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Coached: Gym-Free Strength With Krista Austin

Use this alternative way to build power without hitting the weight room.

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This article was originally published in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

The idea of increasing strength and power is appealing to any triathlete, but trying to cram in a gym session along with three other sports becomes difficult on a weekly basis. As a solution, exercise physiologist Krista Austin, Ph.D., advocates condensing strength work into actual swim, bike, run workouts, using sport-specific strength instead of gym machines.

Bike Strength

Gears create resistance just like weights do, so Austin utilizes big-gear work for strength building, which she says eliminates the need for squats or other traditional lower-leg activities. Austin has her athletes do single-leg pedaling at the beginning of their workouts with high levels of power and a lot of recovery. “That develops the max power your legs can generate, which can also translate into running,” Austin says.

For a “power endurance set,” where you’re working to maintain high power over prolonged periods of time, Austin will assign something like 10 seconds double leg, 5 seconds single leg, 20 seconds double leg, 10 seconds single leg. “Once they increase their upper power, they have to come back down the scale and teach the body to deal with slightly longer power before they can take the next step again.” Over the course of 4–6 weeks with these types of sets, you should see an increase in power output.

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Swim Strength

Austin assigns long bouts in the pool (800 meters or more) using paddles and a pull buoy, and sometimes adding a parachute or tubing to create resistance. She’ll assign sets like 4×100 with a perceived exertion of 3, 4, 5 then 6, focusing less on velocity and more on constant resistance. The key, she says, is to slow down your stroke rate. “If you aimlessly pull, you don’t get the results. But if you’re focused on the right technique—like a kayaker who is pulling strongly through deep water—you’re doing it correctly. “

Focused pulling is also a good opportunity to think about biomechanics and your body position to find where you’re the most powerful. Be careful with paddles, Austin warns. Start small, about hand-sized, and work your way up as you become more advanced (and aren’t having any shoulder problems).

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