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Triathlon Strength Training Plan

Triathlon Strength Training Plan

Over the years there has been plenty of debate about whether triathletes should include strength training workouts in addition to their swim, bike and run workouts. For years it was argued that endurance athletes didn’t need general strength training at all, although some believe there is a measurable benefit to balancing the body with overall fitness though high repetition/low weight strength training. Of course, endurance athletes are usually concerned about their weight, so adding muscle is only beneficial if it improves performance on race day.

As with many aspects of endurance performance, new research is continuously being developed that shifts the paradigm on the old conventional wisdom. Over the last decade there have been numerous studies that have showed a profound increase in performance from surprisingly heavy/low rep strength training in endurance athletes. Two Norwegian studies for example, had runners and cyclist do 4 sets of 4 repetitions of front squats 3 times a week for 8 weeks. By the end of the 8 weeks this study found dramatic improves in the performance of both the cyclists and runners.

Besides the benefit of increased performance (increased VO2 max, running economy, endurance, etc.) from strength training, endurance athletes who regularly perform strength training tend to get injured less. Some of the main reasons for this is strength training can work muscles in a different way than endurance training does. For example core strength is needed to properly swim, bike, and run. But swimming, biking, and running for hours and hours isn’t going to build core strength in the same way a plank exercise does for example.

How To implement Triathlon Strength Training

The two biggest mistakes triathletes making when implementing strength training into their current routine is 1. In-proper timing in relation to the season and 2. Making strength sessions too complicated.

1. Timing

During the middle of the your race season is not the time to thrown in a new high-intensity kettlebell workout (I use this as an example because I’ve made this mistake) . In fact chances are you will be feeling sore for week, which will negatively affect your other more important training sessions. The best time to build strength is in the offseason of triathlon, then simply maintain your strength gains as race season comes around.

2. Complexity

Besides the offseason where athletes can benefit from doing strength training 3 times a week, most triathletes don’t need to do strength training more than 2 times a week to reap the benefits. In fact a few weeks before a race just 1 session a week is enough to maintain strength gains.

When it comes to strength training exercises for triathletes I follow the KISS principle. Kiss meaning: Keep It Simple Stupid. As a personal trainer, I’m obsessed with the latest exercises and equipment however, triathlon training is complex enough as it so why make it more complicated? I’ve found 80 percent or more of the benefits you will receive from strength training will come from these basic movements:

  • Hip extension movement (squats, lunges, step-ups, leg press machine, etc.)
  • Chest press movement (push-up, dumbbell press, barbell bench press, etc.)
  • Pulling movement (pull-up, seated row, cable pull-down, etc.)
  • Shoulder exercises (overhead press, front raise, straight arm pull-down, etc.)
  • Core exercises (planks, crunches, cable twist, etc.)

3. Example Weight Training Session

After a thorough warm-up complete the following exercises as a circuit 3-4x through with 60-90 seconds rest after each circuit:

  1. 8-10 (Each Leg) Single Leg Squat w/ foot resting on a bench
  2. 8-10 Dumbbell chest press on a stability ball
  3. 8-10 Cable Pulldown
  4. 8-10 Overhead Press sitting on a stability ball
  5. 60 second front plank, 30 second left side plank, 30 second right side plank (no rest between planks)


Strength training is extremely beneficial for triathletes, not just for performance reasons but also for injury prevention and overall health as well. With correct implementation of the most beneficial exercises, triathletes should include strength training as part of their weekly routine.

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Peter Prestley is an attorney living in the Northern Mariana Islands. In his spare time, he kitesurfs and competes in triathlons throughout the Pacific region, including the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines. You can read his blog at TheTriGuy.com
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