How strong do triathletes need to be?
‘How strong do triathletes need to be?’ This is a question I have been asked a number of times by athletes and coaches alike, and one that, in fact, isn’t asked enough but needs to be considered.
The phrase ‘strength and conditioning’ incorporates all aspects of athletic performance and health, so unless you are competing in weightlifting there are many other factors that need to be considered that will improve your daily lifestyle and performance more thanjust lifting-weight.
First, you need to ask yourself – what are you training for? Are you training for health, aesthetics, rehab, performanceor fun?
Strength training will certainly build you a stronger body and move you quicker towards your goals, but as triathletes at what point can we say that we are moving enough weight? How do we determine this? What factors do we base this on? How strong is strong enough?
First of all, I want you to consider what you as triathletes expect of your body on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.
Even if you are on a basic training program you are probably training at least four to five times a week, encompassing at least one session of each discipline and in reality, most of you are doubling this without question. Add on top of this the fact that you are probably working full time, have a family and (maybe) some sort of social life! The point is that you expect a great deal of work from your body every day, and expect it to keep giving without thought.
This might have been okay when you were younger – when the ability to bounce back was much quicker but now recovery takes longer and you have a lot more on your plate to consider.
Without a doubt, building a stronger and more balanced body is going to be essential to withstand this type of volume and intensity on a regular basis. A regular strength-training program will build the structure and stability of all of your joints, and bring balance to muscle groups where weakness or over-training can be common.
But how much strength do you need?
First and foremost you need to be strong enough to live the life you want with a little bit of recklessness thrown in, for those “why not, give it a go” moments!
My primary job as a coach is to keep you healthy and doing the things you love, for the rest of your life. At the end of the day, I want to see you running and being active long into your 80s and 90s. This is a realistic vision as long as we build a body that will last the length of time.
Recently one of my athletes’ said: “But I don’t need to be strong, I need to be fast!” This is a thought I know many of you have had too, so let’s get something very clear – you will never be fast if you are not strong first.
Strength is the ‘foundation stone’ to speed, agility, coordination – balance and endurance are all built upon this foundation. If you are weak or imbalanced you will be inefficient, wasting energy through poor form and potentially increasing the likelihood of injury when performing at speed and intensity. None of which are ingredients of fast performance.
So, how strong do I expect you to be?
A general measure of good health and performance is the ability to move your own bodyweight at will. You should be able to pull, push, squat and lift your bodyweight. Why? Simple, this is a measure of survival. Can you pull yourself up off the ground? Can you lift a fallen friend?
What you have to remember is that when you are running, you are transmitting multiples of your bodyweight through your joints. Therefore, you need to stimulate your muscles to a point that somewhat replicates these forces, so that when you are running, riding and swimming you aren’t shocking your system and it can keep on giving back.
An important thought for all of us over 30 years of age is that we are all on the ‘slow, downward spiral’ due to the down -regulation of our hormones. So implementing a strength program into our lifestyles is a great way to combat these issues.
How do you know when you are strong enough?
That’s easy – your life gets so much easier! Injuries and common niggles that you are used to living with will disappear. Everyday tasks will become simpler to complete – moving up and down stairs, getting up off the floor, changing direction at speed. And the improvements continue into our training as well. A stronger more balanced body will deliver more sustainable power in the water, on the bike and out on the run. Some people find that they recover a lot quicker from a tough session. You will have a more efficient stroke in the water, hold higher and more even Watts on the bike and be able to go faster for longer on the run. Remember, as triathletes, we are not looking to lift record-breaking amounts – if you are, you probably want to rethink your priorities
My final thought, and one that every strength coach should have when working with multisport athletes, is that even though we are looking to gain strength, it should not impact your other components of fitness, such as your skill level, endurance etc. This is easily monitored through progressive and well-structured programming delivered by an experienced coach.