Triathlete weight training

Is triathlete weight training essential? No. Can it help? Yes, if it’s done right.

Many triathletes are unsure whether they should include weight training as part of there over-all program. They’re not sure if it will make a difference in their triathlon race results.

Weight training is sort of a grey area for many triathletes who are new to the sport. It can be challenging figuring out exactly what they should be doing in order to get the most out of their available training time.

So should you or shouldn’t you make triathlete weight training part of your over-all triathlon training schedule?


I’m sure many of you who are new to triathlon have never set foot in a weight room. Maby you feel out of place in the testosterone-charged world of “see how much I can lift grunts” and clanging metal plates. Or at least that’s the impression you might have.

Yes, it may have been like that several decades ago, but not so much anymore. The weight rooms of today are no longer the sole domain of the muscle-bound set. People from all walks of life and all sorts of body types and athletic ability are found in weight rooms now.

Even the medical community sees the value in weight training as it pertains to strength and flexibility. Weight training can be useful to most people in one form or another.

Is it essential to lift for triathletes to lift weights along with all the other training they’re doing? No, not at all. Will it help prepare for and have better results on the big day if you do? Yes, I believe it can if you go about it the right way.


The first thing is to understand just how and why muscles get bigger and stronger.

The principle is really not all that complicated. When you stress your muscles by lifting a heavier weight than they’re used to, they will grow stronger in order to do what’s being asked of them.

The more weight you lift, the stronger the muscle will get. It has no choice. The muscle is simply reacting to the demands you’re placing on it. If you lift ten pounds easily and you never increase the amount of the weight, the muscle will not get bigger because it is not being stressed and can easily handle the weight.

If you increase the amount of weight to 15 pounds and it takes more effort, the muscle will eventually grow and strengthen. Our bodies are quite amazing and very adaptable.

triathlete weight training

Back when I was about 13 I played on a soccer team. I hurt my right leg (my dominant leg) and for about 3 weeks kicked just with my left against the side of the house over and over again. From that point on I was able to kick just about as well with both feet because my weaker leg adapted to the new demands.

That also explains why construction workers are quite strong and office workers have to make extra effort to stay fit. One job stresses the body physically and one job is less demanding physically.

No matter what physical activity you do on a regular basis, your body will so it’s best to adapt enable to fulfill the task. So basically if you want any muscles to get bigger and stronger it’s necessary to stress them to the point where there’s some resistance. During the rest days between workouts your body will get rid of older tissue and re-built with newer, stronger muscle tissue.

I learned over the course of my more serious triathlon training years that there was a specific way to do my weight-room workouts. There were certain exercises that seemed to make the most positive impact when I was swimming, biking, or running. There was no doubt that triathlete weight training became a very important part of my overall training program.


If you do a few amount of repetitions with a very heavy weight you can just barely manage to lift, chances are you will get big, pronounced muscles.

These are the sort of muscles serious weight-lifers might get who are simply trying to get bigger and stronger. That is not really your goal as a triathlete. Your goal should be to do more reps (say about 12-15). Use a weight that you can manage but challenges you as you get near the end of a second or third set of 12-15 reps. This way you’ll develop more endurance and the longer, smoother, more toned muscles that are ideal for triathletes.

In other words a triathlete weight training program with more reps with a lighter weight as opposed to just a few reps with a very heavy weight makes more sense.

I remember once when this group of teen swimmers from one of the competitive swim clubs came into the weight room and their total work-out took no more than 25-30 minutes. Their coach had them doing circuit training.

They did about 6 different upper body (arms, shoulder, back) exercises. They would do about 15 reps of one and then after a short rest switch to the next weight station and do 15 of those until they were finished the circuit. They did the circuit twice. Actually, this system might work well for triathlete weight training.

triathlete weight training aids swimming

swimmer with smooth, toned muscles

Those swimmers were doing weight exercises that improved both their strength and endurance at the same time and that should be your goal as a triathlete.

The same hold true whether you are doing upper body exercises as it does for leg exercises like hamstring curls, quad extensions, and squats. Avoid using maximum weight and try for a weight that enables you to do at least 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Ideally, the last set should begin to challenge you and you may not be able to do them all. If you can do all three sets to easily, then you have gone the other way and used too little weight.

It it takes you 5 or 6 sessions to be able to finish all three sets, that’s perfect. Once you can do them all you have gained strength and endurance and can increase the weight a bit at a time so it becomes more challenging again.

Basically, that’s how you get stronger and how you body keeps adapting to be able to handle more and more weight. Eventually by trial and error you will work out a triathlete weight training program that will work best for you.

Here are more articles you might like…

Triathlon Checklist

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Triathlete Stretching

Triathlon Training


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About Ray

Ray hasn’t stopped since his first Ironman in Kona, 1984. He has since run 14 more Ironman races, authored 5 Triathlon books, and is now bringing together a passionate community of triathletes. Contact Ray at

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