3 Ways IRONMAN Has Made Me A Better Lifter (Strength Training and Endurance)

Over the past 6 months I have taken on a goal of completing the Ironman triathlon, all while keeping my strength programming in it’s entirety intact.

To keep myself honest to this goal I scheduled myself to compete in a strongman competition just three weeks before the Ironman and will be competing in strongman yet again the week directly following the race. I set things up this way knowing if I don’t want to make a fool of myself in any of these events that I wouldn’t be able to put any of my training on the backburner. This would truly be strength AND endurance training.

Normally lifters would only scoff at the idea of adding any sort of endurance work to their training. “You’re gonna get skinny“, “You’ll lose all your gains“, “running melts your muscle bro“, “You’re going to be too tired to train“…and I get it, I do.

There’s no argument that could ever be made for extreme endurance training being beneficial to a strength athlete. Some baseline conditioning sure, but Ironman? Yeah probably not. 

That being said while maybe not the “optimal” route to go, I do believe I’ve improved more as a lifter than I would have otherwise without having to deal with the Ironman…just not in the traditional metrics we lifters like to use to judge “improvement. In addition to that ,these improvements are things that I believe will be with me for the long haul…years past the Ironman being completed.

1. Training Perspective (What “Hard Training” Actually Looks Like)

Ironman forced me to add a lot of new variables into my training. Swimming in open water where there is very little wiggle room for f*cking up. Biking where the equipment you’re using as well as it’s maintenance matters just as much as your body. And running which is the pure embodiment of mindset training.

Additionally I’d be doing training sessions that can last 5 to 6 hours (tripling the length of my longest lifting sessions). Traveling up to an hour away to find appropriate spots for training. All while scheduling all of this around the gym schedule and my strength training.

I have only gotten a small taste of what many ultra endurance athletes and triathletes choose to make their life, and it has made me appreciate just how simple it is to pursue my main passion of strength training (Note: I said simple, not easy before y’all start freaking out).

If need be I could make someone a proper lifting program which only requires 45 mins to an hour of their time 4 days a week, and if they buy some equipment it could be completed without them ever leaving their home. This simply isn’t a viable option for true endurance training.

I’ve also gotten a proper perspective for what “hard” training is, and the actual degree to which I am able to push myself. Grinding out am RPE 10 squat single is no joke don’t get me wrong, but it’s a different level of hard when you are gassed 1 hour into a 5 hour training session and have to literally drag the motivation out of yourself to continue.

Ironman has only made me realize how much more I have to give in the gym, and how much more I owe to myself with my strength training to truly say…”I’m training hard“.

2. An Appreciation for Conditioning

Should go without saying but my conditioning is at an all time high as of the time of writing this article.

That has not always been the case.

One of my most memorable moments joining the Lions Den coaching staff was completing “The Murph” Workout (In honor of LT. Michael P. Murphy) within my first month of arrival. At the time I was a standard powerlifting bro. I ate sets of 5’s for breakfast, and the closest thing I did to conditioning was 8 min AMRAP arm sessions (really gets the heart rate up ya know?). Suffice it to say I saw god that day. 

At the time I didn’t realize how much my lack of conditioning was actually effecting my training. Hitting 5 sets of 5 reps with 4-5 mins of rest per set WAS a tiring routine for me. In retrospect it should have annoyed me more just by how soft that sounds…

Nowadays I can roll through 5 sets of 5 reps with 2-3 mins of rest (even shorter if I’m rushing to coach class) with little to no impact on my performance. Not only that but I’ve noticed an even more distinct ability to get through my hypertrophy accessory work. Things like hack squats for sets of 12-15 reps no longer seem like I’m going to immediately pass away, and I can handle heavier loads at lower RPE’s.

Increasing my baseline conditioning has increased my ability to put so much more quality volume in with very little fatigue that I refuse to go back to the old ways. Not saying I’m going to keep doing Ironman training. However, this has really opened my eyes to just how valuable baseline conditioning is to us as lifters. For the sake of your gains you need to start viewing skipping conditioning just as big as a cardinal lifting sin as skipping leg day.

3. Mindset

Endurance training by definition is mindset training. (Endurance, noun: the ability to withstand hardship or adversity)

Ironman challenges your mindset in ways I don’t think many people expect. When most people imagine the hardship of an Ironman I imagine they think lungs burning, muscles aching, body about to collapse…and that’s part of it sure…but the bigger killer is the time aspect.

Ironman goes more like this…”I’m going to spend the entirety of my Saturday sitting on a bike“. “I’m going to swim continuously for 2 hours…if I stop there’s 40ft of water below me…” “I’m going to wake up and run 20 miles tomorrow morning.” 

You’re not moving at breakneck speeds (at least us mortals I can’t speak for the pros) but you’re finding a way to convince yourself to take another step, ride another mile, swim another lap…for hours

Ironman is almost perfect discipline training because (with the key exception of swimming) you CAN just stop at anytime. Nothing is stopping you from stopping. You have to find your own reasoning to keep carrying on despite that very blatant fact.

Having done the majority of my Ironman training I truly can’t find anything anymore to complain about with my strength training. Even if it is hard…”hey at least it’s not 5 hours“. Moving forwards there are no excuses for letting any of my future lifting session break me, or letting doubt beat me before I even begin training, and I am so hype for what that means for the future of my training.

(For more on IRONMAN and Strength Training…check out this video!)


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.