TOP 5 Strength Exercises for Triathletes

People ask me all the time what are the best exercises for triathletes in the gym?  I came up with my:

 “Top 5 Strength Exercises for Triathletes” 

  1. Squats
  2. Romanian Deadlift
  3. Pull-ups
  4. Push Press
  5. Hollow Rocks

Why do I suggest these 5 exercises for a triathlete? A triathlete has a good cardio foundation, but building a solid foundation in the legs, upper back, and core will be the key to YOUR success. Triathletes want to get faster, prevent injury, and improve their endurance. These lifts or body weight movements are what I feel is essential to a triathlete athlete’s success. Here is my reasoning for why I feel that these are top 5 strength exercises for triathletes:

Squats –

What’s not to love about the squat? You can do air squats, Back squats, dumbbell squats, Overhead Squats, Front Squats, and Goblet Squats. There are endless kinds of squats.  It is a full lower body exercise working the hip and knee joints, along with the numerous muscles on the anterior (front) and posterior (back) part of the leg and the butt. We have quadriceps, which consist of 4 muscles, along with the hamstring, which consist of 3 muscles and the Gluteus Maximus and Minimus.

Charles Poliquin, who writes a lot about strength training, actually encourages runners and endurance athletes to lift. Poliquin, in addition to research, states that “including full squats in a lower body program can improve muscular endurance and prevent the early onset of fatigue.” Check out his link about “Include Full Squats in Your Training to Run Faster and Improve Endurance.”

Romanian Deadlift –

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian Deadlifts

We probably have heard of the deadlift, which is starting from the ground with the barbell and coming up to the hips, and lowering it back down. What I love to do with my athletes is the Romanian Deadlift, which is taking the barbell from the hips and lowering the barbell down slightly past your knees. We don’t want to lower it all the way to the ground; this would be considered a stiff-legged deadlift.

Romanian Deadlifts are great for the posterior chain, which consist of the hamstrings and gluteus. As triathletes, we have a weaker posterior chain, since we tend not to work the hamstrings or the gluteus muscles. We need to strengthen the posterior chain in the gym versus on the bike or the run.

Pull-Ups –

Either you LOVE pull-ups or you HATE pull-ups. I love strict pull-ups being used as part of the strength portion of your workout. Why? I ask: “What muscles do swimmers use for the front crawl swim stroke?” The exact same muscles are being used: Primary-Muscles-for-Swim-Stroke-Upper-Body1-2

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoid
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Triceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi

Pull-ups are hard for a lot of athletes, so some athletes will go to a lat pull down machine in the gym. If you can’t do a strict pull-up, then grab a resistance band and attach it to the bar. Being able to utilize your body weight will help your balance and body awareness, and build core stability.

Shoulder to Overhead (S2O) Movements – 

Push Press

Push Press

Strict Press; Push Press; Push Jerk…Oh My. In all seriousness, for triathletes, the strict press and push press is another overall lift that will work the upper body for a triathlete.

A strict press or military press is being used for the upper body only, with no leg movement. The muscles being used for the strict press are the deltoid, triceps, pectorals, and serratus anterior. Look familiar to the swim stroke muscles? Strict Press is great for improving your long-term shoulder health, as it is also for the lower back and core muscles, which are needed for cycling correct! (Poliquin, T-Nation)

A push press uses the shoulders and deltoids just like the strict press, but since you are using your legs for the push press, the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus are being used as well. A triathlete will use all of these muscles during the swim, bike, and run. So, why NOT include a shoulder to overhead movement in your routine to get faster?

Hollow Rocks –

My athletes curse me when they see hollow rocks, but it is one of the best exercises for the core that I have seen in a long time. Hollow Rocks will strengthen the rectus abdominis and some of your obliques. As triathletes, we have a very weak core, so doing hollow rocks will help stability, flexibility, and injury prevention. Here is a great video by Carl Paloi who shows hollow rocks, but will also show a progression if you are not able to do them.

Those are my top 5 Strength Exercises for Triathletes. By adding strength to your program 2x a week/an hour a day, you will get faster, have a better final kick at the end of your race, prevent injuries, and decrease your body fat. One of my favorite articles is by Charles Poliquin: Ten Reasons Why Runners Should Include Weight Training.

If you are interested in a customized strength program for your season, contact me at