How to plan your strength training

With so much equipment to choose from when we go to the gym, it can be hard to know what we should be doing to get the most from our strength and conditioning sessions. When trying to juggle training for three sports as well as a work and family life, strength training can often get a little overlooked or rushed.

Strength and conditioning is an important part of any athletes training plan regardless of ability. A strong focus on mobility and stability work to allow better movement will help us create a better swim stroke, position on the bike and efficiency on the run. Core strength is the foundation of a lot of our movement, so this is an important place to start. From here strengthening all our basic movement patterns will help up swim, bike and run stronger. Starting with simpler exercises that can be performed more easily, we then want to challenge our strength and skill level to that we continue to adapt. Not only will this result in improved performance, but it’s also likely to lead to a reduced injury risk.

An effective strength program should supplement your swim, bike and run training so that you feel and see improvements in performance but also don’t over fatigue or leave yourself feeling too sore to complete key sessions. Your sessions also need to be adapted for the time of year to take into account different training volumes and race schedules. For example; in the winter/off-season we’re likely to be doing less high intensity work and potentially lower volume of swim, bike and running too. This is a good time to focus on heavier sessions to build strength for the next season. As we approach race season our focus may be more on power and speed work with a reduction in volume to balance with more demanding cardio work.

Planning your strength session

When planning your strength sessions, it’s a good idea to address your weaknesses and work out a program that allows you to work on them and train for all disciplines without over fatiguing yourself. Injury rehab or prevention work should be worked into your plan so that you reduce the chances of anything happening as you increase your training load. A rough structure to a strength session could look like this:

  • 20 min – Mobility & Core work
  • 20 min – Skill based movement; rotation, single limb, multi-directional movements, balance etc.
  • 20 min – Strength work; Squats, lifts, push & pull movement

During a strength phase, the last 20 minutes of movements can be slower, more controlled and focusing on heavier movements. As race season approaches, this could be replaced with larger/whole body movements completed as part of a circuit workout, combining fast, explosive movements and high heart rate.
If you’re pushed for time, condense your training session but make sure to address all elements of your fitness.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice make permanent”
Only perfect practice makes perfect. If you perform exercises with poor range, control or form then this is how your body will learn to do that movement. Optimal strength and force production requires us to have not just strong muscles, but also the ability to control our movements with precision. A fast car is only fast if the driver is competent; balancing your strength work with skill work will create a more rounded training plan that will see you perform better.

Start by keeping it simple
When we begin a new exercise type, the rate at which we adapt is a lot quicker. As we progress we start to see fewer improvements for the work done, the law of diminished returns. This highlights why it’s important to keep challenging your body with advancements to your movements; challenging your strength, skill, flexibility, speed and power.

Those new to strength and conditioning should start with more basic movements and learn to master them before progressing to more complicated movements. Adaptations to training go beyond our muscles. Our tendons and ligaments also adapt to training stimulus, getting stronger too, However, they take a little longer to do so. So, take it slowly and allow your body time to adapt to training.

Types of movement

1. Static or Isometric
Static or Isometric movements are those that are performed by holding a steady position for a period of time to strengthen our ability to hold or maintain that position. We most commonly see this in core exercises such as planks and side planks as this teaches us to hold a neutral spine position. However, we can apply the principal to almost any exercise with the same effect. Isometric strength is important in triathlon for holding our posture during all three disciplines, particularly a steady torso on the bike while we peddle.

2. Dynamic movement
Dynamic movements cover most of the exercises we do, where the movements may vary in speed but are always controlled and smooth in both directions of the movement. Slower movements are easier to control and spot form, whereas slightly faster movement may feel more natural and allow you to move more weight. For example; pressing, lifting, squatting or lunging.

3. Power/plyometric movement
Power/plyometric movements are when we forcefully accelerate as quickly as possible and then recovery more slowly or with gravity but still under control. This level of movement is important for sports performance since it trains us to be able to contract muscles maximally over short bursts. Examples of these types of movements are; leaping, jumping, throws, slams, kettlebell swings, skipping, battle rope movements.

How to advance movement
Making movements more challenging goes beyond just adding weight to the exercise. Varying anything from the grip or stance will add a new challenge. Exploring difference angles, speeds and other subtle movement variations will all challenge you in different ways.

The more limbs in contact with a stable surface, the less balance we require to perform. Simpler movements like a press up or planks where we have four points of contact can be made more difficult by taking either one arm or foot off the floor, balancing on three limbs. We can even go further and take one foot and the opposite arm off, into a two-point contact. Many exercises can be progressed like this; going from 4 to 3 or even 2. We will cover this concept in more detail in one of our later blogs.

When planning your strength and conditioning program, remember to add in lots of variety too. It keeps your training interesting, fun but also keeps challenging your body to learn. While you can always be doing something slightly different each workout, keep in mind the concepts you are trying to approach; flexibility, skill, muscle endurance, strength, power etc.

Keep an eye out for our new exercise series, where we take a look at different elements of training and fitness, explain their benefit and how to incorporate them into your own training with some key examples.

Coach Phil

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