Strength Training: Part 1
By Charlene Waldner Oct. 17, 2007
-- Strength training for triathletes is a year round process that changes with the aims of the season. An athlete once told me “lift your cow every day”. That quote could be taken as “ a little core, drill or strength work once per day can go a long way”.Our core is the source of our power for our legs and arms. The core consists of our torso, minus our head, legs and arms. We’re only as strong as our weakest link, so if our core is strong, we’ll be able to generate more force on the bike, keep our pelvis in a neutral position on the run and keep the legs and hips up while swimming. Keeping your lower back strong and hips flexible will help make riding in aero position for hours on end more comfortable.Incorporating strength training in your year round program will enhance core strength, maintain flexibility, increase range of motion, improve stability and decrease risk of injury.Decide on your GoalsStrength training is structured according to different goals throughout the season, just as training is structured around key races. Most athletes should start strength training 4-6 weeks after their ‘A’ priority race, or after the transition phase. Most athletes will start back in the gym with a series of close-chained exercises. Closed chain refers to exercises that an athlete uses their own body weight and/or external weight such as a bar resting on the front of the chest or across the back of the shoulders. Example exercises would be squats, lunges and deadlifts. These exercises focus on the co-contraction of hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps and the soleus muscle. These are multi joint and “sport specific” movement exercises.Depending on the time in the season will dictate the number of sets, repetitions, weight and recovery between sets. Some athletes like to maintain their gym routine all season long, by doing fewer sets one to two days per week. Most triathletes, however, are time challenged as it is. An extra session at the gym may not be realistic for athletes juggling a full schedule. This is when time efficient ways to maintain strength need to be programmed by a coach.It is very important to have good technique at all times. Maintaining good form with fatigue is more important than how much weight is lifted.Strength training is best performed after the body is warmed up, but not when torched from a hard or long session of biking or running. Post swim is a perfect time for a strength session as the whole body is loose and limber, but still relatively fresh. It’s also time efficient as most recreation centers with pools have a weight room facility. Post-strength training is excellent time for stretching and a bit of specific core work.PeriodizationIn the wintertime or off-season, a majority of athletes will spend their time in the gym building strength. But as the season progresses, there are many other ways to build and maintain strength without lifting weights. Medicine balls are a great tool for building strength and range of motion in a dynamic way. Medicine balls come in 5lb-15lb balls. They are great for plyometric exercises for developing explosive power in athletes.The Swiss ball, a lighter and larger version of the medicine ball, is great for developing overall control and strength of the core body muscles, increasing lower back and abdominal strength, improving balance and stability and a great tool for stretching. Exercises in the gym can be mimicked on the ball without using weight and will target stabilizing muscles that are required for balance.Yoga is another way of gaining and maintaining strength. In the off-season, having yoga structured in your program is an excellent cross training activity. For example, Bikram yoga, a 90-minute session in a hot room, is a vigorous workout. During the race season, a better option to recover from those long training days might be a restorative practice, sticking mainly to floor work. You don’t need to be a hard-core yogi to benefit from yoga. Even 20 mins per day can lead to “free speed”.Building a strong foundation in the winter in the weight room is key for most athletes. Then, as the season progresses, gradually reducing the frequency and type of strength training will maintain a strong body and mind.
**LifeSport Coach Charlene Waldner is a certified coach, BCRPA trainer, and champion athlete who has spent several years in the health and wellness industry working as a fitness instructor, personal trainer and coach. Charlene's 10 Ironman finishes include a 9:50 personal best.