Podcast, Strength training

Strength and conditioning for triathletes with Frank Velasquez | EP#15

 April 20, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Strength and conditioning for triathletes with Frank Velasquez | EP#15

Strength and Conditioning is something most triathletes know that they should do. Yet very few actually do it, usually because of not knowing really how to do S&C and what sorts of workout structure to apply.

Frank Velasquez Jr., Certified Athletic Trainer, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, and Director of Sports Performance at Allegheny Health Network covers the subject in great detail, so you can learn exactly how to get going with S&C.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Why you should do strength and conditioning (S&C).
  • How to go about doing S&C for complete novices and those with more experience.
  • Example S&C sessions.
  • How much time you should spend on S&C and how to periodize it.
  • The most common S&C mistakes triathletes make.


​Introduction to Frank Velasquez

02:19 -​

  • Director of Sports Performance at Allegheny Health Network​
  • MLB Sports Medicine Staff of the Year
  • Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist
  • 16 years in Major League Baseball

Why is strength and conditioning so important for triathletes?

05:18 -

  • ​Doing repetitive sports creates muscle imbalances and the only way to correct those is by doing strength and conditioning programs.
  • Getting stronger will help protect your joints better like your hips, knees, ankles and lower back. It helps reduce injuries and improve performance.

What are the most common imbalances in triathletes?

06:50 -

  • For triathletes, it is the posterior chain. The pecs, quads, and hip flexors get used pre-dominantly and this contributes to the imbalances.​

What strength and conditioning workouts can triathletes do?

08:28 -

  • We start with foam rolling either with the vibration drum or the vibration platform, then do some activation exercises which activate certain areas of the body to help protect the joints from more intense work. These activation exercise will activate the glute medius to help protect the hip and knees. We activate the transverse abdominal to help protect our low back. Then we activate the periscapular to help protect our elbows and shoulders.​
  • Getting into the specifics of strength training, we do a lot of Romanian Deadlifts and single leg exercises like reverse lunges, box step-ups and Bulgarian split-squats. These unilateral or one-legged exercises helps you correct your dominant side.

Is there a rule of thumb that triathletes can follow when it comes to how much strength and conditioning to do?​

11:51 -

  • It differs. It depends on time, resources and availability of equipment. We never have our triathletes do more than twice week because they are in the abbreviated and not full strength program. We make sure that you are doing your posterior chain work.​

How does strength and conditioning change over the course of the season?

13:28 -

  • It all depends on when your races or events are. If you are preparing three or four months for a particular race, we periodize programs based on the volume of training that you are doing and when we need you peaking by in the race season. Once we get them where we want them, strength wise, we maintain it at that level.​
  • During winter time, one of our workouts is generally more intense than the other and they are never back to back days but always two to three days apart.

    On our intense day, it would usually consist of a hex bar, usually the unilateral work first after we activate. So we would do a reverse lunge for two to three sets, we build them up and start with two sets then work them up to three sets of 6-8 reps. We do all of our programs with two exercises, so if we do a reverse lunge, we will super set that with a lat pull down to work on our retraction back, side and upper body. They all protect that shoulder. We do those sets and reps, get a drink and then we will go to our next two exercises. It will be probably be an RDL, a big posterior chain exercise, a barbell Romanian dead lift, and super set that with maybe a bosu push-up. We don’t do a lot of front side work but we like the bosu push-up because you put your hands on a bosu ball and it makes an uneven terrain, so you are getting more scapular activation to help protect that shoulder again. So with the reverse lunges and lat pull down, then you do the Romanian dead lift, and then with your bosu push-up. Then your third couplet would be a hex bar dead lift of two or three sets of 6-8 reps along with another pull. For every push, we do two pulls. After we do that last couplet of hex bar dead lift and one armed dumb bell row, we would do something lateral like a lateral bound or lateral side lunge to get the adductors and more glute work. We super set that with a plank to push up climber. When we are all done with the strength sequence, then we would throw in an anaerobic piece that is non-weight bearing like a Tabata set on a rower 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off times five to eight repetitions. We push you past your zones of comfort. It really exercises the heart muscle and we can do it without banging on your joints. It is very objective and so we can keep objective data with our workout.
  • So that is one example of one workout. Now the workout later in the week, maybe a little less intense weight wise, but a little more functional. We do a box step-up with an assisted pull-up as our first couplet. Then we do a T push-up, where we do the push and add some thoracic rotation, like you get in a swimming motion. Now, maybe a one-legged deadlift, a one-legged dumbell deadlift instead of a two-legged that we did earlier in the week. We would add a balance or stability component doing a one-legged Romanian deadlift along with our T push-ups. Then, for our last couple we would do a kettlebell swing, with a TRX roll. Then maybe some skater plyo jumps or something like that for the lateral component. At the end, we’ll throw in some Jacob’s ladder or slide board routine to get their heart rate up.
  • This all has to mesh in with what you are doing on your own.

Are there any short sessions in between those that triathletes should do at home or is it good enough to do those two sessions?

19:26 -​

  • No, the activation exercises you are doing daily. Whenever you’re swimming we recommend you activate those pair of scaps and do some shoulder tubing, just some tubing exercises at different levels, we call it four position tubing. Whenever you’re running or biking, we recommend you activate those glutes doing ankle band walks or box step-ups on a 12 inch box.​
  • We have several activation exercises that we rotate through that our runners, bikers and triathletes will do on a regular basis outside of their weight room session with us.

What kind of weights do you use on those intense trainings?

20:28 -

  • That is different for everybody. Let's say my maximum heavy is different from your maximum heavy so you need to take that into consideration. If I can get 6 fairly easy then I am going into 8 reps, then my next set I would do one or two less reps and add weight and then my last two sets I would continue to drop the reps and increase the weight. That is what we call a half pyramid.

What are the common mistakes that triathletes have been doing in their strength and conditioning?

21:13 -

  • Number one is not doing anything at all. The second one is doing more front sides work more than they need to. Again, contributing to this imbalance, we see a lot of leg extensions on a leg machine which is a very isolated exercise.​

How does it work when you have a new client come in to see you?

22:04 -​

  • We do an initial evaluation where we explain to them our methodology of strength training and go over a lot of things that we talked about strength training wise. We also go over nutrition, hydration and rest with all of our clients. After we go over our methodology, we then go through a kinetic chain assessment. I am going to look at different areas of their body and take range of motion and strength measurements. I find out where they are tight and loose, where they are weak and strong, and learn about their body. We then use that information to help create a program for them that is customized based on the information that we get, based on how many days a week we can get their hands on, based on what race they are preparing for and when it is. We then utilize all that to create their program and then get them in into their four pack or eight pack core or it could be a virtual training package where they just come in for the evaluation information and then we write the programs that they can follow on their own at a gym nearby their home.​

For the listeners on this show, can you give them a few action steps on what they should do? Let us have two scenarios, one would be a triathlete who is completely new to strength and conditioning and has not done pretty much anything before. The other would be a triathlete who have had some experience doing things over and over again and being stuck in a rut.

​23:29 -

  • I would definitely recommend that you begin working with a strength and conditioning professional, whether it be an athletic trainer or a physical therapist strength coach. Then you get that initial evaluation. If I am a novice I would find out about my body, where are my limitations and where am I too loose. Get them to at least get you started on the programs. To learn the mechanics of the exercises is very important. Get you into the routine and then downshift and do more on your own.​
  • For the veteran triathlete, I would still get with a professional. If you are getting bored with the routine, they can give you some more tools out of their toolbox. For exercise selection, make sure you are selecting the right exercises.

How does strength training affect you in terms of nutrition and hydration?

26:09 -​

  • Everyone who comes to see us basically has a goal. Whether I want to run faster, swim faster, throw the ball harder, or jump higher. To do those, help you reach your goals, we work on the mechanics of the skill and we need to get stronger. To improve your strength, we need to provide our body with material to build strength. So you have to make sure that you are eating enough. We preach breakfast, meal frequency, the 80-20 rule which is 80% the premium fuel. Hydration wise, we preach water is king. We educate on electrolyte imbalances and how we can get our electrolytes in. With sleep, we preach 8 to 10 or 7 to 9 hours depending on your age. Then we educate on supplements, with these elite athletes, food is not enough. We are making sure that we are looking over anything that they are taking that their buddy has recommended or maybe another coach. I only recommend supplements that are certified with an NSF certification. The NSF basically guarantees that what is on the package is what is on the bottle.​

Rapid fire segment​

29:14 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to strength and conditioning or triathlon? My life experiences and learning from and listening to role models and people I look up.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? I have two. One is the kettlebell. The second is the Gymboss Interval Timer.
  • What kind of weight do you have for your kettle bell? Do you need a set or just one? A set of kettle bells is better than just one.
  • What personal habit has helped you achieve success? Hard work, persistence, consistency and unwavering faith.
  • If you can only prescribe three strength and conditioning exercise for all your future triathlon clients, which exercises would those be? The Romanian dead lift, reverse lunge and prone row which is also called the renegade row with dumbells.
  • What do you wish you had known or had done differently at some earlier point in your career? Right when I was done with my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, maybe I would have gone on right away and got my Master’s degree.

Links and resources

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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