I remember around the age of 14, being in World's Gym with my swim team, lifting weights and doing plyometrics/dry land. After 30-40 min of strength, we would run over to the YMCA (Lexington, KY where I grew up) and swim for 2 hours. We did this two days a week and swam a total of 9 times a week. When I was in college, strength training didn't end. It was another 3 days a week in the gym, running, outside on the soccer fields for circuits and dry land, in addition to the same number of swim practices. Looking back, I think my ability to some-what manage my triathlon lifestyle as a dietetic student/intern comes from not knowing any other way to live my life without some type of exercise on most days of the week. The only difference between now and grad school, college and high school is that I have a husband, dog and bills to pay AND I'm not sleep deprived (well, maybe a little).
There was a fabulous article in the April 2011 issue of Nutrition Action titled Staying Strong: How exercise and diet can help preserve your muscles.
I find strength training a vital component of any fitness program, especially for a triathlete trying to train for swim-bike-run. I find that when athletes begin to obsess about cardio (perhaps for the association of cardio = calories burned), injuries begin to occur when volume and intensity increases and certain muscle groups are weak and tight.
And when I speak of strength training, I believe there are different types of strength training that are vital in a year-round training plan. I have my athletes focus on strength and power in the off-season and gradually build into plyometrics, once the body is strong, flexible and functionally balanced. Once my athlete enters the peak phase of his/her training plan (strength being done in the off and beginning of build phase and plyo's in the middle and end of build), I incorporate more stability and functional strength exercises which focus on glute, hip, core and lower back strength. A pilates routine or jazzercise routine (think laying side leg lifts and glute press on all-fours) would be a great example of the "strength training" that is needed 2-3 days a week during the peak phase of a training routine. For without this type of strength training (and stretching) the key muscles that encourage hip flexor movements, may be neglected and other body parts begin to compensate, bringing on quad, groin, knee, itb pain. Not to mention an athlete being super tight (sitting too much or/and not stretching) and having weak muscles, but a strong heart that forces the body to do more work than it can handle.
I wish I could re-type the entire article from my magazine but I must spend the rest of my day studying and preparing for my first week of playing "RD" at the hospital as a clinical acute care dietitian. I will try to post pieces of the article in the next few days so you can enjoy the article as much as I did.
Here are a few great links to help you build strong muscles in the peak phase of your training: