Boost your triathlon strength over winter with these simple weight lifting exercises
Building muscle strength with weights isn’t a priority in race season, but get into the habit as part of your winter triathlon training and you’ll stay injury-free and be able to battle through fatigue.
Some coaches and athletes might say that strength training isn’t necessary, but that’s probably because they’re naturally gifted so they’ve never needed to do these exercises. If you don’t have any problems with specific elements of triathlon, you’re probably OK without and can improve by just doing more of each discipline.
But the majority of people have flaws they need to work on; they might not have the leg strength to cycle up a hill, or their arms might get fatigued during swimming. If you have weaknesses in particular muscles, say your glutes, then your muscles will ‘fire’ in the wrong order – so in this case your back muscles before your glutes – and that can lead to poor running gait and injuries.
When I give strength-training programmes to my athletes, I ask them to complete a questionnaire so I can find out areas of weakness in each discipline, then we concentrate on strengthening the relevant muscles.
When you’re strength training, concentrate on movements that are specific to triathlon’s constituent parts and the muscles you’ll use – some exercises (eg bicep curls) might tone you up but won’t help your triathlon racing.
When working your upper body, think about the muscles you use when you’re pushing through the water on the swim. For leg work, double joint exercises work best – ie movements using muscles that cover more than one joint, such as lunges or squats.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees pointing forward, core muscles engaged (don’t hold your breath!). If you’re new to this, do it without weights first; otherwise use a barbell and hold it behind your head on your shoulders with a wide, loose grip. Keeping your tummy in and back straight, bend your knees and lean at the hips and ‘sit back’ into the squat, making sure your knees don’t go further forward than your toes. Go as low as you can then push back up. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Do 3 sets of 10-12.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, core engaged and back straight, holding your barbell in front with your arms relaxed. Roll your shoulders back to open your chest. Lean forward as though into a half-squat, letting your arms with the weight drop towards the floor. Stop and, keeping your back straight and shoulder blades squeezed together, bend your elbows to bring the barbell up towards your stomach, then straighten your arms again. Stay leaning forward until you’ve completed the set. Do 3 sets of 10-12.
Stand as before with core engaged and put your hands on your hips to help balance. Step forward and bend your knees, keeping your back straight and hips facing forwards, until your front thigh is parallel with the floor. Push up with your front leg and return to the start position, then repeat with the other leg. Do 3 sets of 10 on each leg. You can also hold a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell across your shoulders to make the exercise more difficult, but make sure you’re doing it correctly first – it should really test all the muscles in your legs and around your hips.
You can do this either using a weights bench or a swiss ball – the latter will be easier to store at home and has the added bonus of making the exercise more difficult. Lie flat on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, or lie on the swiss ball with the ball under your abdomen and chest – you’ll need to use your abs and glutes to hold your hips up and keep your neck relaxed. Rest the barbell (or two dumbbells) against your chest holding it just wider than shoulder width. Keeping your core engaged, lift the weight up slowly until your arms are straight and bring it back down towards your chest, but not right down until the end of the set. Do 3 sets of 12. It’s a good idea to have a ‘spotter’ for this exercise to give you the weight and take it off you afterwards, especially if you’re using a swiss ball.
You can use a weights bench for this or any step, and can do the exercise unweighted or with a dumbbell in each hand. Stand facing a step with your core engaged and shoulders relaxed. Step one foot up on to the step, then the other, then step back down. Keep going for [60 seconds – check] but don’t rush the movement – your hips should stay facing forwards and your back should stay straight. You can also adapt this to improve your running movement: when you step up, drive the back knee right up instead of just putting the back foot on the step; use your arms (without weights!) to drive the movement and stay balanced.
You can do this either lying down (on a bench or swiss ball, as with bench press) or standing up. Lying down: Holding a dumbbell in one hand, raise your arm straight up so it’s at right angles to the floor. Slowly bend your elbow, keeping your upper arms still, to lower the weight down, then without pausing pushing it back to the start position. Start with 3 sets of eight and build up to 12 on each side.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight and heels resting on a swiss ball. Engage your core and glutes, lift your hips off the floor to form a bridge and keep your arms flat on the floor. Bend your knees and slowly bring the ball towards you (you’ll have to roll the ball under your feet), then extend your legs again. Without resting complete a set of 15-20, then rest and do another set.
Lie on a bench face down or stand with your feet hip width apart and bend forward from the hips, keeping your back straight and core engaged, with a dumbbell in each hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slightly bend your elbows. Raise the weights out away from your sides at shoulder level, keeping the bend in your elbow the same and keeping your back still. Do three sets of 10-12.
You can find more winter triathlon training articles here