Should I Supplement My Triathlon Training with Weight Training?

Believe it or not, although triathlon competitions have been a growing phenomenon for some time, and a scheduling staple for many cable sports channels, there is still scant research to show definite relationships between triathlon training and weight training. Despite the lack of adequate studies, however, many athletes and coaches alike believe there is a benefit.


By Alex Miller

If you are already going through a grueling regimen of triathlon training, should you add weight training to the mix?  In Wikipedia, “a triathlon is a multi-sport event involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance events.”  First you swim for a long distance, then you cycle for a long distance and finally you finish with running a long distance.triathlon training

Years ago when I was watching an ironman (aka triathlon) competition I saw one of the two leads fall to his knees during his run on the last segment.  This was due to a muscle cramp in one of his legs.  He lost.  Although he was very lean, I noticed that he was a bit more muscular and heavier than the guy who had won.  It was obvious number two was a weight trainer.  His muscular development was way more advanced than the other competitors.  I wondered if that muscularity garnered with weight training had something to do with that muscle cramp which lost the competition for him. That muscularity, by the same token, however, might have been the same thing that brought him to become one of the leads in the race.

Is Weight Training Useful for Triathlon Training?

Believe it or not, although triathlon competitions have been a growing phenomenon for some time, and a scheduling staple for many cable sports channels, there is still scant research to show definite relationships between triathlon training and weight training.   Despite the lack of adequate studies, however, many athletes and coaches alike believe there is a benefit.  It is believed, for instance, that strength training results in a stronger core and fewer injuries for triathletes.  The triathlon athletes face few injuries than long distance runners because of the involvement of the low impact activities of swimming and cycling.  This much everyone usually agrees with but there are discrepant arguments in regards to supplemental training—weight training in particular.

Some Pros and Cons of Utilizing Weights with Triathlon Training

Pro:

Training your muscles with lighter weights fashions your body to be more efficient for the three parts of the race.  Train with a bunch of weight exercises a couple days a week using a 15+ repetition rep scheme and you’ll keep in good condition for the race.

Con:

Lifting lighter weights for high reps in order to induce muscular fatigue is a complete waste of time for triathlon conditioning.  The segments already train your muscles for endurance.  Besides, it has been proven with research that weight training does little to increase aerobic capacity.

Fact:  According to some research [1], additional heavy weight training improved maximal strength and running economy but had little to no effect on VO2 MAX (aerobic capacity).

Con:

Your body already takes a pounding what with swimming, cycling and running and all.  This whole contest is about endurance, not strength.  Strength training and endurance training use completely different energy systems and muscle fibers.  Your nervous system will only develop what some conditioning experts call “neural confusion.”  This condition is fertile soil for injuries.

Pro:

If this “neural confusion” thing were true, there wouldn’t be such a term as cross training to begin with.  The ordinary person performs both strength and endurance tasks in their own small way every day.  The human body is an incredible mechanism.

Fact:

Injuries in triathlon athletes tend to be a combined result of performance level, weekly training hours and age.  In other words, you are more likely [2] to injure yourself as a result of over training.

The Triathlon Event and Weight Training are Two Different Things

On a personal note, years ago I once had a job standing at the end of an assembly line palletizing anywhere from 3 to 7 tons of 25 pound boxes every day.  At that time, I also had a regimen of weight training 6 nights a week.  I believe that the weight training kept me from getting repetitive use injuries on the job.  You see, even though you may have a job that is “physical,” that job is not exercise; it is work, in a similar way that the triathlon segments can be considered as work.  It is a repetitive action done over and over again.  Exercise and work are two completely different things.  You need heavy physical exercise to keep you in shape for repetitive grueling work.  It keeps your core tight and your muscles solid.

Suggested Weight Exercises for Triathlon Training

In the meantime, here are some suggested exercises that may help you stay in condition:

Bench press

Back squats

Front squats

Leg press

Leg extensions

Leg curls

Calf lifts

Bent rows-chest supported rows

Pull ups-weighted chins

Standing tricep presses

Bicep curls

Stomach crunches

Hyperextensions

Reverse hyperextensions

In the off season choose a mix of 6 or 7 exercises.  Train with medium to light weights (6 to 10 reps).  Use good form for maximum contractions.  Training to failure is optional but should be done once in a while.  Train 2 to 3 days a week.   Train for strength and not for hypertrophy (pumped up muscles).  After a month of weight training, give yourself a week’s rest from it.  In the in season you may want to train only once a week to maintain your fitness.  Also you may want to drop all leg exercises and train only abs and upper body because your lower body already gets beaten up with the cycling and running.

 In Conclusion

If you are truly serious about the triathlon you will probably consult a triathlon coach sooner or later.  Everyone comes to a point when they need expert guidance which will most likely include weight training and this will augment your strength and endurance training along with other disciplines such as yoga and pilates.  The main thing to watch for is overtraining which has more to do with age, genetics and how much you do rather than what you do.  It’s your body and you’re the expert there in you triathlon training practice.


[1]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12165692

[2]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12784169

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