Triathlon Strong in 6 Weeks

By Andrew Heffernan |

If you’re preparingfor a triathlon, it probably seems like the last thing you need is more exercise. With all those swimming, biking and running workouts packed into your schedule, the only elements you’re tempted to add to your routine may be a cold drink and a long nap.

But by sliding just two 30-minute strength-training workouts into your weekly regimen, you’ll not only make your pending race easier and more enjoyable, you’ll also guard against injury and become a leaner, stronger and more athletic competitor. You might even improve your finish time.

“Triathlon training develops plenty of endurance, but lacks some crucial components for developing muscular strength and balance,” explains Troy Jacobson, director of endurance training for Life Time Fitness and coauthor of Triathlon Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2012). Typical tri-training programs also underemphasize some muscle groups while overstressing others, he adds. Over time this can lead to functional imbalances — and, ultimately, to pain and injury. Not a great payoff for all your hard work.

The solution? Get stronger.

Just a little bit of resistance training on top of your cardio work can develop the hamstrings, upper back and other areas that are often neglected during endurance training. The resulting strength can help guard against some of the more common triathlon-related overuse injuries in the hips, knees, lower back and shoulders.

More head-to-toe strength and muscle mass will also help you burn fat around the clock — whether you’re on the bike or on the couch. And strength work ensures that you’ll maintain a broad base of fitness even as your training becomes more triathlon-specific.

What you won’t do with these tri-prep workouts is build huge amounts of bulk. “The program isn’t designed to pack on muscular size or weight,” Jacobson says, so there’s no need to worry about extra mass slowing you down. On the contrary, you’ll be building the kind of sleek and shapely physique that puts you across the finish line faster.

Put Some Muscle in Your Race

Jacobson recommends scheduling your strength training around your regular triathlon workouts. If this means you’ll need to do strength and endurance workouts on certain days, make sure you do your endurance or sport-specific training first.

The following plan is designed to start six weeks before your race, so you peak as your race approaches, and involves two lifting sessions — “A” and “B” — on nonconsecutive days.

Warm up with at least five minutes of dynamic stretching, easy jogging, cycling or rowing. Unless otherwise noted, rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets.

The last two weeks before your race, you’ll see that you actually do fewer sets and reps of each move. That’s by design. “The quickest results from any training program come after four to six weeks of consistent training, depending on the individual,” explains Jacobson. “Then you’ll want to deload, or taper down, your strength training so you’re as fresh as possible on race day.”

Workout A

  1. When your chest is a few inches from the floor, quickly push yourself back up to the starting position.

Perform the exercise with your hands on an elevated surface like a bench or countertop: the higher the surface, the easier the move.

Perform the exercise with your feet elevated.

Improves upper-body pushing power; useful for the swim start and steep climbing on the bike.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of as many reps as possible in 20 seconds; slow down these weeks and focus on perfect form.
  1. Lower yourself slowly back to the starting position.

Perform the same exercise using an assisted chin-up machine, or have a partner give you a boost as you perform the move.

If you can bang out 12 to 15 reps of body-weight chin-ups with no problem, try the same exercise while squeezing a dumbbell between your legs.

Develops the upper-back musculature necessary for a strong swimming stroke and for maintaining good posture throughout the run.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: one or two sets of 10 reps

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3) Alternating Dynamic Lunges

  1. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep.

Lower your back knee only halfway down to the floor on each rep before coming back up.

Hold dumbbells at your sides.

Keeps the hip flexors limber and develops the glutes, helping to prevent lower-back pain and injury that can sometimes result from too much time in the saddle.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 reps
  1. Return to horizontal position.

Perform the movement sitting toward the front of the ball so the ball supports your back, and your hands are higher than your knees in the starting position.

Hold a light dumbbell in your hands.

Unlike conventional crunches, this stricter version keeps your spine long as you work the core, which translates into better form on the run and a more streamlined shape in the water.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 to 15 reps, focusing on form

Workout B

  1. Slowly reverse the movement and repeat for the appropriate reps.

Adjust the weight accordingly.

Improves shoulder stability and strength — both invaluable during the swim and bike stages.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 reps
  1. Slowly extend your arms and return to the starting position.

Adjust the resistance accordingly.

Protects against “swimmer’s shoulder” and other issues caused by overuse of the shoulder joint.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 reps

3) Dumbbell Front Squats

  1. With your weight on your heels, return to standing, keeping your chest up throughout the exercise.

Use body weight only, and, if necessary, only squat halfway down.

Use heavier dumbbells and squat as deeply as you can while keeping your lower back in its natural arch.

Builds strength in the lower body — especially useful for sprinting and climbing during the bike and the run.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 reps

4) Knee-Ups

  1. Pause for a moment in the contracted position, slowly lower your knees back to the starting position, and repeat for the appropriate number of reps.

Perform the same movement using a pair of slings, which attach to a chin-up bar and loop around your upper arms so you don’t have to grip the bar. Then lift your knees just halfway up.

Perform the same movement with your legs straight, touching your toes to the bar.

Improves hip mobility, hip-flexor strength and core stability, for better strength and more efficient positioning during the run.

  1. Weeks Five and Six: two sets of 12 reps

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