This is part 2 and 3 of a 3 part series on strength training for endurance sports, and in-particular; and triathlon.

In part 1, I discussed the foundation principles around how the body can benefit from strength training and what it can provide from cross training point of view. Like running drills on the track focus on postural and proprioceptive stability, strength training can dramatically improve movement efficiencies. Without getting into detail we touched on how repetitive heavy endurance training can drain you emotionally and how spending time in the gym might help with that, while increasing your performance.

Part 2: Programming

Micro and macro cycling a gym program is a common amongst sports scientists training athletes who require explosive strength and speed. It's not something that I have seen in the personal training industry because not all clients need athletic conditioning, as most clients are training more for wellness and weight loss, over performance. 

Interestingly though, what amazes me, after all my years experience in fitness and triathlon is the lack of programming uptake in triathlon circles. I have not witnessed many effective progressive programming in endurance sports in general. With regular programs there are often 'sessions' with a focus on a specific fitness component without structured progression, I find this diluting and confusing. It's all over the place and difficult to pick-up where you left off. Imagine how your body feels!?

bar graph

Part 3: Pairing Up Gym With Triathlon Programming

Matching up the fitness component and the intensity of the strength session, with the endurance components for the entire training week; extrapolates the developments in human physiology. If done effectively, you'll see how one element can build onto the next when a program is built intelligently. 

I have no hesitation in saying that the format of my gym training was the single biggest factor in winning back-to-back World Championships in 2009 and 2010.

"A gym program first approach formed the basis of my endurance training, not the other way around."

So here's your golden nugget to take home:

Below are some basic programming examples as a starting point, which will hopefully allow you to increase your awareness. Have a think about your current training program, and potentially you can tweak a few things to get better results.

You need to consider your training history but let's just say you have a race coming up in 6-8 months time... and let's assume you previously had a good base to work from. What's next? Do you keep training your base and throw in a few hills for strength, and some intervals for speed, and hope you'll get faster? ... ok sweet. Let's assume you've come off a base training phase and until now you've kept your heart rate low while you build your V02 engine and you're about to move into some strength training. 

Strength Conditioning

As a starting point in the gym, building strength might be reflected by uni-lateral, single limb movements, where you begin with your non-dominant side first, and match the amount of repetitions with your strong side. This develops a connection from balance and proprioception and harmony in in the body, while building and balancing the strength on both side of your body. A key factor to remember before you pick up a barbell.

  • Push: Single arm chest press, or single arm kettlebell swing and press 
  • Pull: Single arm row or single straight arm pull down
  • Legs: Single leg squats or single leg hamstring curls

The first session starts with an intensity load of 1 (out of 4) in the gym. That same week, mirror the intensity load with your new focus of "Strength Conditioning" in your swim, bike and run. 

  • Swim: Introduce paddles in the pool for a minor set
  • Bike: Long slight inclines
  • Run: Undulating hills with a slight emphasis on the up-hill sections

The key here is to progress the intensity, and keep your training week relatively the same. Step up from an intensity of 1 to 2. Complete the same session in the gym and bump up the weight slightly. Reduce the reps. Increase the effort up the same hill during your run, and choose a bigger gear up the same slight incline on the bike. Add an additional set of paddles in the minor set of your swim. Follow this pattern for another week and drop back to a recovery week before starting again, or flipping to the next training phase.

Base Strength

The next progression which follows the Strength Conditioning phase is "Base Strength". Before you start lifting stupidly heavy weights, you need to start Base Strength Training which is a hybrid of endurance and conditioning with some straight-up strength. 

Introduce the barbell and complete sets with reps around the 10-12 mark. These old school strength movements should be safer on your body after some balanced conditioning. 

  • Push: Bench press or shoulder press
  • Pull: Seated row or lat pull down
  • Legs: Deadlifts, squats, front squats 

Remember to mirror the intensity of the strength session (1-3 or 1-4) with a week of traditional strength training in your swim, bike and run.

  • Swim: Paddles, bands
  • Bike: Longer hills, hill reps, or a bigger gear on a flat ride.
  • Run: Longer hills or a gradual increase of hill reps.

Once you've completed your programmed progression to the highest week of intensity, drop it back to a recovery/transition week.

That's it. Enough giving away my secrets. I hope you've gained a little insight into what won me the age-group World Championships 2 years in a row. If you have any detailed questions or feedback please write to me, otherwise leave you positive vibe comment below.

Feel free to share this with your tri buddies in need of some relief from RTD: repetitive training disorder.   

Cheers. Jai.