How do I answer the elusive question of upper versus lower body strength? I am no scientist or sports physicist, nor do I claim to be. The following is based purely on personal experience and opinions from various professionals in the field.
An average triathlon consists of a 1.5km swim / 40km bike / 10km run. Broken up into time, you have a 25min swim, 1h20min bike and 40min run. The time spent on the legs is way more than the arms, so you can conclude that lower body strength wins, right? Wrong. Swimming does not only require upper body effort, neither does running or riding only consist of lower body effort.
Instead, you should rather be asking: front line versus back line. Say what?! Front being your strength line and back your speed. Both lines are crucial in multisport as speed and strength goes hand in hand.
All interval training focuses on the various lines, which improves your overall conditioning. You should focus on your weakest line during training, but more importantly, the same line you will be using on race day.
Let’s take running for example: When we put in the many kilometres of training for race day, we usually opt for the shoe with more support and cushioning – being the trainers with high heel-to-toe drop. Trainers force you to run with a heel strike, activating the quads – your front (strength) line. Come race day, you whip out your fast racing flats ready for some serious action. However, racing flats force you to run on your toes – activating your calves and hamstrings, making you go faster. The problem is that you’ve been training your strength line and on race day you expect to exert that strength by using your speed line. This is not going to happen and often leads to cramping during a race.
It’s just the same when training with a mountain bike and racing with a TT bike – due to the setups, the lines activated are different. Although you will get fitter during training, you will most probably not see the results on race day.
My philosophy Train like you’re going to race. If you plan on using your racing flats for the run – train in them. But be sure to gradually shift from a trainer to a racer to avoid unnecessary injuries.
Originally published in the July/August 2013 issue.