Bodyweight vs Weight Training: Which is best for triathletes?

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By Jenna-Caer Seefried

Triathletes are realizing the benefits of strength training, especially these days as more and more top-level pros like Lucy Charles and Jan Frodeno are starting to talk about how it keeps them strong and injury-free.  It also doesn’t hurt if you’re gearing up for a Kona underpants run since it has an innate ability to change how one’s body looks, as well as build physical properties like strength and explosiveness.

There are people who believe your body weight is all you need. And then there are people who religiously engage in weight training, preaching bench, squats and deadlifts as the end-all be-all.

But which approach is better, and what benefits can you reap from these types of training?

The Differences

Bodyweight Training is the activity of using your body weight to perform certain exercises under the force of gravity, without any equipment or added weight. Simple enough, right? Now on the outset this can seem like it’s low intensity, but I don’t know about you but for me after off-season, that body weight work is a little tougher.

Some of the most common bodyweight exercises are movements like push-ups, squats, pull-ups, lunges, split squats and dips.

On the other hand, weightlifting involves the use of barbells, dumbbells, bands and machines to create resistance.

Basically if you are using an outside source to increase intensity, you are weightlifting.

Now if you’re already wondering which type of training is superior, let me tell you this: both types of training are effective and can be utilized to leverage strength, performance, speed and injury prevention for endurance sports.

However, which one is superior depends on the context and the goal the individual has, so let us take you through the advantages and disadvantages of both types of training.

The Benefits Of Body Weight

Bodyweight training is most of all a good way to establish fundamental strength and muscular development. Especially these days with gym restrictions and shut downs, it’s an effective and easy way to support your endurance training.

Because, well, being able to lift your own bodyweight before moving on to lifting weights kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

This fundamental relative strength can then give you the opportunity to ease into weight training and maximize your potential for physical development.  Beyond that, however, as you are strength training to support your endurance sport training it can be an appropriate workload for several movements to prevent injury and activate muscles for efficiency.

The down side of bodyweight training is that your body is very adaptable and eventually you need to increase the training stress. That can be done through volume, speed, or starting to introduce weight.

The Benefits Of Weight Training

In the context of maximizing growth and strength potential, weight training is ideal.

The principle of both types of training is the same: creating resistance. However, with weight training, the resistance and muscular tension is generated by an external force.

Additionally, weight training can help you target muscle groups that are harder to dial in through body weight.  For example, if you are doing rotational shoulder work to prevent injuries in swimming, that is better done with a band than body weight to really activate the correct muscles.

It’s also the ideal method if you are looking to increase strength to help increase FTP, if you are trying to correct imbalances, or increase activation of larger muscle groups.

Weight training at its very essence allows you to do more intense work, during which you can easily increase the resistance by adding extra weight on the bar or picking heavier dumbbells.

Which One Should YOU Choose?

Here’s a wild idea: you can combine both types of training, but focus more on the one that resonates with your goals best.  For triathlon training, it is ideal to use a combination and periodize it with your training.

Off-season is a great time to get into some heavier lifting, building some foundational strength.  This is the time of year your training should be least specific to race intensity or peak training volume, so it’s ideal to get into more fatiguing and muscle building work.

In-season is the time to keep building some strength with more focus on full body exercises, single-side work, balance work, rotational work, plyometrics and slightly higher reps.  You are starting to train more specifically for race day, and strength training is there to support your training, keep you balanced to prevent injury, and activate muscles so you are moving well.

Peak season is the time to go into an activation phase.  At this point, you are not looking to build muscle but to activate muscles so you are moving efficiently and keep working on preventing imbalances so you prevent injury.  The overall training stress from weight training should be low as you are moving towards taper and freshening up for race day.

Final Thoughts

The human body is capable of a LOT and it has plenty of potential lying within. It’s just a matter of YOU taking the necessary action to unlock that potential and realize it and strength training in various forms can help unleash it.

Both of these types of training offer amazing benefits and can help you reach your potential in endurance sports especially when used in the correct times of year based on your goal races.

Stay strong!

(Header photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.)


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