Hypertrophy and Strength training for triathletes

Let’s be honest, when it comes to S&C, the main concern for competitive triathletes is body mass.

They generally tend to avoid resistance training because they don’t want to add muscle mass (weight) to their physique because they want to be as light as they can be on the bike and look lean.

While I understand that everyone has aesthetics goals and there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t understand though why caring about a number on the scale when that number could possibly mean that we are able to hit certain watts, swim more vigorously for a longer time and more importantly fight sarcopenia and bone density loss in the future.

It may be true that the law of gravity pushes down heavier people on a hill, but it’s also true that without being able to exert force with our legs we will never reach the top of the hill. 

Hypertrophy and strength training are designed to use the principle of progressive overload on the nervous system to break down muscle fibres so they can be rebuilt stronger and in a larger quantity.

Whether you want to focus on muscle building to gain size, or you want to improve functional strength by focusing on training fast-twitch muscles fibres, resistance training is crucial for our health and endurance. 

If we participate in athletics/endurance competitions, we may want to focus on a specific type of strength training. For example, cyclists and runners might want to create a strength program that helps them get stronger in their lower body and swimmers might want to have a weightlifting program to help them get stronger in their upper body.

Triathletes though, might want to have a strength program that helps them get stronger in the upper and lower body because of the specific movements the three disciplines require (swim, bike,run).

The goal of strength training is to increase the amount of force our muscles can exert.

Strength training usually involves heavy weights with a lower volume.

A typical range would be 3 sets of 3-5 reps with 3 to 4 min rest in between sets.

This stimulates a temporary break down in your body so that more muscle fibers can be added in the damaged area during rest periods. 

The goal of hypertrophy is to build muscle mass with a higher rep range with lighter weights compared to strength training.

Also, hypertrophy training emphasises isolation exercises, whilst strength training emphasises compound movements. 

What’s better for triathletes then? Strength training with compound movements and a mix of both strength and hypertrophy to avoid hitting plateaus, keep the sessions varied and most importantly to increase muscle glycogen storage for endurance purposes. 

The focus should always be on progressive overload and mobility as well.