Strength Training for Triathlon and Endurance Events

Strength Training For Triathlon

Shannon Grady Magrogan

M.S., Exercise Physiologist

[email protected]


Every strength program should address the needs of each individual athlete and not be a pre-developed protocol. A complete biomechanical evaluation of each athlete requires extensive knowledge the human body and its movements.  Coaches and trainers should be able to identify and modify the training components such as repetitions, sets, volume and intensity as each athlete progresses through out the year.  Periodization of strength training volume and intensity occurs in a similar fashion as the periodization of endurance training volume and intensity. 


There are 3 major components of Strength training for Triathlon:

Injury Prevention/Corrective Exercise Training (CET)

Basic Strength



Injury Prevention or Corrective Exercise Training (CET)

The basis of any strength program should focus in injury prevention even if an athlete has never had an injury.  Repetitive movements, such as those that occur in triathlon events, could make athletes more prone to an injury if tightness and weakness are not corrected.  Injury prevention or CET should occur before any strength program so when volume increases athletes will not compensate and run the risk of developing an injury. The injury prevention phase should focus on improvement of flexibility, posture, balance, and functional movements.  A biomechanical analysis can be used to assess each athletes tight and weak areas so an individualized program can be developed. 


Flexibility can be improved through any of the following methods: static, self-myofascial release (foam rolling), assisted, active-isolated, and/or dynamic stretching and also through manual manipulation (massage therapy.)  The activity that is about to be performed will determine which type of stretching to use. For instance, an athlete preparing for a strength training session should perform mostly self-myofascial release (foam rolling), assisted, or active-isolated stretches.  On the other hand, warming up for an interval workout or race athletes should perform mostly dynamic flexibility or movement preparation exercises that will focus on stimulating muscles and supplying oxygen to muscles. 


Posture may not sound like an important part of a strength program but every day movements and activities directly affect your athletic performance and efficiency.  These tight and weak areas should be improved before progressing too far into a strength program.  Triathletes commonly possess postural deviations such as shoulders rounding forward, head tilting too far forward or to one side, knock-knees (genu valgus), duck walk (genu varus), or sway back (lordosis).  These deviations may sound harmless but they can lead to season ending injuries such as shin splints, IT band syndrome, runners knee, hamstring strains, back pain, shoulder pain, and plantar fasciitis.  Dont let your posture set you back, focus on the corrections early and you can start your journey to the top.


Balance and stability is not a major requirement for an athlete to be able to be successful in triathlons, but improving both are important for reducing injury and increasing muscle recruitment.  You should be able to easily stand on one leg while performing exercises that involve movement and resistance.  This will enable the important stabilizing muscles to reduce the amount of force that is absorbed by joints, primarily the hips and knees.  Performing functional movements (movements that imitate movements necessary in a particular sport or activity) are great for improving balance and stability because they challenge your core or abdominal strength and endurance while activating another muscle group.



The next step in any sound strength program should focus on basic strength.  Performing sports specific strength exercises that generally mimic movements of the athletes sport should be the starting point for any level athlete. 


Focus on the larger muscle groups first such as the core (muscles of the abdomens, lower back, and hips) and thighs before calves and arms.  90% of the power and movement for swimming, biking and running comes from the core and hips. 


A strong core is the key to any athletes success, without it your overall strength and power are going to be drastically reduced.  Core muscle strength is important because all movements originate from the core. The ability to generate improved muscular strength and power along with balance, coordination and stability greatly depends on the functioning of the muscles of the CORE.


Even though triathletes generally move in a front to back motion, training all the planes of motion (frontal, sagittal and transverse) will enhance muscle strength and ability to their full functional capacity.  This will also decrease incidence of overuse and joint injuries.


Sample Program:


Focus on large muscle groups- core, hips, quadriceps, stabilization and balance

10-12 Core Exercises- 30 seconds- 1 minute

Prone, Side, Reverse Planks

Reverse Crunch

Pullover Crunch

SB Side Crunch

SB Back Extension Twist

SB Russian Twist

SB Push Ups

SB Leg Raise

SB Bridge- floor, alternating legs

SB Knee Tucks

V Ups- single, double leg

GOAL- 2-3 sets, 10-15 reps, 3 times per week

Pull Ups

Push Ups

Walking Lunge MB Press- forward/lateral

Multi plane band walks

Cable/Bands- 4 way Hip-(Extension, Flexion, Abduction, Adduction)

Standing Alternating ArmRow/Press- DLa SL

Single Leg Deadlift/Press

Single Leg Hamstring Curls

Arm Swings

Single Leg Extensions

Heel Walks/Ankle strengthening

Bench Dips/Bicep Curls

3 way Calf Raise


In-Season (Lift Mon/Wed, Race Fri or Sat)

10-12 core exercises 30-1

GOAL- 2 sets, 12-15 reps, 2 times per week

Push Ups

Pull Ups

4 Way Hip

Backward Lunge Twist

Lateral Step Ups

Reverse Fly/Chest Fly

Single Leg Press

Shoulder Circuit

Single Leg Hamstring Curl/Extension

Arm Swings

Single Leg Line Hops

Tricep Pressdown

Bicep Curls


Late Season

10-12 core exercises 30-1

GOAL- 1 set, 12-15 reps, 1-2 days per week.  Stop resistance training 10-14 days prior to championship race but continue core exercises.

Push Ups

Pull Ups

Smith, Wall or Free Squat

4 Way Hip

Close Grip Pulldowns

Box Jumps- forward/lateral

DB Chest Press

SL Hamstring Curl/Extension

Arm Swings

Quick Feet, In/In/Out/Out- forward/lateral

Bicep curls/tricep pressdown


Plyometrics comes from "plio" (related to "plus") and "metrics", but it means exercises with repeated and rapid stretching and contracting muscles as a way to increase power in the upper  or lower body.  Plyometrics come in many forms such as basic hopping or skipping to box jumping drills.  Plyometric training also ranges in the level of difficulty.  The levels of difficultly are not only age dependent but also require certain amounts of strength, balance, and coordination to perform.  Progressing athletes too quickly through different levels of plyometrics can result in an injury. 


The purpose of plyometric training is ultimately to improve power and stretch-recoil ability of the muscles.  Your muscles are like rubber bands, if they become stiff and non-elastic they wont be able to produce much force or power if you pull it back but they also have a greater chance of tearing.  Basic running drills such as skips, high knees, and carioca are basic forms of plyometrics.  These low intensity exercises are making muscles resistant to injury by training the muscles ability to stretch, recoil, and produce force.  Although plyometrics can involve use apparatus such as boxes up to 3 or 4 ft high to jump onto or off of, these are not a necessary component to a successful triathletes routine.  The key to plyometric training success should be learning proper mechanics and efficiency. Athletes who participate in a proper plyometric training program reduce the chance of injury by almost 40%.  Plyometric training doesnt need to by a separate workout but it can be incorporated during warm ups, speed, or strength training sessions.  Plyometric training is an important component of any triathletes strength program because it will decrease potential for injury, increase force production of the muscles, decrease the amount of time feet stay on the ground, improve stability of the legs when landing, increase flexibility, strength, balance, and agility.   Running Drills (low to moderate level plyometrics) are an excellent compliment to strength training programs.


Sample Exercises

Low Level:

1.     Skips

2.     Cross Skips- In/Out

3.     High knees

4.     SL High knees

5.     Quick Ups

6.     Leg Cycle

7.     Side Shuffle

8.     Carioca

9.     SL Line Hops

10.    Backwards Strides


Moderate Level:

1.    Power skips

2.    Extended skips

3.    Zig Zag hops

4.    Bounding- forward/lateral

5.    Tuck Jumps

6.    Squat Jumps


High Level:

1.    Single leg tuck jumps

2.    Box jumps- forward/lateral, double leg, single leg

3.    Depth jumps- double leg, single leg


Happy Training J


*DVD is available that demonstrates ALL stretches and exercises.