One thing I have realized over many years of competing as a professional triathlete is that while the sport may be fairly straight-forward and for the most part rewards pure fitness over ‘skill’, there is a need for occasional change to one’s program. Sure most of us follow a typical weekly routine, but I’ve found that what may have produced a result a few years back may not work now. What could have worked 8 months ago may not be as effective today. As our bodies are constantly changing, so must our training.
If you had asked me 3 years ago if I did any work in the gym, I would have said without hesitation ‘no’. Core work yes, but strength and lifting weights, not at all. I began incorporating strength into my program in late 2012. I had read the benefits of it repeatedly (especially for cycling, my weakness); but I was also digging my teeth into longer distance racing (specifically Ironman). I was beginning to sense how the increased training load and repeated stress was affecting my body, and while I was feeling and performing stronger swimming, biking and running for longer durations, I felt that the gym work would help balance out and complement some of the ‘repetitive’ movements. Additionally, it is known that as we age, strength building is fairly important for injury prevention and overall body maintenance.
With Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute being my title sponsor, I was fortunate to be able to go straight to the experts. An insightful and well-rounded group, the Human Performance team was able to give me a personalized training plan which I carried into the 2013 season. I met back up with them this past December and specifically Rashad Ford (Strength and Conditioning Coach) created a program for my 2014 off-season; which has carried me into 2015. As I noted above, it was crucial to meet up with Rashad and the others at the Institute so they could see my body, how it functions, and what movements and exercises are best for me. I believe this is key to any strength program; find someone knowledgeable to start you off, and who knows your body, rather than just taking to the gym and lifting away. For example, I have scoliosis in my upper back which I’ve had all my life; it creates rotation in my spine and ribs. Brian Duncan (Physical Therapist) was able to add in some maintenance and corrective exercises for me to incorporate based on some of these imbalances.
Seeing that it’s June (mid-season for most of us), what does my current strength and conditioning regimen look like? While back in December and January I would hit the gym three days a week, I’m now doing the routine twice per week; as the swim/bike/run training load is more demanding. Two days a week is feasible, allows for maintenance, but does not take away from sport-specific workouts.
I’ve highlighted a few key notes about my mid-season strength training:
- I pair the strength with a quality bike or run workout, and it is often a few hours after the bike or run; so the priority in the day is on the bike or run, but the strength backs it up (I may even do strength on a Sunday afternoon, a few hours after a long-run, and pre-massage; which caps off a quality day by starting the recovery process immediately).
- By adding strength to a quality bike/run day it prevents me from being tempted to hit the gym on an “easy” day…because the strength work is not easy, and it definitely qualifies as “overload” (or it should if you’re doing it right!).
- I give myself 1-3 days between strength sessions, depending upon the week.
- When I’m not in a recovery phase from a race or a prep phase heading right into one, I try to keep the weight/resistance fairly high on the lower body; upper body resistance usually stays fairly high throughout the season, as the upper body takes much less of a beating than the legs do.
- Some key lower body movements that I’ve carried into mid-season include: Hex Bar Dead Lifts, Squats, Step Ups, Single Leg Leg Press (on a sled), Single Leg RDL, and Lunges
- Key upper body movements include: TRX Suspended Push Ups, Single Arm Lat Pulldown, Single Arm Incline DB Press, TRX Y & T pulls, Dumbbell Rows
- Core body exercises include: Seated Medicine Ball Wood Chops, Plank (with single arm reachout into adding leg lift), TRX Pikes, Cable Rotations, Seated Med Ball Trunk Rotation
- Dynamic Warmup: I always start off with foam rolling but follow with dynamic warmup exercises such as: inchworms, spiderman with rotations, and lunges with overhead reach. Afterwards I like to incorporate hip bridges, banded clam shells, and core stability exercises such as prone, supine, and side planks. I find this warmup serves as great activation for the workout.
- Another exercise I never skip is the basic band series; a band around both my knees and ankles and walk side to side in a quarter squat and also straight leg. This can be tough after a hard or long run, but I believe that the hip strengthening is invaluable in our sport.
I will usually wrap up with small things that have been assigned to me from my massage and/or physical therapists, which for me often focus on my back and knees since my knee replacement. I’ll also do some swimming catch drills (either with a band or on a cable machine with light weight), and/or swimming band drills. Having grown up as a swimmer doing a lot of band work, I believe they are a tried and true way to keep the swim stroke strong! And of course on any given day, I may throw something different such as pull ups or various other core exercises; but for the most part, I try to stick to the routine pretty firmly. One thing I have noticed this season is improved closing speed and strength in my workouts that I’ve not quite seen before; while in past years I have often gone out too fast and fallen off pace at the end, I have found myself going out more controlled both cycling and running and most always finishing stronger (both in training and in races; often, my power in a race is the best over the final 30-60 minutes). I definitely attribute some of this to the consistent work in the gym I’ve put in over the past 6 months.
Another general training-related lesson I’ve learned over the years is the ability to respect our bodies and listen to them; we often hear that, but I have come to realize what this really means. There is no equation as to how we recover from events. I raced Ironman Texas May 16. While my body did not feel too beat up physically post-race, I was bogged down with a cold/infection, and I knew a massive rest was in order. I took 4 days completely off, ran very easy (3-4 miles) a few days in a row, and got back to some light training about 9 days post-race. The first easy week, things felt quite good. The second week, I was very tired. The third week, I adjusted things, added some more recovery, got back into the gym, and bam; things started to click. Take home lesson? The body often functions on its own clock; it is our job to listen to and respect it.
Go ahead, you can laugh; scrawny triathlete in the weight room