Coaching, Training, Camps.

Muscular Force
by Coach Craig Cecil


Force refers to the ability to apply strength to water, pedals and ground. Somewhat necessary for triathletes. It is considered to be one of the key basic abilities necessary to participate (not just compete) in swimming, cycling and running events.  In his latest edition of The Triathletes Training Bible, Joe Friel uses the term Muscular Force.  Muscular force refers not only to the ability to overcome resistance (water, air, wind, gravity and hills) but to be able to do it longer in sport specific situations i.e. triathlons and when necessary in rough conditions.

If you define power = force x velocity (see Your Best Triathlon also by Joe Friel) with velocity being cadence then greater force with increased or stable cadence will result in faster splits!  Improvements in force are often noticed by having a longer swim stroke, pushing a bigger gear over any given terrain or longer stride length. All of these result in covering more distance per revolution (cadence). Improvement in muscular force will also improve economy. In very basic terms economy in this context refers to efficient use of oxygen. You can go harder and not use more energy.  Thus developing force should be of interest to all triathletes, swimmers, runners and cyclists! And Muscular Force even more important. And considering that over time older men and women in general can lose muscle mass more quickly than others the development of force (strength) throughout the season becomes even more important.

So how do we do it? Muscular Force development begins in the Preparation Phase and continues throughout the race season through all training cycles for all participants at any skill level. Strength/ force development training in Preparation Phase and Base 1 is primarily done with weights and resistance bands 2x-3x a week. We are working on recruitment (neuromuscular) and development of strength in a controlled manner. The rest of your training should be focused on skills (cadence the other component of power) and building endurance. If started early enough in your training plan you can go through several stages of strength development to achieve the greatest gains before beginning Base 2.

Base 2 force workouts begin to include more sport specific exercises and less strength workouts at the gym. If you started early enough with the strength training you had the opportunity to go through a maximum strength phase by the end of Base 1. But in any case the strength workouts usually cut back to 1x-2x a week during this phase. Sport specific force workouts might include swim sets such as maximum effort 25 yd intervals, big gear efforts of  :08 to :15 on the bike and short hill intervals (:20) on the run all with plenty of rest.  Again now we are working not only on strength but sport specific muscle recruitment.  Towards the end of Base 2 the force intervals on the bike and run could be increased up to 2-3 minutes with plenty of recovery. (see Your Best Triathlon and Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan for examples).

In Base 3 there is a greater change in force workouts. They become longer with shorter rest intervals. While they should be in at least 4z, the intensity is actually less than the big gear climbs of :08- :15 at maximal effort in Prep and Base 1.  Much more similar to a muscular endurance interval but with greater resistance. Here you should think about longer hill intervals on the bike and run, say 5-8 min with recoveries being half the time or less. You can increase the swim resistance using bands or pull buoys at the ankles. Even swimming with old running shoes creates drag thus requiring greater force.  By now strength training should be limited to a maintenance program so as not to interfere with sport specific work.

It is important not to confuse force workouts with muscular endurance. With the latter we are trying to develop the ability to go longer and stronger. With the former we are always developing and recruiting muscles needed for the sport and increase and maintain power in each sport.

The run workout is the only one to change dramatically in the Build phase. Because the increase in race specific workouts (ie either longer duration, higher intensity or both) is already very stressful on the body’s joints and muscles force workouts are eliminated. Of course if your race has a hilly run course then hills should be included in the long runs but not high intensity hill intervals.  

In the Peak periods shortly before the race only the bike might include force workouts. By using the force workouts you can achieve complete muscle recruitment in a short amount of time so as not lose bike specific strength but also not become too fatigued.

Force workouts can lead to significant gains in power in the early part of the season. But during the long training and racing season you often experience a decline in strength (force) and thus power if you only do endurance training. Older men and women are particularly susceptible to strength loss. So it is important to remember to include force workouts throughout the season to avoid losing the early season gains.

About Coach Craig Cecil:
In addition to being a coach with B.E.S.T., Coach Craig is owner of Peak Performers Coaching, and is USATL1, TPL2 and IM Certified Coach. He is a past national age group champion in triathlon and duathlon and multiple All American. He can be reached at