Strength Training for Triathletes: Maximum Strength Phase

IRONMAN certified coach Wendy Mader is back with Part 2 of her Strength Training for Triathletes series! In Part 1 we learnt about the preparation phase and injury prevention. Now it’s time to find out how to get the most out of the Maximum Strength Phase.

Strength Training for Triathletes

Strength training for triathletes can often be confusing but it doesn’t have to be. Once you understand when you need to do it and how to vary the intensity, you are well on your way to mastering this part of your training. Through this series of articles, I hope to make strength training easy for you to follow.

While it is most beneficial to strength train year-round, it is important to vary the amount of weight and repetitions depending on the phase of training you are in for your sport.

The key is to understand the various phases of triathlon training and ensure your annual training plan is tailored to meet your strength training needs for each phase.

Phases include: Preparation, Base, Build, Peak, Taper, and Transition.

Training Phases

Strength Training for Triathletes: Maximum Strength Phase | Linked FitnessFollowing the preparation phase, you will enter the base phase. During the base phase, before competition, your strength training will need to focus on maximizing strength.

Strength sessions during this phase will enable you to maximize your strength gains before you enter the competitive season.

You will then start building power in the build phase before finally entering the competition phase (Peak and Taper).

During the competition phase, you will modify to a strength maintenance program of reduced intensity, duration, and frequency as outlined in my injury prevention program.

By working through these phases and coordinating a proper weight training program with your triathlon training, you will be able to transfer the weight room strength and power gains to your triathlon performance. This will lead to drastic improvements in your race day performance as well as aid in the prevention of injuries.

Many triathletes struggle to fit in the desired amount of strength training. However, it is important to keep in mind that any type of core, mobility and stability strength program is better than none. If you only have time for a few movements year-round, focus on injury prevention and bodyweight movements.

Maximum Strength Phase

Phase Overview:

Duration: 6-8 weeks

Frequency: 2 times per week

Session Length: Approx 30-45 minutes

Coach Tip: Continue to include core, mobility and stability

Equipment Recommendations:

Machines (for lifting heavy weights)

Dumbells & Barbells



After mastering the stability/preparation strength phase, it is time to transition to the maximum strength phase.

Transition into this phase should last about 2 weeks and will require you to start increasing the workload, either by varying the amount of weight, sets, and/or reps. How you increase the workload will depend on whether you are doing bodyweight training or lifting dumbbells/barbells.

Initially, I like to add in a heavier lifting session on a day when my legs are feeling strong and have recovered from any biking or running sessions I have completed. This enables me to maximize how much weight I can lift.

Strength Training for Triathletes: Maximum Strength Phase | Linked FitnessNext, I transition to lifting on days that I perform a “hard” bike or run session. By lifting after a hard workout as opposed to a recovery day, you will give your muscles more time to recover following the hard workout. Try what works best for you.

Generally for the maximum strength phase, I like to use machines and dumbbells as opposed to body weight movements as these allow me to lift heavier.

Results can be obtained by doing a full body routine (exercises for all of the muscle groups), two days per week, with a minimum of 48 hours between workouts.

Always start with a good warm up to prepare your body for exercise. In general, you then need to select six main exercises to include in each session followed by 2-4 dedicated core exercises.

As you continue to learn form and develop movement patterns, you can increase weight and decrease reps.

Maximum Strength Workout Plan

1) Warm Up

Perform 10 minutes of jogging, rowing, or jump rope.

Alternatively, complete the workout after a swim, bike, or run session.

2) Dynamic Stretch & Activation

Next work through each of the following moves:

3) Main Set – Resistance Training

During the main set, perform 4 sets (each with 6 reps) of the following moves. Rest for 1 minute between sets.

4) Auxilliary Exercises

Now it is on to the auxilliary exercises to place more focus on triathlon specific muscles.

5) Core

The final set of exercises in this workout focus on the core.

6) Cool Down

Static stretches/foam roll

Key Points to Keep in Mind

  • Always warm up and cool down after each session
  • Let the repetitions guide your selection of load (weight). Choose a weight or load that will allow you to perform the desired number of repetitions and sets without causing injury.
  • Always lean towards the conservative side of weight selection, and the range of motion used. During the first 2 weeks of this phase you will develop a good judgment of how much you can lift with the desired repetition and set range.
  • If you ever feel like your strength training is negatively affecting your swimming, biking, and running, take a step back and reevaluate your strength training program with a qualified coach who has background in strength training for triathletes.

After Maximizing Strength, you will then need to move your training into Power Movements which will be the focus of the next article in my Strength Training for Triathletes series.

Read Part 1 of the Strength Training for Triathletes Series

About the Author

Strength Training for Triathletes: Maximum Strength Phase | Wendy Mader | Linked FitnessWendy Mader

MS, Ironman Certified Coach, TRX and ACE Certified Winner, 2008 Kona 1st Overall Amateur

Wendy is co-founder and owner of t2coaching and has made a lifelong commitment to fitness, sports, coaching, and triathlon.

From her youth as a competitive swimmer to her current career in the fitness industry, her dedication shines.

Wendy is a former collegiate swimmer and has 25 years experience in triathlon including 15 Ironmans.

She is the Head Coach of SASfit Team in Turkey and also Head Coach at Endurance House in Westminster Colorado.

To find out more about Wendy Mader, visit her coaching website

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