START STRENGTH TRAINING
We look at the benefits to help you decide if it’s a worthwhile investment of your valuable training time
WE EXPLAIN HOW TO DO IT RIGHT
Let’s face it, finding enough time for triathlon training can be a real struggle. Even when you’re doing a fairly minimal two swims, two rides and two runs per week it still seems like a lot. The prospect of adding an additional strength session or two can seem impossible with a full-time job and a family. So what’s the solution if you’re strapped for time? Should you ditch strength training in favour of the swim, bike and run? Or should you head to the gym in your muscle-vest and ignore the triathlon workouts? In this feature we’ll take a look at the evidence to help you make the right decision. And if you decide to go ahead with strength training we’ll give you some simple suggestions to get you started.
Research on the effects of strength training for endurance performance is mixed. Several studies report no benefit whatsoever, whereas others report significant benefits. However, a July 2014 scientific review from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports examined the results of the most recent studies and concluded: “Combining endurance training with either explosive or heavy strength training can improve running performance, while there is compelling evidence of an additive effect on cycling performance when heavy strength training is used.”
The reasons behind these potential benefits are not certain, but one of main suggestions is that increasing your strength helps you become better equipped to use fat as a fuel during endurance exercise. This is because the stronger your “slow twitch” muscle fibres, the greater the percentage of the workload they can handle during swimming, cycling and running. This teaches your body to spare your limited glycogen stores, thus delaying the time it takes to become fatigued.
While there is some evidence suggesting that the right kind of strength training may help you become a better athlete, there are some limitations regarding body type, age, availability and background.
• Strength training for triathlon is more beneficial for naturally skinny types known as ectomorphs. This body type is defined as thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat chested and delicate. For others, who gain muscle quickly, there becomes a point when continuing strength training ceases to be beneficial for endurance sports.
• If you have an extensive background of strength training (for example, rugby players) you don’t stand to gain as much by adding extra strength. You may be better focusing your time on endurance training and flexibility.
• Research has shown that when you get into your 30s and 40s, your muscle mass starts to decline. While triathlon training has been shown to combat this to some degree, it’s still true that older athletes need to focus more on resistance training in order to maintain their current strength.
• Strength training should be done to support your swim, bike and run training, rather than instead of it. If you are very limited for time and have a choice of a triathlon workout or a strength workout, choose the triathlon workout every time.