Women Triathletes and Squat Training

The concept of women triathletes and squat training is still foreign territory to many.


It’s surprising because half of the people who are new to the sport of triathlon in any give year are females.

Many are new to swimming, biking, or running and almost all have no experience lifting weights.

It’s a common misconception that the weight rooms of the world are only for a select few and many people, especially women, feel they would be out of place in a weight room and so avoid it.

There is another misconception by both men and women unfamiliar with weight training is that it will bulk them up.

It will bulk them up if they use heavy weights and do just a few repetitions of each exercise. That part it true.

However, using lighter weights with more repetitions tends to promote flexibility, strength, and endurance. These are three areas that are vital to triathletes of any gender.

Also, in the past few decades the world of fitness has evolved and it’s not uncommon at all to see senior women in the weight room pumping some iron. Sure they might not be using much weight but you don’t really have to lift super-heavy weights in order to realize positive results.

seniors lift weights

The goal for female triathletes should be to do exercises that will improve strength and endurance over the long haul of a the bike leg of a 70.3 or full distance ironman.

If you can find the time to fit one single exercise in the weight room as part of your over-all triathlon training schedule I believe it will be well worth the time and effort. This is where women triathletes and squat training comes in.

If you improve your biking ability through strengthening and conditioning, then a better run will often be the end result. By doing this one exercise properly and spending just 20 minutes in the weight room at least 2 or optimally 3 time per week you stand a very good chance of realizing better results on race day.


It’s been proven over time that the squat is most likely the best single weight exercise for a triathlete. The run and bike are about 90% of an Ironman as far as stress on your muscles. Doing specific weight exercises for you upper body to improve your swim is not really necessary.

If you do squats properly and on a regular basis during your training season they have a way of increasing not just your leg strength, but your overall strength and endurance.

The concept of women triathletes and squat training actually goes back a long way to the early days of the Ironman.

In the early 1980’s the Puntos twins from Quebec were beginning to make a splash on the Ironman Hawaii scene as pro women triathletes.

I remember them saying back in Kona in 1984 that early in their career they struggled with the bike portion of the triathlon. They were excellent swimmers and ran well enough to consider trying to qualify for the Olympic Marathon.

The twins claimed that it was being introduced to squat repetitions by their coach that made them much improved cyclists. Once they became well-rounded Ironman triathletes they reached the top of the podium and in 1984 Sylvianne and Patricia were first and second in Ironman Hawaii in Kona.

I believed they proved beyond doubt that there was a time and a place for women triathletes and weight training.

Puntos twins 1st and 2nd in Kona in 1984

They did squat repeats almost to failure but did many, many repetitions in order to get there. They used about 50%-55% of the maximum weight they could manage.

For example, when I decided to adopt their squat weight training philosophy I would max out at around 380 pounds of weight for a few squats, so I used 200 pounds for my squat repetitions. In other words a weight I could easily handle for multiple repetitions before tiring.

I did half-squats and not full squats. With a full squat the stress on your knees is just too much and a half-squat will produce the results you want.

I worked my way up to 75 squats at the peak of my Ironman training. They were done in 3 sets of 25 repetitions with about a 2 minute rest in between sets. Each set was done at a fast steady pace one rep after another until the 25 were done.

The third set was challenging and at first I could not do all 25 of the last set, but eventually I was able to complete the entire workout every time.

If you look at the image below, the woman pictured is doing a half-squat using a squat lifting station. Also make note of her straight back as this is crucial to good form. You do have the option of putting a small weight behind your heel as she has. It does help maintain a better body position, but personally I never used it. If you can maintain good form without it, then you won’t need it.

I found that the change in my strength and endurance especially out on the Ironman bike course was dramatic and because the bike went better, so did the run. It made a big difference on the hills and I was able to sustain a good pace for a longer period of time on the flats. So obviously there was an improvement in both strength and endurance.

Best of all I maintained my race weight of 150 pounds no matter how many squats I did with an easily manageable weight and lots of repetitions.

Woman doing half-squats using a squat machine

I always did 15-20 reps first with a very light weight just to warm up the muscles and they were not part of the 75 rep workout. All you really need is about 15-20 minutes in order to do the warm-up and workout and it will produce results. I did this work-out 3 times per week and usually just before my swim work-out. I would suggest at least 2 times a week and 3 times as a maximum with rest days in between to allow time for the muscles to re-build.

Each individual will use a different amount of weight. So for example, if you are a a woman and can squat no more than 80 lbs. 4 or 5 times at your maximum, you would use 40-55 lbs. for the squat repetitions. At that weight you should be able to do far more repetitions yet at the same time be challenging your muscles to improve in strength and endurance. At first you could try 3 sets of 10 reps and then increase it over time to 15 and then 20 and 25.

You may doubt your ability at first, but there is nothing like hanging in there and seeing results, especially when you notice it on your hill climbing and endurance during your bike training.

As I said, this ultimately is a total body workout using one exercise. You’ll notice how you will be breathing hard after a round of repetitions and your heart will be racing. Squats will also do wonder for your cardiovascular system.

Be sure to use a squat exercise station as opposed to doing the squats freestyle. This allows for much more control and they have safety stops you can put in place in case you tire and have to let the weight down. When you use a squat machine you will not require a spotter in order to do the workout.

It’s all relative. The benefit is the same regardless of the difference between the amount of weight each person can squat, so don’t think you have to squat 100’s of pounds in order to see results.

So yes, I believe that the right weight training exercises can help women triathletes perform at their highest level and if you can fit it into your training schedule.

There is certainly a place for women triathletes and squat training in the training program on any athlete who wants to see the best possible race results. I would consider giving it a try for 12-14 weeks before the big race and see how you do.


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