March 15, 2021

Do Triathletes Really Need Strength Training?

Do you really need to strength train to succeed as a triathlete? Dr. B.J. Leeper’s answer may surprise you! On this episode, host Andrew Harley, coach Elizabeth James, and physical therapist B.J. Leeper discuss the role of strength training in triathlon preparations. Can lifting make you faster? Will doing specific exercises prevent injury? Listen in to learn if strength training can help you become a better triathlete.

TriDot Podcast .077 Do Triathletes Really Need Strength Training? Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together. Andrew Harley: Welcome to the show everyone. Today we are hitting Dr. B.J. Leeper with a big tri question. Do triathletes need to strength train? Some athletes do it, some athletes don’t do it, and some athletes intend to do it but always seem to run out of time in the day to do it. That may or may not be me. So excited to hear from Dr. B.J. Leeper on this one. B.J. graduated from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. He’s a Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and a USA Triathlon Level 1 coach. He specializes in comprehensive movement testing and injury prevention among athletes and has worked with numerous amateur and professional triathletes, duathletes, and track and field athletes. B.J. is an avid triathlete himself, training with TriDot since 2012 and coaching with TriDot since 2014. B.J. welcome back. Dr. B.J. Leeper: Hey, thanks Andrew. Glad to be here. Andrew: Also joining us today is coach Elizabeth James. Elizabeth came to this sport from a soccer background and quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot. From a beginner to top age grouper to a professional triathlete. She’s a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us. Elizabeth James: Well it is just great to be a part of this conversation as always. I know we’ve got a great episode coming right up. Andrew: I am Andrew the average triathlete, voice of the people, and captain of the middle of the pack. As always we’ll roll through our warm up question, settle in for our strength based main set topic, and then wind things down with our cool down. Lots of good stuff. Let’s get to it. Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Andrew: Even with participation in multisport events growing, it’s still hard to say triathlon is a mainstream sport. Telling your coworkers, friends, or family you’re racing a tri this weekend draws a much different reaction from saying you’ll be hooping down at the local gym or playing a round of golf. It’s likely the reaction a triathlete gets from revealing his or her athletic endeavor of choice is met with bewilderment as often as it is admiration. B.J. and Elizabeth, you are both multiple time triathlon finishers with years of racing and coaching on your tri resume. So for today’s warm-up, tell me this, what is maybe the funniest or strangest reaction you have ever gotten when someone finds out you are a triathlete? Elizabeth, we’ll start with you. Elizabeth: Alright, so as you were kind of putting that question out there, I think some of the best or the most funny reactions that I’ve gotten have occurred when I was still working as a classroom teacher and my students were learning a little bit more about me and my hobbies. In the first few days of class each year we’d do multiple team building exercises and I’d participate alongside my students as we worked to create our classroom community. And as part of that, my love for triathlon would always be included. And many times they would be in disbelief that I could swim, bike, or run that far. Teaching 5th grade, there were also some rather honest and blunt reactions. Some of them saying, “That’s why your hair was always messy.” Or students of siblings that had had me before were like, “That’s what they were talking about.” But I think my favorite was back in 2016. I was explaining to a group of my students what triathlon was and one of my students was just beyond thrilled that she already knew what it was. She described it perfectly, including the various distances of racing. And she concluded her description saying, “I watched Mrs. James on TV this summer in the Olympics. She’s Gwen James.” And she was mixing me up with Gold Medalist Gwen Jorgensen. I was like, “Aww…” Andrew: Two very different people. Elizabeth: I had to correct her. I kind of wanted to take it and be like, “Yeah!” But not quite me. That would be the best reaction I’ve ever gotten. Andrew: Your teacher is not Gold Medalist Gwen Jorgensen. So sorry to disappoint you. I’m very fast. I’m not Gwen Jorgensen fast. B.J. what about for you? When someone finds out you’re a triathlete, what’s one of the funniest or strangest reactions you’ve gotten? B.J.: Yeah probably the funniest and, I don’t know if any other guys can relate to this, but I had just done a couple triathlons and was super excited about the sport. They were just a couple of sprints, getting into it. I was talking to some gal about this triathlon I had just done and she looks at me and she’s like, “How was it? Hawaii, right?” And I said “No, it was called the Midwest Meltdown in Paola, Kansas. And it was a 750 meter swim, 12 mile bike, and a 5K run.” She looked at me and she was so disappointed that she thought any triathlon was Kona. She just looked at me like, “Oh, that’s it?” With that kind of look. And then she didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She was not impressed after that. It’s just the misnomer that Kona is not the only triathlon in the world. You can do a triathlon, be a triathlete, not having done Hawaii. A lot of people are like you’re a triathlete, you must have done Kona. Andrew: Kansas and Hawaii are just on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of scenery and race courses. So for me, when I was transitioning out of the television network I used to work at into my full time role here with TriDot, at my TV network they were doing a quick little going away thing on my last day in the office. A lot of the people I worked with the closest, they knew this was my hobby. They knew I raced triathlon. We would talk about it in the office. They were very well versed in what I was doing and what it was like. They would see me leave for lunch break with my pool bag to go to the pool to swim on lunch and stuff like that. But for a lot of the people that I worked with that I wasn’t in the office with every single day, they maybe worked in a different part of the building but knew me from the studio floor or what not. When they were finding out you’re going to go work for a triathlon company, you’re going to do media for them. They would be like I didn’t know you did triathlon, what is that? I would start telling them about races and they would be in disbelief. One, they didn’t know triathlon was a sport and two, they didn’t realize people could do that. They didn’t realize people could go that far in swimming, biking, and running. And they were just flabbergasted that they knew somebody that was completing these distances. And I was just like, “Guys, I'm very mediocre at this. Very middle of that pack at this.” There are just some ridiculous athletes out there. And it was kind of fun just seeing their reactions and seeing that play out. Guys, we’re going to throw this out on social media to you guys. So go find this question on the I AM TriDot Facebook group today. What is the funniest or weirdest reaction? Was it from some kids like Elizabeth? Was it from somebody you encountered that thought you were a Kona qualified athlete like B.J.? Or was it just somebody that you rubbed shoulders with at work like me? Who gave you the best reaction to finding out you do triathlon? Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1… TriTats: Our main set today is brought to you by TriTats. Whether you’re a seasoned Ironman or gearing up for your first local sprint tri, TriTats will help you make your mark. These tough, stylish, and easy to use race number tattoos make you look and feel like a pro. I, personally, have raced countless local sprint and olympic tris where I showed up thinking I had plenty of time to settle into transition only to find a massive line waiting to be body marked. Switching to TriTats has allowed me to show up on race morning with my focus on the finish line, not the body marking line. If you have an Ironman race this year, their Iron Tats are made especially for you. Iron Tats body mark you for that one key race and include the all-famous M dot logo. Friends don’t let friends race with Sharpied on numbers. So as a friend of the podcast, head to tritats.com and use promo code TriDot for 10% off your order. Again, that’s tritats.com promo code TriDot. Andrew: Like I said at the top of the show, strength training is one of those things that it feels like athletes should do. It feels like all of us could benefit from. But some of us do it, some of us don’t do it, some of us have good intentions of doing it, but only occasionally do it. So today we’re going to camp out on this topic. Should triathletes strength train? Do we need to strength train? What are the benefits from potentially working in strength training? And we’re doing it with someone who specializes in this, Dr. B.J. Leeper. So B.J., when we say strength training, in the world of strength and conditioning, what exactly are we talking about when we throw out the term strength training? B.J.: So it sounds like it should be just a simple answer, but unfortunately strength is not defined all the same way. Arguably in our world of health and fitness, it’s possibly the most misunderstood term in our industry because what is strength truly? We can get into it a little bit philosophically where you look at the definition of strength and it’s the capacity of something to withstand force. I would say that it’s like Rocky IV. How do you define strength? Is strength Drago training in a lab with all these things hooked up to him? It’s the estimated one rep max, the how much you bench question. Or is strength Rocky training, running around, lifting logs, chasing chickens? Is that an expression of strength? That idea of work capacity. Andrew: B.J. I think the TV commercials for Planet Fitness used to have a sales rep taking a scrawny guy around the gym on a tour, trying to get him to join. And there are just these two or three massive, jacked bodybuilder type guys. And they have these massive dumbbells and they’re picking them up and putting them down. And as they’re doing it they’re saying, “I pick things up, I put things down. I pick things up, I put things down.” And for some of us that’s our idea of strength training. We’re just taking heavy objects and picking them up and putting them down and in lieu of that we’re building strength, right? B.J.: Right. Sometimes that’s the picture we have of strength and is that strength? How do you define it? We always joke sometimes that you can look like Tarzan and play like Jane. No offense to Jane, because maybe she had some fight in her but it was never highlighted in those shows. She was just kind of weak. But there’s guys that look strong but they can’t connect the dots. So what is strength? The way I define strength, to me, is the ability for work capacity. The ability to connect those dots. We’ve talked previously, in a previous podcast, on the 4 X 100 meter relay. It doesn’t matter how fast those individual runners are if they can’t pass the baton. Strength to me, that work capacity, is the ability to pass the baton within your body, to produce work. So I think then the question is why don’t we call it work capacity training? And honestly we probably should, but we’ve always called it strength so I guess we’ll keep calling it strength training. When we talk about strength today, I’m not talking about the individual runner, how fast they are. I’m talking about their ability to pass the baton. The ability of the body to pass the baton and express that strength within an individual muscle, that work capacity. So that’s really what we’re getting into when we talk about strength. Andrew: One of my takeaways, B.J., from you sharing that was that I think we need a modern day Jane of the Jungle spinoff to highlight that. Jane, a Netflix series where Jane is the heroine who doesn’t need the strong man swinging through the jungle. I think it would be fitting to star Elizabeth James as Jane of the Jungle. (laughter) So B.J. my fearless prediction for the main set question today, do triathletes need to strength train? I predict that your answer is either going to be yes, no, or it depends. So, B.J., do triathletes need to strength train? B.J.: Well I’m going to throw you off here and I’m going to say no, tongue in cheek. It’s just a matter of how good do you want to be? You don’t have to be great, but if you want to be great, you’re going to have to strength train. I use these golf analogies a lot cause that’s where I started my career in strength and conditioning development and performance. But I could go out and play a round of golf without a lesson and hack my way through a round and complete a round so you could say I’m playing golf. And do I need a lesson to do that? No. But I’m probably getting my money's worth more cause I’m hitting the ball more times. But how good do I want to be? How efficient do I want to be? If I want to be good and efficient and more skilled, I need to take lessons. Just like in the world of triathlon, ask T.O. and Rinny, ask the best of the best. Ask them if they strength train. And I know for a fact they utilize Erin Carson at ECFIT. Top individuals have a strength and conditioning person in their camp. So the short answer, tongue in cheek, is do we need to strength train to compete in triathlons? No, we don’t. But how good do you want to be? If you want to perform better, and if you’re listening to this and you don’t really care about performing better or having longevity in the sport, turn off the episode because you don’t need it. But everybody who’s listening to this, everybody who’s into the world of triathlon want to have longevity in the sport. They want to be better. And obviously it’s a necessary thing. But how do we do it? Elizabeth: Let’s dive in a little bit, getting started on the how do we do it? When properly incorporated into our training calendars, what is it scientifically that strength training does for our bodies? What training adaptations are we really seeking from these sessions? B.J.: Again, with the definition that we’re taking here, that ability for work capacity really, you’re improving your body’s ability to pass that baton. So for me, strength training is being able to express the muscle power that you have. It’s being able to connect the dots. And really what it does physiologically is it improves the ability of that muscle to be fatigue resistant and that can obviously improve our efficiency and movement if we don’t fatigue as quickly within our muscles. If the muscle doesn’t fatigue as quickly, we’re going to be able to endure more. We’re going to be able to have more work load capacity. But even beyond that, if we’re training the right system, if we’re training strength in the right way, with that ability to connect the dots and that ability to pass the baton from one runner to the next, we really improve the efficiency of our movement. We don’t have as much energy leaks. We don’t compensate as much in a negative way. We’re not driving the car with the parking brake on. We’re able to express the true power of the engine that we have. That’s really what strength can do for us physically. Andrew: So can strength training tangibly help get us faster? Triathletes are always looking for that faster split. We’ll spend thousands of dollars on aero wheels and aero accessories on the bike to be a little bit faster on race day. Can strength training regularly be something that helps us get faster in the sport or is it more about keeping our supporting muscles injury free? B.J.: I think the reality is it can do both. It makes us more resilient, it makes us more resistant to fatigue. We talk a lot like we’ve talked about the power stamina paradox. It’s such a hot topic that we’ve done it twice, right? And we get these questions all the time about training faster and doing things and I think to support that speed and to support being fast before far, being strong before long, obviously strength is part of that equation. So absolutely it can help us become faster. It’s improving our capacity for that. It’s a big part of it for sure. Elizabeth: So we’ve already touched on this a little bit here in that answer. I want to expand on that just a little bit more because this is something that I’ve been asked multiple times as a coach and I’ve helped athletes work through this scenario and I think it would be beneficial to bring up this example in our conversation. So, logistically, for all of the athletes that are balancing work, family, triathlon training, they have different amounts of free hours that are available to give to this sport. If an athlete is looking at the calendar and weighing whether or not to commit to adding in some strength dedicated sessions, come race day--I know I’ve been asked--what will be the substantial difference if I add strength? Or, conversely, what am I missing out on or how much potential is there or that I’m lacking if I opt to just swim, bike, and run? B.J.: I kind of joke how many sets and reps of squats and lunges does it take to ride a bike? And the answer is there is no answer because it’s a dumb question. Riding a bike makes you better at riding a bike. We joke, too, how many sets and reps of finger flexion drills does it take to play the piano? Playing the piano helps you become better at playing the piano. So all in all we know our cycling training, our run training, our swim training is what makes us better in those disciplines as a triathlete. And like you’re alluding to, Elizabeth, is we manage these resources of time and that’s our hardest thing to manage. What’s valuable? What’s the benefit? But I would argue that properly placed strength training is as critical to our race training as our nutrition. We always talk about those fourth and fifth pillars of triathlon, our nutrition and strength conditioning. And I think they're integral, they’re not just add-ons. It goes back to how good do you want to be? How fast do you truly want to be? How much longevity, how much resiliency do you want to have within the sport? And I think the trick is figuring out where your true deficit is. Where are you lacking? Where is that parking brake stuck within your system? Where do you need to be able to express the power that you do have more efficiently? And then targeting that with a couple simple things that you can do to address that versus thinking that it needs to be 45 minutes or an hour 2-3 days a week. That can be great, but you may even be missing it within those sessions. You might benefit from simply doing 5-10 minutes from a properly placed strength training drill. As we’ve talked about before in previous episodes, being a sniper you have to know where to aim to target that. I think it can be critical to your progression and tapping into your full potential. Andrew: So we decide to take the plunge. We listen to Dr. B.J. Leeper on the podcast and we want to be faster and stronger. We’re going to add in some extra sessions for strength. Should we all be doing something similar, since the point is better swim, bike, and run fitness anyway? Or should athletes with different abilities have different focuses within these sessions? B.J.: It depends on where we’re at. So each individual, it’s just like a swim-bike-run training. Within the TriDot system specifically, we know we have all the data to develop our training fingerprint that’s unique to us and there might be some overlap where other athletes might happen to do something similar because their training fingerprint looks close. But the reality is it’s all going to look a little bit different for each individual. Even within our strength training, it should be tailored in that same way as a strength training fingerprint to us. The only way to do that is to truly screen, have that professional that’s a sniper for you, that personal trainer, that strength and conditioning specialist that can dial you in. And it needs to have a feedback loop. It needs to be some ABA approach where you test something, you then apply something training wise to the situation, and you retest to see if there’s an improvement. Just like we do our threshold test on swim, bike, and run. I think that concept there is that it needs to be specific and tailored to you, individualized. If we were both doing squats with 300 pounds on our back, we both might be able to accomplish it, but we might both look completely different in the way we’re moving through the squats. Somebody might need that, somebody might not. You can’t assume that all things applied to the same situation is going to create the same outcome. It could blow some people up. It could not be hitting others where they truly need it, they need more. Who knows. It definitely needs to be individualized. Andrew: So what factors should we consider when trying to decide how much strength training we need, when we should be doing it, and what exactly we should be doing? B.J.: The factors are know your deficits. I think that I’m a big fan of with this trying to keep it simple because I know, even knowing what I know about the strength and conditioning world, I have a hard time committing to it within my training. So I can commit to 3-5 minutes a day easily. I think it needs to start there. It needs to start with the lowest hanging fruit. And the only way to get there is to truly go through some movement screening to test and know where are those energy leaks within your system. Where do you need to work? I think if we assume that you’re operating on a fundamental movement platform and things are pretty good within your body, maybe we can apply some general blanket training. However, I think a lot of times you still miss the boat with that. It’s like saying every runner that we train needs to go out and run an hour slow. Obviously we have pacing strategies for that. Our training is individualized with swim, bike, and run. We need to continue to individualize our strength training, even if it’s simply just 3-5 minutes a day of properly placed strength and conditioning moves that help you where you need it most. That can be way more valuable than 2 sessions a week of 30-45 minutes of improperly placed training that might not be hitting you where you need it or making you worse. Elizabeth: I kind of want to go back and re-highlight what you were saying about the amount and type of strength training can be so dependent on not only where you are in this sport but what your goals are in this sport. And then your current and past injury risk too. I know with the athletes that I’m currently working with, there’s just one phenomenal athlete and the majority of her strength training focus is working on some shoulder exercises from a past injury. She’s continuing to make sure that she prioritizes that, because when she doesn’t it really impacts her ability to do swim sessions. And so for her, strength training, that loose term that can be defined in so many different ways, is really focused on just those shoulder exercises that keep everything stable for her to be able to do the swim sessions. Whereas someone else has more of a full body routine that they’re working on 30 minutes twice a week. The amount and type of strength training can vary so much from athlete to athlete and I see that on a daily basis with the athletes that I’m working with. B.J.: Yeah we could even almost relabel it as, if we’re using that definition of work capacity, we can relabel the strength training as we’re improving our work capacity. And that can look differently depending on your injury history and your predisposition. Sometimes in our world we call this corrective exercise work, trying to correct patterns we know we’re deficient in. For some people, like we’ve talked in previous episodes, on our performance pyramid, some people they need more mobility work to help embrace the strength that they already have. Some people have got all the requisite mobility and flexibility but they need to get stronger and express that through power. Connecting the dots better. So our properly placed corrective work, however you want to label it, it needs to be specific. And for some people it might look like I”m lifting heavy weights in the gym. For other people it might look like I’m unlocking my body and reinforcing it by activating a muscle and that all it needs to be for them. It improves their capacity for sure. Elizabeth: And I think another important thing there is this can evolve and change over time. I know that as I was getting started in cycling, I just did not have the power to push any additional watts. So, I really needed to work on building that muscular strength and from there...the strength training I did a couple years ago looks way different from what I do now. B.J.: Absolutely. And just like your paces that you’re maintaining for your swim, bike, and run are way different from what they were a couple years ago. Our training needs to adapt. It needs to grow with us. And the only way you’re going to be able to do that is to have some type of feedback loop to tell you if what you’re doing is working and if it’s worked, don’t waste your time on that. It’s no longer your deficit. Take your next lowest hanging fruit deficit and target that. And if we assume or know everything is at a fundamental level, we’ve got a good balance of our body, then continue to train globally. There’s a lot of ways to do that. But I agree it has to be specific and it has to grow as you grow. Andrew: So B.J. on past episodes, a couple times I’ve heard you say that nobody knows your body better than you do. So it sounds like hearing both of you talk it can go a long way for an athlete to self assess. Where am I deficient? What do I need? Do I have a certain pain? LIke the lower back pain. Or if it’s like Elizabeth’s athlete, a shoulder issue where I need to specifically target some corrective strength sessions that are going to help me in that area? Or am I just really struggling putting watts through my legs on the bike and need to beef up those cycling muscles? Is that the approach athletes should take in terms of self identifying where they’re deficient and where they can get the most gains out of some targeted strength sessions? B.J.: I think we intuitively know our body and that’s where it’s important to still seek a professional. When you link up with that professional it should make sense when they evaluate you and help you screen. What they’re telling you should intuitively make sense. So it doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers for yourself, but when you get screened it should make sense with that professional. If they’re dialing you in the right way. Sometimes we can be surprised by what shows up with screening, which is why we try to protect ourselves and stay as objective as we can and not have complete bias. We might think we’re really strong in one area and we’re actually not. So a screen can help reveal that and that’s where it helps to have somebody guiding you. But intuitively it should make sense. And as you’re working through that process, you should be able to feel the difference. Challenging our deficits, if someone is putting us in the right position that’s truly a challenge targeting our deficit, it should feel awkward. It should feel uncomfortable. It should make us sweat. There should be no doubt in our mind that we’re targeting the right thing when we’re into it. If we can knock out 3 sets of 15 and we don’t even bat an eye, I question if we really need to be there. But if you’re struggling with something, the properly prescribed drills are a balance of you’re not succeeding every time, you’re not failing every time, but it’s somewhere in the middle. If you’re doing a drill where you fail every time and you’re just on the compensation bus, what are you really getting out of that? On the other end, if you’re succeeding every time, there’s not much of a challenge to your system. You’re never going to raise your threshold. It’s just like what we know with our swim, bike, and run training. We have to push threshold and get uncomfortable to make changes, but we can’t go so far out that we’re blowing up halfway into the training session too. It’s a balance for sure. Andrew: I loved earlier where you talked about how it is better to do shorter sessions with more regularity that are targeted on what you need as opposed to trying to force 30, 45, 60 minutes of general strength training without knowing that’s what your body really needs. We’re all church going folk and it reminds me of in church where you talk about building spiritual disciplines of reading your Bible and studying and prayer. Pastors will say, “It would be better for you to consistently spend 5-10 minutes in the word of God than to try to force 30 minutes every day and not actually do it because you don’t have 30 minutes in the day.” It reminds me of that, which leads me to another “it depends” question, since I’m sure that’s the answer here. When we talk about the regularity of doing it 3, 5, 10 minutes a day targeting areas that you really need, should that routine stay consistent throughout the season, or should we do more or less strength as we get closer to or further from race day? B.J.: Yeah that’s a great question. I think assuming that we have deficits and we know what those are and we’ve targeted where those are at, I think the key is to keep consistency even on a daily basis. And the way I try to encourage athletes and even my patients to do these types of things is with the concept that I’ve started to subscribe to or utilize about a year ago, which is called healthy habit stacking. It’s a really interesting concept and it’s basically taking a healthy habit that you already have, like brushing your teeth or showering after a workout, you know those are happening every day. It’s a no-brainer, you’ve already developed that habit. If you can stack another healthy habit on top of that...So for example if I know I’m weak in single leg stance on the run and need to develop a little more stability there, as I’m brushing my teeth I’m standing on one leg or doing a drill that incorporates that other habit. Or it’s right after that. I’ve got a foam roller sitting out right by the shower and I know after a run I need to do a little corrective work to unlock my hips and I see the foam roller sitting there and know I’m going to jump on it right before I shower. It’s just starting to develop that healthy habit so you don’t forget to do it or it becomes something that can build into something else. I think that’s one way to kind of start incorporating that. The other end of it is we know that we’ve got our corrective work and know we just need to get stronger. I think 2-3 sessions a week where that grows into a little bit more. 20, 30, 45 minute sessions where we’re training a lot of different things and we commit to that. But I think for a lot of us it’s hard to commit to that, so it just needs to start with simple things early and that’s where the healthy habit stacking can even start that process. Elizabeth: And I don’t know if this is where you read it but a little shout out to that James Clear book Atomic Habits. I read that last year and it talks all about the habit stacking and I loved that read. A great way to start incorporating those little things that are going to help you progress and from there you can continue to tack on other things to ensure further progress. B.J.: I like this...I think John Mayfield said this before in our training of triathlon, but we always say it doesn’t require perfection. It just requires consistency. And that consistency has to start with a few things that we know are critical for our bodies. Does it have to be a perfect hour-long routine? No. It just has to be specific and it has to be consistent. That’s where it can start. Andrew: Yeah I resonate with I’ve never read Atomic Habits. Is that what it’s called, Elizabeth? Elizabeth: Yeah, I’ll let you borrow it. Andrew: I’ve never heard of that. It sounds interesting. That term habit stacking is a super interesting direction for us to talk through today. A personal anecdote, hearing you talk about that, I’ll get foot pain in the metatarsal area if I don’t do some foot strengthening stuff and so I have a little rubber, spikey ball that I’ve got to rub my foot over before or after a run. I used to keep that rubber ball up in my pain cave near my fitness equipment and was very sporadic when I used it and so I moved it to underneath my desk where I work. Every morning, Monday to Friday, the TriDot team we have our morning huddle to get on and go through what is everyone working on today, who needs what from who, all the tasks we’re working through today. And often on that call, since the spikey ball is now down by my desk, I’m knocking out my foot exercises, rolling it over the spikey ball and stretching out my foot muscles. I find myself doing it more often with it being down there. Is that what we’re talking about? B.J.: Yeah, exactly. And when people tune into an episode entitled “strength training,” I think they think we’re going to be addressing what muscles do I need to get stronger specifically and how do I do that with certain weights. And I think the key and critical takeaway from all this is strength training is developing work capacity and to develop work capacity, your body has to be able to connect the dots. Your body has to be able to pass the baton. And that starts with the right muscle length like you’re saying with just setting up some corrective exercises at work. Being consistent. Your muscles have to be able to absorb that training of force and load. So for some, they need to focus on that flexibility piece or establishing that mobility. For others, they need to move on and reinforce that through reloading their system and working more into the strength and stabilization. So it’s just whatever that is for you. Whatever your body needs, we just need to work a way that we can get that consistency. I think it’s critical, like I said how good do you want to be? How much longevity do you want in the sport? For some people it’s about getting a better time. But for some people it’s as paramount as getting to the starting line. Just to get there. They can’t afford to miss these types of sessions and you would argue they would be better off being consistent with that session than any other swim, bike, or run sessions. None of us triathletes want to give that up. But for some it might be critical that you do to a certain degree just to get to the starting line. Andrew: So Elizabeth, what does a typical week look like for you in terms of the strength training you’re doing in addition to your swim, bike, and run sessions? Elizabeth: Well for me I’m a big fan of training movements and then specific areas of weakness. So not just muscles in isolation, picking up weights and putting them down as you were saying in that commercial at the beginning. And if you go back and listen to Episode 71 with B.J., he does a great job of outlining that performance pyramid and why movement, the mobility and stability, are really those foundational pieces for your best performance. So I spend a lot of the time dedicated to my strength working on my mobility and stability. The TriDot athletes that see strength exercises on their weekly training calendar will see a lot of those types of movements on there too because those are that foundation of that pyramid. I also like to work on areas of weakness for me, such as my glute medias. I think I’ve joked before that I’ve got a lazy butt and I’m working on that. A lot of my strength exercises are focused directly on that. I’ve also got strength imbalances in my lower back and left shoulder area, so I’ve got a set of exercises for better recruitment and strength building particularly in my left shoulder. I do have a strength program that has been written for me that I follow three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and then Tuesday, Thursday I do about 5-10 minutes of mobility work, some core work. So not anything that’s super long, short sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, but it’s very dedicated things for me. Andrew: Yeah, that’s great. B.J. you’ve mentioned earlier, we talked about there’s the athlete that needs to focus on certain areas to unlock the potential of a certain muscle group via improving mobility, stability, and strength. But for the athlete who just everything is working well and they haven’t identified any deficiencies in their body, they’re just looking to get their swim, bike, and run muscles stronger. You even joked earlier that there’s triathletes that just want to know what moves do I do and what exercises do I do to get my triathlon muscles stronger, whether it’s Elizabeth talking about how she needed stronger legs for biking early on in her tri career or whether someone knows I’m a weak swimmer, I really want to work on those muscles. What are the common muscle groups that you would encourage athletes to build more raw strength? B.J.: Like Elizabeth said, I’m a big proponent of fundamental movement training. And what I mean by that is I’m training not parts in isolation, but training multi joint movements, more complex movements assuming that all my other boxes have been checked with where my deficits might be. For upper quarter, that’s push-pull and lift-carry. Complex movements that require those basic patterns. And for lower extremity that’s squat, step, lunge, balance. And you can explore into more explosive movements from there. The major muscle groups that are being hit through that are your basic connection muscles. Through the pelvis, it’s your glutes and your core. We always call the glutes the king of the pelvis and, like Elizabeth was saying, it’s not uncommon to have glute insufficiencies, especially with endurance athletes. The long distance, we’re not as explosive as a 100 meter sprinter. We don’t train it that way, as consistently. We still have high threshold built into our programming, but there’s a reason that you look at a sprinters butt and look at a distance runners butt and they look a little different. And you could argue which is better, but I think form fits function. Obviously within triathlon it’s going to be different, but I still think that’s an area where we tend to become slightly deficient. So I think glutes are a huge area, but it’s not training the glutes in isolation. It’s training glutes in more complex patterns. It’s working through all cardinal planes of movement: sagittal plane, frontal plane, and transverse plane. And incorporating that together. In our clinic, we like to do a lot of med ball work, a lot of kettlebell work, a lot of chopping, lifting with resistance tubing, and things that aren’t locked in and guided by a machine. Where your body has the ability to explore that movement and you have to own it. A machine isn’t owning it for you. And I think most progressive strength and conditioning coaches have moved on from machine based things, but I still think for the athlete you need to subscribe to that type of training if you’re not already doing so. Andrew: So Elizabeth, B.J., for someone looking to just pick up a few items to kind of prep their own home pain cave for some extra strength work, what key items would you both recommend they pick up? Elizabeth: Oh man! I’m trying to think of some of the essentials. Our whole living room has basically transformed into a functional movement space. I’ve got lots of toys there. But for somebody who’s looking to make some purchases for some at home strength exercises, I’d recommend some resistance bands, some resistance loops, a good set of  dumbbells, a couple of kettlebells, and then I really like my stability ball and Bosu trainer. Those would be a couple of my recommendations. B.J.: Yeah I would recommend the $5,000 freemotion machine that’s got the dual cable cross system. Elizabeth: I’m going the more budget friendly option. B.J.: For the all in athlete that weighs about a ton. No, I think those are great things. Obviously again, we want things that are going to allow for freedom of movements so you can explore movement and things that are going to become self limiting. Where you have to own that pattern, or the weight or resistance is going to pull you out of it. So we love to use a lot of kettlebells, a lot of med balls, a lot of stability pads, and we use functional movement tubing, which is another type of exercise banding that has some styrofoam handles that you can hang onto and I like to look on a website called Perform Better and there’s a lot of great stuff on there for home training equipment and gym training equipment altogether. There’s a lot of different ways. But I would say to my athletes that are training at home--assuming they have fundamental requirements checked off--don’t be afraid to go heavy. I’ve got athletes that are working heavier kettlebells and lifting 35-50 pound kettlebells--in the proper way--but that heavier weight exposes a deficit and it challenges the system. I think a lot of times we think we need to do really light work, but don’t be afraid to go heavy. And that’s where it helps to have a professional to guide you so you’re not getting in over your head. But heavier weight can dial us in better. I’ve had athletes where they were cheating and doing exercises incorrectly using lighter weight and instead of making it easier, it made it harder. It locked them in better. They had no choice...they were going to kick in the muscle the right way or they were going to fail. There was no inbetween. Sometimes it’s nice to get in some drills that are more in that self limiting category and sometimes to do that you gotta go heavy. Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Andrew: Back on Podcast Episode 54 entitled “What to expect on Raceday: Answers and Advice for the aspiring Ironman,” our warm up question was what race was at the top of your bucket list? Coach John Mayfield and myself both said Challenge Roth in Roth, Germany. Pro Triathlete Elizabeth James is eyeballing a racecation for 70.3 Greece. And coach Jeff Raines talked up his desire to race Ironman New Zealand. But what did our podcast audience have to say? We polled you, our listeners, and got some great responses to this question. Elizabeth, B.J., and I will reveal 11 of our favorite answers. But before we do, B.J. Leeper, what would you have at the top of your bucket list for triathlon races? B.J.: Well I’m going to say the obvious answer in Kona, that would be one of them. But I got to do one of my bucket list ones not too long ago in 2014 in Alcatraz. That was up there. But I would say Wildflower would be at the top of my list cause I’m all about the atmosphere and, as we know, that’s the Woodstock of triathlon. So Wildflower would be it for me. Andrew: Yep, very cool. That is a great pick B.J. Well here is what the TriDot family had to say. Elizabeth, why don’t you start us off with pick number 1? Elizabeth: Alright. Number one comes to us from Shannon Rogers. He says, “How about one that happens as scheduled? Baby steps.” And yeah, I couldn't agree more. That sounds great. Let’s start there. B.J.: Number two comes from Christopher Bruno and he says, “Are we allowed to say Kona? Qualifying is not likely to happen, but it’s one race that would make it worth taking the time to train for 11 more Ironmans.” And exactly what I was saying. Kona is at the top of a lot of our lists. Andrew: Yeah Kona is a top bucket list triathlon for good reason. It is just the OG Ironman. Lots to like there. A lot of alluring qualities about that race, so that’s a great pick by Chris. And, of course, if you’re not fast enough to qualify for Kona, you can get to Kona via the legacy program where you race 11 Ironman events and then apply through the legacy program. So that’s what Christ is talking about there. For number three, we had a couple athletes say Alcatraz, which B.J. you just referenced a bit ago. You’ve done Escape from Alcatraz. Ben Haynes, Chris Hess, Terry Wolfe and a few other athletes all said the Alcatraz Triathlon and it’s just so unique. There’s just not another race in the sport like it. It’s not a 70.3, it’s not an Olympic, it’s kind of a weird pseudo-Olympic. But B.J., what was it about that race, having done it, that made that one so special? B.J.: It just unlike anything because the mystique of the race obviously is it starts with the swim. Come swim with the sharks and that’s epic in and of itself. But once you get through the swim you think you’re there. But actually the more daunting part that surprised me about the race was riding through the hills of San Francisco. You’re bombing down these hills with a hairpin turn at the bottom and there I am riding my brakes all the way down like I’m scared out of my mind. And it’s just such a cool atmosphere and when you’re on the ferry out there, everybody is waiting on the boat ready to jump off, it’s as close to a war time experience that I’ve ever been able to feel without going to war. Where it’s just “move, move, jump, jump” and you’re scared out of your mind. You’re just, “Here we go!” It’s definitely one I would love to do again. Elizabeth: Alright, our next one, number four, comes from Evo and they said that they would be joining you and John (Mayfield) out at Challenge Roth. Andrew: Yeah I’ve seen Evo post to the I AM TriDot Facebook group multiple times. Whatever year it is that we decide to take the plunge and get signed up for Roth and fly over to Germany, I will Facebook message you and let you know when that’s going to be and we’ll see if you can join us for it. B.J.: Number five comes from Andy Wegner and she says Ultraman World Championships. Elizabeth: Oh yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. She would be great at that. Andrew: Yeah she’s fond of distance and her coach, the legendary Kurt Madden, is an Ultraman World Champion himself. So, Andy, you definitely have the right coach guiding you towards that performance. Great pick there. Number six. Now we had a couple athletes nominate a couple races. These are your extreme, endurance triathlons. The Himalayan XTri, Alaskaman, Norseman, Patagoniaman. They’re categorized as extreme triathlons. They’re obviously in these beautiful, scenic locations. They are challenging, punishing courses and multiple athletes nominated those 4 races for good reason. They’re just super cool races that are great fits at the top of a bucket list. Elizabeth: Alright number seven is going to come to us from both Mark Weise and Susie Hefernan. They said the SOS in New York--and I’m probably going to pronounce this incorrectly--which is the Survival of the Shawangunks...They describe this as an eight stage wilderness adventure race. It includes one cycling segment, four trail running segments, and three open water lake swims. So you’ve got a bunch of different segments in there. That SOS in New York. I’m going to have to take a look at that. Andrew: I looked it up Elizabeth, cause I had never heard of this, and I saw a couple athletes, Mark and Susie, both nominate this. So I went to the website and I looked at the race and it looks super dope. It’s up in the New York forest and man, just a really unique format with the multiple swims and multiple runs and everything. Great, great pick from Mark and Susie. B.J.: Number eight comes from Pierre Stevenson and he says Ironman Wisconsin and also the New York City Marathon has also always been a dream for him. Ironman Wisconsin, that’s up your alley, right Elizabeth? Elizabeth: Yes. I was like what a good one! That was my first. I loved it. Definitely want to go back. Andrew: Bill Burrell said, “Anything long without the word ‘virtual’ attached to it. Ironman New Zealand is a bucket list item for me as well.” Laura Hoffman also said 70.3 New Zealand, so a couple athletes agreeing with Jeff Raines that traveling to New Zealand for those races would be super cool. Having done 70.3 New Zealand, beautiful course. I absolutely loved it. And what’s really cool about it is it’s one of the few Half Ironman in the world, to my knowledge, that still does a mass swim start. So you go out there, you’re treading water alongside a couple hundred other triathletes and they’ll blow the cannon and you’re off to the races, which is just a really cool experience. Every triathlete needs to do it once. And Ironman New Zealand and 70.3 New Zealand both still do that. Elizabeth: Alright number ten comes from Michael Fenton and he says, “Gosh, there are so many but I’ll go with Ironman Canada.” Ironman Canada, back on the circuit for 2021. That should be a great event. Good choice there, Michael. B.J.: And number eleven comes from Debbie Coulson and she says, “Any 70.3 is mine.” Andrew: Yeah I like that viewpoint right there because a lot of athletes it’s a particular race, a specific race that’s our bucket list race. But for a lot of folks they just want to do an Ironman. They don’t care which one it is. Or they want to do 70.3, they don’t care which one it is. Or they want to do a sprint or Olympic, they don’t care which one it is. The distance is the bucket list as opposed to a specific race. Really cool perspective from Debbie there. Huge shoutout to all of our athletes that weighed in on that post. We always get so many comments when we throw out these posts on Facebook. And we always enjoy reading what you all have to say. We can only share so many of them on the podcast themselves, so thanks for all of your posts. And my hope and my prayer is that all of you that posted one day get to do your bucket list, top shelf, if you could do any race it would be that one. I hope you all one day get to do that race. Andrew: Well that’s it for today folks. I want to thank B.J. Leeper and TriDot Coach Elizabeth James for talking about strength sessions with us today. Shout out to TriTats for partnering with us on today’s episode. Head to TriTats.com to get the race day tattoos you need to make your mark. Enjoying the podcast? Have any questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Head to TriDot.com/podcast and click on “Submit Feedback” to let us know what you’re thinking. We’ll have a new show coming your way soon. Until then, happy training. Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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