Strength Training for Triathletes – Improve Performance & Prevent Injury


Strength training should be an important part of all endurance athletes’ training routine. Especially if you are a triathlete. It can give you a tremendous advantage over others who neglect to resistance train. Strength training for triathletes can have many benefits. Some of these include higher testosterone levels, preventing injury, and improved power on hills and sprints.

Don’t over complicate it

While the following plan may seem complex there are only a few big considerations to consider when strength training for a triathlon. For the most part, you only need a balanced routine that will target all the major muscle groups. It’s also important to target different muscle fiber groups depending on the time of the year. More on muscle fiber types later.

On a side note, I sometimes run into shoulder issues associated with large amounts of swimming. There may be some corrective issues that need to be addressed.

For more information see Exercises For Shoulder Pain

Seasonal considerations

Throughout the year, you should change your routine to target different muscle fiber types. Which muscle fibers you target will depend upon the time of the year. During triathlon high season, you should focus on keeping the type I fibers in peak condition. These are the fibers primarily responsible for endurance activities.

Train the type I fibers by performing exercises for a higher number of repetitions. Type I muscle fibers work hardest in the 12-15 rep range. You will be using a lighter weight for these exercises and will be more like an endurance event.

For the greatest effect, you should do circuit training. Circuits are performing 5-10 exercises back to back with minimal rest. For more information and a great circuit routine, check out The Fat Incinerator routine.

Postseason, training should consist of strength and hypertrophy work. This will allow for improved resting testosterone levels and help build muscle. Additionally, this type of training targets the type II muscle fibers. By training both muscle fiber types throughout the year, you will have more balanced strength.

Balanced strength will help you recover from and more importantly, prevent injury. This is especially important to prevent common repetitive stress injuries endurance athletes suffer.

The 3-4-5 training method

When it comes to sports events, trainers use a term known as sports-specific training. It means if you want to get better at running you need to train by running. The same is true for every sport from football to ping pong. To summarize, you need to do movements that mimic your sport. Swimming will not make you a better runner and vice versa.

Focus on training according to your sport. Swimming, biking, and running should dominate your routine just before and during triathlon season. You can and should still strength train but no more than two days per week. Keep the routines focused on high repetition circuits for no longer than 45 minutes long.

For this next part, I recommend getting a calendar you can write in.

The post-season should be about building strength and improving muscle growth or hypertrophy. Once the season is a few months out it’s time to shift gears and focus on muscular endurance. The 3-4-5 strength training method best depicts the number of months dedicated to each.

Here’s the Breakdown:

3 months strength work 2-3 days per week

4 months hypertrophy work 3-4 days per week

5 months muscular endurance work 2-3 days per week.

Here is an example on how to organize a year’s worth of training.

For the sake of this article, we will say your triathlon high season is during the months of June, July, and August. You will want this to be the tail end of the 3-4-5 training method. This will allow you to peak at just the right time of the year.

Following the 3-4-5 principle, you should begin strength training right after the triathlon season is over. This means you will start strength training September and October. November should be a transition month into Hypertrophy training.

Hypertrophy training will last from December through February with March as a transition month.

Finally, April through August will be all about improving muscular endurance.

Write down in your calendar the approximate dates of one or two major races you want to do your best in. These are the dates you want to be at your peak performance. That will be within the last two-three months of the 3-4-5 training method. After the last race of the season is when you will begin your strength training.

A few considerations

The basis of this training method is based off periodization training complete with preparatory, competitive, and transition phases. Actual percentages based off of one repetition maximal efforts and target heart rates are not depicted. I list and refer a few exercise routines that can be used.

In this article. I will include a little bit on the endurance and cardio training for triathlons. The information will be limited but can be used as a starting point. Miles and the amount of time logged are out of the scope of this article. The primary focus will be on strength training and can be used in conjunction with a well-rounded triathlon training schedule.

If you’re interested in getting the most out of your training I highly recommend getting a trainer. I am available for personal coaching online and custom workout design at competitive rates. If you’re interested in achieving your best use the contact me form.

Before we get started, there are a few rules to follow to make this a little more simple.

  1. Take a one week break from lifting weights every four weeks. You can continue with your cardio work, but for one week, lay off the weights
  2. All routines should focus on compound movements. These are exercises the include more than one joint or muscle group. Squats, bench press, rows, and deadlifts are all good examples.
  3. Keep up with your cardio year round. The intensity and type of training will vary throughout the year, but you should always continue some type of cardio or endurance training.
  4. For optimal results maintain a quality diet. Eat clean and gets lots of veggies and quality carbs and proteins.

Strength Training (3 months)

Strength training should be done, at least, two no more than three days per week. The set and rep range should be around five sets of five reps. Lift as heavy a weight as possible, and make sure you rest 48 hours between each workout. For example, workout every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or every Tuesday and Thursday.

A simple but effective routine would look like this.

Deadlift: 5×5

Bench Press: 5×5

Squats: 5×5

Bentover Row: 5×5

Rest times should be about 2-3 minutes between each set and exercise. You can do some core work at the end if you’d like. A good and fast core routine would be 1 minute of plank/side plank and 12 reps of decline situps. Superset them for three or four rounds.

Following rule number one, you should take a one week break every four weeks. This especially important when strength training. The added amount of stress from lifting heavy means the body will need a break every once in awhile.

This time of the year, I like to emphasize logging as many miles as possible. Long distance training without over exertion is a great way to train post season.

Transition to hypertrophy training (2 weeks)

After two months of strength training, you are going to take two weeks to phase out strength training. To promote muscle hypertrophy, you will begin performing exercises for eight repetitions. During this two week period, continue (or start) working out three days per week. Begin by alternating strength routines with hypertrophy routines three days per week. After two weeks begin performing only hypertrophy routines.

These two weeks will be included in one of the four-week training sessions. This means you will take two weeks to transition and then perform another two weeks of hypertrophy work. Then you will take the one week break.

During these two weeks of training, you should focus on submaximal efforts. Physically and mentally you need to recover and prep your body. Get used to the new exercises and routine before exerting maximal efforts.

Hypertrophy Training (4 months)

Hypertrophy training is a balance between training the type I and type II muscle fibers. The premise is that targeting both muscle fiber types will allow for the greatest amount of muscle growth. The target rep range is between 8-12 repetitions.

There are a number ways to organize hypertrophy workouts. One of the best ways is to organize by supersets, trisets, or quadsets. Another great way to pack on muscle is to start doing upper/lower body split routines.

Learn more about different types of weightlifting sets.

When starting out with hypertrophy training begin with supersets. Here’s a great workout designed around supersets.

  • 1a. Squat
  • 1b. Pullups


  • 2a. Deadlift
  • 2b. Incline dumbbell Benchpress


  • 3a. Russian Twist
  • 3b. Bent-over row


  • 4a. Hanging leg raise
  • 4b. Shoulder press

Don’t forget to take a week-long break every four weeks. Every four weeks you should change your routine to keep your body from getting into a rut. You can do this by switching to a triset or quadset routine. If you want to emphasize muscle growth during this period you can start doing upper/lower splits.

Here’s a great Upper/Lower split routine.

Cardio during this phase should still focus on longer distances. You should start incorporating brick sessions one or two days per week. After four months it’s then time to transition to muscular endurance training.

Transition to Muscular Endurance Training (2 weeks)

Take two weeks to transition to muscular endurance training. Monday and Friday should be hypertrophy work and Wednesday should be for Muscular Endurance. The next week switch the workouts Monday and Friday for Muscular endurance and Wednesday for hypertrophy work. Again, this will be two weeks during one of your four-week training sessions. During these two weeks of training, you should focus on submaximal efforts. Physically and mentally you need to prep your body. Get used to the new exercises and routine before exerting maximal efforts.

Muscular Endurance training (5 months)

This begins the longest phase of the training. Swimming, biking, and running should play a more predominate role in your training during this phase.

Muscular endurance works primarily in the 12-15+ rep range. You want to keep rest times low (15-30 seconds) and your heart rate up. Start your muscular endurance training phase by performing 12 reps of an exercise. After every four-week training session you should add one or two reps per exercise. By the end, you should be doing timed circuits. Refer to The Fat Incinerator for more information on circuits.

As always, focus on compound movements and alternate upper, lower, and core exercises. When doing muscular endurance work I like to do total body circuits, trisets, and/or quadsets with minimal rest times. Trisets and quadsets are sorta like mini circuits.

Before triathlon season is when you should be doing maximal effort training. Timed bricks and hard long distance workouts should take priority. As stated above keep working on circuits but no more than two days per week for 45 mins. Remember, we want to focus on sports-specific training.

During triathlon season, your primary focus is maintenance. Continue lifting and training but, you will want to save your best efforts for races. Cardio during this time should also be at submaximal efforts.


Take your training to new heights

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