Back in January I wrote two blogs about Strength for Endurance Athletes and How to Fit Strength Into Your Training Week. This is Part A of the third in the series of articles and looks at the actual exercises themselves. Which strength exercises and why.
There are a myriad of strength exercises out there. Most (only most) offer some form of benefit to your body and your future self. However, very few offer direct improvement to your swim, bike & run this season. Here is the Top-25 greatest strength training exercises for triathletes and endurance athletes.
Each exercise has been given a score from 1 - 3 (where 3 is best) representing the value to each of the sports and mobility. The Tri-Value is the cumulative score out of 12.
I have chosen the best video to demo the movement. Sorry for the adds (not mine) and sorry for some of the meat-heads in the vids, but they offered the best explanation for our purposes, with the focus on the correct technique for our sports.
Before starting any strength training we suggest you seek medical clearance. Start with at least 4-6 weeks general preparatory strength before progressing to an endurance specific regime.
For help with these exercises book into SEAC Studios Athlete Strength & Mobility classes.
The lower point values should not be thought of as the lowest on the list. In fact these exercises would be amongst the top scorers on a general fitness or weight management strength regime. Remember, our purpose is to be stronger, fitter and faster at the end of season A-race.
Do not ignore these low pointer exercises.
5 Points – Bench Press & Pushup
Coming in at 25th on out Top-25 is the mighty bench press. Any list of strength exercises that does not include the bench press is incomplete. Even for triathletes and endurance athletes the bench press offers reward. Strengthening the chest and shoulders helps stabilise the upper body and assist with posture.
Variations include the many pushup varieties, dumbbell and barbell.
Make it easier: by starting with pushups against a wall, then table, then chair. As you lower the height of your hands you increase the load. When your get your hands on the floor you are lifting about 80% of your body weight.
Make it harder: by widening or narrowing your hand width. This will move the emphasis from the chest to your triceps. Other options include swiss-ball single-arm dumbbell press which works your glutes and core as much as your chest and shoulders.
5 Points – Push Press
Many athletes suffer from shoulder injuries when they increase their swimming volume. Strengthening the three small muscles in your shoulders is important. The push press is lets you use heavier weight and increase strength fast.
Your legs are used to create momentum to push the weight above your head. The important part is to lower the bar back to your chest slowly using a 2 or 3-count.
Make it easier: use your legs more and lower the bar using a 2 count.
Make it harder: use your legs less and lower the bar using a 4 count.
6 Points – The Dish
My daughters taught me this exercise from their gymnastics classes. Gymnasts are renowned for the core strength and this is why.
I suggest you do these in conjunction with a reverse dish or superman (on your belly, arms and legs raised straight).
Make harder/easier: increasing or decreasing time held or repetition.
6 Points – Side Plank
The much hated side plank will help you swim, paddle, bike and run. The longer you can hold the side plank or complete the many variations the stronger your core will be.
6 Points – Barbell, Dumbbell or T-bar Rows
Your posterior chain runs from the back of your neck to your heels. Amongst other jobs the posterior chain is responsible for posture. A strong posterior chain will help you run the back half of the marathon with good form (crucial for speed).
The row variations will strengthen your entire back – upper and lower back as well as your lats. Single-arm bent-over rows will help with muscle balance and engage your core. Core, lats and posterior chain strength will improve your swimming. Boom.
6 Points – Dips
Dips work your chest and triceps. The triceps provide the power to the end of your swim stroke. Dips are one of the few strength exercises in this list that require slightly higher volume – around 8-12 reps is ideal.
Make it easier: by strapping a band around the dip bar. Place your knees in the band. The band will assist more at the bottom of the dip and less at the top of the dip.
Make it harder: by holding a weight either on a weight belt or with your feet
7 Points – Low-back Extension
Many athletes suffer from back pain. Strengthening your back along with your core and glutes will fix most back pain. The low back also gets a beating from hours in the saddle especially in the TT position.
The low-back extension can be done on a swiss ball with your feet wedged against the wall. This will bring the glutes and hams into action making this a better exercise than the 7-points shown.
Make it easier: move the swiss ball further up your body to your belly or upper belly/sternum.
Make it harder: add a lateral dumbbell side raise and/or lower the ball down your body to your hips or thighs.
7 Points – Let Me Ups
Another one for the back. You may be noticing a theme here. Let Me Ups are a great progression to a pullup however they are very useful in their own right. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to pull twice as much as you push in the gym ;)
Most Let Me Up variations will engage the core and glutes.
Make it easier: move your feet under your body.
Make it harder: move your feet away from your body.
7 Points – Dumbbell Pullover
Love any exercise that combines a stretch, mobility and a strength. Pulling the dumbbell over your head to your belly is a very similar movement to your swim stroke. At the other end of the movement the weight is over your head and pulling on your lats. Take some time and explore your range of motion here.
Make it harder: by only resting your shoulders on the bench and your legs perpendicular to the bench. Keep your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line by switching on your glutes.
7 Points – Pullup
Ahhh the pullup. Just do them. Start with as many as you can and just build from there. These are a great option to add before getting on the bike in the Studio.
Try scapular pulls to get started. The scapular pull is the start of the pullup.
Make it easier: Use a band tied to the bar. Placing your knees in the band will provide assistance at the bottom of the pullup when it is needed the most.
Make it harder: by holding a weight either on a weight belt or with your feet
8 Points – Campfire Squat
The campfire squat is where mobility for athletes starts. Hold the squat for ten minutes – this is the benchmark. If you cant, start where you are and build up. While you are in the squat move around a little and work through the tights spots.
Make it easier: by holding onto a pole or holding a kettlebell.
Make it harder: by moving your toes forward to a more parallel position.
8 Points – Romanian or Stiff-leg Deadlift
These can be used as a warm-up or as a primary strength session. The Romanian deadlift is a stretch and a strength exercise in one. The eccentric load on the hamstrings is great for building power and helping with elasticity of the muscle.
Strong, long hamstrings are needed to ride and run efficiently and fast.
Make it easier: using a Romanian deadlift down and then bend the knees to a conventional deadlift up.
8 Points – Swiss-ball Hamstring Curl
Muscle imbalance leads to injuries. Triathletes quads are worked hard, but their opposing muscle, the hamstrings are often forgotten.
Furthermore, hamstrings are naturally designed to automatically shorten and tighten when you sit. So working and strengthening your hamstrings is essential. The Swiss-ball Hamstring Curl is probably the best hamstring exercise available
Keep your hips up and in line with your shoulders and knees. Your glutes will have to help out.
Make it harder: by doing single-leg curls as above not letting your hips drop.
The final top twelve exercises will be provided in the next blog.