January 29, 2018 - Why triathletes should build sports specific strength & how to do it!
Most triathletes are now well into a winter build phase with the goal of putting down the groundwork of base fitness. With that base fitness phase, many triathletes also are setting a foundation or improving on their weakest link. I tell athletes this all the time; your sport is to swim, bike, and run. Notice I did not say your “sports”, because we need to treat triathlon as one sport and not three. The first step to improvement is realizing that you do indeed have a weakness. Too many triathletes identify as a runner at heart / cyclist / swimmer, and devote too much time to be the fastest runner / cyclist / swimmer. By no means do you want to lose your competitive advantage, but you may need to allow your best discipline to take a backseat while you focus on the discipline that holds you back the most.
· [Bike] Cycling specific strength is a key factor to faster biking. Not only will you improve your sustained power, but also your ability to run off the bike. There are two key workouts for building strength on the bike. The first is shorter uphill repeats or intervals pedaling a heavy gear at a lower cadence. Try your best to pedal efficiently here instead of the typical mashing on the downstroke only. However don’t forget to end these sessions with a bit of high cadence work to get those legs turning back over. Another key session is dependent of the topography of where you live or train. Long steady mountain climbs are a proven way to build strength and resilience on the bike. You have really no choice but to put some strength into those pedals when going uphill. It will also force you to pedal more efficiently.
· [Run] Hit the hills and hit the grass for strength. The grass takes away that bounce and energy return you see with running on asphalt and track. You are really going to have to work those hips hamstrings and calves to move fast on grass. Again these should be tempo type efforts. Use hill repeats wisely starting short and These strength sessions increase running economy as well as giving you that extra resiliency on those late race miles. Again these workouts should be shorter in duration with a bit more rest. We are trying to build strength and force our muscles to work harder. If we go too long or on not enough rest/ our heart and lungs will give out thus limiting how hard we can push our muscles.
· [Swim] Strength for swimming is a great way to boost your easy swim speed. Again the strength must be build upon proper stroke mechanics. All too often you will see triathletes throw on the good ol paddles for an entire set just so they can feel faster. Lets be honest here, you are just cheating yourself. Would you show up to a group ride with a disc wheel & aero helmet just so you can hang on? No. Use equipment properly. The purpose of paddles or fins is to create resistance in order to generate more power. The workouts that incorporate paddles or fins should be shorter and more intense with higher rest at first. Athletes need to slowly build up to longer efforts. Most triathletes do not have a massive swimming background or rubber shoulders. Start with 25’s and 50’s then build up.
The most important thing is to have fun with it! Going fast is fun!
Christopher J Lee
Triathlon Coach @ AJ Baucco Coaching
Former Head Coach CU Boulder Swimming
NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist
FMS Functional Movement Systems Lvl 1
NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist
Stages Cycling Certified