Top 25 Strength Exercises for Triathletes (Part B)

Back in January I wrote two blogs about Strength for Endurance Athletes and How to Fit Strength Into Your Training Week. This article is Part B of the third in the series of articles and looks at the actual exercises themselves - which strength exercises and why.

Be sure to read Part A – Which Strength Exercises and Why here.

There are a myriad of strength exercises out there. Most (note: 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 coming season. Check out the Top-25 greatest strength training exercises for triathletes and endurance athletes.

You will notice that not a single weight machine exercise made the Top 25. This is a separate article of its own, but for now its worth noting that for best performance you should steer clear of the leg extension machine or the lat pulldown machine or any other gym mechanics.

Each exercise in the Top 25 has been given a score from 1 - 3 (where 3 is best) representing the value to each of the three sports and mobility. The Tri-Value is the cumulative score out of 12. Keep in mind that a lower score does not mean you can skip these exercises. All of the Top 25 will have a benefit to your triathlon. Depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses these exercises will each have a different value to you.

Nine of the Top 25 have a score of 8. Three of these have been detailed in the Part A of this article. Here are the remaining six exercises scoring an 8, then the five exercises with a 9 and the only exercise to score an 11 in out Top 25.

8 Points – Squat Variations

Quite simply squatting will build your power to weight ratio. A higher power to weight ratio is the single biggest human determinant of cycling speed. Put simply if you want to cycle faster you should squat.

There are many squat variations. Can we suggest you start with the Bulgarian Split Squat (3 weeks) and then progress to the Box Squat (4 weeks) before starting on your straight Back Squat (5 weeks).

Building your squat and increasing your squat PB should only be done during the off-season. However, you can maintain squats throughout the year.

8 Points – Eccentric Calf Raise

The calf is very much underrated. The calf has very big jobs to do across the bike and the run. Weak or tight calves will lead to a myriad of possible injuries. From the obvious ankle and Achilles problems to knee pain, hip problems and even lower back injuries have their origins in weak or tight calves.

The eccentric part of the movement is more important than the simple calf raise. Lowering the ankle below the toes (on a step) is the key component to this exercise – take your time and enjoy. Then when raising your ankle you can push a little faster and squeeze at the top.

As usual avoid the various calf machines. A simple weighted standing calf raise on a step is what you are after.

Make it harder: Change to single leg. Then you can add various arm and shoulder exercises wut the weight while you calf raise.

8 Points – Turkish Getup

This exercise is simply a great all-rounder. We couldn’t have a Top 25 without it. While it is difficult to master it is great for co-ordination, balance, stability and mobility. It will highlight flaws in your structural mobility.

The TGU works every single muscle in the body and should be included in your routine for a month or so at least three to four times a year.

8 Points – Mountain Climbers

Again, there are many variations and all are great. Spending time on your feet and hands, whether in a plank or a Bear Crawl, Spidermans or Mountain Climbers offers great benefit to all and especially us older folk. They all offer fabulous core activation.

Of the numerous core exercises the Mountain Climber mimics the core movement during running well.

8 Points – Kettlebell Box Step

This is the starting exercise for many. It may sound simple enough however the key here is stability and balance. The video does not do this exercise justice – athletes need to slow the movements down to a Baywatch slow mo. The emphasis is on the movement mechanics.

Going fast is great for increasing the effort and loosing calories, but that is not what we are here for.

Start standing feet parallel at the box, take a big step back and reverse lunge. Now take the rear leg, stand up and in one smooth action bring your foot forward onto the step. Step up but raise your lower leg up to hip height (like a slow motion running movement). Now reverse steps lowering the raised leg to the floor without putting it on the box.

The aim is to keep your hips parallel and your knees and ankles stable throughout the movements. This is much harder than it sounds.

Make it harder: Add a single arm kettlebell raise

8 Points – Roller Wheel

The ol’ Ab Wheel must be over 40 years old and is still one of the best. Ideal for swimming this works your core, shoulders and glutes.

Unlike most core movements which work by contracting or crunching the core, the ab wheel works the core while extending it – similar to swimming and running.

Make it harder: place a weight plate on your back.

9 Points – Runners Stretch

Yes it’s a stretch, but it requires strength. Add a reach for the sky to add thoracic spine mobility and this exercise is a great warmup for either a strength, swim or run sessions. This should be a go-to at least twice per week.

Much of the focus of the Top 25 strength exercises is on the posterior chain. The runners stretch helps open and stabilise the hips – crucial for strong running form.

The runners stretch can be combined with the forward lunge or even a pushup to make a great body weight routine.

9 Points – Single Leg Deadlift

This is the number one option for triathletes starting a strength program. Interestingly, the single leg deadlift remains one of the best options even for experienced lifters.

The benefits are far too many to detail however – ankle, knee, hip and low-back stability, hamstring mobility, and then all body strength with a posterior-chain focus is just the start.

Make it harder: add a single arm bent-over row

9 Points – Deadlift

The deadlift is a different exercise to the Single-Leg Deadlift. Their purpose and benefits are different and so they deserve separate listing in the Top 25.

The deadlift is a great option for beginner lifters. Firstly, it is simply the number one whole-body strengthening exercise. It is particularly good for female athletes. Secondly, a strict deadlift is very technical however, at lighter weights it is possible to in-fact benefit from deadlifting even with slightly incorrect form.

Make it harder: mix the deadlift with core exercises or my favourite use them as a brick interval off the bike.

9 Points – Hanging Knee Raises

Hanging is good for you. It builds grip strength which has great flow on to a healthy body. Hanging will also stretch and strengthen your lats giving you a stronger swim stroke with better technique. All this before we even get to discuss the actual knee raise.

Knee raises while hanging offer a great stimulation to your core muscles in the same stance as your run - upright. Keeping your body stable throughout the motion requires your arms, shoulders and back to work to stabilise.

Make it harder: by holding a weight or bands with your feet.

11 Points – Hip Raise/Thrust

Take a look at just about any professional athlete – soccer, football, basketball, runner, cyclist, swimmer – they all have big, strong glutes.

So it makes sense that building and strengthening our glutes will help with all our sports but especially cycling and running. The Hip Thrust is the best exercise to achieve this goal. Hamstrings and core are also activated.