Strength training in the lead up to an Ironman

In the lead up to my past Ironman, I decided to change my strength training program completely around from the past year to see what would happen.

Going against everything I have been told where and when to place gym sessions within an athlete’s training program, I decided to place my gym session after my weekly long rides.  Some weeks I would jump off my bike from a five – six hour ride and go directly to the gym.  Other weeks I would wait up to four hours to do so.

My weekly strength training program from twelve weeks leading into the Ironman was very much a maintenance phase.  I had done all the hard work in the gym in the nine months prior to this.  My week would look something like:

  • Two core strength sessions done at home
  • One full body gym session

 

Last year when I was within twelve weeks of an Ironman, I remained in the gym twice a week with the focus of maintenance. This year I decided to replace one of my gym sessions with an extra run.

I didn’t know if this was going to work in week one and I was wiling to make changes if and when needed.  For all gym sessions, I had written out the session, how many reps and the weights I wanted to lift for each muscle group.

The weeks looked something like this

  • Week 1: Gym session directly after a 5hr hilly ride. This felt hard but manageable and recovered well.
  • Week 2: Gym was placed in a traditional place
  • Week 3: Gym within 1hr after finishing a 6hr ride
  • Week 4: Gym within 4hrs after finishing a 5hr hilly ride
  • Week 5: Gym was placed in a traditional place
  • Week 6: Gym was placed in a traditional place
  • Week 7: Gym within 4hrs of finishing a 3hr hard ride
  • Week 8: Gym within 1hr of finishing a 5hr hilly ride – Starting to feel easy
  • Week 9: Gym within 1hr of a 6hr ride – I had to increase the weights as it felt too easy
  • Week 10: Gym session within 3hrs of a 3hr hard ride
  • Week 11: Gym was placed in a traditional place
  • Week 12: Race week – No gym

 

Results 

Yes the first week felt hard but I recovered fast from the session and it didn’t have a negative impact to my long run the next day.  From there, it really felt easier and easier each time and I found by week six of doing this, I would feel amazingly fresh after my long rides.

In the past, a six hour ride would feel like I have ridden six hours, now, I am getting off the bike and walking around the house questioning the ride and the effort I rode at. I would feel like I had spent the morning on the beach instead of the bike.

Week nine blew my mind, I got off the bike after a 6hr ride feeling fresh.  I had a shake and a shower and went directly to the gym. When I started doing inclined leg press, I had on my program 3×12 @ 130kg. I started and I thought I hadn’t stacked the weights correctly as it felt way too easy.  I stopped and counted the weights and yes they were right.  I had to put on another 20kg just so it could feel like I am doing something.

 

Ironman Performance 

While I didn’t have the ride I was expecting during my Ironman, the last 65km was a strong headwind.  This also turned out to be my fastest last 65km of any Ironman I had done and I got off the bike feeling I had just ridden 90km instead of 180km.

 

Would I do this again?  For myself, most diffidently.

Would I recommend others to do this or give this to athletes I coach? Depending on the athlete, I would strongly consider testing if it will work for some if I could be sure the athlete would focus on good technique during the gym sessions and recovery after the session.  I would also want a lot of feedback from each session and I would keep a close eye on their training performance in the days after the gym session.

 

 

Tim Egge

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