Guest Post: Building Sport Specific Strength for Triathletes

Today's guest post comes to us once again from pro-triathlete Calah Schlabach. While Calah espouses specific training for triathletes, the concept of sport-specific strength can be applied across the board to every sport. 

In my first SAPT blog, I talked about the benefits of strength training for an endurance athlete (specifically, how gym-based strength training has helped me as an elite triathlete). Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about a different aspect of strength training--sport-specific strength training.

First, let me clear up my definitions. Your gym strength work should be “sport specific,” meaning that it should primarily focus on strengthening movements that are specific to your sport. Where it focuses on movements not specific to your sport, the purpose should be balancing out the muscles you neglect while using your primary muscles for swimming, biking, and running. (Note from Kelsey: think of this as general physical preparedness (GPP). This is stuff that every athlete will benefit from, i.e squats, pushups, general aerobic conditioning.)

What I am talking about here when I say “sport-specific strength training” is the work you do in each triathlon discipline that is focused specifically on building strength in that discipline, while doing that discipline.

All your workouts do (or should) have a specific purpose, whether it be building endurance, speed, power, or *dingdingding!* strength! Obviously, many workouts touch on more than one of these elements at once, and obviously, they are all important.

Though triathlon is generally listed under the generic title “endurance” sport and some of the top athletes are freakishly small, triathlon is, nonetheless, a “strong person’s” sport. Obviously, endurance is terribly important. However, one can be as fit as can be and have a huge aerobic capacity, but if she is not strong, she may struggle to go the distance.

This is why it is important to be sure to incorporate adequate sport-specific strength work into your swimming, biking, and running. Here are some ways to incorporate strength into your workouts in each triathlon discipline:

The Swim:

-Swim longer sets/reps: These get you ready to go the distance

-Swim with hand paddles: Hard plastic hand paddles create more resistance for your hand. Swimming with them is like lifting weights in the water.

-Swim with hand paddles and a band around your ankles (you can buy “ankle locks” specifically for this, or you can use an old tube): Taking away your kick forces your arms to work harder, and forces you to work harder to hold your body position. Additionally, it forces you to catch quicker, which is an important skill in the open water.

The Bike:

-Ride hilly courses and do hill repeats. Hills build strength in every discipline; If there were hills in the water, they would build strength!

-Ride in a gear that restricts you to 75-85 rpms at tempo effort. This is a great workout to add into your base phase.

The Run:

-Run hills. Work up to running your long run on rolling terrain.

-Run tempos. Tempo effort is about 85% of your maximum heart rate; so well above endurance pace, but definitely not all-out. A good tool for figuring out your tempo pace (and running paces in general) is McMillan’s Running Calculator.

-Add a tempo finish to your long run. Do the majority of your long run at long run pace (quite easy), but build up to running the last few miles at tempo pace.

-Make sure you are doing a long run. Your long run should be about 25% of your weekly run mileage.