The New Rules Of Weight Training For Triathletes

Don’t use weight to gauge your strength training—use power instead.

Don’t use weight to gauge your strength training—use power instead.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

Strength training does more than just prevent injury. Even in a multi-hour endurance event, explosive power is key for performance, and lifting is one of the best ways to improve. “If you look at what Mark Allen and Dave Scott were doing in the late ’80s, they were putting a huge priority on quality strength training,” says Tim Crowley, 2009 USA Triathlon Coach of the Year. “I’ve seen a lot of athletes get their best results when doing a lot of strength workouts.” But just lifting heavier and heavier weights doesn’t translate to speed. “With anything athletic, maximal strength is a feature, but strength has to be converted into power to be applicable,” Crowley says. Simply lifting more weight in the gym won’t turn you into a faster triathlete. Take a cue from cycling coaches and use power, not weight, as the measure of your weight routine.

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Crowley recommends these five steps to transform your strength training routine to build a powerful body instead of a bigger one.

Lift lighter
Power is the product of the weight lifted and how quickly it is lifted. In Crowley’s experience, most people lift too much weight. Crowley uses the Keiser Six Pack machine to find the ideal load that balances resistance and speed, and he’s found that 50–60 percent of the maximum weight a person can lift is typically the amount that allows for the most power production.

Lift faster
When training for power, every motion should be as explosive as possible without compromising form. Only increase load if it doesn’t slow you down.

Focus on total-body movements
Crowley suggests lifts that involve a big portion of the body such as Olympic lifts, deadlifts, overhead pressing, kettle bell swings, kettle bell snatches and box jumps.

Do fewer reps and more sets
Keep each set to a maximum of five repetitions. After just a few reps, the central nervous system fatigues, and the quality of your strength training starts to worsen. As fitness improves, add more sets.

Translate to the sport
Sport-specific strength training such as swimming with paddles or doing big-gear climbs on the bike help translate power gains in the gym back to triathlon, even though these workouts are high-rep and don’t improve maximal power themselves.

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