Heavy lifting does little good during triathlon training. Endurance events are extremely aerobic in nature. An anaerobic movement has little applicable crossover into the event at hand.
However, certain muscle-intensive movements, like the squat, do have benefits. These benefits include increases in strength, work capacity, and even recovery. Athletes in almost all sports train by doing squats. This is because squats induce invaluable athletic development. This guide will explain why triathletes should integrate squats into their regular training routine.
Why Squats Work
Simply put, lifting weights damages muscle tissue (in a good way). Squatting is no exception. After significant weight training over time, however, your body will become acclimated to the constant damaging and rebuilding of muscle tissue. This adaption to the tissue damage reduces the feeling of soreness and fatigue.
Carry this concept over to a triathlon: The distance is sure to cause muscle soreness and tissue damage. However, your muscles will get used to the trauma by incorporating squats into your training routine. Overt time, your muscles will recover much faster. This minimizes onset muscle soreness and fatigue, both during and after the event.
Big Weights Produce Big Muscles
Squatting with heavy weight helps increase strength and power. Squatting heavy also helps build muscle for a variety of reasons:
- Squats induce a testosterone boost: Testosterone is a growth hormone which is released throughout the entire body. Squatting will even help you achieve upper-body muscle at an accelerated rate.
- Squats are safe: Squatting is a functional movement, meaning it’s a one-rep safe exercise (assuming it’s performed properly). As a result, maximum possible weight can be pursued for this exercise, making it great for building strength and power.
- Squats strengthen the core: Squats require full-body stability, especially for the core. Unlike isolation movements, such as curls, this reliance on stability will activate secondary muscles otherwise unused in most lifts.
Proper Form Counts
Because squats can be pursued with maximum weight, it’s extremely important to make sure your form is efficient. Here are some pointers on achieving an ideal squat stance:
[step1][steptitle1]Pre-Squat Positioning[/steptitle1][stepcontent]Approach the bar, placing each hand one thumb-width from the center smooth. Sink underneath the bar, placing it at the base of your trapezius (traps) muscles.[/stepcontent][/step1][FACEClearBoth]
[step2][steptitle2]Starting the Squat[/steptitle2][stepcontent]Raise the bar off the rack and take a couple steps back. With your hands still at the set-up position, raise your elbows up and out behind your back so your forearms are as parallel to the ground as possible. This position creates a “platform” on which the bar should rest.[/stepcontent][/step2][FACEClearBoth]
[step3][steptitle3]Setting Your Base[/steptitle3][stepcontent]
Separate your legs so that your feet are a little wider than hip-width, and have your toes pointed slightly outward, so your feet make the angle of a letter “V.” Be sure to keep the weight on your heels at all times. Do not roll to the balls of your feet. Before you descend on your first repetition, look straight ahead (which will help keep the spine straight). Your eyes should be fixed on what would be the “horizon” at all times.
Just before you begin to sink down into your first rep, inhale deeply and hold the air inside your belly. This will help stabilize the core. Do not confuse this with holding the breath in your chest. When the air is in your belly, your core should feel tight.
As you begin to descend on your rep, stick your butt out just as much as it goes down, accentuating the arch in your lumbar spine. Keeping your chest high will help maintain this form. Ideally, the curve in your back should resemble the shape of a quarter pipe.
Sink as low as possible to maximize range of motion. The standard for squat depth is descending your hips below your knees.
On the ascent, drive out of your heels explosively. Be sure to maintain proper form throughout the lift.
At the top of your ascent, come to a complete vertical stance, extending the hips at the top of the lift. Release your breath and either begin a subsequent rep or re-rack the weight.
Although squats should be pursued with the primary intention of strength training, utilizing this invaluable movement within a variety of other training styles is also beneficial. For example, high-repetition/low-weight squats will help with conditioning. If you don’t have equipment nearby, air squats (using just your bodyweight) can be preformed. There are also numerous modifications that can be made to the fundamental squat movement. Here are just a few:
- Jumping squat: More explosive than a typical air squat. Great for practicing power-generation.
- Single-leg squat: Utilizes more balance and stability than a typical air squat.
- Weighted front squat: Places more muscular recruitment on the quadriceps, rather than on the gluteus muscles.
- Overhead squat: Utilizes more balance and stability than the standard back squat (although there is most likely going to be a decrease in weight lifted). Also improves shoulder and wrist strength and flexibility.
Integrate Squats into Your Routine
[hottip-SR][hottiptitle-S]Hot Tip: Utilize Air Squats[/hottiptitle-S][hottipcontent-S]
Air squats can also be a great stretching tactic, as they are both a dynamic and functional movement. In addition to your normal stretches (pre or post workout), try a few air squats at varying speeds. Even holding yourself at the bottom of the squat for a set amount of time will help stretch the legs and open the hips
Because triathlon training is so leg-intensive, it might be difficult for you to integrate an effective and consistent squat routine into your training schedule. It’s ultimately best to begin this integration with caution, as to avoid over-training or the chance of injury.
A light aerobic workout after squats isn’t a bad idea either. Not only will this integrate a secondary metabolic pathway (the oxidative pathway), it will also help stretch and loosen the muscles that were compacted and traumatized by the squat (strength) training. A mix of heavy and light strength and conditioning training ensures a progressive, balanced workout.
Timing is Important
Begin by implementing squats into the training session after a rest day. This ensures that your legs are as fresh as possible. This is important because heavy squats recruit from multiple muscle and energy sources. It also induces neuromuscular fatigue, meaning it taxes the central nervous system. This is much different than aerobic swim, bike, or run training. As a general rule, any type of strength training should precede endurance training.
Squats are a major strength movement. As a result, they should not be done in the frequency of typical triathlon training (swimming, biking, or running). If you are on a fixed triathlon training program, only integrate squats into your routine about once every two weeks. Once you feel comfortable with the movement and their effect on your endurance training, increase the frequency to about once per week.
Again, not every squat routine has to be in pursuit of maximum weight; interval training and modifications can be a great substitute for some squat training days. However, it’s best to practice weighted squats at least once every two to three weeks.
Squat Your Way to the Top
Beginning a simple squat training routine will undoubtedly increase your overall training work capacity. In particular, increasing strength will help you carry on longer runs. Getting your muscles used to the consistent trauma of weight training will help reduce onset muscle soreness during and after training or a race. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the benefits of squat training will carry over into your endurance training and increase your overall performance.