Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes
After competing in sprint triathlons for eight years, my training had become sloppy.  I had lost the discipline of the early years.  I had nearly stopped strength training, focusing instead on cardio and endurance training.  And to top it off, my performance was poorer.  I was also struggling with knee pain while running.  

Credible References for Strength Training

So, the article entitled “Mark Allen’s 12 Best Strength Exercises” jumped out at me as I skimmed my emails on a recent winter morning.    Having read about triathlon for over eight years, I knew of Mark Allen and considered him a credible source of information. I became even more interested in the plan once I realized that this strength training plan had also been a turning point for Mark.  In the first full season after following this strength training program, Mark won the three international multi-sport endurance events, including IRONMAN World Championship in Kona-Kailua, Hawaii. Around the same time, I read about Judy Cole, a 73-year-old ultra runner.   Judy had started running every day during her early 30s.  However, early on, she had problems with her knees.  Following the advice of her running partner to strengthen her quads and hamstringsbecame a game changer”. Judy’s experience sounded oh-so-familiar so I committed to the plan.  

My Experience with Mark Allen’s Strength Training Program

This post is a journal of my experience with Mark Allen’s strength training program.  I first published this post after completing four sessions of the first, or adaptation, phase, eventually finishing eight. Now in the second, or endurance, phase, I already feel stronger.   Exercises that were especially difficult in the first sessions are now much easier.  And, for the first time in months, I am running without knee pain.  

Mark’s Best Strength Training Exercises

Listed in the table below are the twelve exercises in this program.  The table lists the triathlon event most impacted by the exercise.  Meanwhile, the article includes videos that show how to perform each of them correctly.
Exercise Helps most with . . .
Lateral Pull-Downs Swim
Leg Extensions Run
Leg Curls Bike, Run
Bench Press Swim
Squats Bike, Run
Lateral Dumbbell Raise Swim
Calf Raises Run
Dumb-bell Pullover Swim
Backward Lunges Run
Bicep Curls Swim, Bike
Tricep Extensions Swim
Leg Press Bike, Run
 

Strength Training Restarted – Phase 1

I started each session with core exercises and 10 minutes of cardio to warm up. The core exercise portion included one minute of each of:
  • Plank — one minute.
  • Side plank — one minute on each side.
  • Abs — one minute sitting up on the floor with the back at about 45 degrees off the floor and legs extended and on the floor.  (This is an alternative to crunches that have fallen out of favor with trainers.)
Before starting with the weights, I took 10 minutes to finish warming up.  This involved walking, jogging on an elliptical machine, or riding a stationary bike at an intensity high enough to begin sweating. Throughout the journey, I recorded in a Google Sheet the number of repetitions and weights for each of the exercises.  I also noted when I should use a heavier weight in the next session and made notes of any pain or soreness I felt during or after the session. After each session, I complete another 10 minutes of cardio, time permitting.  I then follow a routine of static stretches of my hamstrings, quads, calves, and upper and lower back. I have already seen progress.  Each session, I can use higher weights and the amount of soreness in the days after the session has been much less. Before each session, I try to re-read the article and watch the videos to make certain I follow the correct form and breathing for each of the exercises.
Leg exension exercise machine

Machine used for the leg extension exercise. Mark Allen’s program involves a mix of exercises that use free weights, weight machines, dumbbells, and body weight.

 

Endurance Strength Training – Phase 2

The main difference between the first two phases was that Phase 2 involved two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each of the exercises, rather than one set in Phase 1, with a 90 seconds rest between sets.  As in Phase 1, I completed two sessions per week with at least one day, but usually three days, between them. During Phase 1, I selected weights for each of the exercises for which I could complete 15 repetitions with good form.  For some of these, I could increase the weight slightly during the four weeks. In transitioning into Phase 2,  I used the same weights as at the end of Phase 1.   However, in the first two sessions, I completed only 12 (rather than 15) repetitions in each of the sets (except for the squats).   I did this following the principle of injury prevention that calls for increasing intensity gradually.   
Increasing the intensity, time, or type of activity too quickly is one common reason for a sports injury. To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the ten percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training. This guideline simply states that you should increase your activity no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, weight lifted, and length of your exercise session.”  Source: Very Well Fit
Continuing this principle, I increased the number of repetitions (“reps”) to 15 for the first of two sets in week 2; the second set still involved 12 repetitions.  In week 3 of Phase 2, I completed 15 repetitions for both sets.    

Early Results 

Also, early in Phase 2, I ran indoors on the LifeTime Fitness track for 10 or more minutes after weight lifting and before stretching.  Another pleasant surprise has been the absence of any knee pain during the run.  This seems to confirm my theory that my knee pain resulted from weak hips and other leg muscles that are being strengthened in this program.  How motivating!  My plan is to complete 12 weeks of Phase 2, increasing weight gradually as possible. The end of Phase 2 will still be over 9 weeks from my first triathlon in this year.  

Lessons from Strength Training for Triathletes

I have learned some important lessons while using this plan:
  1. Be patient – the results one should expect from this training, and all training may seem to come slowly.  Keep at it and you will eventually see results.
  2. Become familiar with the specific equipment you will use in the program.  I did not seek out an introduction from a trainer and found that I was learning how to adjust it by observing others, experimenting.  Some things, like how to add weight in 5 lb. increments on the machines, I learned by accident.
 

Interested in Joining Me?

If you would like to join me in following Mark Allen’s strength training program for triathletes, comment below or email me at seniortriathletes@gmail,com.  I will share the Google Sheet with you so you can record your results and we can track our progress.  

New to Strength Training?

You may be interested in this article from Silver Sneakers with advice on how to begin a strength training program.  

To Be Continued . . .

This post was first published on March 14, 2019.  The first update was published on April 19, 2019.
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