Strength Training and why it should be a part of your training schedule:
*This article is based on my views, experience and rehab assistant certification
Strength training is a topic that seems to have a lot of controversy when it comes to triathlon and endurance sports. Some feel it is not important for triathlon training, others feel it is, or many just don’t have time. There are many ways to strength train, and I believe is a very important piece of your training (when doing properly).Even if you can only fit in 15-20min 3x a week, you will see benefits! If you are super pressed for time, I would prioritize core strengthening.
Now…. Let me clarify what I mean by strength training. Strength training should complement your swim-bike-run training and help with injury prevention. What I mean by this is that we are NOT training to get “big”, but rather help strengthen some of those key muscles. This means not lifting heavy weights with short reps, but rather, less weight with a lot of reps, and some exercises such as core training don’t even require weight at all. So for example, I will do a set of shoulder raises. I use a weight that feels fairly easy to begin with but that by the time I get to 40 or 50 reps, I can barely lift. This technique strengthens muscles without building bulk. If you were trying to get bigger muscles, you would choose a heavier weight and do a set like 3x10reps where it’s hard to get to the 10th one.
Core strengthening is something we should all do, even if you are not training at all. A strong core will help prevent injuries and make you a stronger athlete. You will be able to maintain a better posture while running, will help maintain a strong, proper body position in the water, and make you a stronger cyclist. I’d like to elaborate on the word “core”. Many people automatically associate core with sexy abs. While core training will definitely help strengthen your abs, your core muscles are mostly comprised of your deep stabilizing muscles that help support your spine, not the superficial 6pack muscles. I encourage everyone to go back to the basics with core training to ensure you are actually engaging the right muscles. To do this, lay on your back with your knees bent and one hand under your lower back. Imagine there is a string attached to the back of your belly button and you pull it ever so slightly towards your spine. Do NOT suck in your belly - there should be very little to no movement with this contraction, and you should not feel a pressure change on your hand under your back (meaning you are not pressing your back down into your hand). If it helps, these muscles are also the muscles that you contract when you have to hold your pee or are doing kegel exercises. Once you have mastered this contraction, try lifting up one foot at a time only a couple inches off the floor. Once again, you should not feel a pressure change on your hand. From here, you can add in bridging and then one legged bridging, using those core muscles to stop your hips from dropping. Once you’ve mastered this, and you’re confident you can engage those muscles properly, more advanced exercises can be added in like planking, push ups, sit-ups and double leg raises. In fact, your core muscles should be the first thing to be engaged with all of your exercises whether it be arms, legs, abs, swimming, biking or running.
If you don’t have a gym at home, you can still do a quality strengthening routine. Purchasing a couple different exercise bands are very inexpensive, as well as an exercise mat. Filling up a couple milk jugs with water can also be used in place of weights.
A sample 15-20min routine with minimal equipment:
Double leg raise
Side leg raise
Prone heel kicks
If you have access to a gym and/or extra time, lat pull downs, flies, shoulder press and internal/external rotation are all exercises that will strengthen swimming muscles. Hip extension, squats, toe raises and box step-overs are all great for running and cycling.
If you have an injury, history of injuries or need guidance on how to do specific exercises, I would encourage you to seek medical advice or see a trained professional before starting a program.