Part 4: Off-Season Periodization

The Triathlete Strength Training PrimerPart 4: Off-Season Periodization

Last week we identified a couple of areas that most triathlete’s should work on improving during their off-season strength training programs.  Let’s take a minute to recap what we learned in last week’s blog.

Potential Areas of Improvement

We want to use weight training as a means to…

  • Fix muscle imbalances or postural issues caused by high-volume endurance training.
  • Develop power and strength.
  • Develop dynamic core strength and stability.
  • Improve joint stability, muscle coordination, and total body awareness (proprioception).

Now let me preface this article by saying that there are many different ways to go about structuring a weight training program.  Different coaches utilize different methods to achieve similar goals.  The important thing to remember is that the method you choose should be based on sound logic and proven training principles.  There is no right or wrong way, however, the coach or athlete who will improve the most is the one who pays careful attention to the results their current method produces.  A successful coach or athlete will note the strengths and the shortcomings of a particular program, and find a way to improve upon it in the next cycle.

To add to the confusion, an Ironman-distance racer needs to spend more time developing his aerobic capacity (endurance) then someone who races sprint-distance races.  The sprint-distance athlete will need to possess a strong aerobic base, but the shorter race times (sub 60-min for faster triathletes) allow for a faster pace to be held.  Because of this, they would be advised to spend additional time developing other performance measures, such as their anaerobic power, capacity, muscular strength, and rate of force development.  Let’s take a quick second to define these performance measures.

  • Anaerobic Power: The ability to generate as much force as you can as fast as possible.  This has a lot to do with your rate of force production.
  • Anaerobic Capacity: The ability to sustain a high rate of force over a period of time
  • Muscular Strength: The maximum amount of force a muscle or muscle group can produce in one burst.
  • Rate of Force Development (RFD): A measurement of how quickly one can reach peak levels of force output.  (Read all about RFD here!)

Now on to the meat…

Joe Friel recommends splitting the preparatory period into two halves.  The first half can be referred to as the “General Preparation Phase” to be followed up by the “Specific Preparation Phase.”  It’s a tried and true method used by triathletes all over the world, and one we can adapt to our strength training program.

The General Preparation Phase

This would be the time to implement training blocks specifically designed to increase muscular strength and anaerobic power.  The sprint-distance triathlete will spend more time focusing on these parameters and will be able to implement a more comprehensive strength/power-block into their training plan.  Multi-joint, compound movements will need to be a staple of your program during this time of year.  The focus should be on gradually increasing the weights used over time when we’re working to improve max strength, and moving moderate to heavy weights very quickly when our focus is on achieving improvements in power.

At SAPT we’ll have our athletes squat, deadlift, row, as well as perform push-up and pull-up variations to increase their strength.  Kettlebells, jumping variations and medicine balls are useful for improving anaerobic power and rate of force production.  We’ll program swings, throws, and slams to increase these performance measures, as well as use the prowler and crawl variations for conditioning purposes.

A Half-Iron and Full-Ironman athlete would be well advised to dedicate time to strength and power training.  Your in-season training has turned you into an endurance workhorse, but it's difficult to keep the same levels of strength you had before you turned to higher volume running.  Decreased strength can lead to minor joint issues that result from a lack of stability.  Implementing a strength base can reverse this process.  The higher intensities (heavier weights) will provide a stimulus your body is not used to, and stimulate increases in bone density, joint stability, and strength.  Of course, these athletes rely almost entirely on their aerobic endurance and at the end of the day, increasing their maximum strength will only pay off up to a certain point.  These athletes will want to spend more time utilizing exercises that will improve their postural dysfunctions.  Single-Leg RDLs, Turkish get-ups, and rolls variations should all be part of your repertoire.

The Specific Preparation Phase

The Specific Preparation Phase would occur next.  A properly implemented Gen. Prep. phase  will have improved the development of our nervous system, increased our hormone production, bone density, connective tissue strength, and fast-twitch fiber size.  This next phase will focus on further improving our rate of force production and stuffing our now-massive fast-twitch fibers with mitochondria (energy-producing organelles).  This way we're capitalizing on our increased anaerobic power from last phase by shifting our focus towards increasing their capacity. Methods that achieve this cause an increase in the anaerobic enzyme content in the fibers and they become more efficient.  We can now use our fast-twitch fibers for longer periods of time, and push higher intensities as a result.  Think how fast you could be if you truly harnessed the ability of your fast-twitch fibers.

We’ll use different methods to achieve these goals.  When we’re working on aerobic and anaerobic capacity, we’ll use methods such as the HICT Method (read about it here) or Lactic Capacity Intervals.  Lactic Capacity Intervals can take many forms, but the important thing is that we’re training our body to buffer the mechanisms of fatigue and increase our ability to prolong ATP production through anaerobic means.  We’re teaching our body to prolong the use of our fast-twitch fibers and increasing the amount of time we can large forces (which leads to faster, more ballistic running, and an improved ability to tackle a big hill.)  Near the end of this phase, when we’re getting as specific to our competitive event as possible, is when we’ll shift our focus to developing our aerobic endurance and slow-twitch fiber performance.  We’ll shift to Tempo-style training for our main lifts (think barbell work), and higher rep sets that focus more on improving local muscular endurance.

Wrapping Up

As I mentioned previously, this is only one way to approach off-season strength training for the triathlete.  However, this method can be very effective at increasing your performance and is based off of solid training principles such as progressive overload and specificity, and is set up in a way to maximize performance benefits and build off of the previous block.  In next week’s post, I will detail out a small sample program that follows this method.  See you then!

The Triathlete Strength Training Primer

Part 1: An Intro to Periodization - Seeing the Bigger Picture Part 2: The Repetition Maximum Continuum Part 3: The Preparatory Period a.ka. the Off-Season Part 4: Off-Season Periodization Part 5: Off-Season Periodization, cont. Part 6: The First Transition Period Part 7: The First Transition Period, cont. Part 8: The Competition Period - In-Season Strength Training Part 9: In-Season Template Part 10: Post- Season Training