In one of the final sessions before Christmas, we look at 5 of the best strength exercises for triathletes. These should be done with weights if possible, at the gym or at home. Ideally, ask a member of the fitness team to show you proper form for all of these exercises.
As always, make sure you warm up properly first (for example, 10 minutes on the rower followed by a mobility sequence), and consult a doctor or physiotherapist if you experience any pain.
There are, of course, thousands of exercises you could be doing for strength, and it’s a good idea to focus on your weaknesses, eg core, shoulder stability or calf strength, but these exercises work multiple muscle groups at once and should give you a balanced workout to ward of injury and remain fit throughout the season. By including single limb exercises, you will start to address natural muscular imbalances.
Aim of 3 sets of 12-15 reps. You should be failing by the end of the last set in order to maximise the strength gains.
1. Deadlift – many people fear this exercise as it can fatigue your lower back and looks tough! And it is, but it works your whole posterior chain, from your ankles to your neck muscles and everything in between. It hits your glutes, hamstrings and thighs as well as your back, all of which ned to be strong to cope with the demands of triathlon. Learn how to do this with kettle bells or a bar.
2. Split Squat – whilst the deadlift is a hip-dominant movement, the squat introduces your knees to the party as well. By moving to a split squat, you are introducing a movement pattern that complements the bike and run phases of a triathlon. Aim to have your back leg on a chair or bench and hold dumbbells for added resistance. The glutes, quads and hamstrings of your front leg should be doing all the work. If you feel a significant stretch in your hip flexors your can take your back leg off the bench and just have it on the floor (and then go and work on your hip flexor mobility!)
3. Single Arm Bent Over Row – perform your reps then change sides. This is a great exercises for improving core, shoulder, back and arm strength – essential for a great swim and efficient bike and run.
4. Single Arm Chest Press – now you have worked so hard on your back it’s time to think about the muscles to the front of your body. Lie on your back on a bench or floor and keep your non-working arm extended about your chest to create extra tension.
5. Dynamic Side Plank – a good strong core is essential for any sport (and day-to-day life). This is not about having a nice six-pack – this is about activating your deep core muscles – the ones that keep your spine and pelvis happy. A dynamic side plank involves lowering and raising your hips in a controlled manner from a traditional side plank. If it’s too hard, regress to a normal side plank and work your way up to it.
If all of this is gobbledygook, ask a Personal Trainer or gym instructor to help you with your form. Don’t forget to breath on the effort, and have a nice stretching or foam rolling session at the end.
Good luck and stay strong – remember that strength training can reduce your risk of injury as an athlete by up to 66% (compared to stretching at 4%). So really finding an hour a week to work out compared to having 4 months off with tendonopathy is a no brainer!
Further Reading: Lauersen, J. B., Andersen, T. E., & Andersen, L. B. (2018). Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2018.