Strength Training

Well, it has been awhile since I have had the time to post another entry to the blog. But, here goes:

It has been a good winter of training (for me) as I did not gain any significant weight, nor did I get too far out of shape! I also did a few stair climbs – Chicago’s Willis Tower, The Empire State Building and Run the Republic in Denver. I had a good result at Chicago, despite feeling a bit “off”, which is a drag because when you are “off” in a 15 minute race, that makes it really painful. The result at Empire was not great, but I felt REALLY good! I got clogged up at the start, but once I broke free, I was on fire – so that is nice – maybe all of that excruciatingly painful training paid off. At Denver the result was good, but from a pain stand point, it was worse than Chicago. Fortunately it was only half as long – so the suffering was almost manageable. As it turns out, I had pneumonia – and probably had been harboring it for a few weeks. And here I just thought I was over trained and burnt out. Lesson to self: Listen to the body!! Second lesson to self: Even though the race is in your own backyard doesn’t mean you have to race. Maybe some day I will learn these lessons. In the mean time, a month of rest and I am as good as new (or as good as you can be at 46).

So, enough about my racing, now I want to touch on strength training. My friend, Art Thompson, has been very patiently waiting for me to clarify some of my ideas about strength training for triathlon. I have been thinking a lot about this, as the article that I wrote for the coaching manual is about 10 years old (see Team USA Strength Training Program and other links below) and I wonder if it is still relevant. If I look at that article and apply it to training and racing – this is what I would do (and used to do): Just like any training, it is important to figure out your A race/races of the year and be sure that you are done with the complex lifting at least 3 weeks prior to the race. I would then work backwards – 3 weeks of complex training, 2-3 weeks of super set training, 4 weeks of basic strength, and 4 weeks of hypertrophy at the very beginning. So, a total of about 12-14 weeks BEFORE the 3 weeks prior to your A race. This assumes that you are already strong from a strength training plan, if not, you will want to add an additional 4+ weeks getting ready to lift heavy.

I used to do the hypertrophy training during my “base training”, then move to basic strength training as my triathlon training turned to strength. As I moved into racing season, I moved to the super sets and then finally to the complex training, as I approached my A race/races. I would not be overly rigid, though, as I think the main things to focus on when strength training are variety of exercise and consistency. More and more I am thinking that strict training phases might not be the best way to go. Maybe I just think that way because I get bored doing a purely base or strength phase? I don’t know, I have not really kept up with most of the current training ideas, but I think mixing things up is a good way to go.

My advice with strength training? Unless you have an insane amount of time to train (or your family doesn’t care if they ever see you), you might think about just doing your strength training as you train! I know I talked about this at the clinic last year, but triathlon is swimming, cycling, and running. I have yet to see a race that incorporates a weight lifting segment So, obviously to train appropriately for a triathlon, you already need to train quite a bit in each discipline. How do you incorporate strength into workouts? Paddles in the swim a few times a week are a good option for the swim. Running or cycling hills are a good option for the run and bike. Mix up the repeats and keep true to the essence of your workout for the day. For example, if you are planning on doing a strength endurance ride, then your hill repeats might be 10+ minutes in a heavy gear with a slower cadence (60ish rpms). If you are looking for more of an explosive hill work out, then you would do shorter repeats with a higher cadence.

Personally, I like the gym, so I fit it in 2-3 times a week – probably to the detriment of one of the other disciplines, since I have limited time to train. But, for me, this is about enjoyment, not just results. I do, though, keep the sessions short – 45-60 minutes tops. They are also more of a circuit, and the exercises are always different.

I hope this somewhat clarifies the article that I had written on strength training.

Happy training – the weather is getting nice – get outside and enjoy!

Bozeman Tritons Special Guest Coach
Team USA Triathlon Head Coach for Men & Women at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia

Michelle Blessing Team USA Triathlon Strength Training Principles

Michelle Blessing Team USA Triathlon Strength Training Program

Michelle Blessing Team USA Triathlon Optimum Run Training Pace Program


My 2009 Experiment

Michelle Blessing Running on Pikes Peak 2009

Michelle Blessing, 100 yards from the 2009 Pikes Peak Ascent finish line.  Michelle finished third in her age group, 3/79, in a time of 3:25:46. Michelle was the Team USA Triathlon Head Coach for both the Men & Women at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia and is a Special Guest Coach for the Bozeman Tritons.

As promised in the last post, I am going to give you some of the specific training ideas from my crazy 2009 racing schedule. Keep in mind that I did not want to be real serious this year and I did not want to get burned out (a real concern, as I am easily bored), yet I still wanted some decent results. Would that be possible?

I started out in January doing a short hill/stair work out twice a week. One day a week it was strength oriented (The Incline trail – 30 minutes pretty much straight up) and the other day a week was on the step mill (a dreadful machine at the YMCA) where I would run 15x (1:00 HARD; 1:00 easy) – the kind of work out that almost makes one hurl. The rest of the week was pretty straight forward – a long and easy run on the weekend, two spin classes during the week, and a few easy runs/swims fit in where ever I could. Then I raced stair climbs in February (14th at Empire State Building) and again in April (1st in LA) – by then I had lost a few more pounds; and as you can imagine, that is pretty helpful when you are running straight up.

After the April race, I shifted my focus to sprint triathlons. I cut out the hill/stair workouts and would do a hard run of some sort once a week – sometimes it was a splash and dash race or a 5k, sometimes it was just a fartlek. I also began really pushing my spin classes. I teach them on Mondays and Fridays, so I was able to be very true to the workout. Mondays were strength endurance and Fridays are VO2 max type of intervals. I added one longish ride (3 hours at most) on the weekend and a longish run (1.5 hours at most). I also swam about 2 days a week, but only about 1000 to 1500 a session (obviously not my favorite discipline!). Lastly, I interspersed some sporadic squash, golf and strength training for good measure. How did I fare? I was in the top 10 overall woman and won my age group in the three races I ran. I also finished in the top 3 women in the splash and dash races – despite some serious swim issues (for another post). At this point, I was already into July, and so far, so good. No burn out and decent results.

Now came the switch back to trail running – which I love. I ramped up the mileage a tad – mostly adding about 30 – 45 minutes to my long runs and trying to do most of them at a higher altitude (above 9,000 ft). I kept the spinning classes (since I teach them, I figure I better not blow them off), got rid of the long bike ride and swims (YEAH!) and filled in with trail runs, incline runs and hikes with friends. I raced in Vail – by FAR the most crazy 10k “run” I have ever done – then I did another crazy race in Durango – a half marathon – off trail, marked with flags. That race was hard – over 2 hours – and I was 3rd woman.

Then came the Pikes Peak Ascent. The last three weeks I made sure to drive to the top of the Peak (14k) and run down and back up a few times. Lots of people go down three miles, up three, down two, up two and then down one, up one (3,2,1). I always had that good intention – but I usually ended up deciding that just a 3,1 (or sometimes just a 2,1) was fine. It is a lot harder than it sounds! By the time the race snuck up on me I was a little bit stressed out. I realized that my longest run was that half marathon in Durango at 2 hours and that running a race that could take 4 hours might be a bit of a challenge. AND, many of my good running buddies were doing the race – so there was a fair amount of friendly pre-race bantering. Race day came and went – I had a good day – I did struggle a bit the last 30 minutes, but managed a top 5 masters women finish – which is amazing because old ladies (like me) always are the ones kicking butt in this race! One of my best buddies was 3rd overall woman at the ripe old age of 47! I may need to train more with her next year – but I think her secret may just be running more miles – a lot more miles. Okay, then – never mind.

Now I am settling back into the stair climb groove, which is good, as I was just beginning to get tired of all that beautiful trail running. I hope that I finish off the year with decent results – my next stair climb in late September and then another in November. But more importantly, I hope that I continue to have fun and not take all of this too seriously – that will make my 2009 year successful!

Happy training!

Michelle Blessing, Bozeman Tritons Special Guest Coach, Team USA Triathlon Head Coach for both the Men & Women at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia

Hello Bozeman!


Michelle Blessing, who won the New York Road Runners, 102-story, Empire State Building Run-Up in 1995, was 14th this year!  Michelle was the Team USA Triathlon Head Coach for both the Men & Women at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia and is a Special Guest Coach for the Bozeman Tritons.

Hello to all of you Bozeman triathletes!  Art has asked me to contribute to your blog – I am sure that I can find some interesting things to write about. Some of it will be training oriented, some of it will be racing oriented, and some of it will simply be my crazy personal racing and training experiences.

First of all, I really enjoyed my time in Montana coaching at your camp last spring – and I look forward to coming back again some day.  I will also write a bit about some of the training information I presented and I will post some of the material that I did not hand out.  But for today:

I actually raced a little bit more seriously this year and it was a lot of fun.  I learned a lot – or remembered a lot – along the way and I look forward to sharing some of my stories with you.   One of my biggest revelations this year is that I need to do a variety of races in order to not get stale -which has the undesirable outcome where I take two or three years off and gain thirty pounds. 

Doing a variety of races, of course, is not ideal for serious training or racing  (it is pretty hard to train for a 15 minute stair climb and then do the Pikes Peak marathon!), but for me it is the only way that I can seem to keep motivated to train and not get burned out.  For instance, in 2009, I wanted to run some stair climbs in NY, LA, and Chicago.  I also wanted to run the Pikes Peak Ascent (3-4 hour race), two other long trail races at altitude, and three sprint triathlons.  At first I figured that I should not even try to do all of this – it would not be possible, right?  But then I figured “what the heck, why not just see what happens?”

So, how did I manage to work this “variety” out and still race relatively well? I kind of grouped my races together at the beginning of the year, based on what they are and how long they would take.  I scheduled two stair climbs for the first part of the year – February and April.  I focused my training on losing weight :), base training, some strength training, and adding some VO2 max work. Then I shifted my focus to the sprint triathlons for a few months – June and July.  I added in some swimming, a bit more volume overall, and a longer bike every week.  After that little stint, I moved to the trail running and Pikes Peak Ascent – July and August.  I focused on longer runs at altitude and cut out most of the fast stuff – well for me it was fast!

After a few weeks off,  I will go back to stair running for the rest of the year.  Short and fast and fun!  Best of all, no burn out and pretty good results for an old lady! If you are really racing seriously (for example, trying to win USAT nationals for your age group) this would probably not be the best way to go, but for my purpose (having fun and winning local age group races) it worked. 

More about some of the specific training/racing in the next post. 

Stay Healthy!

Michelle Blessing

Bozeman Tritons Special Guest Coach

Team USA Triathlon Head Coach for both the Men & Women at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia

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