Concurrent Strength Training for Triathletes
A triathlon is a tough sport to train for. First off, it’s an endurance event with the shortest widely recognized distance (the sprint Tri) clocking in at least an hour for novice triathletes. Average Ironman time is around 12-13 hours (see below link for Therefore, triathletes are often recognized by the amount of time they spend training and increasing volume in prep for races.
We can further complicate the issue by acknowledging that there are three dimensions to the sport (swim, bike, run). Cross country skiing is an endurance event yet it’s one dimension. So like I said, training for triathlons is tough.
It’s my job though, to convince you to set aside time and be pulled into a fourth direction: strength training.
What’s the definition of cross training? I was at a National Strength and Conditioning Association state clinic this past weekend and it was defined for us: any sport-specific training that has carryover benefits in another, unrelated sport.
Strength training is cross training. When we cross strength training with endurance, it’s often called concurrent training by us science-y folks. Concurrent meaning, you should be doing it in season.
I’m going to lay out the facts. Fact: strength training increases cycling economy by 5%1. Fact: strength training can increase your running economy by 6%2. Fact: the wattage at which you become exhausted cycling can be improved by 17%1.
I chose these facts from studies done by Sunde, Piacenti and company, but others echo the same results. I’ll be transparent: sometimes strength gains don’t carry over in swimming because it is so specific and technique dependent.
Last week’s article focused on the concept of absolute vs relative strength. Swimming uses a mixture of both while cycling is an absolute measure (250 watts is faster than 200 watts) and running is relative (body weight is the factor).
How do you increase your absolute strength? The fastest way is through external loading: strength training. As your absolute strength increases and your body mass stays stable, relative goes up too. Neural developments, muscle size, muscle rate of force development all describe the increases in cycling and running.
Besides all the performance benefits of strength training for endurance sports, they can assist you in staying injury free. This season I encourage you to give strength training a try, just 2x per week as you begin is enough.
Thanks for sticking with me, Alex
- Sunde A, Storen O, Bjerkaas M, Larsen MH, Hoff J, Helgerud J. Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(8):2157-2165.
- Piacentini MF, De Ioannon G, Comotto S, Spedicato A, Vernillo G, La Torre A. Concurrent strength and endurance training effects on running economy in master endurance runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(8):2295-2303.