Starting strength + Triathlon, is it possible?

So after years of resisting, i’ve decided to start doing “proper” resistance training.
I’ve done bodyweight/calisthenics way back in the day, i’ve played with kettlebell a lot (best i’ve gotten was a 50lbs TGU and 70lbs swings) and i’ve been doing triathlon training for the past 4-5 years, minus covid. I’ve just joined a gym last month and am starting to get accustomed to all the different lifts by going 4x per week
So 3 seasons of triathlon training, with my biggest event having been a half-iron this year.
Now i know i can be better by losing weight and by being stronger overall, they’re low hanging fruit

So now my problem is i think i have conflicting goals:

  • i want to do a novice strength program to get my strength up
  • i want to lose weight to be a better triathlete (i do have a bit of extra dad bod fat)

I know that as you get heavier in the lifts, gaining weight helps you lift more, especially as a newb, but then if i want to run faster, losing weight can help me lighten up the load on the joints to sustain higher volumes of running at faster paces.

I’d like to be closer to the sprinter numbers on that calculator and am already close to the all-rounder numbers with just one month of “getting used to it”
I’ve started reading starting strength and am inclined to believe it could work for me, i’d even consider stronglifts 5x5… how would you approach it if you were in my shoes?

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Definitely possible to drink a gallon of milk during T2 from the Squat to the Bike. Alan Thrall has some videos about this.


I’ve tried it a few ways on these forums so maybe you can gain from my mistakes with a few searches. If I was going to have my time again:

Back off SBR as you start loading up, lose all intensity but don’t stop all together. Once you get to ‘heavy’, keep one short session of SBR each per week.

Don’t do 3x heavy lifting on a TR plan.

SBR on the same day as heavy lifting just isn’t sustainable.

Look ahead and decide where lifting fits into your next tri season. Reality is that these become the least valuable sessions pretty quick, so maintenance is where I’ve failed.

Now is the right time to start, I’m restarting now myself. Will use Stronglifts to get up to strength, then I’m going to switch to a sports specific lifting programme. I’ve tried to continue 5x5 at a ‘maintenance weight’ through the season but it always dries up so I’ll be looking for something that can be done around SBR sessions without interfering with them.

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I have just started my third week of SL 5x5 (from an empty bar) so still pretty light. I have read most of the threads on the subject matter and the general consensus is that there is too much interference with starting strength or SL program when the weights start getting heavy.

My plan is to use 5x5 until I reach the TR bench marks or until I plateau or until 22 weeks out from my 70.3. at which point I will change to 1-2 sessions / week strength maintenance.

I’m brand new to strength training (and barbell) training so this is going to be a bit of an experiment for me.


Whats SBR ? Squat Bench Row?

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Swim Bike Run - i.e., triathlon training.


This is def a confusing area of our hobby still. We are all learning- at the same time it seems- to eat a ton of carbs/ Lift heavy AFTER learning how to lift properly/ and train smart and structured all the while balancing all the different tugs of life on this planet. I hear ya bud. Here’s what worked for me over a couple of years and how its all materialized in the last couple of years.

Step 1 would be to focus on the compound lifts. they offer the biggest bang for you time buck (as per the internet)
-Learn the movement with little to no weight and slowly increase that weight. This is essentially an increase of intensity. As the intensity (weight) increases begin to reduce the intensity of your SBR training. I use this time of the year to really practice the skill side of my hobbies because that means riding my bike, swimming for skill, and running for “fun”.
-You’ve seen on this forum, on their podcast, on stickers on light posts, on MY BLOG (Shameless Plug) that consistency is king. As you build up the weight of the lifts try and think of your schedule to promote consistency. What days make the most sense for lifting? What time of day?? How to maximize your food intake to make it work etc.
Step 2
-Go hard in the gym and recover. Intensity in the gym takes the place of intensity on the bike. You know yourself better than any of us will know you. Be responsible with the overall volume and dont forget to FUEL these workouts and your recovery.
Step 3 - I didn’t mention your concerns about weight and body comp. The reason for this is that you are creating a calorie burning machine when you combine resistance training and endurance training. If you are consistent I strongly believe that the “problem” of a dad bod will resolve itself.

My current Split:
Tue - Bike/ Core
W - Swim/ Squat+Bench+Lunges+Shoulder Press
Th-Bike or Run/ Core
Fri - DL+Pull Ups+BB Rows+KB Swings
Sat - Family day+Maybe an easy run/ Swim/ Hike
Sun-Long Bike Ride or Long Run/ Core

Give or take a workout or not. hope that helps but I would like to keep the conversation going here. LMK.


This is what scientific triathlon have concluded:

Edit, excerpt of his “Ten Commandments”

  1. Do a combination of heavy strength training (high weights, low reps) and heavy explosive strength training.
  2. Do prioritise compound (multi-joint) exercises that mimic sport-specific movements versus isolation exercises, and do favour free weights over machines when possible.
  3. Do two to three sets of each exercise and rest for two to three minutes between sets when you do high weight low rep training.
  4. Do leave 8 hours or more between your endurance and heavy strength training workouts if you train both modalities in the same day, to avoid or minimise interference.
  5. Do two strength training sessions per week over an 8-12 week period if you want to see significant endurance performance improvements.
  6. Do periodise your strength training so it progresses from an adaptation phase, through a progressive build phase where you increase the demands at an appropriate rate, into a maintenance phase during your race season.
  7. Do include maintenance weightlifting year-round, at least every 10 days, or you will lose the gains you’ve made in the gym.
  8. Do include an adaptation phase with low to medium weights and low to medium reps when you are getting back into weight training to refine your technique and ingrain the movement patterns of each exercise.
  9. Do include core training year-round. Ten to twenty minutes three to seven times per week is recommended.
  10. Do, optionally, include plyometrics, but be very careful and use a conservative progression to avoid injury.

Yeah currently i’m taking a short 2-week break from endurance. Did my last race sunday, just doing gym only (i’m on week 5 of going 4x per week) I’m definitely getting acquainted with all the lifts and different ways to hit the same muscles with dumbells, barbells and machines, but want to focus on mainly barbell training once i’m done my initial “get acquainted” phase.
Don’t know if fonts are too small but this is what it looks like last month, previous week was basically all these moves with no weight.

This month most of them are still there but some of the have been swapped out sometimes to subout a machine with barbells or to work that same muscle group in a different way.
Up until last week i was also running about 4x per week doing this without any issue. (2 easy, one harder with intervals, one long run)
I’ll be starting up the “serious” strength program in December so I’ll take that advice. I guess I can go heavy during base and maintain during build /specialty phases

@JoeX that’s a long article, i’ll have to go through all that tonight

I’m 52 years old. Been lifting since 15, and doing tris since I was 18. Lots of hockey in college and grad school, I ended up a lean 189lbs at 5’10”.

Now I’m 168 lbs race weight, and 178 in the winter.

All I have to add is this: get used to be the little guy at the gym, and the big guy at triathlons.


Those big weight load-bearing lifts are great for being a human but take a huge toll on your body. Just because it isn’t 2 hours of endurance exercise doesn’t mean it doesn’t require significant recovery time. I’ve dug a few holes for myself mixing heavy lifting, even at low reps, with endurance exercise. It can lead to big gains though!


By adding gym strength beyond minimum needed, you’re trying to take the motto of triathlon to the next level :

why try to be good at one sport when you can suck at 3? oups 4


Jack of all trades. Master of none. :joy:

I want to at least try this season and see where it takes me.

Being able to do a half iron puts me above the average population, I’d like to be above the average Joe in strength as well :blush:. And if it can enhance my triathlon performance too since I’ve got all this completely untapped strength, then all the better.

End goal here is full ironman in 2026. So if I can do the body recomp now and go through all the pain in the next 2-3 years to only have maintenance on my mind in 2025-26, I think I’ll have increased the probability of completing my goal by a decent margin.

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I did Strong Lifts 5x5 twice a week starting March. I’m coming up on 50, had never lifted before, and was doing a low volume plan (not a Tri plan) with an extra Sunday ride. By June I had hit Chads all a rounder levels but my riding was suffering bad.

Through the summer I kept trying to modify the lifting by reducing volume, slowing the weight increases to once a week or smaller weight increases. None of that worked and I was incredibly tired, felt overtrained, and riding became a chore so I bagged my TR workouts. I continued to ride but didn’t do any TR workouts so I could focus on lifting since I want the long-run strength.

I’m at or above Chads sprinter levels but have not done any real interval training on the bike since late June or early July. I’ll be switching to Madcow twice a week for the winter and think (hope) I’ll be able to manage that and a low volume TR plan through the winter.

If I could do it again, I would have spent about 6 weeks doing Strong Lifts 5x5 to build some basic strength then switched to one of the intermediate lifting plans like Madcow. The intermediate plans usually use ramped sets and smaller weight increases.

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My n=1 (and I’ve done 10 long distance tri) is that while you need strength to do a full ironman, I don’t think you need to pump iron or go much to the gym unless you have a big limiter to overcome. Sure it can help but most of us run into time limiters.
Strength from hill training is more appropriate & necessary so your frame can take the beating of the training and the marathon.

Your HIM/IM time would improve more with an extra run or ride per wk especially long ride and threshold stuff.

You need a lot of free time and recovery to train for a full IM. Then you need to decide what should i do with the next hour of training to get you the most benefits
or which workout(s) do i skip this week because of life.

Sounds like you plan for for a full IM is in the long term and you enjoy going to the gym so go for it.

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Indeed it is! I’ve edited my post with their summary.

I’m just sharing the information because I think it’s worth reading, but it’s also worth looking at others…

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Joe Friel has an annual plan and tends to prefer higher reps, lower weights:

I think it’s nine weeks getting to the end of the Max Strength phase by which you’ve started based for next season, then when you get into main season and maintenance it’s only one session per week 6 or 12 reps and only 2 sets per movement.

Sounds a lot easier to achieve so I’m leaning towards this for next season.


Something I wish I had done for my IM training was more functional strength training. My posterior shoulders and back, hip stabilizers, and grip muscles all went down the tube. I’ve looked at several programs, Dialed Health is the one I settled on. The app and tracking is pretty nice, videos for form guidance, and there are multiple programs you can jump into to keep it fresh. In general I think that “progression” is an important thing to consider. It is very very difficult to be progressing in strength training while also progressing in your endurance training simultaneously. I’d expect to be focusing on one or the other at any given time.

Love the experiences being shared and the discussion!

From reading elsewhere before posting this, i did notice that there’s a theme of “burning out” on the program for people trying to combine both. From what i understand excellent endurance goals will come in the way of excellent strength goals and vice versa.
And i can live with that, it’s the juggling that i’ll have to figure out.

So far my plan is
October - Keep the initial phase of getting accustomed with the lifts/getting form right and losing some weight
November - Still focus on form and basic lifts, while losing weight, adding some bicycle workouts (probably polarized base)
December - Still losing weight till mid december (when my program ends with the trainer) whie trying to get everything nice and tidy on the lifts and just before xmas break, start the program (SL or SS, still unsure). Still on polarized base
January - Add in base running (mostly bricks) while continuing the easy bikingand lifting within the initial phase of that program
Feb - Keep going and depending on how i feel maybe add swimming once a week for now and see how the body handles it
March - keep going
April - Reduce lifting to twice a week as running will be prepping for a B race half marathon (goal is sub 2)
May - Reduce lifting to once a week and add another swim
June - C race olympic distance…not much changing in the regimen but probably add an open water swim (easy pace)
July - A race HIM
August - Drop all activities back to easy (back to 1 swim and bicycle for fun) and increase lifting back to twice a week
Sept - Reincrease intensity on the running and decrease the number of swims
Oct - A race HM and after that get back to lifting 3x per week
And my years would probably look like that for the next few years lol

I think you’ve go a fair steer. A few things jump out though;

  1. October is easy lifting, keep your SBR going at existing levels, tail off in Nov when your body is telling you to

  2. I have emboldened a certain theme in your first three months :wink: I tried this too, failed. Cut out the rubbish by all means, but a calorie deficit whilst trying to build lean muscle is like doing MV Sus Power Build without fuelling.

  3. When does your tri plan start in ernest? It looks like your lifting seriously until very late in the day