Triathlon Training Plan PART 4 | Gym Programme

Having already pencilled in three weekly sessions for three separate disciplines, you might already be suitably impressed with the load you have taken on.

Intro | A Beginner’s Triathlon Training Plan

Part 1 | The Swimming Programme

Part 2 | The Cycling Programme

Part 3 | The Running Programme

Part 4 | …But there is another essential element to make your training as effective as possible, and that involves loading weights at the gym.

The Gym

Your goal at the gym is not to look good in your wetsuit (although this will be a pleasant side-effect) and so you can safely avoid training the “vanity muscles” like biceps and the like (also in terms of efficiency, can you think of when huge biceps are going to help you during a triathlon?)

You rather want to head to the squat rack for exercises which engage every muscle in your body and give you an added boost of speed for your race. These exercises will be the squat, the deadlift, the bench press and pull-ups. Below is a very brief guide to get you started on these exercises.

The time principle will be the same for each except the pull-ups. Take your stop watch and work within a 10 minute time frame for each movement.


barbell back squat

How To Perform The Squat

There are many ways to do the squat, but let’s keep it simple and place the bar on your shoulders, behind your neck.

The Movement

Begin with a small weight (the bar on the rack is typically 20 kg without added weights) and high reps. With the bar on your shoulders, sit back at the hips, keeping your shoulders back and chin up, with back straight.

Your thighs should go as low as at least parallel with the floor, but preferably lower, all the while ensuring that your knees do not go in front of your toes. Then push powerfully back up. Repeat this up to 10 times on a low weight. Look at your stop watch.

If, for example, the clock reads 1 minute after your first 10 reps, start again at 2 minutes, but with added weight. It is a good idea to add weights 10 kg at a time, to allow your body to adjust to the added stresses and to avoid injury.

Sets and reps

Squat a comfortable number of reps with this added weight, and then add some more. Continue this pattern for 10 minutes (squat, add weight, take a break, squat).

You should aim to do the exercise every minute. So, as in this example, you started the second weight at 2 minutes, you should do the 3rd set at 3 minutes, the 4th at 4 minutes and so on. This pattern should be repeated for each type of exercise. Once you reach the 10 minute mark, stop the clock and remove the weights.

Bench press

How To Perform The Bench Press

Take a stroll over to the barbell rack for bench pressing. As with the squat, start your stopwatch and then lie down on the bench, chest under the barbell.

The Movement

Starting with a very low weight (the bar itself is typically 20 kg), draw the barbell down towards your chest, round about nipple height (as a man) or about 2/3 of the way down your sternum.

With a natural arch in your back and feet firmly planted on the floor, push strongly upwards from the chest. Slowly lower back under control to the sternum.

Sets and reps

Repeat this on a low weight 10 times, and then begin to add weight. As with the squat, check the time on your clock and set a marker to ensure you do the exercise once every minute, ideally adding weight each time.

If the weights become too much, you can always call somebody over to give you a spot, to help you get the barbell up and back on the rack. Once ten minutes is over, replace the weights and head on over to the deadlifting pad.



Far from being a harbinger of death, the deadlift is a complex exercise which will use nearly all the muscles in your body (including your face) and lead to big increases in strength for your race when it comes down to it.

The biggest muscles in your back and legs will be the benefactors, and subsequently your swimming and cycling in particular will see improvements.

The Movement

Using exactly the same system as the squat and the bench press, approach the barbell on the floor. It is advisable to find somebody with experience in this lift to give you a few pointers on technique, but to begin with, place your feet under the barbell, roughly shoulder width apart.

Bend at the knees to grab the bar. Lean back at the hips, ensuring your shins are at 90 degrees to the floor, your back is straight and your shoulders are back.

Proceed to lift with your legs, keeping your back straight and shoulders back all the while. When your legs are extended, pull your shoulders back and thrust your hips slightly forward.

Release the weight in reverse, making sure your back is straight, shoulders are back and shins are always at 90 degrees to the floor, i.e. your knees do not at any point extend in front of your shins, like they do when you squat.

Sets and reps

Use the same 10 minute system as with the other exercises, adding weight all the while. At the end of 10 minutes, replace the weights and find a pull-up bar.


Far easier to get a hang of than the deadlift, pull-ups will help you strengthen your back, arms and shoulders for improved swimming strength.

How To Perform Pull-Ups

With a wide or narrow grip (you can choose and vary things up), lift yourself upwards without swinging your torso, to the point that your chin is above the level of the bar. Hence why this exercise is also commonly known as the chin-up. Do as many reps as you can for the first time.

Then take a look at your stopwatch and rest for 1 minute before doing it again.

Read Now | Pull-up progression for beginners

Sets and reps

Do this 5 times. Take a note of how many pull-ups you were able to do and see how you improve over time.


Since you want to have two gym sessions a week, you can always add in your sprint cycle session after doing two of the exercises here and kill two birds with one stone.

With so many hours a week of training, it is good to be as efficient as possible with your time!

Take-home message

Your leg and back muscles will be very important on race day, so putting the necessary stress on them in the gym to allow them to grow will give you an edge on race day.

Your goal is obviously not to put too much muscle on (you will struggle anyway considering the endurance sports you do!) but when you work these muscles you will find not only that you get some added power in each discipline, but it also mixes up your schedule, allowing for more variety in your training. In addition to that, most gyms are indoors and allow you to escape the cold!

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