The FOUR Sports of Triathlon Training
Katelyn Sander
/ Categories: Fitness

The FOUR Sports of Triathlon Training

Living Well

Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs

“Course des Debrouillards” or “Course Les Trois Sports” was first documented in France in 1921, where a relatively small group of athletes raced a 3km run, 12 km bike, and then swam across the river of Marne.

“Course” is French for “Race” and “Debrouillard” is often translated as “Resourceful”. And so… these first triathlons were “Races for the Resourceful”!

As, indeed, you must be to attempt any type of triathlon. Be it Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, or Ironman – where, while the distances vary considerably – the pattern is the same: A group of athletes race against each other swimming, cycling, and, finally, running – with no break – such that the winner is the person who finishes first. 

Total kilometres covered range from 25.75 (16 miles), 84.5 (51.5 miles), 113 (70.3 miles), to 226.25 (140.6 miles) and committing to training for any of these distances requires courage and determination. The subsequent training itself will certainly build a remarkable degree of mental and physical endurance, strength, agility, grit, and fortitude.

While three of the training modalities are obvious – swimming, running, and cycling – there is another athletic endeavour that more and more endurance athletes – including triathletes – are relying on to facilitate better performance, fewer injuries, faster recovery, and ability to train and compete for the long haul. What’s this fourth, key activity? 

Strength training.

Whether you’re new to tri-training, a seasoned pro, or looking to add one or two endurance sports to your workout routine, incorporating strength training sessions into your plan can pay off big time. 

In terms of performance enhancement, specifically training upper body strength and power translates into a better ability to generate propulsive forces through the water, increased stroke length, and/or stroke rate and faster swim speeds. Lower body strength and power training reduces oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood lactate concentrations, and RPE during hard running and cycling efforts as well as facilitates an earlier peak torque during pedal stroke and increased running velocity and hopping power. Concurrent strength training and endurance training (over 26 weeks) can significantly improve both running and cycling economy in triathletes without any increase in body mass.

One of the most important benefits of adding strength training is the avoidance of overuse injuries. That said, given the multidisciplinary nature of the sport, training obviously requires a large number of training sessions and over-all volume is typically quite high. One important consideration then is to ensure the addition of strength training doesn’t nudge overall volume over the top, as this can increase risk of excessive fatigue, illness, and – paradoxically? – injury.

As we’ve discussed on many occasions, there’s an art and science to all types of training. Different challenges and opportunities surface with each unique activity and human body. Never hesitate to reach out to one of our fitness experts to help you ensure your plans and strategies are effective and safe.
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Here are some of our best thoughts and strategies around incorporating strength training into your routine: 

Build your strength foundation first. Just like when you first started to swim, run, or bike, you need to build your fitness and form before you start loading intensity and volume. Strength training is transformational in huge part because it’s such a dynamic, complex stressor. Avoid starting in the deep end. Build muscle awareness and strength where it’s missing; for most that’s our posterior chain, especially our glutes. Address any asymmetries. Build both mobility and stability through your shoulders, ankles, hips, and core. A great foundation will ensure that you can progressively load your body – with all activities – in a manner that is safer, more effective, and more enjoyable.

Count strength training as part of your total training volume. Ideally, begin and build your strength training during your “off season” when training load for your other sport is low. As your sport specific training increases, your strength training moves into a maintenance phase, and progressively tapers in volume, such that you ultimately taper off completely to facilitate optimal performance on race day.

Perform your movements to technical – not physiological – failure. Full muscle activation and strength development – especially when training with moderate to high loads – is identical when training close to failure vs complete failure. From a practical standpoint, that means training to the point when you perceive you could complete 1-3 additional reps. This will give you the same benefits with far fewer risks compared to lifting until you drop (the weight, the bar or yourself?!). Additionally, when training for sports performance or injury avoidance (which often involves counterbalancing overuse injuries) specific posture and muscle activation is vital. That is form, awareness, and quality of movement during execution takes precedence over quantity.

Strength train when you are fresh. Avoid trying to execute complex dynamic movements after a long endurance training session or during a day when you need active or complete rest.

If you’re limited for time – focus on full body, compound lifts to create an effective workout that can be done in 30-40 minutes, 2 times a week. Some of our favourite exercises to teach triathletes are front squats, deadlifts, reverse squats, overhead presses, Palof presses, and pull-ups.

Rest and recovery are vital parts of training. Remember, training is a stressor. The body rebuilds and gets stronger during rest. Ensure you plan for recovery days and recovery weeks where your activity intensity and volume are low to non-existent. Prioritize sleep. 

Have fun.



Baldwin, KM., et al. Strength training for long-distance triathletes: Theory to practice. Strength Cond J,  June 2021.

Britton, A. Strength training periodization for triathletes. Strength Con J, 30: 65-66, 2008.

Egerman M., et al. Analysis of injuries in long-distance triathletes. Int J Sports Med, 24: 271-276, 2003.

Etxebarria, N., et al. Review: Training and competition readiness in triathlon. Sports (Basel), 2019 May 7(5): 101, 2019.

Luckin-Baldwin, KM., et al. Strength training improves exercise economy in triathletes during a simulated triathlon. Int J Sports Physio Perform, May 1;16(5):663-673, 2021.

Santanielo, et al. Effect of resistance training to muscle failure vs non-failure on strength, hypertrophy and muscle architecture in trained individuals. Biol Sport, Dec 37(4):333-341, 2020.

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