Women triathletes and weight training for optimum results

Gaining a competitive edge is very possible when women triathletes incorporate weight training into their race preparation.

There are many who believe there is nothing to be gained by women hitting the weight room in order to improve as triathletes. However that’s a myth and weight training is becoming the norm among women of all ages.

Almost 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. The concept of women lifting weights could well be foreign to them.

It’s a common misconception that the testesterone charged atmosphere of the weight rooms of the world is a male domain. Some women might feel they would sort of stand out in the weight room and so avoid it.

Recently women of all ages have been adopting weight training

These days it’s highly possible that you will see women of all ages in the weight room pumping some iron. Seniors are becoming more familiar with the advantages of improving their overall fitness. 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.

Weight training can improve strength, endurance, and flexibility and does not have to necessarily be geared toward having big muscles.

women triathletes and weight training

Don’t forget about strengthening hamstrings


Women triathletes and weight training should be centered around developing strength and endurance over the long haul of a triathlon run and bike especially.

I would not worry so much about specific upper body muscles but rather would focus on spending your time on exercises that focus on full body strength and endurance.

If you improve your biking ability through strengthening and conditioning, then a better run will often be the end result. So by doing 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.

The squat is the best all-around weight training exercise for women triathletes

Of course this is just my own personal opinion and you can take it or leave it, but I believe that doing “squats” is most likely the key exercise for women triathletes and weight training.

Although it might seem squats only strength the lower body, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course it will greatly benefit the bike and run that comprise some 90% of an Ironman but squats also impact back and shoulder muscles for the swim.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do upper body exercises specifically for the swim, but you have to look at the time spent training/reward ratio.

weight training-woman triathletes

Squats are a key exercise for triathletes

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.

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. 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.

weight training and women triathletes

Weight training made Puntos Twins better cyclists.

If you look at the image, the woman pictured weight training 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.

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.

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. For instance you could just use the bar with no weight to warm up.

All you really need is about 15-20 minutes in order to do the entire 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.

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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.

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 women triathletes and weight training exercises can help women triathletes perform at their highest level and if you can fit it into your training schedule I would consider giving it a try for 12-14 weeks before the big race and see how you do.

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