Strength Training

This article focuses on the importance of strength training in an athlete’s routine, to improve the strength, size and anaerobic aspect of the skeletal muscles, and reduce the risk of injuries.

When to focus on building strength

When you find a lack of power or vulnerability to injuries hampering your race goals, it is the right time to include strength training in your weekly schedule.

If you aren’t a professional athlete you need to balance time between training, work, family life, and other commitments. Finding the time for strength training is a challenge, which is why you need to ensure that you plan your strength training sessions without any distractions.

Perform single-joint exercises, also known as isolation exercises, to build and maintain a strong, healthy body. This type of strength training engages a single muscle group. Leg curls, wrist curls and front raise, quad extensions, and bicep curls are perfect examples of single-joint exercises. Singe joint exercises can be performed with weight machines. However, they require more time to perform.

Most triathletes can include two resistance training sessions in a week. You can use dumbbells to perform a variety of exercises. The objective is to work on stabilising the core muscle groups.

Strength training sessions must include one to six sets per exercise, and one to three exercises per muscle group. You need to take short breaks between each set. Sets of 1 to 5 repetitions will help strengthen the muscles and increase muscle size. Sets of 6 to 12 reps will also increase strength as well as endurance. Sets of 13- 20 reps will help you build endurance with limited strength. The benefits of aerobic capacity are derived from sets of 20+ reps.

You need to alternate exercises of two opposing muscle groups in a manner where one group of muscle works, while the other group rests during a routine.

It is important to increase repetitions every two weeks for the maximum benefit. Over time, strength is achieved due to a gain in muscle size as opposed to the earlier stages, where the neurological coordination of muscle fibres was the main cause for strengthening the muscles.

Strength Training Benefits

There are many ways you can benefit from strength training. It adds definition to your muscles, improves balance, and tones the body. It also strengthens the tendons and ligaments, and increases metabolism. Strength training improves flexibility and posture as well. Strength training with weights makes your muscles work harder and helps to build muscle mass.

What matters in a multisport event are how well your contract and relax, which is why strength training is important. Weak and inflexible muscles do not produce the power you require as an athlete. It also increases the risks of pulls and strains. The muscles contract in order to induce movement. Therefore, stronger muscles allow for more forceful contractions. This is why you can run, swim, bike or row much faster.

In addition, when you strength-train you are likely to experience fewer injuries. This is because strength training helps strengthen the muscle attachments and increases bone density. Any injury may also tend to heal much quicker. If you lack the power required for hill climbs on bike and open water swimming, strength training is the perfect way to develop power.

Strength training benefits runners in various ways, as it enhances respiratory efficiency, core stability and running economy. In addition to increasing the size of the muscle, it also boosts the ability of the nervous system to coordinate the contraction of muscle fibres. Two strength training sessions per week is recommended for runners since it takes time for the muscles to recover after this type of training.

It is one of the best ways to prevent bone and muscle loss. Each year, adults begin to lose 1 percent of bone and muscle strength, which can be avoided by adding strength training to your workouts.

Resistance training makes you stronger and fitter, since it strengthens and tones the muscles by contracting them. It also helps you develop better body mechanics by improving your balance, posture and coordination. Strength training elevates the level of endorphins, thereby boosting your energy levels and mood as well.

Stronger muscles and ligaments are more capable of withstanding stress, which also reduces the likelihood of injuries such as pulled muscles or back pain. Well conditioned muscles act as shock absorbers and reduce the impact from repetitive landing.

Weight training can help prevent age related loss of muscle mass, which is the cause for the slowing down of the metabolism and the increased risk of weight gain. Strength training has the ability to boost metabolism by 15 percent. You burn much more calories during strength training than ordinary exercises, which is ideal if you need to lose weight and reduce body fat.

Research indicates that this form of training has many wellness benefits. It has the potential to increase bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and controls glucose levels as well.

Relative vs Absolute Strength

Relative Strength:

This is achieved by adding cardio exercises or controlling calorie intake in order to avoid any increase in body-weight. For functional movement, relative strength is as important as absolute strength. Training in a manner that causes muscle hypertrophy restricts the ability to run or do pull-ups. Increasing the neurological efficiency of the muscle is more important than muscle volume. Top athletes engage as much as 50% to contract muscles during competition so the muscles must be twice as large as that of an average person. Relative strength training improves the ability of the nervous system to send electrical impulses that cause the muscles to contract and generate more power. Relative strength training also keeps an athlete lighter. It improves oxygen efficiency to meet the demands of running uphill, where a constant delivery of oxygen and fuel is essential.

Asbsolute Strength:

This type of training helps increase body weight, which is required for weightlifting. The more the body weight, the bigger the muscles and strength.

Types of strength training

There are various methods that can be adopted to build strength.

Resistance Training

This is a form of strength training to develop the strength and size of the skeletal muscles. Exercises are performed against an opposing force such as resistance bands, exercise machines and swimming machines. Resistance training is different from weight lifting and body building.

Basic strength training

Basic strength training targets all the major muscle groups, tendons, joints and ligaments. Experienced athletes also need to complete a phase of basic strength training during the year, in order to restore any muscle imbalance that may occur during the competition.

Body-weight exercises

You can use your own body weight as resistance to perform push-ups, chin-ups, dips, pistols and pull-ups. The stronger you are, the better you will perform these types of exercises.

Weight training

Using weights such as barbells and dumbbells are the most common forms of resistance strength training. Squats with barbells, bench press, dead lifts and overhead press are the perfect examples of weight lifting exercises.


Better balance is said to be achieved with the help of machines. However, most exercises are in a fixed pattern and are easy to perform. However, using machines is less effective than body-weight exercising or free weights. In addition, if exercise equipment like rowing machines is not used correctly, there is always the risk of injury.

Isometric training

These exercises are a form of bodyweight training done in static positions rather than through a range of motion. During routines, the muscle length does not change when the muscle contracts. Your body uses the minimum required muscle fibres at any one time. It helps create new and lean muscle tissue, and increases metabolism. Isometric exercises increases strength at specific joint angles. This type of exercise does not require any special type of equipment. The techniques are simple and are not as time consuming as dynamic exercises.

The keys to strength training success

  • Strength training is most effective when it consists of 3 hours per week spread over 2 or 3 days.
  • It is essential to warm up before you begin strength exercises.
  • Perform higher sets with less reps for strength.
  • Focus on body part workouts for working on specific muscle groups.
  • Focus on movement plane workouts for increased function, performance and strength.
  • Choose the right exercise sequence. Select harder exercises before the easier ones. For example, free weights before machines.
  • Vary exercise routines every week.
  • Progression is extremely important.
  • For triathletes, focusing on muscular coordination is more important that a traditional strength training program. Your routine must include multi-joint exercises such as squats. This will improve your muscle firing patterns that need to be perfect when running and pedalling.
  • If you are among the fortunate athletes with great flexibility and a natural abundance of strength, then you do not have to waste too much time lifting weights. In this case, it is more important to focus on developing skills and speed in the disciplines you will be performing.
  • When you strength-train on a specific muscle group, it is important to train the opposing group as well. This may be done in the next session. For example, if you perform bench presses for your chest, then you need to include rowing exercises for the back muscles.

You can add variety to your program by manipulating repetitions, rest intervals, loads and the number of sets. With experience you will learn to perform advanced levels of strength exercises. Practicing yoga offers many strength training benefits as well. However, it is important to remember that yoga cannot be a substitute for strength training. What is essential is to create a safe, sustainable and effective routine that will allow you to maximize the benefits of strength training.

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Created: August 2011
Revised: November 2012
Latest Feedback: November 2012


Strength Training, Core Strength, Weight Training For Cyclists, Lifting Weights, Resistance Training, Dumbells, Squats, Body Weight Exercises, Weight Machines, Isometric Training, Cross-Training, Multi-Joint Exercises