Iron Legs Workout

I developed this iron legs workout when training for ironman triathlon. The idea is to learn to run at a target pace despite being fatigued.

Introduction

Running in any long distance triathlon requires that you be able to run efficiently on tired legs.

Why use weights instead of simply riding your bike?

It simply takes too long to build the level of fatigue and heavy legs that you're looking for when riding a bike. Weight training recruits far more muscle fibre than cycling does and thus causes deeper and faster fatigue.

I still speak to athletes I coached years ago and this is one of the workouts they reference often as one of their epic sessions.

In this post, I'm providing two versions of the iron legs workout.

First, the original, which I developed when I was a nervous gym newbie in a gym with a very small free weights area. I stayed away from the muscly dudes rocking the barbells and dumbells, and used the machines instead.

The other is a development from working out in my home gym, which is 100% free weights. This version does require you to have a little more discipline about exercise form and the loads you choose. The stabilisation demands of free weights and the effect of fatigue on movement patterns means you MUST be conservative about the weights you lift.

Remember that the workout is actually about the running, not the lifting. All we're using the weight training for is to deliver high levels of fatigue, so that we can learn to deal with that when running.

Finally, this isn't a workout you do as someone with little or no training background. It's an occasional workout for the more experienced athlete. Before you try this, please make sure you have a good background of steady running.

How to do the Iron Legs Workout (original version)...

Do a thorough dynamic mobility warm up for at least 10 minutes.

Perform 3 circuits using the following machine-based exercises (15-20 reps per exercise, 1 minute rest between exercises)...

  • Leg Press
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Curls
  • Calf Raises

Then hop on the treadmill and run at your target pace for 10 minutes.

Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Cool down thoroughly, adding any flexibility and mobility exercises that you need for your body.

How to do the Iron Legs Workout (free weights version)...

Do a thorough dynamic mobility warm up for at least 10 minutes.

Perform 3 circuits using the following machine-based exercises (15-20 reps per exercise, 1 minute rest between exercises)...

  • Front Squats
  • Hip Thrusts
  • Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
  • Calf Raises

Then hop on the treadmill and run at your target pace for 10 minutes OR simply go for a run outdoors, doing your best to maintain your target pace.

Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Cool down thoroughly, adding any flexibility and mobility exercises that you need for your body.

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Will Newton


In over twenty years of coaching, Will has coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. His interest in getting the best results for athletes who compete for the love of the sport, rather than as professionals, drives him to find the most effective ways to get results.

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