Updated: Oct 7, 2020
If you are thinking of creating your own strength and conditioning workout for triathlon, you might want to make sure it is well planned and structured, and follows-evidence-based practice. Thanks to Scientific Triathlon, I have put together the following points to help you out.
Start with 5 minutes or so of cardio.The elliptical or stationary rower are my favourites as both work the entire body. Running and cycling also get the job done.
The mobility part is also important to get access to your full range-of-motion in the lifts for both better performance in the lifts, and therefore better return on the time you spend in the gym.
Also, five minutes of mobility work is your best and cheapest insurance against gym injuries, and time very well-spent.
Any routine that you already have (for example, one that you do before track sessions) will do as long as it targets both the lower and upper body.
And it should be dynamic movements. No static stretching at this point, thanks!
I usually pick 3 or 4 of the following:
Hip Flexor & Quad Mobility - 20-second static hold followed by 20 active reps on each side
Hamstring Mobility - 10 reps per side
Resistance band crab walk - 30 seconds in both directions
ITYW Shoulder Drill - 6 reps per position
Balance-Reach - 15 reps per leg
You really don't need a lot of exercises to work all the muscle groups you should. Four to five exercises will go a long way. And three to four exercises is all you want to cram into a single workout anyway.
For each exercise, you'll do one to two warm-up sets with very light to moderate weight, and recoveries can be short.
Then, when you start to lift at the actual target weight you'll want to do 3 more sets of 3-6 reps.
Each set is followed by 2-3 minutes of recovery. Do not cheat on the recovery. This is the number one most common mistake triathletes make with their strength training
The reason this is so important is that you’re burning through ATP and CP (creatine phosphate) when you lift, and you need to allow for ATP resynthesis before your next set.
Otherwise, you won't see the results. Your call.
Complete all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.
As for what exercises to choose, there's plenty that you could choose from that will all give you good results.
Just follow these principles when selecting:
Pick exercises that you know, or can learn relatively easily
Prioritise exercises that mimic sport specific movement when possible
Prioritise compound (multi-joint) exercises that work multiple large muscle groups when possible.
Prioritise free weights over machines when possible to get a more functional workout. For example, free-weight squats are better than doing the leg press, because it requires much more balance and activation of more muscle groups, including your core.
Since we know that we don't know much about strength training for swimming, I believe it's best to focus the heavy lifting on the lower body, with only one or at most two upper-body exercises per workout.
In other words, your routine could contain 2-3 lower body exercises, and 1-2 upper-body exercises.
I then like to supplement with stretch cord work to get an additional upper-body stimulus.
You'd do three to four exercises in each session as discussed, and then rotate in the exercises you didn't do in the next session, and so on.
Even though the exact exercises you select should be based on you as an individual (e.g. your background in weightlifting and in triathlon and endurance sports), to give you an idea, the list below contains some of my favourite strength training exercises for triathletes.
Glute ham raise
Close-Grip Front Lat Pulldown
This contains a nice mix of posterior and anterior chain exercises (e.g. hamstring-focused vs. quad-focused), lower and upper body (with a priority on lower body), and stable vs. single-leg, more functionally demanding exercises.
Pick the ones that work for you, and complement with your own exercises that fulfil the criteria I explained above when creating your own routine.
END OF SESSION
At the end of the session, feel free to add 10 to 20 minutes of plyometrics, core work or other strength training like stretch cord work. In my strength training plan, core strength, stability/rotation/balance, and plyometric add-ons rotate as the post man set "add-on".
In case you wondered, here are the plyometrics exercises I recommend:
Depth jumps (be very careful with these)
You can also do foam rolling or stretching. And this is the time to do static stretching if you're looking to increase your flexibility.
Just remember that if you do static stretching, hold the stretch for at least 2 minutes!
It's a common misconception to think that 20 to 30-second holds will get the job done.
Whether it's plyometrics, core training, foam rolling, stretching, or something else, you're already changed and warm. So use this time wisely. It's likely you'll skip a core training routine if you have to get dressed just for that.
So do it now, and you won't have to worry about it later.