Now that the season is in full swing, should I forget about strength training for a few months?
There’s considerable debate among coaches and exercise scientists as to whether strength training really benefits endurance athletes at all. I’m a believer that an effective strength routine can help you avoid muscular weaknesses and imbalances that can lead to injury. Plus there’s increasing evidence—anecdotal and scientific—that a well-designed strength program can improve performance. Runners can improve their economy, and therefore speed (without increases in VO2max or lactate threshold). Cyclists see increased time-trial speed and time to exhaustion with strength training.
Despite all those reasons to strength train, it’s usually counterproductive to try to get stronger during the season. I want to see my athletes use the off-season to get strong, and then aim to maintain those strength gains in-season. Usually one strength training session every 7–10 days is enough to make sure you don’t regress.
And if you think you’ll get the best of both worlds by adding an aggressive strength routine to a high swim, bike, run volume, think again. In a review of six studies looking at the effects of resistance training on highly trained road cyclists, three subjects found no improvement and three found better performance. The difference? The groups that improved were the ones who did their strength training during a period of decreased endurance training.
So don’t give up that gym membership just yet. While it might be counterproductive to focus on strength training during the season, neglecting it entirely would be a mistake as well.
Moves That Pack a Punch
Since I want to get my triathletes in and out of the weight room as quickly as possible, I tend to focus on exercises where you get the most bang for your buck. Four of my favorite moves that work multiple muscles at once are squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and dips.
Jonathan Cane is founder and president of City Coach Multisport in New York City. He is co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Weight Training, and has coached for Nike Running and JackRabbit Sports.