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Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

May 20, 2022

Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

I’m a big advocate for triathletes implementing strength into their training program. But not many do it!


Maybe it’s because you’re worried about getting too sore, putting on too much muscle mass and affecting your power to weight ratio, you have zero time, or maybe it’s because you have no idea what you should be doing!

As an Advanced Sports Dietitian, this is not my area of expertise, so recently I asked Exercise Physiologist, Huw Darnell, who specialises in strength and rehabilitation for triathletes, to join me on my podcast.

Huw is all about building bulletproof bodies that are injury resilient with greater capacity. Exactly what you need - to be strong and injury-free heading into race season!

Here’s a little of what he shared (and for the full story check out EP 42 of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy Podcast): Episode 42 - Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

Why should every triathlete include strength as part of their training program?

  • Resilience against injury – which equates to more time in the sport
  • Improved performance – building capacity in the body – upgrading from a 4 cylinder car to an 8 cylinder car
  • Capacity to produce force

How often do they need to include strength in a week to get the best benefit?

  • Individualistic approach
  • Tailored to fit around current commitments or it won’t last
  • Ideally two exposures across the week

Where is strength training best placed around other sessions?

  • Think about using the time pre and post your current sessions as a warm-up (and accumulate the time)
  • Not too close together or you lose the maximal cardiovascular effect and don’t get maximal strength effect
  • At least 24 hours apart
  • Away from key races or runs

Triathletes are incredibly time-poor. What sort of exercises should they be doing to give them best bang for their buck?

  • Duncan French’s concept “What makes the boat go faster”
  • Triathlon - what are the demands of the sport? What are the key parameters of a really good performance? Where are you now? What can we do, within the given time constraints, to edge that needle closer?
  • Core strength, rather than upper body strength
  • Lower body strength, single-leg stability, good foot intrinsic control
  • Step-ups, hamstring strength exercise
  • Every muscle has a function and an action - so produces force or resists force

Some athletes are worried about getting sore and strength training affecting their other sessions – do you have any advice to help with that?

  • With lifts - concentric up and remove the eccentric portion on the way down
  • Modify intensity
  • No crazy reps that break down the muscle fibre just practice the skill over and over again
  • Periodise the training

Would you program differently for someone in the offseason vs race season? What would that look like?

  • Three key variables we can play with to get different outcomes - frequency, intensity (RPE) and the volume
  • Anatomical adaptations
  • Periodising your strength and conditioning training program (just as you do with your nutrition).

Can you over-train by adding strength into an already loaded program?

  • The typical triathlete mentality of all or nothing - the potential for running into a wall is real
  • Four pillars to performance and one is recovery. Build your reserves so that when you need that strength the bucket is bigger and fuller to draw from.
  • Accumulate recovery points

In a sport where power to weight ratio is important and many athletes strive to be lighter and leaner, are triathletes going to bulk up with strength training?

  • Body composition and power to weight ratio is important so it comes down to smart training and not too much volume of certain things
  • A little bit of muscle gain makes for a more resilient athlete
  • Increasing the bulletproof level of an athlete is what we are after
  • You are not doing the type of training that going to lead to building size - just building resilience and performance


To listen to all the advice Huw gave, take a listen to EP 42 of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy Podcast: Episode 42 - Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

Huw has worked with many triathletes of all levels, from age groupers to the elite. He does this through his online program, The Tristrong Performance Program which is the perfect way to get some qualified, evidence-based help in implementing some strength training into your program. 



Connect with Huw on Instagram

Learn more about working with Huw and his Tristrong Performance Program - an online strength, rehabilitation and injury prevention program to bulletproof your body


If you’re interested in joining the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, pop your name on the waitlist NOW | Join the TNA Waitlist

If you are looking for a Sports Dietitian and want to learn more about working with me, click HERE to see what I offer for private, 1 on 1 consultation.



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