The Triathlete Strength Training PrimerPart 9: In-Season Strength Training, Continued.
After another brief hiatus, we’re back with Part 9 of this series! In part 8, we discussed what the goals of a triathlete’s in-season strength training program should be. It’s important to understand that the time to focus on gaining strength, power, and endurance was in the off-season. Now that competition has begun, we need to structure our strength work in a way that allows us to maintain the gains made in the off-season, and negate any of the repetitive, tissue-stressing forces that result from sport training.
Before we dive in, let me state that what is provided below is strictly an EXAMPLE template. It’s a snapshot of one day of training, crafted from the templates that have been created during the last 8 articles in this series. Your training may look slightly different, and should be tailored to your own individual strengths, weaknesses, and whatever chronic issues that you personally deal with. However, when all is said and done, your training should follow the principles and concepts that have been laid out in this series. These include, but are not limited to, specificity, progressive overload, reversibility and the periodized goals of the current season.
With that being said, let’s take a look at an example template and break it down into something a little more digestible…
- Volume and Frequency
You’ll notice that the session’s total volume is much lower then any given pre-season or off-season session. Sport-training should be at it’s highest during the competitive season, and due to this, we need to compromise by decreasing our time in the weight room. Our focus has shifted to maintaining performance elements, and this requires less total volume then if we were looking to build strength or endurance. In this case, we have decreased the number of sets that we’re performing of each exercise in order to decrease our volume.
Since the in-season involves a much higher volume of running, cycling, and swimming, we’ll transition to programming only one or two strength sessions per week. This is really all we need in-season, and scheduling any more will simply be taking up time that could be spent refining your running technique, or recovering from your last long-distance ride. I would suggest getting in the gym twice a week on lower-volume weeks, and maybe only once a week during high-volume periods or in the week leading up to a race.
- Exercise Selection
Looking at exercise selection, you’ll notice that the movements have all been performed previously in this athlete’s training. The competitive season is not the time to introduce new movements. Programming a new movement will stress the body in a way that it has not previously been exposed to, and, oftentimes, you’ll experience unwanted soreness as a result. On top of that, adding a new movement and then performing it with a challenging load is a recipe for disaster, and your sport-training will most likely suffer. Your sport-training should be a priority during this time of the year, and trying new things in the weight room will only undermine from this approach.
On top of that, you’ll notice the exercises are very specific. The main movement is a safety squat bar split squat. This was chosen because this split stance more closely mimics gait than a traditional bilateral back or front squat, and it doesn’t contain the element of absorbing force the way a barbell lunge does. With all the running volume, I would personally steer away from using a lunge variation in-season, as we’re getting plenty of deceleration and impact-absorption during our sport training. We could cycle in lunge variations throughout the competitive season, but I would be mindful to use them during times when your running volume is lower.
- Exercise Intensity
Now let’s talk exercise intensity. We shouldn’t be trying to move the heaviest weights we possibly can during these movements. The safety squat bar split squat is programmed at 8 reps/leg, but I would coach this athlete to use a weight that he can hit for about 12 reps. This way we’re not overloading the body too much, but the intensity isn’t so low that our muscles are not being stressed. You can certainly vary the number of reps you are programming. Early on in the competitive season may provide a good opportunity to bring back sets of three or four in order to train strength, but as the more important competitions approach, the athlete should be working in the rep range that is the most specific to their event which, in this case, is higher repetitions in order to train local muscular endurance.
- Cycling in isometric work/removing the eccentric portion of the lifts.
The eccentric portion of any given exercise is where most of the muscle tissue damage occurs. By removing this portion from our program (as in the chin-ups in the template above) we’re removing the portion of the lift that is going to cause soreness, but still working the desired musculature. Looking at this template, it might be a good idea to cycle between safety squat bar split squats, and safety squat bar ISO holds. A savy program designer could up the intensity on the ISO hold weeks (while still being mindful not to over-do it), and lower it during the split squat weeks. This way, we’re varying the intensity of our main movement and maintaining several performance attributes throughout the season.
- Piggy-back off of your Off-Season plan.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the early off-season and competitive season share a couple of similarities. Specifically, the goals of both include preventing or reversing injury caused by the sport. Last time, we talked about triathlon landing on the far left of the “Speed-Strength Continuum,” and the inherent lack of stability that this can cause at our joints. Due to this, we want to ensure that we are programming in a way that minimizes this effect. The Turkish Get-Ups, TRX rows, and lateral lunges are in this program for that very reason. The get-ups are a fantastic “catch-all” stability exercise. Using a suspension trainer for the rows will shift the focus more toward scapular stability, while also pulling the athlete out of the kyphotic posture that they are sure to develop on the bike. Finally, programming lateral lunges will help stretch out our adductors in a dynamic movement, demand stability at our hip joints, and get us out of the sagittal plane.
Hopefully this article has caused you to think about your in-season training a little more methodically. The past two articles have laid out exactly what a triathlete should be focusing on in-season, and then provided examples with detailed explanations and more. As always, please reach out and leave a comment if you liked the content, or have any questions or concerns. I'd love to be a resource for all your endurance athletes out there, and help you make the most out of your gym time. Next week, in what should be the final post of this series, we'll discuss what to do immediately after the competitive season ends.
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