Because triathlon racing and other multi-sport events require quite a bit of time commitment to dedicate to each discipline, many triathletes make the mistake of neglecting triathlon strength training workouts.
However, a triathlete weight training plan can be a crucial part of helping you become the best triathlete you can be, whether you enjoy sprint triathlons, Olympic triathlons, or endurance events like a 70.3 triathlon or even Ironman triathlon.
Strength training for triathlons isn’t just about performance improvement.
Triathlon strength training workouts can also prevent muscle imbalances that occur from the hours of cycling, running, and swimming and can help prevent injuries so that you can enjoy as much time training and racing as a multisport athlete for as many years as you hope.
In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of strength training for triathletes and provide a triathlon strength training program that can help you reach your goals for triathlon performance and feel your best doing so.
We will cover:
- Benefits of Strength Training for Triathletes
- Tips for Following a Triathlon Strength Training Program
- Sample Triathlon Strength Training Plan
Let’s dive in!
Benefits of Strength Training for Triathletes
Here are some of the benefits of a triathlete weight training plan:
#1: Strength Training For Triathletes Can Improve Power
In many ways, triathlons are all about endurance, especially long-course racing. But even Ironman distance triathletes need power, especially on the bike.
Power in the context of physical activity is the amount of force you can generate as quickly as possible (power = force x speed).
Therefore, one of the key goals of a triathlon strength training workout routine is to increase raw strength so that you can have a higher force output.Equally important is to improve your ability to generate that force for maximum strength rapidly, which is all about power training for triathlon performance (mainly cycling) through explosive exercises.
The right strength training program for triathlon can indeed translate to not only improved markers of athletic performance like maximum strength and explosive power but also actual functional improvements on the bike and running.
#2: Strength Training for Triathletes Can Improve Performance
Numerous studies have found that various markers of running and cycling performance can be improved by following a weightlifting program for endurance athletes.
For example, studies show that strength training workouts for runners can improve aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and submaximal endurance performance due to the neuromuscular adaptations that result.
Strength training workouts help build stronger neuromuscular connections, so your brain gets better at recruiting the muscle fibers you already have to signal them to contract.
Maximum strength and running economy have also been shown to improve following a heavy resistance training program for triathletes.
#3: Strength Training for Triathletes Can Improve Mobility
We don’t tend to think of strength training exercises as being geared towards mobility and flexibility.
That said, the best strength training program for triathlon performance will include exercises that address mobility and the ability to produce force across the full range of motion for the joints so that you have functional core strength and upper body strength combined with flexibility for the best performance swimming, cycling, and running.
#4: Strength Training Workouts for Triathlon Can Reduce the Risk of Injuries
Compared to high-impact exercises like running, we tend to think of triathlons as having a lower risk of injuries because the joint impact forces are significantly lower with cycling and swimming.
However, cycling is very repetitive, and swimming for triathlon training and racing generally involves just the free stroke, which can also cause muscle imbalances, particularly if you cannot do bilateral breathing while swimming.
The muscles worked by cycling, swimming, and running are not evenly balanced throughout the body.
Even if you address asymmetries with unilateral exercises to strengthen the non-dominant side of your body, you can still have muscle weaknesses if you don’t do regular weightlifting workouts.
For example, triathletes often suffer from low back pain from a weak core and poor posture in the saddle.
So, for example, glute exercises for triathletes can relieve excessive reliance on the small lower back muscles, potentially helping prevent lower back pain from cycling.
Therefore, the best strength training plan for triathletes strengthens all of the major muscles of the body, not just the primary muscles worked by running, cycling, and swimming.
#5: Strength Training For Triathletes Can Improve Fitness
All of the general benefits of strength training workouts still apply to the benefits of strength training training for triathletes.
Even if the fitness benefits of weightlifting workouts don’t necessarily translate directly to improvements in your triathlon performance, strength training can increase bone density, improve joint health and flexibility, increase muscular endurance, build confidence, and make you a more well-rounded athlete.
All of these can be beneficial on the bike, in the water, on the run (or whatever other sports and types of physical activity you enjoy), and in everyday life.
Tips for Following a Triathlon Strength Training Program
Here are a couple of tips for finding the best triathlon strength training workout routine:
#1: Lift Heavy Enough
By nature, particularly the long course triathlon events are endurance events, so the goal of strength training for triathletes should be to increase strength, build muscle, and increase power, not build muscular endurance.
As such, you need to lift enough weight in your triathlon weight training workouts to trigger adaptations in your muscles.
If you are following a strength training for triathletes routine to increase muscular strength, the recommended rep range is usually 1 to 5 reps using a weight that corresponds to at least 85% of your 1RM.
Normally, for hypertrophy or building muscle, you would select a weight that you can use with proper form for 8 to 12 reps.
#2: Progress the Weights
On the bike or while running, you wouldn’t do the exact same ride or run every day and expect to get better; you have to gradually increase the intensity and/or distance of your triathlon workouts to continue to see improvements.
The same applies to strength training for triathlon training.
What this means practically is that you need to increase the weights in your triathlon weightlifting exercises periodically to continue to trigger neuromuscular adaptations that increase strength and build muscle.
#3: Don’t Overdo the Frequency
One of the most important factors to consider with your strength training for triathletes program is training frequency, or how often you will work out.
The ideal training frequency depends on numerous factors, such as your fitness level, training goals, the intensity and duration of your workouts, and the specific exercises you are doing.
Because most triathletes are already swimming, running, and cycling numerous days per week, aiming to do two triathlon strength training workouts per week is generally sufficient and ideal.
In the off-season, you might increase to three strength training workouts per week, but certainly, when you are doing heavier training volume running, on the bike, and in the pool, two full body strength training workouts for triathletes per week is a good target.
Sample Triathlon Strength Training Plan
Below is one of the best strength training programs for triathletes. This triathlon workout program involves strength training two times per week.
Aim for 2-3 sets of each exercise with a weight you can manage with proper form for 6-12 reps (lower end of the rep range if your goal is getting stronger and higher rep range if you want to build muscle).
Take 60-90 seconds of rest in between sets of each exercise.
- Arm circles and trunk twists for 30 seconds
- Windmills: 30 seconds high right reaching down to low left and 30 seconds high left to low right
- Inchworm walkouts x 10
- Forward lunges alternating legs x 45 seconds
Workout: 2-3 sets of the following:
- Barbell or dumbbell thrusters
- Side lunge with dumbbell biceps curl
- Close-grip lat pull-downs
- Single-leg Romanian deadlift with a dumbbell or kettlebell
- Split squat with a single-arm cable row or resistance band row (do all of your reps and then switch sides)
- Stability ball stir the pot (forearm plank position with your elbows on a stability ball), small circles for 30 seconds in one direction and then reverse direction for another 30 seconds. Make sure to keep your core tight and maintain a proper plank position.
- Side plank with dumbbell thoracic rotation under your body and then all the way up until the dumbbell is pointing to the ceiling
- Single-arm kettlebell swings 15-25 per arm
- Bird dog
- Single-leg lateral hops 30 seconds per leg
- Resistance band overhead reaches for 20 reps
Workout: 2-3 sets of the following:
- Reverse lunge with single-arm dumbbell overhead press, then switch legs and arms and do the other side
- Single-arm balance while performing cable machine or a resistance band pallof press 12 reps on one leg and then turn around 180° and stand on the other leg and perform another 12 reps
- Single-leg barbell hip thrust
- Renegade rows with a push-up
- Sumo deadlifts
- Wide-grip lat pull-downs or pull-ups (assisted or full bodyweight)
- Lateral side step resistance band walks 25 steps in one direction, 25 in the other
- Single-arm kettlebell or dumbbell farmer’s carry (as heavy as you can handle while keeping you are trunk upright and core engaged) 25 steps and then turn around and switch sides
- High-plank position shoulder clocks with a small loop resistance band around your wrists and then stepping one hand out to each position of the clock on the respective side of the body. Do five full rotations of the clock for one set.
- Weighted Superman (hold a medicine ball or dumbbells)
For some helpful shoulder mobility exercises for loosening up after long rides or swims, check out our guide to shoulder warm-ups here.