The Importance of Strength Training for Triathletes

3 min read

The Importance of Strength Training for Triathletes

How do you like the sound of these improvements:

  • 5% percent improvement in running performance.
  • 7% percent in cycling.
  • 10% improvement in exercise economy (performance markers in long endurance events)

These results are all average results from science backed studies on a strength training regime as supplementation to endurance athletes.

Pretty much any coach or sports scientist would agree that for triathletes, a properly designed strength training program is hugely beneficial for improved endurance performance.

Unless you're very short on time, you should be doing weightlifting to improve triathlon performance, longevity, and general health.

If you are doing only 2 workouts per week in each discipline and you don't have time for any additional workouts. Then you might be better off, from a triathlon perspective, just swimming, biking and running, rather than substituting one of those precious workouts for a session in the gym.

Research on strength training for triathletes and other endurance athletes has picked up the last 10-15 years.

" Multiple studies have shown direct performance improvements from incorporating a well-designed strength training program in your triathlon training."

By lifting weights, you will see reduced delayed fatigue in extended endurance exercise and racing.

One of the main reasons triathletes should lift weights is the improved running and cycling economy. This means you use less oxygen to go at a certain speed or power output. In long-distance events like half and full Ironmans, economy is king when it comes to predicting performance.

Will I Get Bigger?

All of the suggested negatives of strength training, which is primarily increased body mass but also reduced capillarization and oxidative enzyme activity, have been shown to be unfounded scientifically.

Endurance training is prohibitive of seeing big increases in muscle mass and bulking up. However, it has been proven that muscle strength still improves without added mass.

Training Guidelines

Some simple rules are:

  • Lift heavy weights at low reps (3-6)

  • Lift as fast as you can and be explosive!

  • Do plyometric exercises as an option, but be careful (they are very effective but the injury risk is high)

With plyometric, you need to be very careful. Do not do 8 jumps if it says 5. Do not use a 40 cm box if it says a 20 cm box. This can be the difference between amazing running gains and frustrating series of injuries.

The Science 

Are you still a sceptical?

The studies and meta-analyses summarised below enrolled triathletes or duathletes, or investigated the impact of strength training on both cycling and running performance.  

The science speaks for itself.

 6-7% In Running Economy

  • This study enrolled 15 triathletes.
  • They did 14 weeks of 2 times per week heavy weight resistance training. They were above 90% of their one-rep maximum.
  • They improved their maximal strength, running economy, and velocity or speed at VO2max, although VO2max itself did not improve.

Find the study here.

7% Improvement in 5-minute Cycling Time Trial.

  • 5-week strength training program at 3 times per week. 

  • This study confirmed the decrease in free cycling chosen cadence with exercise duration. 

  • After 5 weeks of strength training, the reduction is much less significant in the group that had done strength training compared to the group that did not.

  • They concluded that strength training can help prevent neuromuscular fatigue which causes a reduction in cadence.

Find the study here.

4.7% Improvement in 5-minute Running Time Trial

  • The study enrolled 19 female duathletes.

  • They then assessed running and cycling performance with a 5-minute all out test. This was 3 hours of cycling or 1.5 hours of running.

  • In cycling, the strength training group saw a 7% improvement in performance compared to the non-strength training group. The running group saw a 4.7% improvement in performance compared to the control group.

  • They also had reduced oxygen consumption which improved economy. They also had reduced heart rate during the final 2 hours of cycling. 

Find the study here.

Most Effective Training Rules

  • Confirmed that running economy is improved by performing combined endurance training with heavy or explosive strength training.

  • Heavy strength training is recommended for improving cycling economy.

  • With running, you can go both ways – heavy weights or explosive strength training. With cycling, it’s really the heavy weights that will give the most effective.

  • If you can get your intended velocity high, that still counts as explosive, even if the actual velocity isn’t high (because you loaded the bar with a ton of weights).

Find the study here.


We have created a triathlete specific strength program that utilises the science backed rules for maximising your results and performance.