Lift Like You Mean It

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

I’ve been ranting quite a bit recently (sorry)…..for what its worth, here’s another:

What’s with triathletes and weight training? 99 percent of the triathletes I meet are doing (or being told to do) 20 reps of every exercise in the gym. This is not a sport specific activity, period. As soon as you step foot in a weight room, you are not doing anything remotely sport specific in terms of energy production physiology.

Weight training by nature is very unsport specific regardless of how many reps you are doing. As discussed in one of my previous posts, anything with a duration over a 10k running (as an example) is more than 90 percent aerobic in terms of energy production. Given this fact, our sport is primarily aerobic. For some reason, many folks (and coaches) think that because we are triathletes, we should be doing high reps because its more “sport specific” relative to lifting heavy weights (3-8 reps). The reality is that to get to any energy production even remotely aerobic from weight training, you’d need to do 100+ reps. Based on that, this argument just doesn’t hold water and you should be lifting heavy for the best possible adaptation.

Another one of my favorites to hear (mostly from women) is “I don’t want to bulk….I just want to tone” . I’ll tell you right now, don’t worry about bulking! I spent a good part of my life dedicated to doing that (before triathlon), and I did it, but that took many years of serious focus and some heavy calories/protein (not an easy task). The sad part is that most women have the primary limiter of peripheral system strength and therefore miss out on turning that dial because of the “I don’t want to bulk attitude”. As an aside, the so called “toning” thing you hear all of the time just means gain muscle and lose body fat. Gaining muscle is done with heavy weights (again, tough to do), and losing body fat is done with a solid diet. “Toning” has nothing to do with lifting 20 reps as most of the pop magazines will tell you. Its actually tough work (with heavy lifting and focused diet)….no one wants to hear that.

Back to triathlon…..sadly, 8 times out of 10, most woman should try to become more like men (get stronger), and most men should try to become more like woman (lose muscle mass) to get faster. Are we creating some weird mono-being human here? Hum? I’ll be back with another post on this one down the road since it deserves its own topic.

Let’s review the primary purpose of being in the gym: 1) get strong, 2) build soft tissue toughness to avoid injury, and 3) gain joint strength (tendons and ligaments). Getting strong is best done with heavy weights. That’s what we came to the gym to do, so let’s do it and stay out of the gray middle (12-100 reps) where we neither get strong, durable, or build aerobic efficiency. Sure, 15 reps will build some durability and strength, but its way more efficient to do it with heavy weights and few big compound movements like leg press, squat, dead lift, etc.

One exception to all of this is if you are doing weight training into the race season (mostly for specific population groups like woman over 40, or men over 50). In these cases, the heavy lifting requires just too much recovery time and may start to undermine key workouts or race performances. Lighter weights with more reps is less damaging to soft tissue, and reduces recovery time. Note, this is the exact reason to go heavy during the early season….its more effective (more damaging) which should tell you right there that’s its the way to go during periods where you have the opportunity to get strong.

Lastly, for any heavy lifting period to be as effective as it can be, the training should be properly paired with a focus on protein (extra important for those athletes with low BMI at low BF, and strength limited) and proper nutrition periodization.

This is my last rant for a couple of months….I promise.


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