In-Season Strength Training for Endurance Athletes

The importance of resistance training is becoming more widely known in the endurance community. Some have labeled it the 5th sport in triathlon, the 4th being transitions of course. However, I do get some questions referencing in-season resistance training programs. Many specific “strength” workouts (run/bike hills or swimming with paddles) are being implemented during an athlete’s competition phase, should you have a resistance routine during your racing months? For most athletes, I would say definitely yes. Endurance athletes can see great benefit from an in-season strength routine. Now before you head to the gym to max out on back squats and bench press, lets think about the goal of any in-season resistance-training program, which should be maintenance of the strength and power gains made in the off/pre season. The off/pre season should emphasize heavier weight with low repetitions, Olympic style lifts, and plyometrics to increase force production and improve performance.  Resistance training programs have many benefits to the endurance athlete such as:

  • Injury prevention
  • Correcting muscular imbalances (specificity)
  • Muscle (motor unit) recruitment
  • Muscle Fiber adaptations (Slow Twitch vs. Fast Twitch)
  • Generally a stronger athlete is able to handle the additional load from increased training volume in the swim, bike and run (S/B/R)

So why not continue to gain some of the benefits? Depending on the length of your “in-season” competition phase you could implement a program in one of two ways:

1) In a longer race season (16+weeks), break down your resistance training in meso-cycles similar to your S/B/R. You would be peaking for your “A” Races not only with your S/B/R training but also with your resistance training. Adjusting intensities and volume to complement your existing training. Strength and power phases of training will most commonly be used.

2) For a normal race season (8-16 weeks), more of a moderate maintenance program is ideal for most athletes. This program is grounded in skill, technique and preservation of previous resistance training gains.

Focus should be on the specificity of the resistance training you do, which should directly translate to the sport. An example, a heavy back squat doesn’t directly translate to your sport. You are never going to be pushing both feet off the ground or down on both pedals simultaneously. From a functional standpoint you would favor a single leg squat, split squat or single leg deadlift. Your swim pull is not going to be with both arm so why do lat pull downs with both arms? Another reason to focus on single limb movements and balance. In general terms, replicate as many sport movements as you can in your resistance routine.

Competition phase for many athletes could account for 8-12+ hours a week of just S/B/R. So now comes the question, “How often should their resistance program be implemented and for how long?” Most of the literature I found suggest 1-2 times a week with duration of 20-30 minutes. This means roughly 8-10 exercises while following a maintenance intensity/volume of 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. In general, a total body workout that targets all your major muscle groups for your sport. To get more out of your session make a few modifications to bring in core balance and strength. In maintenance, you don’t necessarily need to have access to a gym. This is where a few free weights, kettle bells or resistance bands will be sufficient to met the goals of the program.Resistance Training

Sample In-Season Resistance Program for a Triathlete:

2 Sets, 8-12 Reps, 15-30 seconds of rest

1a) Single Leg Squats (Weighted/Body weight)

1b) Single Leg Box Jumps (12-24”)


2a) Stability Ball Single Leg Hamstring curls

2b) Backward lunges


3a) Single Arm (dumbbell/kettle bell/Resistance band) Chest Press

3b) Single Arm Bend over row


4) Single Arm Bicep curl to shoulder press to flexion of elbow (set up for) tricep extension overhead then return to start position for bicep curl. (To increase difficulty and work on balance stand on the opposite leg of the exercising arm)


*a) and b) denotes superset where you do exercise Xa) then do Xb) immediately following before you rest.

**some of the videos demonstrate the movements with both legs or arms, still conduct with single leg or single arm as noted

Core work could be added, such as:

2 sets:

Stability Ball pass (from hand to feet)- 15-20 passes

Weighted Russian Twists– 15-20 reps

Stability Ball Roll out – 15-20 reps

The training in your sport is most important during your competition phase “in season”. Your focus is on technique and race intensity efforts. These sport specific workouts should take priority as well as your recovery from those primary workouts (S/B/R). During this time use resistance training to supplement your training regiment to help met your training goals and objectives.


Training hard today makes tomorrow easier!


Coach Nate

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