Five essential stretches for triathletes to stay injury-free

An essential but oft-omitted part of triathlon training, stretching is key to staying supple and injury-free, says our resident physio


As you get to the end of a hard run or hilly bike, you can already feel some of those muscles starting to tighten up and you know the DOMs are going to hit!


As an athlete, stretching is an essential part of your programme, but you’re not a contortionist. And you’re not sure your body will get into some of the yoga-esque positions that you’ve seen other people in before and after a race.

Most people have a stretching regime that they’ve been doing for years. Have a think, do you change your stretch programme to fit your training? For example, is it different when you’re concentrating on a hard swim block compared with when putting lots of bike miles in? For stretches to be effective, they should adapt to fit the training programme.

After working solely with elite triathletes for the past six years it’s become apparent that the same muscle groups repetitively tighten. This is also the underlying cause or a contributing factor to many injuries. I call these muscle groups ‘the essential five’, and I believe all triathletes should fit these core stretches and mobilisation exercises into their training week.

So let’s look at the essential five and answer the common questions around stretching: when, how long for, what, why and how?

Alistair Brownlee warming up before a race


■ If you have a muscle group that has been diagnosed as tight, you can’t really over stretch. With the elite athletes it’s not uncommon to prescribe a programme with stretching up to 6-8 times a day.

■ Before training. Most people assume that stretching should be done after training, but this isn’t the case. It’s important to stretch any tightness before training to prep the muscle ready for the session and also to ensure that muscle balance is as good as possible before training, therefore reducing injury risk.

■ Post training. This is normally when the most comprehensive stretch programme is completed as part of the recovery from training.

How long for?

■ There are lots of different theories about stretching, but the general consensus is that stretches should be anything from 30secs to 2mins. You can also think about breathing, exhaling as you want to increase the stretch.

■ You can then repeat the stretch to retest any changes in muscle length.

Expert tips

Race season is upon us, and as much as it’s about being ready to race it’s also about being ready to recover. Here’s a list of useful items to have in your race bag so that the recovery process can begin as soon as possible and you’ll be ready to go again.

■ Post-race nutrition: think about both food and hydration
■ Warm clothing
■ Compression garments
■ Foam roller, tennis ball, stretch cords
■ First aid kit
■ Blister plasters

Make sure you have time for an active recovery (20min jog or easy spin on the turbo). It’s useful to see a physio or massage therapist within 24hrs of the race finishing for a recovery flush. Most importantly, factor in time for the most useful recovery tool we have – sleep!

Five essential stretches for triathletes

Below you will find your essential five stretches that target the calf complex, quads, hip flexor, thoracic extension work and pecs.

Getting these basics right and then building in individual stretches to suit your body type, training schedule and injury history will help keep you injury free and ready to compete.

(Images: iStockPhoto / Ben Winston / Delly Carr)


For lots more injury prevention advice head to our Training section