Have you ever wondered what sets apart the podium finishers from the rest of the pack? It’s not just about logging miles on the road or laps in the pool; it’s about mastering your body and every aspect of athleticism that will be put to the test during the race.

That’s where strength and conditioning come into play. Whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or just dipping your toes into the world of multisport, integrating a well-rounded strength and conditioning regimen can be a game-changer. So, grab your water bottle and towel, because we’re about to dive into why hitting the gym can take your triathlon performance to the next level.

Drawing directly from our coaching experience, we’re going to cover…

3 REASONS STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IS IMPORTANT FOR TRIATHLETES?

Improved Performance

Effective strength and conditioning training will not only build your strength but will also enhance your power, endurance, and efficiency in movement patterns.

In order to correctly understand the needs of your body during the course of a triathlon and therefore train effectively you need to break it apart into the three aspects: Running, Cycling and Swimming

Research has shown that if you train your lower body with a combination of resistance training and plyometrics you will improve your running economy and overall performance. As little as 8 weeks of strength training was enough to see both significant and positive adaptations to the cycling economy and VO2max of the athletes involved in the study For swimming, which differs from the other two sports in that it takes place in water, it has been shown that a combination of on dry land and in water resistance training for between 3-16 weeks yielded an overall performance increase of between 2-2.5%, which at elite levels can easily be the difference between you standing on the podium or you missing out.

The Literature strongly supports the use of strength and conditioning for improving performance, typically by targeting specific muscle groups used in swimming, cycling, and running. And in our 1-2-1 coaching experience over the last decade, the difference in race time results can be pretty significant.

Injury Prevention

Triathlon training can put a significant amount of stress on the body with a particularly high prevalence of over use injuries (you know the type of injury we’re talking about, the small injury that won’t stop you training, but will stop you enjoying it) a study found that 91% of their participants self reported an injury over the course of a year. Its been shown that well-designed strength and conditioning program will help you address muscular imbalances, strengthens stabilizing muscles, and enhance your overall joint stability, reducing the likelihood of you picking up any niggling injuries that will get in the way of you training or competing to the best of your ability.

Enhanced Recovery

You wouldn’t typically think of strength and conditioning as a precursor to enhancing overall recovery, but its been shown that training concurrently alongside the chosen sport strength training has demonstrated positive hormonal responses, increased blood flow and lymphatic drainage as well as overall reductions in muscle soreness associated with prolonged repetitive training; each of which will significantly contribute to your recovery process allowing you to train more often and compound those training sessions and their benefits for overall quicker and easier triathlon times.

strength and conditioning for triathletes

STRENGTH AND CONDITONING WORKOUT (EXAMPLE)

When you are creating a strength and conditioning plan to improve your performance on race day you need to keep the track, the water and your bicycle in mind, as such each exercise needs to have significant degree of crossover between each aspect of your sport. For example, seated rows might be great for strengthening your back and helpful for swimming but have very little carry over into running or cycling, so it has benefits sure, but it wouldn’t take centre stage in your training plan.

As with most strength and conditioning plans the training sessions will target the full body, when creating your plan you need to focus on two main aspects: Injury Prevention and Improved performance, your selected exercises will need to reflect this for example:

ExerciseSetsRepsLoading
Barbell Conventional Deadlift3675-85% 1RM
Split Squat 36 (Each Side)75-85% 1RM
Single Leg Calf Raises36 (Each Side)75-85% 1RM
Wide Grip Pulldown3675-85% 1RM
Example strength workout for Triathlon S&C

In order to maximise the effectiveness of your training you will need to minimise your injury risk, the following exercises are body weight movements that I would include during your RAMP warmup.

ExerciseSetsReps
Shoulder Rotations (Internal+External)312 (Each Side)
Scapula Push Ups312
Pelvic Drops38 (Each Side)
Step Ups36 (Each Side)
Example additional injury prevention bodyweight exercises
ExerciseSetsReps
Pogo Jumps2-34-8
Counter Movement Jumps2-34-8
Depth Jumps2-34-8
Example plyometric exercises to include alongside strength training or during final stages of warm -up

HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRAINING PROGRAMME

Structuring your strength and conditioning plan can be difficult, especially when combined with your sport specific triathlon training. In order to not overtrain and to see the most beneficial results you will need to periodise (long term plan) your training accordingly. This is typically done by breaking your training year up into different phases (mesocycles) each with a specific training approach based on where in your competitive season you are. Below is an example pre-season training layout based over the 24 weeks leading up to racing season.

*If possible you should aim to schedule strength training sessions on days where no endurance training sessions are scheduled*

General Training 0-12 weeksCompetition Prep 12-24 Weeks
Training Frequency2-3/week2/week
Exercise Selection3-4 Strength exercises
2-3 Injury prevention exercises
(include 1 plyometric if focussing on running)
3-4 Strength exercises
2-3 Injury prevention exercises
(include 1 plyometric if focussing on running)
Exercise LayoutStrength Exercises:
3-4 sets x 8-12 reps
work up to 75% Max 1RM
90-180s rest

Injury Prevention Exercises:
2–3 sets, 8–12 repetitions

Plyometric Exercises:
2–3 sets, 4–8 repetitions each set
Strength Exercises:
3-4 sets x 1-6 reps
work up to 85% Max 1RM
3-5 minutes rest

Injury Prevention Exercises:
2–3 sets, 8–12 repetitions

Plyometric Exercises:
2–3 sets, 4–8 repetitions each set
Example 24 week periodisation for training plan

So if you’re a long-distance triathlete aiming to up your game (which, if you’ve read this far you are), combining strength and endurance training is key, but remember it’s not one-size-fits-all. You’ve got to tailor your strength routine to fit your individual needs, considering things like your training history, injury risks, and which disciplines you excel in or struggle with. Mixing in lifting alongside explosive exercises can help boost your efficiency and recovery. So, when it comes to strength training, it’s all about finding what works best for you to crush those long-distance races.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How can strength training benefit my triathlon performance?

Strength training (when programmed correctly) can give you the extra competitive edge by helping to optimise your efficiency of movement in the three aspects of the triathlon, while helping to reduce any risk of injury while speeding up recovery and improving endurance and sport specific strength so that you can train and compete as effectively as possible more frequently and for longer.

What are the best exercises for improving cycling efficiency in triathletes?

The best exercises for improving cycling efficiency will typically depend on you as an athlete with many factors to consider, however the exercises you would typically see in cycling specific training sessions would be: Squats, Deadlifts, Single Leg Press, Seated Single leg Calf Raises.

How often should I incorporate strength training into my triathlon training schedule?

Depending on the phase of your training your strength training schedule could range from 1-3 training sessions per week.

How can strength training help improve my transitions between swimming, cycling, and running in a triathlon?

Increasing the blood flow through your muscles, particularly during the transition from swimming to cycling helps reduce the common issues that triathletes face; such as dizziness and impaired balance. Strength training will help increase your blood flow and lymphatic drainage in the muscles which will help reduce these time costing side effects.

How do you combine strength and triathlon training?

You don’t combine them in the same session, you train them concurrently (alongside each other but without overlap) You have specific training days for a mixture of strength, injury prevention and overall athleticism and then you have separate training days and sessions specific to the three triathlon disciplines.

WHAT NEXT?

This article is a solid starting point, though if you still feel that you might need a more guided experience feel free to reach out for a custom training programme or for 1-2-1 coaching. You can join the many other high performance athletes at character strength and conditioning, and getting people like you really good at your sport is exactly what we do all day every day.

Until next time!

Jacob

REFERENCES

  • Dupuy, O. et al. (2018) ‘An evidence-based approach for choosing post-exercise recovery techniques to reduce markers of muscle damage, soreness, fatigue, and inflammation: A systematic review with meta-analysis’, Frontiers in Physiology, 9. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00403.
  • Etxebarria, N., Mujika, I. and Pyne, D. (2019) ‘Training and competition readiness in triathlon’, Sports, 7(5), p. 101. doi:10.3390/sports7050101.
  • Fone, L. and van den Tillaar, R. (2022) ‘Effect of different types of strength training on swimming performance in competitive swimmers: A systematic review’, Sports Medicine – Open, 8(1). doi:10.1186/s40798-022-00410-5.
  • Kienstra, C.M. et al. (2017) ‘Triathlon injuries: Transitioning from prevalence to prediction and prevention’, Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(6), pp. 397–403. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000417.
  • Kraemer, W.J. and Ratamess, N.A. (2005) ‘Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training’, Sports Medicine, 35(4), pp. 339–361. doi:10.2165/00007256-200535040-00004.
  • Mann, T.N., Lamberts, R.P. and Lambert, M.I. (2014) ‘High responders and low responders: Factors associated with individual variation in response to standardized training’, Sports Medicine, 44(8), pp. 1113–1124. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0197-3.
  • Šuc, A. et al. (2022) ‘Resistance exercise for improving running economy and running biomechanics and decreasing running-related injury risk: A narrative review’, Sports, 10(7), p. 98. doi:10.3390/sports10070098.
  • Vikmoen, O. and Rønnestad, B.R. (2021) ‘A comparison of the effect of strength training on cycling performance between men and women’, Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 6(1), p. 29. doi:10.3390/jfmk6010029.