Triathletes often times only work on strengthening their major muscle groups, but you also need to work on strengthening your core and other stabilizing muscles to help prevent injury and help keep you going strong longer while training and racing. The article below has some great tips and exercises to try to build a strong triathlete body and also shares with you the reasons you need to do some core strengthening.
You’ve probably heard that the offseason is a great time for triathletes to start strength training, or to pick it back up again. But why is it important and where do you start? Here Dave Scott answers these questions and provides six exercises to get you started.
Why is strength training important in the offseason?
Dave Scott: As a season progresses, and an athlete’s strength level increases, they tend to develop dominant muscles while the support muscles get neglected. When you neglect those smaller muscles, they start to shut down. So even though someone’s performance is going up, athletes are always hovering on the brink of injury. Athletes should work on both the small muscle groups and the larger muscle groups to help create balance.
If they keep repeating the same patterns—up their training, tack on more volume and increase intensity—but they don’t do supplementary strength training, that window of vulnerability goes up even more. And that just gets exacerbated as the years go by.
I’m a stickler for strength training year-round. And the offseason is the prime time to set that fundamental foundation for endurance athletes.
What are the most vulnerable areas for triathletes?
DS: One of the hot spots for triathletes (and runners and cyclists too) is the hip/glute complex. The glutes are the dominate muscles that generate the power and take a lot of the load, and the quad side often becomes overdeveloped. There are a lot of smaller muscles intricately overlaid in the butt and hip area that allow your hip to extend, flex, and rotate—those muscles should be addressed.
Another vulnerable spot is the core. The core extends from the base of your ribs all the way down through your abdominals, pelvic girdle and upper quad. It’s the same thing on the back side—from your upper hamstrings and glutes to your low and mid back. Those core muscles really help generate the power out of your quads. The whole core is made up of about 26 muscles front and back; if all of those muscles are working harmoniously you are obviously going to be more efficient.
Finally, it’s common to see athletes with internally rotated shoulders. Over time, your pecks get a little bit tighter and, since your pecks are attached to your humerus bone, that draws your shoulders inward. When you look at an athlete running, you want to see a smooth, flat back, which is difficult if the support muscles of the upper back and the mid back are really weak.
So where should triathletes start?
DS: When you start the offseason strength training program, you don’t want to gravitate to the major muscle movements. You really want to hit the smaller ones first. These should also be done at a slightly slower movement rate to help work on stability, balance and strength simultaneously. You really want equal musculature, equal tendon strength and equal connective tissue strength on both sides. It’s pretty rare—even with the best of the best.
Through it all, think about sitting (or standing) tall—like you should on a bike: You always want to keep the space between your ribs and your hip bone open. Core stability is what helps support your spine allowing you to sit and stand tall instead of slouching.
Think about when you do a squat: Your back should be square and flat, toes out a bit, shoulder blades retracted, neck neutral. This is the basic position for athletes in any sport because it offers the greatest base of support. It’s the most stable and will generate the most strength. If you are long—and your hips are high and your ribs are high—that’s the ideal position, not only on the bike but swimming and running too.
It’s easy, in a race when the intensity and stress is high, to fall back and slouch a little bit. So I’d start the exercises with the upper backs/mid traps.
6 Strength Exercises From Dave Scott
Exercise #1: Stretch Cord Row
Grab a stretch cord; wrap one end around a pole (or a partner) and anchor it in front of you at the base of your ribs. Hold both handles, stand tall, tuck your scapula, and keep your elbows in tight and your thumbs up. Make a rowing motion: bring your elbows in to 90 degrees and pull the inside of your wrists to the outside of your ribs. As you release tension on the cord in a forward motion, only go to 150 degrees with your elbows.
Do 3 sets of 12; every fourth rep do a few pulses where you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
In the offseason you want to avoid doing the same exercises with the same pattern each time, so to change the recruitment you can either change the load or change the angle.
Variation A: rotate your hands during the exercise. Start with your thumbs up at extension; finish with palms up at ribs. 8-12 reps; pulse every fourth.
Variation B: Keep your ribs high and your back flat but hinge at hips to about 60 degrees. Same as above; start with thumbs up at extension, finish with palms up at ribs. This engages the spinal muscles, all the way down to the low back.
Exercise #2: Fly With Elbow Drop
Using a stretch cord, start with your hands together, your thumbs up, and a 150-degree bend in your elbows. Swing your arms up and out to the sides. The height of your hands should be at ear level and your elbows will close to about 130 degrees. Your hands, shoulders, elbows and ears should all be in the same line. If you are weak or have too much tension your hands will try to drift forward.
Once you’re in that fly position you want to draw your elbows down to your sides and bring your wrists in toward your shoulders. Let your arms come back up to the fly position, then relax for one rep.
Exercise #3 and #4: Stretch Cord Hip Extension and Abduction
Extension: Stand on an elevated platform (2-4 inches) with a stretch cord anchored around your right ankle (the other end should be around a pole or partner). For the hip extension, it should look like you’re getting ready to kick a ball. Your support leg (the left leg) should be slightly bent. Bring your right leg back about 12 to 18 inches; then bring it back to alignment with your left foot.
Do 12 reps; pulse six times in the back position on every fourth rep.
You’re going to feel this in your right leg (the stretch cord leg) but it’s really all about stabilizing your balance on the other leg as it works to hold your body in alignment.
Abduction: Step off block, turn your body 90 degrees and step your left foot over the stretch cord so that the cord is at your Achilles. Swing your right leg out to the side and back. Don’t let it come down to ground.
Do 12 reps; pulse six times in the back position on every fourth rep.
This is the single best exercise for your glutes and the rotator muscles in your glutes. Again, you will feel this in your stretch cord leg but it will also have a huge overload in that stabilizing glute.
Exercise #5: Romanian Deadlift
Stand tall; keep your back flat, your head in a neutral position and your hips high. Hinge at hips. Grab onto a barbell or weight bar. As you stand, your weight will shift back to your heels. Lift the weight keeping your arms straight.
As you lower your upper body, keep a slight bend in knees. Avoid rounding your back as you hinge forward; then come back up.
The reason I really like this exercise in the offseason is that it helps to lengthen the hamstrings, and endurance athletes typically have tight hamstrings.
Exercise #6: Squat Curl Press
Take two dumbbells in your hands. Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart and your toes turned slightly out. Stand tall; keep your back square and your ribs high. Curl the weights up and put them on your shoulders: Keep your thumbs down, pinkies up and palms facing your ears. Your elbows should be pointing straight ahead.
From there, do a squat keeping your elbows high. If you drop your elbows, your shoulders will round. As you stand up out of squat use your core to drive the weights straight up over your head. As you raise the weights, rotate your palms forward. Lower the weight down, squat, and then repeat.
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