Jen Rulon

Sidenote: I love talking about strength training for triathletes. When I took my eight-year sabbatical as an athlete, I found Crossfit and drank the Kool-Aid. While I don’t Crossfit anymore, I 100% still strength train. Learn my favorite exercises over the years. Want to grab my 15-week Strength Program? Click HERE to grab it today! 

Over the last few years, I have developed the “Top Five Strength Exercises for ______.” Here is an updated version, as I have learned quite a bit since my last one! 

Over the last couple of years, I have learned so much, from lifting a TON to not lifting much before significant races. It is a delicate balance for sure, but it is all about what your goals are for YOU! 

Here are the 2022 FRESH “Top 5 Strength Exercises for Triathletes:”

  1. Squats
  2. Romanian Deadlift
  3. Shoulder to Overhead Movements
  4. Push-Ups
  5. Ab Wheel (Advanced Athlete) or Chin-Ups for Core Work

Why do I suggest these five 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. In addition, triathletes want to get faster, prevent injury, and improve their endurance. Therefore, these lifts or bodyweight movements are what I feel are essential to a triathlete athlete’s success. Here is my reasoning why I LOVE these exercises:


If you want more details about doing a squat, head to “Rulon Rules to a Back Squat.

What’s not to love about the squat? Squats are essential to everyday life. You squat to sit on a chair/couch or the throne, and you should squat to pick up objects versus bending at your waist.


There are so many different options and ways to do a squat:

  • Air squats
  • Goblet Squats (With a kettlebell)
  • Dumbbell squats
  • Back squats
  • Overhead Squats
  • Front Squats

Squats is a whole lower body exercise working the hip and knee joints, along with the numerous muscles on the anterior (front) and posterior (back) parts of the leg and the butt. In addition, we have quadriceps, which consist of 4 muscles, along with the hamstring, which consists of 3 muscles, and the Gluteus Maximus and Minimus.

Charles Poliquin, who writes about strength training, encourages runners and endurance athletes to lift. In addition to research, Poliquin states that “including full squats in a lower-body program can improve muscular endurance and prevent the early onset of fatigue.”

Romanian Deadlift (RDLs):

If you want more details about how to do an RDL, head to “Rulon Rules to a Romanian Deadlift.” 

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

Romanian Deadlifts will work the trunk, hip, and knee joints. In addition, the RDLs will perform the gluteus maximus, hamstring muscles (3 muscles), along with the lower back (erector spinae) and quadratus lumborum, and will also strengthen our quadriceps (4 forces).

We tend to have a weaker posterior chain as triathletes, so we need to work in the gym versus pool, bike, or run. 

Shoulder to Overhead (STO) Movements:

There are many options for the shoulder to overhead movement in the gym with a bar, dumbbells, and kettlebells. Here are some, to name a few:

  • Strict Press
  • Push Press
  • Push Jerk
  • Split Jerk

When I work with triathletes, I will look at the strict press and push press as an overall lift that will work the upper body of a triathlete.

A strict or military press is 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 with the swim stroke muscles? A strict press is excellent for improving your long-term shoulder health, as it is also for the lower back and core muscles, which are needed for cycling correctly!

Check out the Strict Press of me at The Tribe Strength and Conditioning Gym:

A push press uses the shoulders and deltoids just like the strict press, but the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus are also utilized since you use your legs for the push press. A triathlete will use all of these muscles during the swim, bike, and run.

Check out Nick from The Tribe Strength and Conditioning Gym:


If you want more details about push-ups, head to “Rulon Rules to Push Up.

Push-Ups can be challenging for a lot of athletes and people in general. However, push-ups are a GREAT exercise for overall upper body and core work, as they can help you in the pool with your swim and have a solid core by adding some “planks” to it. 

Push-ups will utilize the chest muscles (pectoralis major and minor), shoulder/elbow joint (serratus anterior, anterior deltoid, bicep, and triceps), and many muscles in the wrist and hand joints. 

The excellent bonus for push-ups is that they will also engage the cervical and lumbar spine, hips, knees, ankles, and feet to stabilize the primary muscles mention above. 

Even if you are on your knees for a push-up, you are still doing the movement. Check out the details in my other blog. 

Core Work:

Core work is a tricky subject because sit-ups are not the end all be all for every athlete. For example, I have an athlete who can not do sit-ups due to her back, so I have to develop new workouts and help her with her core. The same may apply to you.

So, I have to be very mindful of all athletes on which ab work I like. You may or may not be able to do these movements, BUT I would like to see you work your way up to these.

First of all, I should say about ab and core work; abs begin in the kitchen. For you to get that six-pack stomach, eating crap won’t help. Second of all, if you are high stress, cortisol will likely be a cause of gaining weight in the abdomen region as well. Maybe “Abs are not made in the kitchen”; perhaps “Abs are made on vacation.”

Here are two exercises that I like to do for core work for myself:

Ab Wheel (Wheel of Death):

Remember the ab wheel? It became trendy in the ’70s, and then people started getting injured with it. So if you are weaker in the core, I would focus on working on plank workouts.

If you want to attempt the ab wheel, I will start with your knees. I have attached a video below:

If you’re going to attempt the ab wheel, I will begin with your knees. I have attached a video below, as I have not put one together, but I will by March for you all:


Huh? Yes, chin-ups are all about using your core and your body weight.

What if you can do a chin-up? Not a problem; I have started athletes with negative chin-ups. For example, jump on to hold yourself and gradually come down in 20 – 30 seconds of movement. You want to lower yourself as slowly as possible. You can do three rounds of 5 in a row with a 1:00 in between.

Those are my FRESH “Top Five Strength Exercises for Triathletes” for 2022. 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 body fat.

Are you interested in a 15  Week Strength Program? Click HERE for my shop, or click the photo below! 

AUTHOR: Jen Rulon

I have been coaching triathletes, runners, and cyclists for over 21+ years; I received my Master's Degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science. And as you may have learned, there is more to life than swimming, biking, and running. It is a lifestyle, and I am here to help you cross that finish line with a smile, whether it is an Ironman Triathlon or the Ironman of Life. You can find my knowledge shared in Triathlete Magazine, Runners World, on the TEDx Stage, the Health and Wellness Expo in San Antonio, TX, Southwest Research Institute Human Performance Summit, Training Peaks Workshops, "Self Motivation Strategies for Women" on Amazon, Men's Journal Online, and the New York Times. I also practice what I preach—she's a 15x Ironman Triathlete who participated in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on October 14, 2017.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap