Strength For Endurance coach Kriss Hendy explains how to make strength and conditioning sessions a cornerstone of your Ironman training plan.

Committing to strength training is a great way to improve resilience to maximise your Ironman performance, but for many of athletes, it’s hard to sacrifice swim, bike or run to work strength and conditioning into the training plan. Strength For Endurance founder and coach Kriss Hendy talks how to add S&C to your plan, how to structure strength training, and how to periodise for races.

Adding Strength Training To Your Plan

As with all aspects of triathlon training, there’s one golden rule when it comes to strength training – consistency.

“Being consistent is one of the hardest things for any athlete to be but you simply cannot get any results without being consistent. When it comes to strength and conditioning the priority is for you to remain injury-free. So in terms of integrating into your week, we’re looking for at least two to three sessions a week around 30 to 45 minutes each.”

With around 90-minutes to two hours needed for strength and conditioning each week, it can be hard to know where to make compromises with swim, bike and run training. For Kriss, it’s all about considering the training effect of each session to ensure quality over junk miles.

there’s one golden rule when it comes to strength training – consistency

“There are times when you know that you’re just running for running’s sake. You might just be doing an easy 5K, but what’s the outcome and is there a reason for it? Are you working on technique? Are you working on speed? If there’s nothing going on there and it’s just running, although you love it, you could really hone your areas of weakness if you were in the gym.

“Some people find it very hard to let go of the wasted mileage but if they did less and worked on other areas, they’d probably find a quicker route to success. Most people only find strength training when they get injured. Then they start doing it and think, ‘Oh, I’m getting a bit stronger here, I’m getting more powerful. Well, how much stronger could I be if I do a bit more of this?’.”

How To Structure Your Strength Training

Consistent strength training is the key to building that powerful chassis that can hold up to the strain of Ironman training and the race itself. But how do you ensure progression rather than stagnation?

“The type of work an athlete will do depends on how trained and how comfortable they are with strength training. But the key thing is that every exercise you do in your strength program should have a reason behind it – imbalances, range of motion, working on your mobility, whatever that is. There should be a reason for everything. You don’t want to waste time doing random things.

Making sure there is a reason for every exercise in your program is key. (Photo: Strength For Endurance)

“Like any training program, you follow a natural progression and can expect your body to adapt and then plateau at some point as you get used to the stimulus. The biggest problem with strength training in the endurance community at the moment is people do the same thing all year round, but the body has stopped being stimulated by that a long, long time ago.

“If you want true adaptation to occur, you have to create new stimuli – variation is key. But on the other hand, you don’t want to do something different every single time you go to the gym or your body will have no bearing as to how to understand what you’re doing to then how to adapt to that stimulus.

“We often recommend changing something every four to six weeks. Or, if you’re following a specific training program, do six to eight sessions and in that week’s training you should be following a progression – increasing reps, increasing the load, increasing the stimulus, peak, rest, change, go again – and you just keep building. So you go from doing goblet squats to back squats or a front squat and you change the stimulus. It’s similar muscle recruitment, just slightly different.”

Periodising Your Strength Training

“With any type of athlete, you want to periodise so you give someone enough time to adapt to stimulus and have a better training response.

“Ideally you’re looking at blocks. So, you tell me your timeline for 12 months and we’ll fit strength training in around that. We work with individual athletes as to how we then cycle in and cycle out. Most athletes have A races and B races – and if you truly want to be stronger and faster and more powerful, then you do need to peak and trough. You’ve got to work hard, but you’ve got to allow that adaptation to happen.

“It’s the same thing with a race taper. It’s funny, a lot of coaches don’t love tapering because if you taper it too much, then people get sick and they can go backwards. But in terms of strength training you’re a fool to be going into the gym trying to train 80% when you’ve got a race three or four days later! You’ve got to give yourself at least seven, 10, 14 days depending on your race distance.”

The Importance of Coaching

When it comes to getting the most from strength training, and creating those all-important shapes, Kriss is evangelical about the benefits of working with a coach.

“Being coached is everything, it’s someone that understands how you should move. I talk to people who have been doing strength training for years and they move horribly because we live in a world of social media or they’ve done group classes where there’s been no coaching.

“You cannot judge yourself what you think you need to work on”

Kriss Hendy

“You always want to get a needs analysis or movement screen to find out what your flaws are – especially as a triathlete or endurance athlete who probably has poor range of motion because of doing lots of one thing. That’s essential for an individualised programme to get the best benefits out of it.

“You cannot judge yourself what you think you need to work on – but it’s often the things we don’t want to work on! A coach can see the things causing your issues and also make you accountable to stick to the programme.”

About Strength For Endurance

Strength For Endurance is a performance strength coaching company specifically tailored to the needs of endurance athletes and has worked with some of triathlon’s top professional athletes.

The Strength For Endurance gym is based in Bath, UK, and the team also offers virtual training through its Training Lab online platform. The online community features daily live Zoom strength workouts, weekly Pilates sessions, physio-led rehab sessions, unlimited training plans and regular webinars with leading endurance professionals along with plenty more training and coaching support.

Visit the Strength For Endurance website and follow @strengthforendurance on Instagram to learn more.