Strength training over winter

Strength training over winter

Taking time this winter to strengthen your weaknesses will pay dividends in the new year, says Fiona Smart as she focusses on strength training and improved technique for triathletes.

You have finished your season. Whether you completed your first 5km, sprint triathlon or Ironman, congratulate yourself on your achievements. Rest, recharge your batteries, review the year and set your goals for the next season.

Analyse your performance

What are your strengths and more importantly your weaknesses? Maybe it is a lack of strength, an injury or a technique issue. These need to be addressed to improve as an athlete, and the off-season is a perfect time.

Once you've identified your weaknesses, you'll need to design a plan to tackle them. Problems can be overcome by a combination of retraining yourself to perform the correct co-ordinated movements together with strength work, either as free weights, body weight, resistance, plyometrics or a combination. Variation enhances improvement.

Focus on technique 

If you have an injury, it's essential to seek the right help. Even if you are not injured, having a coach analyse your technique will help prevent you picking up an injury in the future. Professionals do technique workouts every week to make sure all their muscles are working in a coordinated manner to produce the movement and power required efficiently. You may have the musculature, but if the muscle fibres are not able to contract and relax at the correct time to perform a particular movement, then you will not be as fast or as strong as possible. Performing technique drills and plyometric sets (rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles) suitable for your sport will make you faster and stronger, as you will get all of your muscle fibres firing correctly.

Self-analysis

Film yourself on the treadmill or ask a friend to video you -  most of us know what we are supposed to do, but it can be difficult to judge ourselves. Maybe your knees are not tracking correctly when you pedal. Perhaps it's due to a tight muscle or a strength imbalance in the leg. Sometimes your legs have different strengths altogether. If you do one-legged squats, can you correctly do the same number on each leg and do your knees track over your feet or do they move inwards or outwards? In swimming do you have proper shoulder function and flexibility? Are you able to move your arms straight above your body without stiffness?

Combine strength work and plyometrics

Always warm up thoroughly before any workout. Pick your weakest movements and start with no weight looking at yourself in a mirror to perfect the correct action. Start by perfecting the right movement. Once you can, do 3 sets of 10 repetitions and then slowly add free weights up to the weight you can do a maximum of 10 reps correctly.  Strength work is best at least twice a week.

On alternate weeks, add in plyometrics after the warm-up but before the weight set. Correct foot placement and knee tracking are essential before commencing any jump plyometrics. If your knees fall in or turn out upon jumping, stop! With plyometrics, you can use free weights or body weight. Start by jumping easily for 3 sets of 10, then try 5 jumps as high as you can go, spending the least amount of time touching the floor. Once jumping has been perfected, you can move onto hopping. The correct movement must be maintained, otherwise stop and go back to an action that you can perform correctly.

Strength workouts can be done at home. A balance board, gym mat, basketball, kettlebells, bags of sugar, skipping rope, stretch cords, a static bike or turbo are great and allow you to mix up a session and fit it into your busy life. In fact, doing two shorter sessions (15 mins) a day if your knee(s) does not track well is better than going twice a week to a gym.

Discipline-specific training

On a static bike or turbo, use larger gears with a slower cadence as strength sets. If you lose your form, reduce the resistance to prevent injury. Perform isolation exercises, such as wall sits or plyometrics, before continuing with the bike workout. Variety is essential!

In the pool use paddles, swim in a t-shirt, use a drag device or tie your ankles together. At the end of a swim try deep water running, where water provides the resistance. Run as usual in deep water wearing a buoyancy device. Sets can include run 5 x 2 mins hard with 30 secs easy, then 5 x 30 secs high knees or kickbacks with 15 secs easy. Mix up the session.

Keep your body guessing

Periodise your strength training. Start with getting used to the training and then progressively build resistance. Make sure every third or fourth week is easy by either changing the exercise or reducing the resistance.

Changing your routine will keep your body guessing, developing and improving and your rest week will allow you to recover and get stronger. It is only through rest that this recovery and strengthening process happens.

Cross train 

Use the winter to cross train (mountain biking, skiing, inline skating). This keeps up your fitness, enhances your neuromuscular coordination and strength and keeps you mentally fresh.

Please continue strength training all year; otherwise, you will lose any gains you have worked so hard to achieve. During the season your strength workouts can be reduced in both duration and intensity to maintain your strength. Good luck and enjoy an exciting winter of training.

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