When looking at the training of endurance sports of biking, distance swimming and distance running strength training is often an afterthought. A sound strength program has tremendous potential to improve performance and to prevent injury. If you think about the demands of endurance sports the goals of strength training are clear:
Swimming - To improve an athlete’s ability to streamline and to hold water
Cycling - Maintain an aerodynamic position on the bike and producing maximum power per pedal stroke
Running - Improve ability to use the ground and be able to tolerate the amount of running necessary by avoiding impact injuries such as tendonitis.
These demands create a different approach to strength training. The strength goal is work on movements that improve posture and alignment. In swimming the goal should be to strengthen the core and legs and properly strengthen the upper body so that the athletes can improve their distance per stroke and achieve a better alignment in the water. In cycling, a large part of efficiency is to ability to hold an aerodynamic position, which demands a large amount of core strength, stability in the shoulders and obviously functional leg strength. In running, efficiency is a matter of optimizing stride length with stride frequency, and all require strength endurance.
There is a mistaken notion that one has to go to the gym to do strength training. No excuses, you don’t need a weight room, instead think of a “weight room without walls.” Equip the no wall weight room with a set of dumbbells of 10 to 25 percent of body weight; a sturdy box or bench 12 to 14 inches high; a 3 kg medicine ball and a stretch cord. With these items one can do anything you need to do to build functional strength for swimming, biking and running.
Since the great majority of endurance athletes do their sport on a part-time basis, time is of the essence. Therefore I suggest a simple program that consists of 20 minutes of strength training three times a week and two other days for ten minutes followed by extensive static stretching. The method requires a consistent application of a few exercises done with intensity. Break the strength-training menu into three different categories:
(1) Total body, which includes pulling/pushing movements and their variations done with dumbbells (i.e., dumbbell high pull, rotational snatch with one arm, etc.)
(2) Lower extremities, which is all derived from squatting movements, step-ups and lunges all done single leg or alternating legs;
(3) Upper body, which includes more body weight movements such as pull-ups, push-ups and their variations, and core strength work.
The 20-Minute Day - The selection of exercises includes two total body movements (done as an emphasis for the workout), one or two leg exercises with one or two upper body movements.
The 10-Minute Day - This is devoted to core strength development working on rotational movements. It is a misconception that since the movements of running and cycling is linear in nature that there is not a great deal of need for rotational movements. Quite the contrary, the control of rotational movements that is necessary in order to be more efficient. As the season progresses and the competition schedule increases in number and importance, this 20/10 x 6 can be reduced to two of 20 and three of 10.
It’s possible to do the strength training work pre-swim and not have it affect the quality of the swim workout. With cycling, if the workout calls for steady medium intensity, then some core and upper body work before hand can be beneficial. However, in running, because of the high eccentric component, you could do core work beforehand but total body, upper and lower body work would be not be advisable. The overriding principle is to never compromise the quality of the bike, swim or run as a result of a strength-training workout. Some of these considerations are also dependent upon an athlete’s training age and background. Another option is doing a strength workout early in the day and the swim, bike or running workout in the afternoon as a way to address the problem of getting the workout done.
20/10 x 5 - Twenty minutes three times a week and ten minutes two times a week, a simple formula to better injury free performance.