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Strength Training Periodization for Triathletes

Britton, Andy MEd, CSCS

Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 2 - p 65-66
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31816a8575
COLUMNS: One on One


Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Andy Brittonis Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for Olympic Sports, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.



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For many triathletes, the topic of strength training has been neglected because of the strong emphasis in training for the swimming, biking, and running aspects of triathlons. As important as it is to prepare in the pool and on the road, the need to prepare in the weight room is just as imperative. Great benefit is gained from a comprehensive year-round strength training program. Not only does it help strengthen the muscles, joints, and ligaments of the body, it also helps to enhance aerobic capacity, anaerobic endurance, flexibility, power, injury prevention, and to decrease fatigue (3). As strength increases, the muscle's capacity to generate great forces while maintaining a wide range of motion also improves, which leads to improved velocity and a reduced risk of injury. Weak, inflexible muscles produce little power and are likely to experience pulls and strains. Strong, flexible muscles have the potential to significantly improve racing performance (2).

Triathlon races can vary in length. The type of triathlon race an athlete chooses to compete in will determine the type of training regimen necessary for optimum performance (3). Regardless of the distance chosen, a solid strength base will be necessary not only to ensure optimum performance during the race, but also to endure the physical demands of the competitive season.

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One challenge that multisport athletes typically encounter is when and how to implement strength training into their everyday training schedules. The best way to accomplish this is to divide the competitive year into seasons and further into training cycles. Periodization is the process of adapting the training regimen into phases to maximize the body's ability to meet the specific demands of a sport (1). Through this, there is a gradual cycling of resistance, volume, intensity, and specificity in order to achieve peak levels of performance (3). It is also important to note that strength training should be cycled in the same manner as training for the swim, bike, and run.

In keeping with the concept of periodization, the annual training period is divided into 4 phases—off season, preseason, competition (in season), and transition. Each cycle is then planned according to an organized schedule of varying length. A microcycle is generally 1 week, a mesocycle is anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months, and a macrocycle is the overall training period, usually representing a year or two.

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The off season is the time of the year that triathletes use to make the most significant gains in strength. It is categorized in 2 subphases—hypertrophy and strength phase.

The off-season begins with the hypertrophy phase, which usually lasts 4–6 weeks. The primary purpose of this phase is to build a solid base by performing exercises with low-to-moderate resistance with a high number of repetitions. This phase prepares the muscles and joints for heavier loads and improves muscular conditioning. The guidelines for a basic full body workout in this phase are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1

Table 1

The next phase in the off season is the strength phase. This phase lasts from 4–8 weeks, depending on the goals and needs of the individual. The primary purpose of this phase is to build overall muscular strength. This is achieved by increasing the resistance and reducing the number of repetitions. The guidelines for the strength phase full body workout are also presented in Table 1.

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The preseason phase is dedicated to power conversion and progression to explosive exercises (3). It is at this time that the strength gained from the previous phase is converted to sport-specific movements. Plyometrics are introduced in addition to the primary exercises. These movements should be performed quickly and explosively at maximum effort. These guidelines are shown in Table 1.

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The goal of the competition phase is to maintain the strength of the muscles throughout the entire season. All elements of strength training (volume and resistance) are reduced. Primary focus is given to triathlon training. However, it is important to continue strength training because performance will decrease as strength decreases. Table 1 illustrates these guidelines.

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This phase takes place after the competitive season is over. Time off is usually taken during this phase for recovery. Strength training is performed 2–3 times per week at low workloads. This is done so that the triathlete does not completely lose his or her level of fitness. A new training year begins at the end of the transition phase.□

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1. Bompa, T. Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics, 1999. p. 83.
2. Friel, J. The Triathlete's Training Bible (2nd ed). Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 2004. p. 179.
3. Wallmann, H and Rosania, J. An introduction to periodization training for the triathlete. Strength Cond J 23(6): 55–64, 2001.
© 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association