How to Blast Yourself
by Gordo Byrn
As a follow-up to Alan's article on strength limiters, I thought I’d share my approach to going big in the gym. On our site, you will find a classical approach to strength training for triathlon. That approach works well, but as I age, I’ve needed to adjust my targets so my swim/bike/run training doesn’t tank.
Rather than blasting myself twice per week for a month, I place three or four Big Strength Days into a six-week period. Across the block, I will lift every third or fourth day but I will only blast myself on a limited number of key days. When I go big, I go really big.
It takes me six to eight weeks to build up to what follows and I maintain my strength with year-round maintenance. Rushing the preparation period will leave you very sore for a very long time.
Exercise caution with what I’m going to share.
I like to start with some light cardio -- a spin, a swim or a jog -- and I lead off with the exercises that are most important to me.
Squats - Four Sets
For technique guidance, check out my video tips on squats. I cap the max weight that I’ll put on my back at 185lbs. My sets might progress as body weight/95/135/175lbs. If I am really peppy then I’ll pyramid 135/155/175/185lbs and do five sets total. I’m 168lbs in the winter so that’s a 1.1 x body weight cap.
With the squat, I focus on a full range of motion, rather than putting up big numbers. I’ve gone really big in the past (3x6 at 300lbs) but the compression on my spine didn’t feel healthy. So I recommend that you don’t tap your inner Hulk until you’re on the leg press sled.
Leg Press - Five Sets
I focus on keeping my ankle, knee and hip in alignment (no frog legs, push through big toe, keep entire shoe in contact with the machine). For weight, I like to pyramid up from 180/270/360/450/540lbs – it’s only at the end of a big strength cycle that I’ll be able to do more than 500lbs, but that’s not bad for a 40-something triathlete with skinny legs.
Single Leg Press - Two Sets Each Leg
Nothing fancy: 8/8/8/8 - left/right/left/right - continuous. The movement speed should be slow and ankle/knee/hip alignment should be perfect. I keep hips square to the machine and entire foot in contact with machine .
I don’t do any supersetting (alternating with other exercises) when going big. Between sets I might do a little walking and a couple deep knee bends.
The above takes at least a half an hour so that leaves me 15-30 minutes for everything else which always includes single leg hip bridges and calf extensions (video of these exercises can be found in Strength Training for Triathlon).
After blasting my legs, it’s normal for my bike-run performance to fall off for two to four days. So I space the big strength days seven to 10 days apart.
As endurance athletes, we spend most of our lives breaking ourselves down. In the winter and in mid-season I like to insert a few sessions that are proven to build me up.
At the sharp end, the little things matter.
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.