Strength training for triathlon and endurance sports part 2 with Menachem Brodie | EP#183
Menachem Brodie is one of the leading strength training coaches for cyclists and triathletes. Among other achievements, he has been heavily involved in USA Cycling and educating USAC coaches since 2011, and is the creator of the Training Peaks course "Strength Training for Triathlon Success". In this two-part episode, we dive deep into a number of important aspects triathletes and endurance athletes need to know when it comes to strength training.
- Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Benefits of strength training for triathletes and endurance athletes.
- How much strength training should you be doing?
- What should your strength training consist of?
- The importance of assessments in strength training.
- How to fit in strength training around swim, bike and run workouts.
- Periodisation of strength training over a year or an entire triathlon season.
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Part 1 with Menachem Brodie
Assessments for strength training
- There are times when athletes ask why I didn't do an assessment, but actually my assessment starts when I first see the person moving.
- This is why the chapter on strength training for triathlon success at Training Peaks University is so in depth about the assessment.
I went back and forth about whether I wanted to give my assessment away, but actually if you don't learn how to assess, you won't understand what you're actually looking for.
- There are three assessments:
1) A postural assessment. I'm just going to look at you standing - how are you holding your body up, what are the strategies your body has developed for this.
Picture from the front, back, and both sides. Don't do it in front of an open window, the sunlight will hit differently at different times which will affect the photos.
These strategies tell us the baseline of what we need to begin to look for in a dynamic assessment.
2) Going through different movements. I'm looking for how bones, muscles and joints are interacting with one another to execute the movement. (e.g. overhead squat with a dowl, a hinge/founders pose, single leg hip lift - what strategy is the body putting together to fight against rotation)
3) Weighted assessment. Often times we don't do a 5RM or 3RM assessment the first time. The posture assessment and movement analysis, and me understanding the athletes mental strategies, usually takes 2-2.5 hours.
We need to do a 5RM for professionals if they have a strength training age of 1-3. I don't always do it because you can see how they're moving, but we don't need a lot of weight.
An 8kg weight for a goblet squat, or a 20-25kg weight for a hinge/dead lift is more than ample for most people.
For those who have a training age of 2-3 years, or those who are microsensitive, will be able to go through the 5RM or 3RM.
- We have to be smart about the assessment, often the posture analysis and movement assessment give enough information to get us started on building better movement patterns over the next two weeks.
This will kick off the anatomical adaptation through metabolic stress and body weight exercises, having the athlete make that mind muscle connection.
- Kim King, one of my mentors used to tell me 'mind in the muscle'!
- After about two weeks we would look at an 8RM.
I've only ever had two athletes do a 3RM and their strength training age is usually over 4.
It's important for us to move heavy weights but we have to think about energy management.
- We also need to consider how much we're going to get out of this testing.
When we put you under 5RM, we're going to see stuff move and breakdown just as much as we will for 3RM.
You're an endurance athlete, not a strength athlete, so I feel the 3RM does not relate well to our sport.
- Pure strength coaches out there may disagree, but we need to change the paradigm based on the sport.
- The assessment can and should impact the strength training programme.
- The ordering of your exercises is extremely important.
I've previously mentioned A, B and C, but there are also options for D and E.
You can have A1, A2, A3, B1, B2 etc.
This is just the ordering of your exercises.
- I worked with a professional basketball player here today with my interns and we saw how the ordering of the exercises really helped him out.
It allowed the body to make the mind muscle connection so he was starting to function better as he made the mind muscle connection.
- We're trying to programme the body to get the outcome we want.
- When it comes to self-assessing you absolutely can.
The Training Peaks course has the movement and posture analyses in there because you can do it on your own.
- My goal as a coach is to teach my athletes so that they can self-coach within the first four years of me working with them.
- Even if you go to a strength training coach or triathlon coach for this, you should ask to film it on your camera or ask for a copy so you can watch it.
- It's important for us to be aware and have a physical literacy of what is going on with our body as this will help us build a better training plan.
- Any exercise can be an assessment, it's just a matter of what you're looking for.
For example: A bicep curl probably won't be great for a triathlete unless you have a major elbow injury.
- The strength training assessment also involves looking at how you look when you run, swim and bike.
We'd want to have you on a trainer and have a video from the right, left, front and back.
We want to see you from tip to toe to see how you're moving on the bike, to see how you're running (tempo/threshold pace).
- Steven McGregor at Eastern Michigan University did a study that found that runners, top milers and track athletes were highly inefficient at any other pace besides threshold pace.
This is why you use threshold pace for the assessment.
- In swimming we'd want to assess you from the deck.
Example assessment for triathlon & common flaws
- We'll preface this with it depends, every body is different.
- Studies have shown there is a variance in the femoral neck angle (neck of upper leg bone coming into the hip) between 5-20 degrees because 4 hips.
We like to think that we're completely symmetrical but we are not.
- Once we play the averages, I would go with posture - rounded forward shoulders is very common across triathletes.
In part because of the sport and how long we spend on the bike, and because adults generally sit all day.
With this posture you can't really get your chest up and back.
- The second one to assess would be forward head posture.
- The third would be tight hips - core glute recruitment.
- You would be filming someone across all three sports as mentioned above.
- Once you have this footage, you are looking for how much movement is happening in the upper torso on the bike, are you arms moving side to side in your TT bars.
For running are you moving your arms too much - are they being thrown in front to move you.
For swimming we look at arm entry, rotation of the arm and upper torso together, as well as hand entry and shoulder position.
- We would treat this with breathing exercises and posture exercises.
- There's a great posture exercise called wall spinal stability that is actually very challenging.
- There's also a number of stretches - on the HVTraining Youtube channel I have thoracic extension foam rolling. I also have lats foam rolling to get more aero on the bike.
There is also chin tuck head lift which helps with forward posture.
- For the hips there are three exercises that you can do that will help:
1) McGill crunch (do the one from my video, or Dr Stuart McGills! - it's the most commonly butchered exercise)
2) Bird Dog - see video for progression
3) Side plank - we haven't released this video yet but it should be up soon
- We would then look at a basic hip series, a side lying leg lift, a hip lift with the glutes being the prime mover not the hamstring, and clamshells.
Clamshells work really well as long as you're using the right muscle. There's a muscle on the front of the leg called the tensor fasciae latae which we as triathletes tend to overuse.
- It's best to do a movement assessment and establish where you're getting movement from.
- Also if you're having any pain, especially sharp pain, tingling, numbness/loss of sensation, go see a physical therapist or a certified and experienced strength and conditioning coach!
- Just because they're a triathlete doesn't mean they know everything about the sport - keep that in mind. You want someone who is constantly learning and growing themselves.
- Strength training is an investment, and you have to consider the timing.
Doing it 8 weeks out from your race may not be the best.
- There are some trainers that have so much experience they are effective delivering this training online, but be very wary of a coach who is saying they've done strength training but have less than 5 years of training at least 10 hours a week in person.
To train online, you need to have a lot of experience of training in person.
Annual planning of strength training
- Yoga, pilates, kettle bells, bands, TRX, barbels, dumbbells, the answer is yes!
- The important thing to consider is the quality of the tissue and you as a person and the muscles you are building.
If you tend to be stiff, yoga may work for you but may also work against you.
- Pilates can help or hurt if you have a lot of back pain - it's about finding what works for you personally.
- Studies have shown that you do need overload.
E.g. TRX can work fantastically up to a point, but there will be a point when you need kettlebells/dumbbells/barbells to overload the system enough to actually see strength gains.
This isn't to say calisthenics don't work or aren't important.
Gymnasts work with heavy weights to overload the system enough so they can do calisthenics at amazing levels.
- Working in to the overall training plan depends on who you are, your age and training age, your goals and your distance.
- I like to break triathletes down into three different parts:
- Those who are going out just to complete it.
- Those who are aiming for a specific time.
- Those who are looking for podiums - either age groups or overalls.
This helps us decide what the overall training plan should look like.
- If your goal is to complete the race, most people in this position need strength training 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week.
You're pushing your body to do things it hasn't done before. We want you to be able to walk, run, swim and bike for the next 30-40 years - you don't want to finish an Ironman and not be able to ever run again.
Focus on the fundamental 5+1 movements: push, pull squat, hinge, press and rotary stability.
- If you're looking for a PR, we'd start to build it in to your training plan a bit more - looking for periodisation.
For base, we'll look between 3-4 hours in the gym (any more may take away from your other training) for Ironman & half Ironman.
For Olympic and Sprint, we may cut it down to 3 days a week of 45 minutes, keeping it consistent.
- Build 1 depends on where you are and what you're looking to increase as far as in sport capabilities.
Usually we'll take you down to 2.5-3 hours a week total, it can be chopped up to 30 or 60 minute sessions depending on your schedule.
- Closer to taper, we cut down to 40-60 minutes once a week. Moving heavy things and focusing on the movements they need to get stronger at.
Other athletes we may have 15-20 minutes after a bike/swim depending on where their strength training location is.
If they're more advanced and we're going to tap into their glycolytic system, we may not do it immediately after an endurance session.
Research shows it can interfere with adaptations but you need to consider the bigger picture - it will make you more injury resilient and stronger.
- The load and stress that is caused by the strengthening part can actually be a bit of recovery: Strength training can help you mitigate some of the issues caused by doing repetitive cycling, running and swimming.
It can decrease the training stress, or it can increase if you're doing explosive work.
- If you're doing strength training that has specific repetitions, you can see a recovery aspect in your performance.
It can also give you a break from the long endurance miles you're doing.
When to do which types of strength training
- It depends on where you are in the season, but everybody needs to go through anatomical adaptations.
This is anywhere from 2-8 weeks, low to no load.
For triathletes I generally start with body weight exercises and there's a lot of coaching during this time to help you make the connection to the right muscles, especially as you break down.
- Body weight exercises for the first two weeks, avoiding burn and muscle fatigue because the connective tissue takes a long time to build up.
We want to stimulate it enough so you can come back and do it again tomorrow.
- After this, we have to go through at least a 4-6 week hypertrophy phase.
There are two different types of hypertrophy: sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which is the space around the contractile tissues (this is what body builders want).
There's myofibrillar hypertrophy, which causes you to put on a little bit of weight but your power numbers will be increasing. If you're eating, sleeping and training properly and well you can see as much as a 2.5kg weight gain, but your numbers should be improving.
- After hypertrophy, depending on where you are as an athlete we will either continue muscular hypertrophy or go into max strength development.
Max strength doesn't necessarily need to be done for long distance athletes. If you're starting now (April), we wouldn't really go here.
- Most of your strength training sessions should be 5,6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
We should not be crawling out of strength training - the goal is the minimal amount of work in order to see the results that we want. We are not power lifting athletes!
This is a big mistake a lot of triathletes make - going just as hard for the strength training as for the skin, bike and run.
- For the max strength phase it can last anywhere from 6-12 weeks depending on the athlete, their recovery and their abilities.
We go into sport specificity, and give you specific workouts that challenge the neuromuscular system.
This may be an overpaced or overgeared time trial, or big ring riding on the bike.
- Lastly we would do maintenance in the taper - in the gym maybe once a week for an hour, or 2 x 30-40 minutes, heavy weights.
You come in, do your dynamic warm up, do the 2-3 things you need to do to maintain, and then you're out.
Rep ranges for each phase
- In general, anatomical adaptations depend on the mind muscle connection.
- For an athlete that is new and struggling to do the movement we would start with 3 sets of 3. Moving as quickly as the athlete can getting the muscles recruited correctly in the right order, up to 3 sets of 15-30.
For a more intermediate to advanced athlete, we might start off with 3 sets of 18, and work up to 2 sets of 40-50.
- For hypertrophy, anywhere from sets of 5 up to sets of 15 depending on what structural adaptations the athlete needs.
If they need to build myofibrillar strength, we'd stay in the 5-8 range because they'd be a bit heavier.
10-15 sets would generally be if we need to focus on the energy systems more, or the ability of that muscle to maintain strength under some fatigue, or if they need a lot of connective tissue strength.
- For max strength I would never have somebody do singles, because I don't think it's helpful or strength.
Usually I'll do sets with 2-4 repetitions, anywhere from 2 sets to 7.
- Specificity in sport really depends on the athlete and what tissue qualities we need for them
Order or workouts
- There's no black and white about which should be done first, strength or endurance. It highly depends on the individual.
- My general rule is considering what we want the major adaptation for the body to be.
Usually in base it'll be strength first, however our six hour athlete from before may need to do endurance first and strength after.
The exception would be if someone has postural issues or major mind-muscle connection issues, especially getting off the bike.
- For jelly legs off the bike I like to use strength training exercise during practice brick sessions in February/March/April/May.
We'll do bird dogs, side planks, McGill curl ups, deadlifts (10-15 rep range), and then out the door for the run.
- For the most part I ask the athlete what they feel better with - strength or endurance first, unless I'm looking for something specific.
- For the swim, I try not to do lifting after the swimming. I've found that athletes just don't want to do this workout after swimming as much.
Equipment for home based strength training
- There are three pieces of equipment that I think every triathlete should have at home if you're serious about your sport and getting healthy.
- Number one is a door anchor, which costs between $8-12.
- Secondly rubber bands - the 0.1, 1 and 1.5 inch will usually be more than enough for people, we don't want to go too heavy.
- Thirdly kettle bells. I recommend beginner strength training athletes start with an 8 and 10kg kettlebell.
Those who are intermediate to advanced start with a 12 and 20kg for the females, and 12 and 24 for males and advanced athletes.
- These three pieces of equipment take up no more space to store than 2 pairs of shoes.
- You can add in the TRX if you want but really you're able to do a full body exercise routine, as well as train power, strength and endurance, with just these three pieces of equipment.
- An incline and decline bench is nice to have but it's not necessary - you can do enough with the other things.
- For under $200 you can have a home gym!
If you are training on a tighter budget, get the 0.5 and 1 inch bands, the door anchor, and the lighter of the two kettlebells and start with that.
- We just finished editing a video with a home-based circuit which will be up on our Youtube channel soon.
Resources to follow-up with
- For my Youtube channel I try and release stuff that is relevant for the time of year for triathletes (for Northern hemisphere).
- I'm trying to build my website blog too so people can find answers to common questions they may have.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon, endurance sports or strength training?
- What is your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
- What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point in your career?
- I wish I had realised sooner that you get the best from the top coaches in the sport, rather than just the research.
- Also learning how to read research articles properly earlier.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Menachem Brodie
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Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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