Why strength train at all?
With the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona come and gone, it’s time for nearly every triathlete to set their training plan for the upcoming season. As is commonly known, in order to see results from our training we must set out a plan to stress the body in targeted ways throughout the coming months in order to see increases in fitness and abilities.
But, what if I told you that many athletes and coaches only account for three of the four pillars of athletic progression in their training programs? When it comes to performing athletically, we have to think about all four of the pillars responsible for athletic success in any and every sport:
- Hormonal system adaptations
- Neuromuscular adaptation
- Metabolic adaptations
- Cardiorespiratory adaptations
These four pillars form the basis for the body’s adaptations to training. In order for our athletes to progress block to block and season to season, we must ensure that we are hitting all of the pillars in a way that the athlete can recover from.
Many coaches and athletes don’t address the neuromuscular adaptations needed to see performance increases. Yes, they focus on technique in sport; yes, they focus on bike fitting. But, they don’t utilize strength training to the degree necessary to influence neuromuscular adaptations. Without addressing all four of the pillars to balance the body, athletes encounter scenarios where they become riddled with overuse injuries, overreach too often, and train at intensities for periods of time that push beyond their abilities to recover.
Oh, wait. I just described a lot of triathletes. Sorry (not sorry). So why do triathletes suffer from the above-mentioned afflictions?
Well, if you believe what people say online, “it’s a part of the sport” and “athletes just need to harden up and keep pushing,” but that just doesn’t seem to be that intelligent or correct at all.
Why do injuries and issues happen?
While there may be a number of reasons for the prevalence of these injuries and issues depending on the case, many can be traced back to two problems:
- Your joint balance or posture is off. Muscles are imbalanced at a joint, forcing the body to “figure out” how to deal with forces in ways it’s not designed to due to structural integrity and positioning issues.
- You are neglecting neuromuscular adaptations. This leaves your muscles too weak to deal with the forces you’re placing on them.
The great news is that through a carefully planned and proper strength training program, risk of injury will not only decrease, but athletes will also see significant gains in performance.
Two easy opportunities to fix (and prevent) problems through strength training
Proper strength training will almost certainly help an athlete improve performance, but in order to help our athletes the most we must take advantage of two often overlooked areas in our programming that can have massive positive effects:
- The dynamic warm-up
- Corrective and balancing exercises
To be clear here “balancing exercises” does not mean using a bosu ball or balance pad training. Rather, it means working on movements that allow the athlete to retain and regain balance at the joint through movements that counter those we experience in our sport. This helps ensure healthy and proper joint positioning and strength balance.
Start with a better dynamic warm-up
Building a purposeful dynamic warm-up can help account for both opportunities outlined above. The dynamic warm-up should start with working on breathing patterns, moving to a global movements, and then getting into specific target exercises to help the athlete prepare for the day’s session and rebalance the athlete’s individual movement deficiencies.
Triathletes commonly struggle with these movements:
- Rotary stability
- Thoracic extension
- Thoracic rotation
- Hip extension (true hip extension from the glutes, not the spine)
- Scapulohumeral movement patterns
Building a more thoughtful strength-based warm-up is a great first step to improving an athlete’s strength program and to set them up for success. For a deep dive into strength training for triathlon and more information about building effective warm-ups, check out my new course, Strength Training for Triathlon Success.