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"Should Triathletes Do Resistance Training?" by Ben Greenfield

Posted May 30 2009 10:11pm

Weight-training So what exactly is resistance training?

You can classify it as any type of supplementary weightlifting, calisthenics, or other exercise designed to promote muscular force or power production. Examples would include the bench press exercise, the squat, a push-up/sit-up workout, a step class that uses barbells or dumbbells, etc. You get the idea.

But how important are these activities for triathletes, or for that matter, any other endurance athlete?

Or more specifically, do these type of activities actually improve performance and make you faster for a triathlon while keeping you healthy and non-injured?

First of all, it must be understood that the amount of force produced during traditional weightlifting exercises far exceeds any type of force you can produce in the swim, bike, or run. For example, when completing a cycling time trial at about 300 watts and 80RPM, which would be considered a pretty good pace, you do not, per pedal stroke, even use 1/4 of the power produced when you jump from the ground with absolutely no weight!

The take-home lesson is that you need to realize that no matter what you do in the gym, you' re training to produce high amounts of force at a relatively low speed, when compared to endurance activities like the swim, bike or run. So there is pretty much ZERO direct transfer in terms of force and speed specificity.

Based on the fact that the movements we can perform in the weightroom are not really all that similar to the movements we perform in endurance training, there is no scientific research that directly proves that resistance training can improve performance characteristics in endurance athletes, such as oxygen capacity or lactic acid threshold.

At the same time, there is no strong evidence that resistance training can have a negative influence on performance.

However, there are findings that suggest resistance training can improve "economy of motion", or efficiency. For instance, during the running cycle, efficiency can be improved by minimizing ground contact time and focusing on a strong elastic rebound from the ground with each step. Resistance training exercises such as plyometric training can be used to improve performance in this sense. An example of such an exercise would be lunge jumps with one foot up on a step platform. The triathlete can push through the foot that is up on the platform to launch vertically into the air, switch feet in mid-air, land, and reverse the motion. Three sets of 10 jumps would be a great place to start.

Another advantage of resistance training is to strengthen muscles and ligaments and improve bone density. These adaptations should theoretically lead to decreased incidence of injury in endurance athletes, although there is no direct evidence that supports this. There are a high number of athletes that I have spoken with, however, who find that they "get hurt less" when incorporating a lifting program into their routine.

In other words, don' t be afraid to be a single person case study if resistance training makes you "feel stronger".

So what are the practical recommendations that you can immediately implement?

It probably can' t hurt to do some weightlifting. In the off-season, try to incorporate a full body resistance training program 2-3 times per week - preferably including balance training, mind-body awareness, single leg strengthening exercises, gluteus medius strengthening and "strength-foundation" laying.

As the race season approaches, spend less time on resistance training and more time focusing on swimming, biking, and running. During the actual season, it really isn' t necessary to lift more than once per week, and not at all during race weeks. These pre-race season and race season lifting sessions should be short, explosive and only 20-40 minutes in length.

For a download of twelve of these type of "in-season" sessions, with video exercise instruction, just check out

Until next time, train smart!

Whoisben Ben Greenfield is the Renaissance man of the sport of triathlon.

He' s a fast triathlete, a coach, a personal trainer, and much more more.

We recommend that you surf on over to, for more great training advice.

Ben will be coaching the Iron speed Triathlon Camp in Coeur D' Alene from Saturday, May 9 - Thursday, May 14, 2009. Camp info is HERE.

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