Triathletes: To Lift or Not to Lift?


Posted by Coach Brad Noble

I have been asked the question of "to lift or not to lift" almost as much as I have been asked “if I have done the IRONMAN in Hawaii." My standard answers are YES, you absolutely should be lifting weights, and NO, I’m not fast enough to get to Hawaii (Legacy program - perhaps!). 

So, why are triathletes so reluctant and ambivalent to lifting weights? I have heard, “I don’t want to get bulky and slow,” “I feel so sore afterwards,” and number one is “I don’t have time.” We as triathletes have been programed to think “more is better” when it comes to swimming, biking and running. Yes, we need to put in time of each of these disciplines but having a super strong frame to put that time into is nearly priceless. We see the pros and how fast they are and when you look at their bodies there is a substantial amount of lean muscle they are carrying around. That’s strength training folks!

Pro Heather Jackson (from, photo by Erik Isakson)


Resistance training undoubtedly builds a strong muscular foundation that tends to be more resistant to injury, increases speed, improves circulation and joint health, speeds recovery, and scorches body fat! Honestly who doesn’t want to look good in fitted clothing?

You might ask, what exercises are beneficial? Where do I start? How much should I do?

There are many thoughts on this, and while I am not an exercise physiologist, I am an RN, a certified triathlon coach and a trainer so I'll share my own routines and practices. I personally LOVE strength training and tailor it to my race schedule and particular time of year. I work each body part at least one time a week and do a push/pull combination. For instance, in my case, I do chest/back one day, biceps/shoulders another, and then legs exclusively in a third session on days I don’t have a long run or bike planned. I will do 3-4 exercises for each body part rotating between 6 or 7 of the best; legs get about 6 exercises. Move quickly and stay focused to keep the gym time limited.

A good leg workout followed by a spin class, short hard bike, or run can mimic a sprint tri as you put the hammer down for the duration.

If you go back and forth between exercise with minimal rest, you can make it an aerobic session which also increases endurance and burns a ton of calories.

I would recommend consulting an endurance coach and even an athletic trainer that focuses on training geared toward our particular sports so you’re not being coaxed to deadlift a Chevy, or bench press a couch. I recommend focus on a bit less weight, and more repetitions to encourage endurance. Particular exercises are a matter of choice, but include core, shoulders, back, arms and as noted above legs, legs, and legs as they do the brunt of the work on race day.

I understand we need to get in our long workouts, bricks, and open water swims. However, to increase the speed and reduce the recovery time of these activities make time to get in the gym and push some weight a couple days a week - even just 45 minutes twice a week. It cannot help but to improve almost every aspect of your race experience and don’t forget it will improve the fit of your clothes!


~ Coach Brad

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