Triathlete Talk: Injury Prevention by Strength Training


Strength training is vital for proper training in order to enhance performance and decrease the risk of injury.  Any triathlete who embarks on a training programme without specific strength training is putting him/herself at risk of injury and decreased ability to generate force in a wide range of motion. In order to realize your potential as an athlete, and reduce the risk of injuries, you must incorporate strength training into your programme. Unfortunately, when you are under pressure or stuck for time, strength training is often the first thing to get ignored from your schedule. In reality, however, strength training should be an inextricable component of your performance strategy.

Admit it, have you ever said “Oh, I missed my Crossfit session –  I’ll just go for a run”?

In fact, the mechanical and repetitive nature of most aerobic training leads to the breakdown of tissue and dysfunction at the joints, in other words, continued swimming, cycling and running is not going to build and strengthen muscle, but will, with consistent repetitive movements that occur predominantly in one plane and with set/limited range of motion, set the stage for injury.

Strength Training and Weightlifting

Do not be misled by the words “Strength Training”.  Strength training is not about how much weight you can lift in the gym.   It is “the maximum amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can generate in a specified movement pattern (any direction) and at a specified velocity during any movement (Knuttgen and Kraemer, 1987).  Strength training can be performed with free weights, and also by using the own body’s weight.  You do not need to join a gym to do these exercises.

Attention should especially be drawn to athletes over the age of 40, building strength and staying flexible is highly important.  It is safe to say that if you build a house on a strong foundation, the house will not collapse.  The same principle can be applied to triathlon training.  It is simply not enough to swim, bike and run and expect to complete a long distance race without injury or acute pain.  An athlete must
build a base level of fitness and strength before embarking upon a sport specific training programme.  Bypassing the fundamentals can lead to long term injury.  If specific strength training is not applied, the foundation will collapse as will the body. Whether you are using the services of a coach, or if you have downloaded a programme from the internet with a target race in mind, you and/or your coach need to consider your previous performances or experience in order to write up a plan, and also consider the following information.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and Periodisation Training

The expression “Running Out Of Gas” is no pun!  The roots of periodisation come from Hans Selye’s model, known as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which describes biological responses to stress. Selye’s work has been used by the athletic community since the late 1950’s.   The General Adaptation Syndrome describes three basic stages of response to stress: (a) the Alarm stage, (b) the Resistance stage, and (c) the Exhaustion stage. The objective of periodic training is staying in the resistance stage without ever going into the exhaustion stage.  Periodisation is an organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time (usually a season or year).   The idea is to give the athlete enough time to recover from significant stress in between cycles, before any additional or hard training is applied.  If you are not giving your body the correct recovery time, you can get injured.

Periodisation is most widely used in resistance training program design to avoid overtraining and to systematically alternate high loads of training with decreased loading phases to improve components of muscular fitness, such as strength training, calisthenics, speed work, strength-endurance training, etc.

To decrease your risk of injury, you/your coach must vary/manipulate the volume and intensity of the training and conditioning loads to optimize adaptations for maximizing efficiency and effectiveness.  Sport-specific training or skill related fitness, performed in conjunction with any level of conditioning (metabolic and strength training), must be acquired to ensure proper adaptation rates and decreased injuries (proper strength adaptations).

How does Periodisation work?

Periodization involves shifting training priorities from non-sport specific activities of high volume and low intensity to sport-specific activities of low volume and high intensity over a period of many weeks to prevent overtraining and optimize performance. This can be adapted to endurance activities once the foundational levels of aerobic endurance have been developed.

For example, if the athlete plays an additional sport to triathlon, then that sport can be incorporated into the programme but not randomly.  Random training can lead to random injuries.  Your programme can be designed to cover training in your additional sport and those session used as cross training and also recovery of the muscles that are used in triathlon training but not specifically in the other sport (e.g. tennis or fencing).

Muscle Groups

There are some key muscle groups used in triathlon training and those muscles need to be strengthened in order to cope with endurance racing.  The muscles you rely on for the swim are lats, core, chest, and shoulders. For the bike and run you need strong quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Your core also needs to be strong to transfer power from your upper to your lower body and to keep good form for the duration of the race.

In summary, do not ignore this very important aspect of your training.  If you would like to join my FREE core development and muscle activation training session every Monday you can contact me below.


Training Peaks

Joe Friel – The Triathlon Training Bible

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research


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Triathlete Talk: Injury Prevention by Strength Training