Athletes are busy people. They have a weekly schedule with enough workouts to keep them busy for most of their spare time. With all the swimming, biking, and running it's hard to find time to put yet another workout on the books. Few of my athletes want to add more to their already booked schedule. This is why strength training falls to the wayside for a lot of athletes training for iron distance races.
What I have learned is that you don't have to spend hours pushing a heavy barbell over your head or doing weighted burpees. In fact, even 20-30 minutes per session will suffice. If you don't have a lot of time, you can still get in a great strength training workout with focused attention.
According to American College of Sports Medicine, strength training means causing the muscle to work against a resistance that will lead to adaptations in strength. As a trainer, I feel you can do this effectively in a 30 minute session. ACSM also says that adults should engage in muscle building exercise at least 2 non-consecutive days each week with 8-10 exercises in some combination of lower, upper, and core with about 8-12 reps for each exercise. More weight with fewer reps will give you gains in strength as less weight and more reps will give you gains in muscular endurance.
According to Ironman University a custom strength and conditioning program will improve athlete's performance, prevent injury, and build muscle. Strength training and conditioning can help athletes maintain good posture, muscular balance, and function during movement. Strength training teaches your body to recruit muscles needed to perform sport specific activity. It can also prevent over use injuries, which is something endurance athletes are prone to with so much training volume. (While doing the research for this blog post, I kept seeing that the primary benefit of strength training is injury prevention!)
What else can strength training do for athletes? It can increase your flexibility by giving you maximum range of motion around your joints. Stability and postural control are also benefits. Think about how much core stability you need to hold yourself in the aero position on the bike to move continuously in the water. Strength training increases muscular endurance-the ability of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against resistance for extended periods of time. It can give you better balance- the ability of the body to sustain center of mass; and power- the ability to produce maximal force.
So to recap- strength training can make you stronger, faster, and more resistant to injury. So how do we fit this in??
The key is to find a pocket of time when you can easily slide in 30 minutes of strength. Maybe you can have your weights readily available in the garage when you come back from a bike ride. I would try to make it align with something else that you are already doing. You can always stage your weights at the track, do the run, then do some outside strength training. You don't need a ton of equipment and it doesn't have to be complicated. Sometimes a few dumb bells or kettle bells are perfect. Think ahead and PLAN for it immediately folowing your other workouts.
In closing, strength training is good for your race. It makes you stronger, faster and less likely to become injured. It's a no brainer, you must do it. For Sprinters and Olympic distance athletes, I recommend twice a week and for Iron Distance Athletes with a full schedule I recommend at least one to two times each week.
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Resources: https://www.triathlete.com/2018/03/training/6-common-strength-training-myths_132210 https://www.triathlete.com/2016/11/training/start-strength-training_296234 ACSM