Triathletes: How to Choose Your Off-Season Weightlifting Routine
Posted Oct 25 2009 2:54pm
How to Choose Your Off-Season Weightlifting Routine
Resistance training exercise, or weightlifting, is crucial to decreasing risk on injury, increase your strength, and attaining your goals with a balanced body. Those of us who need to lose weight this offseason will appreciate that research has shown a combination of weight training and cardio to sheds more pound and boost the metabolism higher than cardio alone. This is primarily because you A) burn several more calories per day for each drop of fat that you replace with a fiber of lean muscle and B) have a larger hormonal response to resistance training vs. cradio.
In addition to the weight loss benefits, resistance training provides you with higher bone density, a more coordinated and well-functioning collection of muscles and joints, and better neuromuscular skill, agility and balance. Furthermore, triathletes can use weighlifting to improve force potential, decrease injury potential, and cross-train weak areas for movement specific enhancement.
Unfortunately, the number of weight training "routines" that exist in magazines and on gym walls can be intimidating and confusing, and what works best for your linebacker-built next door neighbor or naturally skinny marathon-running friend may not be your body's cup of tea. So how do you choose what's best for your personal goals?
I'm going to describe four basic and popular methods of lifting, and then help you decide which one to choose, depending on your individual needs.
1. Body Split Training
Body split training involves splitting the body into several "groups" of muscles, and working those muscles on certain days of the week - for example, a 5 day split would look like this:
This style of training is very popular among the bodybuilding crowd, because it allows an individual to focus on a specific muscle group and work that muscle to complete exhaustion. With proper rest, this results in very large and defined muscles. The sets can be as a high as 10 sets per exercise, and the reps fall anywhere in the range of 8-20. Rest periods can be as short as 10 seconds and as long as 5 minutes. Strategies include back-to-back sets, pyramiding up or down in reps and/or weight, pre-fatiguing, bouncing, super-slows, negatives, and a host of other tricks from the realm of bodybuilding. If you simply want to get "big and cut", this is a good approach.
The problem with this style of lifting is that it only works well if you can sufficiently exhaust the muscle groups, so you need to plan on spending at least an hour and a half, and up to three hours every day weightlifting in the gym. Many of the lifts are single joint lifts, meaning that the focus is not on calorie-burning, strength, or athleticism - but simply muscle isolation and growth. Many of us don't have that kind of time: the people who get the most benefit out of a body split routine must have a high amount of dedication and devotion to their exercise program, and have a single desire: build muscle.
2. Traditional Weightlifting
When most of us think of "resistance training", we think of a traditional weightlifting program. This typically involves 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of a specific exercise, with a 45-60 second rest after each set. Once one exercise is completed, you move on to the next. Usually, a routine is made up of 8-10 exercises that work the entire body and typically this kind of routine is performed 3-4 days of the week.
This is a good, straight-forward way to build strength, bone density, and add lean muscle, and allows you to read multi-sport magazines while you're resting between sets. Compared to some other types of lifting, traditional weightlifting does not burn a high amount of calories or elicit a high cardiovascular response, since you spend a significant amount of time sitting down and "resting" between exercises.
If your goal is maximizing weight loss and/or toning and cutting, there are better programs out there for you. The same can be said for athleticism. If your goal is simply to maintain fitness and keep your body strong, while allowing time for socializing and sitting on your butt in the gym, this would be a good choice.
3. Circuit Style Training
Circuit style training involves choosing a series of exercises - typically multi-joint movements that work a large number of muscles and joints at the same time - and performing these series of exercises, one after another, with minimal rest between exercises. The heart rate and metabolism can get screaming high during a circuit training workout, and the density, or volume, of exercises performed can be very high with this approach. When you are trying to get the most "bang for your buck" out of your resistance training routine, a circuit style training program can be very effective. Reps are typically in the range of 10-20, and many of the exercises include a cardio component, such as a 250 meter row, a 2 minute treadmill sprint, or 25 medicine ball throws against the gym wall.
As mentioned, the weightlifting exercises are primarily multi-joint, like a "squat to press", "lunge to curl" or "deadlift to overhead extension". Most of the clients that I train who desire maximum fitness in minium time, rapid weight loss and full body toning will have some resemblance of a circuit training routine in their program. Often, a 20-30 minute high-intensity circuit routine performed every day of the week will literally melt away fat while very efficiently maintaining fitness. The downside to circuit style training is that since the rest periods are so short, you typically can't lift very heavy weights, and strength gains can be minimal when compared to body split training or traditional weightlifting.
Periodization simply means that a training year is divided into workout cycles or "periods". Each cycle of the training year involves a different type of weightlifting approach. For example, a training year might be divided into 1) the off-season; 2) muscular endurance building; 3) muscular strength and/or mass building; 4) power and explosive strength development and 5) strength maintenance or competition season. Obviously, this style of training has the most benefit for an athlete who is preparing for a competition. Periodization allows an athlete to "peak", or have maximum physiological preparation, prior to their event. An example of a periodization weightlifting scheme for, say, an Ironman triathlete training for a June race, might involve the following, with three full body workouts per week:
This scheme might look different for a basketball or football player, but the underlying concepts are the same: take the body through several different training periods to allow for peak performance when it really matters. No serious athlete should choose any weightlifting routine that doesn't include some semblance of periodization. My book "Top 12 Resistance Training Routines for Triathletes" at http://www.thestrongtriathlete.com, could best be described as a hybrid of circuit training mixed with periodization.
Obviously, there are many choices and limitless combinations of workout routines. Probably the most important thing to remember is to choose a routine to which you can adhere during the busier times of life. Even if a plan is perfect, if it's too complicated for you, you probably won't do it. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of your choices.