Updated: Apr 21, 2022
by Kelly Ryan
Triathletes are busy—yes, even in a global stand-still because of a pandemic—triathletes are busy! (I see you, essential workers and parents!) As busy people, we have to prioritize, and, unfortunately, when the week starts to get hectic, what are the first workouts we prioritize if we can't fit everything that's on the program in? That's right…. Our swim, bike, and run workouts. We are, after all, training for a TRIATHLON, right?? I mean, we have to be able to swim, bike and run long distances on race day! So why, as a triathlon coach, do I care if you haven't done the strength workouts I've put on your program on any given week? We ALL do it. I'm serious. Triathletes are triathletes because they LIKE to do cardio! Athletes who LIKE to do cardio often don't LIKE to lift things up and put them down or… even worse… do relatively easy exercises like hip hikes and rotator cuff internal and external rotations!! Here's what your brain is usually saying during these things… "UGH!! Kill me now!!! SO BORING!! Are we done yet??" (Admit it... am I right??) I am no better… as a coach, athlete, mother, and an officer in the Navy, I get it! I'm busy too! I skip my strength workouts just as often as my athletes do, for the sake of fitting in workouts that I really love: cycling and running (ok, ok, I'll give the swim some love, too, I suppose! ;). But, I write this just as much to persuade myself as to convince you, my athlete friends, to give your strength program a real chance to be successful! Let's walk it back for a second…. What are your goals for this triathlon season? Well… what were they before your race got postponed? (In which case, what better time to set a strength related goal!?) I can only assume that regardless of your goals (to win a specific race, get a PR in the distance, or to cross your first finish line), you almost certainly capped it with "and to avoid injury in the process." Even if you didn't state it outright in your goal setting, staying injury-free was at least implied in some way, right? So, when we're looking at your week, which workouts do you think are the most important (aka "key workouts") to achieving your ENTIRE goal? Obviously, your long bike/brick and your long run are critical, right? You need to be able to go the distance, after all! If you're going for speed, whether that's to win or PR, or to ensure you can make the time cutoffs, then your interval and hill workouts are pretty important too. Sure. But isn't staying uninjured pretty critical, also?? Regarding speed-oriented goals, building more power would be pretty helpful, too, right? If you answered yes to either of those, then I hope you're starting to see my point…. Don't skip your strength workouts!! This is a puzzle I am grappling with as a coach (athletes, if you have any recommendations, comment or send them my way!)… I have a feeling that the reason my athletes are skipping their strength workouts is that they're "too easy," and they don't see the benefit in them. Unfortunately, if you don't stick with the workouts that are "too easy" for a little while, then you won't be able to build up to more challenging exercises. Whether an athlete is just starting with me or they've been with me for a while, I usually begin their strength program with two "prehab" workouts every week for about four weeks. Then, we move on to four more weeks of two different, and more challenging, "prehab" workouts each week. These prehab sessions focus on exercises that you would often see in a physical therapy setting, all assigned in order to PREVENT, vs rehab, some of the most common injuries that triathletes face (knee issues, rotator cuff impingement, etc…). I'll admit it… the exercises on the prehab workouts can be a total SNOOZEFEST!! What's worse, you don't see much difference in your physique because of them… most of the time, you don't even get the satisfaction of sore muscles the next day! The truth is, there is not nearly as much satisfaction in doing these as there is in crushing "leg day" in the gym, clanking big weights and getting checked out by other athletes, fist-bumping your bros, or doing some epic CrossFit or group class where you're dripping sweat and can barely lift your arms or sit down without help for days afterward. Ok, ok, I got a little carried away for a second there, but you get my point! There isn't a massive amount of satisfaction in these prehab workouts AND, if all goes as planned, you never even SEE the need for them because you never get hurt! Talk about silent hero…. When athletes are so bored by these "easier" workouts that they don't stick with them long enough, they can't progress to the more challenging, "Power Development" workouts down the road. Hear me out… If you can't do a static lunge without your front knee wobbling all over the place, and don't have the range of motion in your hip flexors for your back leg to not feel more of the movement than the weight-bearing leg, then I certainly cannot tell you to go do 1 rep maxes on the squat! That would be a recipe for disaster!! When you skip the prehab workouts, you cannot progress to the more challenging strength workouts, and you're skipping one of the critical pieces of your program that will help you stay injury-free!! Even if you DO enjoy lifting and are going out and lifting big things and putting them back down again, if you're not doing the prehab work, you're only working your big muscle groups. That can ALSO be a recipe for disaster! The bottom line: do your strength workouts! Even if they're too easy! They won't be easy forever, and they will help you stay uninjured in the long run, which is really what we all want. You can do it! If you can spend hours on a bike, you can spend a few minutes making sure your body will stay healthy after all those hours on a bike. :) Happy training team!! Do your prehab!