I’ve worked with my fair share of endurance athletes.  Mainly runners, but a few cyclists and understanding more about triathletes and ironman competitors as I study my sister-in-law, pro ironman Meredith Kessler, and her routine.  Some of the athletes embrace strength training, but many dismiss it.  They would rather spend their time logging miles than lifting weights, thinking that it would not serve any benefit and possibly start making them muscle bound.  But, I’m here to tell you that if you are an ironman, triathlete, or any endurance athlete, that you are strongly missing the boat if you do not start strength training.

Strength training will not directly improve the times of triathletes.  Meaning, if I strength train you your times won’t drop because of the awesome lifting program.  You still have to put in the miles that you need to run an effective race.  But, what it will do is make you a little stronger and a little more powerful.  This means that you don’t have to spend the same amount of force to get from point A to point B.  You are improving your efficiency, thus you should be able to last longer during your race before you really start calling on your reserves.

You WILL NOT get bulky due to the strength training.  Trust me, if lifting weights made it that easy to gain weight, I’d be 250 pounds by now.  You also need to eat a lot of food to gain weight.  Triathletes and ironman competitors do consume a lot of calories, but because their training is so intense, they use all of those calories in their training.  There aren’t extra calories left over to build muscle.

Here’s the other thing about strength training which not only applies to triathletes and ironman athletes, but to all athletes in general.  The stronger your muscles are, the harder it is for them to be injured.  If you do injure a muscle because of your strength training, you will be able to bounce back a lot faster than if you weren’t strength training.  This is a huge incentive because of all the wear and tear triathletes put on their body you need the muscles strong for the recovery.

Also, if your muscles aren’t strong, then they fatigue very quickly.  When they fatigue, that means your muscles are having a hard time doing your moving correctly.  Whether you are running, swimming, or biking, if your muscles aren’t moving in the functionally correct position, then you are working that much harder to go from A to B.  The stronger they are, then the longer they can function correctly, thus easing your workload.

Here is one example of a strength training program I’ve utilized before.  I had worked with Tom Hanley, who was a competitive cyclist in high school and college.  His cycling coach was a coach who was part of Carmichael Training Systems.  Chris Carmichael, the owner, was the training coach for Lance Armstrong, so this company is pretty good.  Tom’s coach basically sent me 4 week training programs which were different phases of his off-season strength training program.

If you were just looking at his workouts, you would have had no clue they were for cycling.  There was a hypertrophy phase, strength, power, and in-season component.  The three big phases you would see in any off-season training program.  The workouts were efficient and effective.  They looked something like this:

  • Power Cleans
  • Speed Squats
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Bent Over Row
  • Some type of core movement

The sets and reps would vary based on the phase of the workout we were in, which is just like any other training program.  Ultimately, the volume probably wasn’t as high as say a football player, but these are the same exercises that a football player would use in their workouts.  They are developing the same things strength and power.  They are also using the same exercises to get there, but some of the endurance athletes I’ve met would scoff at even watching a power clean.  Why learn how to do it, they aren’t trying to build muscle, they would say.

But, you are trying to develop strength and power.  If you develop a little muscle size so be it, my guess is that you will burn an appropriate amount of bodyfat making you leaner and once again more efficient.

I have a free report on this topic explaining it more effectively if you are interested in reading it.  I just touched on a few of the reasons you want to strength train as a triathlete here, but the paper I wrote goes into more detail.  If you want to read it, you can click here.  While you’re on the site, read about our new strength training class for endurance athletes and if you live in Columbus, feel free to check us out.  We might just help you accomplish your own goals and achieve the times you are looking for.