Although there are different models of periodization for endurance athletes to reference when building an annual training plan, a traditional path builds from a base phase, to build cycles, to a competition phase. Endurance sessions progress from less specific to more specific as each race approaches, so athletes gain the appropriate amount of endurance, speed, and skill they require to reach their goals.
In order to support endurance goals at each phase, strength training is a necessary component of any training plan. However, the periodization of strength training is almost inversely related to the endurance phases. Lifting heavy weights can be utilized by endurance athletes in the off-season through the pre-competition season (base phases) in order to improve muscle economy, increase threshold, and maximize durability.
As the season progresses, athletes should begin to increase the volume and specificity of their endurance sessions, and strength sessions should decrease in both volume and specificity. Rather than building muscular strength as in the base cycle, strength training in the competition cycle should be modified to support the physical demands of the endurance sessions, maintain strength, and help the athlete remain injury-free throughout the season.
Fortunately, although strength can be difficult to build, it’s comparatively easy to maintain. By the time you’re about six to 10 weeks out from your first race, these are the three keys to strength training you should be focusing on:
Maintaining mobility is crucial to ensuring an injury-free season. Increased time spent swimming, cycling, and running means increased time spent in the same repetitive movement patterns, which restricts the range of motion around your joints.
Focus on multi-joint, whole body exercises
You want your body to continue to be able to recruit as many muscles as possible to meet the demands of your sport. The more muscular recruitment you have, the less you’ll be at risk of suffering an overuse injury. Moreover, focusing on overloading a single muscle or muscle group in the weight room could create a new imbalance.
Move in the frontal plane
As your swim, bike, and run workouts gain race specificity, maintaining a balanced body requires strength training to get less specific. This is where lateral strength comes into play, so that you are not overusing the muscles of the sagittal plane that propel you forward.
Laura Marcoux is a USA Triathlon Level II Coach and NSCA Strength Coach with NYX Endurance. Laura is a Kona qualifier and former Division 1 athlete at the University of Connecticut. Laura believes in developing well-rounded triathletes by incorporating functional strength into their training routines and empowering her athletes to set and reach goals.