beneficial health and injury prevention benefits. The most basic and well evidenced are in prevention of overuse or repetitive stress injuries. Overuse injuries are very common among endurance athletes as they wear away their joints in specific areas due to the repetitive motions they must execute in very high numbers. Muscle imbalances, particularly of antagonistic pairs, and muscle weaknesses are key causes and are associated with impact related as well as overuse injuries. The most effective method available for correcting muscular imbalances and minimizing the tissue damage and stress injuries is using strength training.

For example, it is very common for triathletes to have extremely strong quadriceps but relatively weaker hamstrings. Hamstring strength must be approximately 2/3 of the strength of the quads to balance the loading of the knee joint and avoid injury – how many triathletes have had this simple ratio tested? My experience is not enough. Not only will this imbalance lead to less speed but also all sorts of potential knee pain and injury. Strength training can also contribute to the prevention and rehabilitation of shin splints, stress fractures, lower back discomfort, knee problems and hip injuries, in addition to creating stronger connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, bones, fascia).
To be sport specific this type of training can improve resistance to fatigue and greatly improve strength endurance. The ability to resist fatigue can allow you to hold a set pace for longer or to increase speed over a given distance giving you a clear advantage come race day.

Hopefully you are now convinced that you must make room in you training schedule for strength work. Some key considerations for how must be addressed so that you can reap the rewards effectively
• Core stability and function must be tested and corrected first to allow correct loading during movement
• Don’t try to lift too much weight to soon, introduce this training slowly and build up gradually.
• Get high quality advice from an experienced professional – there is a multitude of myths and misinformation out there. Remember, strength training is not one size fits all, and you must have a programme designed for you as an individual to get any benefit.
• Structure your week of training sensibly. There is no point scheduling a long brick session the day after a strength training session as there is a high risk of delayed onset muscle soreness and injury.

Get good advice and structure your training intelligently, and strength training will open up a whole new world of performance for you!

By the 4D Personal Trainer in Oxford

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