Turning My Weakness Into My Strength
by Alex Thompson
I’m writing this on the day where I finally achieved my goal of squatting 12 reps at 1.5 times my bodyweight. That strength set is the bar Alan Couzens identified for me being “strong enough.” When I started working with Alan, I didn’t really think strength was a limiter until he said for me to be able to play with the big boys I needed 10 kilos more muscle. I accepted the challenge and chalked up my hands.
If no matter how fit you get, your wattage hits a ceiling or if more training doesn’t lead to increases in power for a given HR you are likely strength limited and are in the same camp as I was. But it might not just be the physical limitations which need to be addressed, it may be an existential problem also.
For me, I didn’t like weight lifting. This may come as a surprise as many people think of me as “the strength guy.” I didn’t get into triathlon for a particular body, and to this day I only want big legs and a ripped belly as I need them to go fast. I saw gyms as the sanctuary for the superficial, but all that changed.
I started lifting at a proper gym. As an example, one of trip to gym, the guy next to me was deadlifting 265kg for 8x3! What’s more he didn’t look out of place. As it turns out they are a pretty friendly bunch, although they do look a bit on the scary side. The guys in the gym helped me with my form and I learned a lot from them. I was converted. Where my mind changed my body followed to fit.
I worked my ass off in the gym and ate as much as I could, not as much as I wanted. My mental energy was spent on lifting. I analyzed my form, read countless articles, and found weaknesses in my lift and addressed them with technical changes and assistance exercises. In short I turned into a body building triathlete for three years.
I am now at the point where in terms of torque I produce what I need to be able to do both as a peak (greater than 1100 inch pounds) and for a reasonable durations of around 8 minutes (greater than 600 inch pounds). Now after years of trying and finally finding what works for me, both in terms of exercises and attitude, I have more than enough room before hitting a wattage ceiling so it’s time to drop the focus from this and find another weakness. From the looks of it is the amount of watts I can produce at ironman heart rate.
So now that I’m going back to a steady state watts focus I will be unimpeded by the strength ceiling. I’m sad to say I am now going to put my gym strength in maintenance mode, as I’ve grown to really enjoy the process of finding weak muscles and addressing the problem and watching my front squat poundage increase. I will have a couple more blocks developing steady state torque, as I will be doing it in my aero position. This is because it is only November and I’m way ahead of schedule and can afford to spend this block on this key aspects of training before a diet of steady miles become my daily catharsis.
The main lesson I learned from this adventure is that most of the time the reasons for a physical weakness lie in a negative mental attitude towards the remedy. If you have preconceptions about an area of fitness, and take a, “Yeah but that doesn’t matter,” or “Yeah but I’m different,” or even a “Yeah I know, but I need to get faster now, I can’t go off on a tangent chasing something which will not make me quicker for my next race,” It is likely that this is what’s holding back your long-term training.
Find your weakness and do whatever it takes to remedy it. If you don’t like the training, suck it up… you might just find it fun once you get the hang of it.
Alex has been a triathlete since 2005 and has competed several ironman and ultra distances races. He is currently working towards making the transition from age group athlete into the pro ranks. He has been working closely with Alan Couzens for the last few years to achieve his goal. You can follow Alex's progress through his blog, TriOnTrack and on Twitter @XIronmanAlexX.