Squat weight training for triathletes

An argument can be made that squat weight training for triathletes is the best workout you can do in the gym.

I get many emails from people about the value of weight training when it comes to triathlon and more specifically, the Ironman.

Weight training has always been sort of a grey area when it comes to triathlon and I don’t want someone with a dream of reaching the Ironman finish line to think weight training is essential if they want to succeed. However I have no doubt that squat training for triathletes can provide a competitive edge for those who want to achieve their fastest possible finish time.

Squat weight training for triathletes

Weight training for triathletes has always been sort of a grey area. Should you or shouldn’t you?

Weight training, muscles, and strength are not often talked about in triathlon circles, especially when it comes to people who have not been active athletes for most of their lives.

After all, how much can one person do? You already have to squeeze in training time for three disciplines as it is and if an Ironman Triathlon is your goal that means preparing for a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile, bike and a 26.2-mile marathon. On top of that there are many people who simply do not know their way around a weight room and perhaps feel a bit self-conscious.

They have less than perfect body images and feel they don’t belong. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. If you were perfect you wouldn’t need the gym in the first place. Chances are you will see many people just like yourself who are new to weight training.

If it’s your first foray into the gym don’t worry so much about how you look going in. Rather think about how great you will look going out after six weeks on a regimen of squat weight training for triathletes.

I must emphasize that weight training is not essential to Ironman success, but at the same time there is no doubt in my mind that it has great benefit if the proper exercise is performed and it is done at the optimum time in your training program.

TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR BODY

As with everything on my IronStruck website, I make every effort to try out anything I am recommending so I have experienced the results first-hand and can talk with some authority(through experience)on the subject.

I also spend tons of time researching and learning all I can from people knowledgeable in the field I am interested in. In turn I take what I have experienced first hand—and learned from others—and pass it on to my IronStruck visitors with hopes of helping them realize their goals and dreams.

One of the most important things I have learned over the years is how our bodies respond to diet and exercise. I have learned through many ups and downs and much trial and error how our bodies react from what we take in as fuel and the physical demands we make on it.
Squat weight training for triathletes
In the process I have discovered through experimentation that people have the power to manipulate their body image, health, and vitality through diet and exercise and what you see in the mirror is not necessarily what you are stuck with.

If you are determined and don’t waver from your commitment, you can lose weight or gain muscle pretty much anytime you like by altering your diet and level of physical effort. The problem many people confront when they have good intentions of improving their fitness level or body image is that they lose patience when results are not instantaneous and throw in the towel. They sincerely want to change, but do not have the patience to hang in there.

There are very few things worthwhile having in this world that do not demand a big dose of commitment, perseverance, and determination. It doesn’t matter if you want to lose weight, gain muscle, run your fastest mile ever, or reach the Ironman Triathlon finish line.

The desire to succeed and believing in yourself are the driving forces that will carry you to your goal.

I have tried the Eat To Win Diet, the Atkins Diet, carbo-loading and depletion diets, vegetarian diets, and numerous other nutrition plans over the years. Not because I had to lose weight, but in order to judge for myself what effect they had on my fitness level, how I performed in competition, and how my body responded in general.

Over the years I have continually come across a re-occurring theme on how to gain weight and muscle mass in a very dramatic fashion. It has nothing to do with amazing nutritional supplements, illegal drugs, or magical pills.

If you are looking for a way to get impressively stronger without any sort of drugs or nutritional supplements to help you along then you might find this interesting.

ONE SET OF SQUATS THREE TIMES A WEEK

That’s it…..just one main exercise three times a week. No bench presses, no curls, leg extensions, or any other exercise at all.

Just a quick warm-up, one set of squats, a cool down exercise, and in fifteen minutes or so you are done and can go for a swim.

As simple as that may sound, it will most likely be one of the most physically demanding minutes you will ever experience. But on the flip-side, the results are astounding and happen very quickly and chances are very good you will go back for more.

Squat weight training for triathletes

One set of squats three times per week for six weeks and the right diet and you will be amazed at the results.


First of all, be sure to have someone show you the proper method of doing the squat exercise. Basically the idea is to keep your back straight with the barbell across your shoulders and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. It’s not necessary to do a squat any lower than that in order to get the results you want.

You can wrap a towel around the bar to act as padding so the bar doesn’t dig into your shoulder or better yet, there are pads made just for that purpose and many training facilities will have them.

Before you begin your squat, pick a point straight ahead of you to focus on and keep yours eyes on it as you go into the squat and rise back up. This will help you maintain a straight back.

Maintaining a straight back is crucial as letting your head drop forward and bowing your back is a recipe for pulling back muscles.

Wearing a weight belt is not recommended. This comes from some of the greatest weight lifters in the world who never wore weight belts when doing squats. Weight belts tend to inhibit breathing and really do very little in the way of supporting your back.

If you have problems keeping your balance flat-footed you can try placing a weight or board under you heels. This will give you more stability but should only be looked on as a temporary measure until you become more familiar with proper squat technique and grow stronger and are more able to maintain your balance when flat-footed.

Take several deep breaths at the top of each squat and hold your breath as you go into the squat and exhale as you rise. As you get further into the squat repetitions you will find your breathing much more labored as you reach the final few repetitions. This is normal as squats will really work your cardiovascular system.

It’s important to breathe deeply because contrary to popular belief squats do not just give you leg strength. You will develop the muscles in your arms, back, and shoulders as well and the breathing will help expand and develop your chest.

So how much weight should you lift and how many repetitions should you do?

Before you begin your squat program, find out what amount of weight makes you work fairly hard in order to manage ten repetitions.

That is the amount of weight you will use to start with and you will do twenty repetitions and not ten. Fight your way through all twenty and then you will be done.(in more ways than one)

Squat weight training for triathletes

This is a squat station that works on a slide and is not a free weight. Usually stations come with features that allow you to lift without a spotter.


You could perhaps do your sessions Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and take the weekend off. Do at least two sessions per week, but three is preferable.

The best option is a squat station as opposed to free weights as you will be pushing the envelop of your strength and endurance. A squat station will have built in rests that you can ease the bar down into once you are done your set. It also means you will not require a spotter.

ALWAYS have a spotter if you choose to use free weights as opposed to a squat station. If you choose to do free weights make a point of not wandering too far away from the rack that is going to hold the bar when you are done.

Squat weight training for triathletes

This is a free weight station and you most definitely require a spotter for this squat workout if you choose to use free weights.


The amount of weight you start with might be 30 or 40 pounds or it might be 100 pounds. It makes no difference. Everyone(man or woman)is at a different strength level and as long as it’s a weight that makes you work hard in order to manage ten repetitions, that’s your starting weight.

There have been people who have been very weak and who have started this program with 40 pounds and eventually went on to squat 300 pounds as they grew stronger and stronger. Although that is not necessarily the goal for everyone, it shows just how powerful this one exercise can be.

At the beginning of each squat session do a warm-up of ten easy squats and concentrate on form and breathing and then add the weight you have decided to begin with and go into your 20 reps.

You can even use an empty bar for the warm-up. Your goal in the quick warm-up is to refresh proper technique in your mind and to give your muscles a bit of a wake-up call for what is about to transpire.

The key is to increase the amount of weight you squat by five pounds every session.

Your body will strive to adapt to the added weight and physical effort and in order to meet the escalating physical demands will grow larger muscles. It’s not really complicated. The more weight you lift, the bigger the muscles your body has to produce to manage the workload.

The last five squats are the ones that are the most difficult and the most important. Those are the ones that will challenge you the most and the ones you are working toward. Those last five repetitions are the ones that will spur the most muscle growth and strength.

Squat weight training for triathletes

This is the starting point of a pullover. Use an empty bar if you prefer.


You will be breathing like a steam engine when you are done.

When you have completed your twenty repetitions, lay on a bench on your back and do some pull-overs. You can use just an empty barbell(or very light dumbbell)as the idea is to expand your chest and level off your breathing and heavy weights are not needed or recommended for this. You do not want your muscles to contract. This is strictly a recovery and breathing exercise that will expand your chest.

The images to your right will show you how to execute a pullover.

Squat weight training for triathletes

The end point of the pullover. Note how it will expand your chest.

Begin with the bar held above your chest with straight arms and take a wide shoulder-width grip and slowly lower the bar back behind your head. Inhale as you lower it. Let your chest stretch out as much as you can as you lower the bar and exhale as you bring the bar back to the starting positions above your chest.

One set of ten repetitions is all you need and your squat workout is finished for the day.

The total time is probably around 15 minutes for the entire session. At first you will most likely hate squats with a passion, but hang in there for five or six sessions and when you see the results you might just change your mind.

What and how you eat during this program is vitally important so lets talk about that.

DIET FOR WEIGHT LIFTING MUSCLE GROWTH

Some 25 years ago I wanted to gain some muscle mass and read a suggestion by the recently deceased Joe Weider(one of the greatest weight lifters ever)on how to accelerate muscle growth while lifting heavy weights.

Squats with heavy weight were the cornerstone of the program I was going on and he suggested drinking a quart of whole milk during every workout and increasing the daily intake of wholesome, healthy food to around 4000-4500 calories per day.

It’s a lot, but don’t forget your body needs the nutrition in order to tear down old muscles and re-build bigger and stronger ones.

Squat weight training for triathletes

Whole milk. A key diet ingredient for muscle growth when doing squats.


In one month I went from a medium shirt to a large shirt. I went from my usual weight of around 150 pounds to 168 pounds and it was all pretty well muscle gain.

The mentality was far different in the Joe Weider era.

They didn’t use designer drugs, protein powders, or supplements to get the necessary nutrients to complement their weight training and develop amazing muscles. They got results from eating lots of good food and working hard and making a commitment.

In order to fuel their bodies they would often eat six times per day. They would have a snack in between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner and a final one about three hours after dinner.

Every snack and meal included at least one 12-ounce glass of whole milk. The goal is to drink about two quarts(or liters)of milk per day. I drank half that amount during a training session, but you can also opt to spread your milk intake out over the day. I was training in my basement at home and you might not want to drag a quart of milk over to a fitness center.

A meat or cheese sandwich with a glass of milk are ideal for snacks after breakfast and lunch.

Hard-boiled eggs or pieces of cheese and two glasses of milk would make a good snack for after dinner.

Two or three eggs, toast, and a glass of milk for breakfast would be a great start to your day. You could also add bacon or oatmeal if you happen to have a big appetite. Of course not everyone can eat like this, but do the best you can to get in the extra calories.

Squat weight training for triathletes

Diet and exercise are intertwined and are the main keys to body image and conditioning.


Beans are a great source of protein and protein is a key ingredient in this weight-training diet.

Even today I often have green onions, black beans, herbs or spices, and spinach in my scrambled eggs in the morning. It’s packed with great protein. Use your imagination when you prepare your meals. The main idea is to get in the calories to fuel muscle growth. So do whatever works best for you.

How about this for a blender creation instead of sandwiches? Blend a frozen banana, two or three glasses of milk, a cup of powdered milk, a third of a cup of brewers yeast, a tablespoon of wheat germ oil, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Lunch could be two sandwiches, milk and some fruit.(Try and have meat sandwiches)Chicken, beef, salmon, or tuna sandwiches are a few ideas. You could also have egg salad sandwiches. Chile with plenty of lean beef and kidney beans would be great for lunch, dinner, or any of your snacks. Just add a few pieces of toast and a glass of milk.

Lots of meat(beef, pork, or chicken)and plenty of vegetables are ideal for supper…and don’t forget the milk. You can also add fruit for desert. Keep in mind this is a diet geared toward gaining muscle and to use while you are on the squat weight training for triathletes program. Once this is done you can easily work back into your normal training diet.

If you are a vegetarian you will simply have to find other ways to get your protein and calories in. Beans, milk, eggs, and almond or natural peanut butter are all good sources of quality fat and protein. Choose high quality fats like extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil to use in your cooking and in your salads.

Everyone is different. Not everyone can eat this much and for other people it will seem like a treat. The important thing to remember is that you are providing high octane fuel for a body that is working overtime to keep up with the muscle growth you are dictating by your work effort.

4000 calories is a lot, and if you find it’s too much, than just do what you can. Increase the amount you usually eat and drink plenty of milk. For a change of pace you can also drink whole chocolate milk. It is also packed with vitamins and nutrients that will spur muscle growth.

Eating this way is old school and fly’s in the face of conventional wisdom. Today we are inundated with designer nutritional products and dozens of different ways to exercise to get that perfect body. Sixty years ago it was much simpler. Eat wholesome food and work hard and you will succeed was the thinking back then.

Just one exercise and eating right in order to accelerate the growth of new muscle tissue.

It worked then and it will work now.

Besides, this diet is a means to an end and is just temporary and when you decide you are big enough and strong enough you will be going back to your normal diet.

I’M TRAINING FOR AN IRONMAN—WHEN DO I WEIGHT TRAIN?

It’s pretty much a 100% guarantee that anyone who sticks to these squat workouts for six weeks and takes in enough quality calories will see dramatic gains in strength and muscle mass.

Anyone can give this a try, but if you are a triathlete and the Ironman Triathlon is in your future plans timing is important.

There is simply no way to do these squat workouts properly as well as swim, bike, and run train at the same time. Rest is crucial on your off days from squats. At most I would suggest an easy swim after your squat workouts as this will feel great on tired muscles.

Squat weight training for triathletes

Upper body strength is just as vital to running as leg strength is.


Try out this squat weight training about six or seven months before your Ironman. It’s certainly not something you want to be doing when you are in full triathlon training. Once you have gained that extra muscle mass you can ease off on the calories and eat a more normal training diet and ease into your triathlon training.

You can maintain your strength—without adding more muscle mass—through-out the rest of the training season by doing one or two squat workouts a week with half the maximum weight you were at when at the end of your six weeks. Do two or three sets of ten repetitions and do ten pullovers. You will most likely find these maintenance workouts remarkably easy.

There are several reasons why squats are simply the best choice when it comes to weight training for triathletes.

—It does not demand a lot of time out of your day. You will spend way more time eating than you will working out.

—Contrary to popular belief, a good squat program will develop much more than powerful legs. You will also develop your back, shoulders, arms and chest. These are vitally important benefits for an Ironman triathlete.

—Having a strong upper body is a huge benefit when it comes to biking and running long distances. Developing your chest and lung capacity will help immensely in all three disciplines of triathlon.

—Doing just one basic exercise makes things much less complicated. Instead of doing six different weight routines to target specific parts of your body, you are doing your entire body at once.

—You don’t need costly protein powders and other nutritional supplements. You can spend your money on high quality food that will supply more than enough excellent protein, fats, minerals, and vitamins to create a new you.

—The results from doing squats are amazing. Squats are so powerful your entire body can change dramatically in six weeks. There is not another exercise that can make the same claim.

So to recap……..Get proper instruction on doing squats properly if you are not sure. Start with a weight that makes you work fairly hard to do ten repetitions. That is your starting point when you begin your program of one set of 20 repetitions three times per week for six weeks. Always have a rest day after a workout day. For instance Monday, Wednesday, Friday with weekends off. Use a weight station with built-in safety features to catch the weight for you when you let it down, or use free weights and ALWAYS have a spotter.

Before each squat session do a 10-rep warm-up with a light weight or just the bar to work on proper technique and to warm up your muscles. Do one set of ten reps of pullovers with just a barbell or very light weight as recovery and breathing exercise to expand your chest. If you are planning an Ironman, plan these six weeks of squat sessions very early in the training season(about six months before your race)and get plenty of rest. Try for around 4000 calories of high quality food every day. Try your best to drink two quarts(or liters)of whole milk every day.

If you are training for an Ironman, don’t worry about becoming muscle-bound. Once you have increased your strength and muscle-mass to a point you are happy with you can stop the growth of more muscles quite easily.

Simply cut back on the total calories(no more whole milk)and discontinue doing squats with heavy weights. You will plateau and may lose a bit of muscle mass once you stop the workouts and high calorie diet but will be in great shape to begin your triathlon training in earnest.

Your biking, running, and swimming and occasional squat maintenance workout with much lighter weights will help maintain your muscle growth, strength, and endurance for the entire season.

For those of you interested in getting even bigger and stronger, simply carry on past six weeks and keep increasing the amount of weight you lift by five pounds every session. Although this squat weight training for triathletes won’t be for everyone it will certainly work for those who are interested in muscle gain.

You might also like to check out these pages…

Women Triathletes and weight training

Women of Triathlon

Exercises-Lifting weights.

How to lift weights

Weight training techniques

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