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Ask a Trainer: How Do I Build a DIY Strength Training Program?

Start with a solid structure. Then educate yourself, focus on form, and get to work.

Given the thousands of articles on the internet about strength training, you’d think that building a strength program would be easy. The second you start trying to put a DIY strength training program together, you probably realize it isn’t that simple. All of that information starts to blend together, or worse yet, one source seems to contradict another. Who is right? Technically both could be, but for different reasons. The objective of this article is to provide a structural template that you can use to mix and match exercises with and work into your triathlon training schedule. Let’s simplify the DIY strength training program process and focus on structure versus exercises.

While there are individual needs for athletes depending on the sport they’re doing and certain weaknesses, there are key areas all of us need to address. Ideally, you would hire a professional to determine what is best for you (shameless plug for our profession), but that may not be in your budget or is simply not an interest. Start with the big picture—the structure—and work your way down to specific exercises. At a minimum, every program should include soft tissue work, mobility, core, and strength. Beyond the basics, you have agility, power, and patterns. In terms of movements, you have linear, lateral, bilateral, unilateral, horizontal, and vertical. There are also functional versus isolation exercises. For the sake of keeping it simple, we will stick to the basic components.

RELATED: Why Strength Training is Important for Endurance Athletes

DIY Strength Training Program

First: Soft Tissue Work and Mobility

Start with soft tissue work that targets the same areas you will be working in the strength session using foam rollers, lacrosse balls, peanut, etc. Then move to mobility, which should cover ankles, hip flexors and rotators, thoracic spine extension and rotation, and shoulders.

Second: Strength and Core

Strength can be broken down into hip dominant, knee dominant, push, and pull, as well as functional versus isolation. An easy way to look at core training is something for the front (planks), the back (bridge), lateral (side plank and lateral hip), medial (adductors), scapular (YTIWs), and rotational (chops/lifts). Now that you have a template, all you need to do is select an exercise to satisfy each category. Once you have the structure laid out you get into the art of program design with a mix of exercises. Some exercises are designed to improve absolute strength and others that involve multiplanar movements.

Using something like the template below, add exercises into your repertoire. Spend time researching the exercise’s purpose and find a video from a reputable source (there’s a lot of bad form on the internet) of the exercise being performed so you can be sure you’re doing it correctly. (I have several demonstrations on my YouTube channel, so that’s one place to start.)

The Basics of the DIY Strength Training Structure

We use bi- and tri-circuits incorporating core to be more time-efficient. Typically 3 sets of 10-12 reps works pretty well. You can change the stress by alternating 10-12 reps with heavier weight for 4-6 reps for several weeks.

Strength should be performed 2-3 times per week and match up with your harder run sessions. The phrase is hard days hard and easy days easy.

(Use the structure of the left two columns and then sub in exercises in the right column.)

CATEGORY AREA EXERCISE
Soft tissue All Foam roll
Mobility Ankle
Hip flexor
Hip rotators
Thoracic extension
Thoracic
Shoulder
Tibial glide
Couch stretch
90/90 stretch
Peanut
Side lying rotation
Wall angles
Strength
Core
Hip dominant
Lateral
RDL
Side Planks
Strength
Core
Knee dominant
Lateral hip
Goblet squat
Lateral band steps
Strength
Core
Core
Push
Back
Scapular
Push up
Bridge
Prone Ws
Strength
Core
Core
Pull
Medial
Rotational
Pull up
Adductor squeeze
Wood chop

Kevin Purvis is a certified personal trainer with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s based in Boulder, Colorado, where he works with a number of endurance athletes.