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. Congratulate yourself, whether you completed your first 5km, sprint triathlon or Ironman. You have done it. Rest, recharge your batteries, review 2015 and set your goals for 2016.

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

Once you have identified your weaknesses design a plan to tackle them. Most people focus on what they are good at, but this winter why not focus on what you are bad at, for example a weak leg or inflexible shoulders. 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, using resistance or plyometrics or a combination. Variation enhances improvement.
 

Focus on technique 

If you have an injury please get help. Even if you are not injured having a coach analyze your technique is worthwhile. Pros do coached technique workouts every week to make sure all their muscles are working in a coordinated manner to efficiently produce the movement and power required. 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 (involves rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscles, for instance jumping up and down on the spot) suitable for your sport will make you faster and stronger, as you will get all of your muscle fibers firing correctly.
 
Try and film yourself on the treadmill
Self analysis is also possible on your turbo - or run on a running machine in front of a mirror, or get 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. This could be 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 do the same number in the correct way on each leg and do your knees track over your feet or do they move inwards or outwards? In swimming do you have good shoulder function and flexibility? Are you able to move your arms straight above your body without stiffness?


Combine strength work and plyometrics

Warm ups are vital
Always warm up well before any workout, for example on a rowing machine. Pick your weakest movements and start with no weight looking at yourself in a mirror to perfect the correct movement. If you need to stabilize yourself or have help, please do so. Start by perfecting the correct movement. Once you can, do 3 sets of 10 repetitions correctly and then slowly add free weights up to the weight you can do a maximum of 10 reps perfectly. Then do 3 sets of 8. Strength work is best at least twice a week.

Alternate weeks add in plyometrics after the warm up but before the weight set. Correct foot placement and knee tracking is 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, think hot floor. Once jumping has been perfected you can move onto hopping. Correct movement must be maintained, otherwise stop and go back to a movement that you can perform correctly.

Strength workouts can be done at home. A balance board, gym mat, basketball, kettle bells, 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.

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

Keep your body guessing - and rest!

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 kick backs with 15 secs easy. Mix up the session.

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. Either change exercise, for example pilates, or reduce the resistance.

Changing your routine will keep your body guessing, developing and improving and your rest week will allow you to rest, recover and get stronger. It is only through rest that your body recovers and gets stronger.
 
Cross train with mountain biking
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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