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Triathlon Training Q & A Series with Elite Triathlete and Coach, Morgan Chaffin: Question #5

Here our Q & A series continues with Morgan. This question focuses on resistance training, a hot topic during the off season.


Q: How about applying deadlifts and squats into your plan - i.e., rep and weight schemes?


A: Into my personal plan my coach and I structure 2-3 days of strength training each week. We focus on full body, approximately 30-40 minute sessions. This season we have solely focused on strength and power. Triathletes get ample muscle endurance training with the repetitive nature of swimming, cycling, and running, therefore we made it key to stress the body in a different manner.


Early in the winter months, most of the athletes I coach were asked to perform 3-5 sets at 85% effort, the last reptition of each set should be challenging. Deadlifts and squats are great exercises to do over a period of several weeks and should have a starting repetition pattern of let’s say 4x6 at 110 lb, then following it the next week with 4x8 at 110lb, (improving repetition maximum), followed by a reduction in repetitions the following week, with an increase in weight, 4x6 again, but now with 120lb. As race season nears, the weight drops slightly and repetitions should increase to 10-12. This is a cross between strength and endurance in order to avoid too much stress since triathletes are often times racing 1-2 times per month. During the season endurance athletes should still incorporate resistance training into their program 2-3 times per week.


Squats and deadlifts are compound exercises most frequently used to build muscular strength and power. Mastering proper technique of these advanced exercises are crucial in avoiding injury. Proper supervision, instruction, and selection of appropriate loads are important. First, both exercises should be introduced with no to low weight. A wall sit is a great exercise for introducing one to a squat. To begin a wall sit lean against the wall with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder width apart. Feet should be approximately 1-2 feet away from the wall. Next, slide slowly down the wall while maintaining a neutral spine position and keeping your knees directly above your ankles. Slide to approximately 90 degrees and hold for 20 seconds. Progress from 20 seconds and perform more repetitions as you get stronger.


Start a proper squat by focusing on a point on the wall that is eye level. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and chest pressed forward. Next, keep your low back flat to slightly curved during the entire movement. Use an athletic stance for the squat so that your knees are slightly bent, feet are firmly planted on the ground, and toes pointed outwards slightly, which helps with stabilization. The depth of the squat primarily depends on your hip flexibility. In general, try to aim for parallel to slightly below parallel.

                                                                               Deadlifts should be reserved for the higher level, more skilled athlete. Individuals who have had a history or low back pain or a low back injury should avoid deadlifts. The key to performing a deadlift is having correct form and effectively engaging the hamstring muscles. I rarely will give this exercise to a client unless I have seen their form. Practicing good form should be the key focus before they are added to a weight training regimen. Individuals with correct form should aim to perform 3-5 sets in the 4-6 repetition range. This will focus on strength and power and limit fatigue. Intensity should begin at 5060% of 1RM and progress as skill and muscular strength improve.


If you’re wondering if you have proper form during lifting exercises Specialized Physical Therapy has a number of qualified Physical Therapists available to assess your routine. Always consult with a qualified specialist to make sure you’re using proper techninque, form, and weight progression.