Cross-Sport Triathlon Training: Weights & Swimming
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Cross-Sport Triathlon Training: Weights & Swimming


The thought of combining weightlifting and swimming might seem odd, which is why you don't see too many bodybuilders in the lap pool. The demands of these two activities are basically exact opposites: Swimming features a generally low-impact, steady rate of high cardio exertion; weightlifting requires heavy, highly intense bursts of energy.

Taking in sufficient oxygen to provide energy for heavy lifts is difficult after swimming (another oxygen-consuming exercise). Because this is the case, training the body to efficiently absorb and utilize oxygen is an advantageous training protocol, as it will help to prepare someone for the physical demand of any triathlon. This guide will go over the training structure and methodology of swimming-lifting training.

Start Slow, Let Progress Grow

If it’s your first time weight training and swimming in the same workout, proceed with caution and vigilance. As with any new workout, practicing the motions is a good way to familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar exercises...and don't forget to warm up! If you’ve only been conditioned for lifting weights without the factor of cardiovascular fatigue, it’s important to approach these workouts with caution so that you don’t overexert or injure yourself.

Combining swimming and lifting is not easy. Swimming (at a moderately fast pace) burns approximately 700 calories per hour for a 170-pound male. Lifting at a moderate pace also burns about 700 calories per hour. Mix them both together and you’ve got yourself one great calorie-blasting workout!

Once you’ve become accustomed to the workload and demand of swimming and lifting, begin to increase the intensity by adding weight or reducing the rest periods between sets. Regardless of the weight or rest duration, make sure you are approaching each workout set with intensity, which is a necessary element to performance gains.

There is More Than Just Iron

You don’t need a barbell and plates to pursue weight training, especially if you are swimming in conjunction with lifting. Other weighted items like a medicine bal,l or even your own body weight,  can work as an effective substitute. Think outside the mainstream approach of standard weightlifting and you will find several new exercise possibilities.

Creating a Routine

Though you have many options in choosing which exercises to include in your new routine, there are a couple of key goals to keep in mind:

Train for Tri Sports

An excellent complement to swimming’s pulling motion is the pushing motion of many weight training exercises. For example, the military press is a great pushing movement that builds upper-body size, strength, and power. Using other weighted items such as a medicine ball for medicine ball throws (a pushing movement), can serve the purpose of the workout, as well.

If you are devising a swim-lift workout, think about the movements you will be performing and the muscles you will be recruiting. Swimming is a unique exercise because it recruits the entire body, and freestyle is the most commonly practiced of all swimming strokes. This stroke has two main upper-body movements: Reach and pull. The reach (of each stroke) doesn’t necessarily require too much muscle activation, because it’s primarily an extension rather than a contraction. The pull, however, uses the chest, back, shoulder, and tricep muscles to move your body through the water.

Balance your Routine

In the pursuit of equal muscle stimulation in a single workout, think of a movement that recruits the antagonist (opposite) muscles. For instance, because triceps are activated in the water, try isolating your biceps with the weights. Alternatively, you can break up your daily workout by specific body parts (as many bodybuilders do). If you prefer this style of training, isolate the same muscles that are recruited while swimming. Sample swim-related workouts include exercises such as Sumo deadlifts and pull-ups.

Conditions May Vary

Once you’ve decided on your contrasting weighted exercises, begin to program the conditions in which you will complete the workout. Will you complete the workout under a time domain or a repetition count? Will there be rest periods? If so, how long will they last?

These are all questions you should ask when programming a workout for yourself. Consider the fatigue brought on by moderately-intense swimming, and how you will be able to handle that exhaustion while lifting weights. If it seems like a daunting task, or if you had previous bad experiences with this workout, then come up with another program. The key is choosing a program that is challenging but realistic for your body and its capabilities.

Also consider the sport or activity for which you are training. In this case, the sport is triathlon, which requires stamina and endurance. Program your training according to your ultimate athletic pursuits so that it helps prepare you for race day.

Here are some sample workouts that incorporate swimming and weight training:

  • Five rounds for time of:
    • 10 clean and press (95lb)
    • Swim 100m
  • Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:
    • Swim 50m
    • 15 pull-ups

Swim Hard, Lift Hard

Swimming and weight training go hand-in-hand: Lifting improves strength, swimming builds cardio. Swimming is also a non-impact sport and, therefore, a bit easier on the body than running or other cardio-related activities. The extensions of the body while swimming also help to elongate and stretch out muscles, which is especially beneficial after lifting weights.

Even if you don’t have access to pool-side weights, there are hundreds of alternatives that will elicit the same effect. Think outside the box and approach each workout with ingenuity and creativity. You will be pleasantly surprised with your ideas and subsequent results!

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