Swim, Bike, Run is NOT enough!

Generally speaking I’m a pretty laid back individual, I don’t tend to take things to heart and I love when a controversial view can bring about an exciting argument. However over the past few weeks I have been increasingly irritated by a number of conversations and articles that I’ve read stating there is no place for Strength Training in a triathletes schedule. So, if not only for the benefit of my wife (no longer having to listen to me rant on), I felt it was time to give my response regarding the issue.

I see the issue as being a ‘fear’, a fear regarding the knowledge of our coaching peers and its holding athletes back. When a coach’s pride gets in the way of progress, they are unwilling to outsource information from specialists in their field. Instead of opening their mind up to methods and concepts that could have the potential to improve their athlete’s performance they respond with an ignorant and arrogant attitude, without any sound evidence or consideration to back up their response.

I respect the fact that the ‘best’ way to improve your swim, bike and run is to correctly and effectively swim, bike and run. Consistency with regards to technique, fitness, mileage, race simulation, experience etc. cannot be achieved without sport specific training. However when a coach says there is zero need for strength training or time spent on building a strong resilient body away from the pool, track or pedals, I have to disagree. How is an athlete meant to strengthen their body correctly and effectively if they are missing vital activation and strength of muscles that control their ‘functional’ movement patterns.

Coaches should be stepping in and finding the source of the problem, and if they can’t, seek advice from a professional who can! Now I’m not saying that it is within a strength trainer’s scope of practice to swan about diagnosing or treating, just as a medical clinician would. However too often, the athlete will rest, have a week or so off, letting the issue settle down a bit, only to see it flare up with a return to volume, all because the weakness or imbalance has not been addressed.

Unfortunately like in many professions, there are always bad examples. Strength training CAN and IS often prescribed poorly, with pretty horrendous exercises and new fad methods/equipment being used. However what baffles me is that these supposedly knowledgeable and successful coaches tarnish the whole ‘approach’ with the same brush, turning a blind ‘eye’ to proven science and results, simply because they don’t understand how to use it well. They use extreme examples of strength exercises such as the bench press and maximal lifts to generalise an entire industry, where instead if they were to listen they would find that there is a much more measured approach to strengthening their athletes. It’s just like someone having a bad experience with a triathlon coach and then saying that all triathlon coaches provide poor advice and ineffective training!

There is too much evidence out there not to support its use. Look at any High Performance Centre’s working with this year’s Olympians. The resident sports scientists, physiologists and S&C coaches will all be using their wealth of knowledge and experience to get the very best out of each athlete. Do you think they implement resistance training into their endurance athlete’s programming? Of course they do.

Coaches that are ignoring this type of training are missing out one of the fundamental tools of athletic performance. Highly successful founder and head coach of Purplepatch Matt Dixon advocates sports specific resistance training as one of his fundamental ‘Pillars of Performance”.

Is it a coincidence that Gwen Jorgensen has been able to maintain the highest level of performance for over two years, whilst implementing a regular Strength Program into her schedule?

Or take 2015 Ironman World Champion Jan Frodeno, who recently came back from a calf injury that had him on the sidelines for several months. After his initial rehab, what was he doing? Working with his S&C coach, rebuilding his atrophied muscle tissue, and ensuring that he is balanced, ready and prepared to resume his usual intense training and racing schedule.

If these individuals took time to consider the correct advice that is out there they would quickly see that strength training does not have to ‘replace’ any swim/bike or run. When prescribed properly, a consistent routine of 2-3 x 30-45 minute sessions per week focusing on activation, weaknesses, imbalances and strength development can have a huge benefit on their athletes. An effective strength program will not require you to halve your training sessions, lift huge weights or bulk up. Basic and simple exercises done well, to support not hinder an athletes training program will pay dividends.

As the sport of triathlon grows, so do the advances in technology and research, age groupers and pros are racing faster and faster each year, with records being set at almost every event.

Why is this? It’s down to the coaches and athletes all looking for the next big advantage, whether that’s technology based, with bike specs, custom fitting or dialled in nutrition. But yet there still seems to be a lack of focus put on the athletes themselves. With all the equipment and specialist clothing that we invest in, nothing can override the capabilities of the human body. How can you expect to perform to the best of your ability when you’re not even firing on all cylinders?! The best athletes in the world are exactly that! They are Complete Athletes; well balanced, strong, stable, coordinated, agile, because only then can they truly get the very best out of themselves.

My point here is that with all the advances that have been made we still neglect the most basic variable for improving performance and that is improving our own efficiency.


“The most important thing about weight training is it builds ‘damage resistance’.

Stronger athletes get injured less!”