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Home / Training / Injuries / How to stay injury-free before the start of race season

How to stay injury-free before the start of race season

As you start to ramp up your training before the start of a new season the risk of injury can also increase. But with the right advice and exercises they can be easily prevented…

The days are slowly getting longer and we’re on our way into the business end of the season for triathlons.

This means lots of you would have started increasing your training to get ready for some of the first outdoor races in the UK. As training picks up, we commonly start to see more injuries such as:

The first thing to mention is that if you are new to triathlons and noticing pain during your runs, or any section of your training, it is worth speaking with a physio.

They will be able to advise you on how you can either modify your training programme, refer you to someone for good shoe fitting, or give you strength exercises that you can do on your own to ensure you knock any injuries on the head. This will help give longevity to your training.

If you’re used to training for these events, it’s likely that you’re also used to feeling some pain during the different sections depending on your history of previous injuries.

However, if you’re having to modify your training for 3-4 days, it’s worth getting advice, again from a physio.

Ideally, a specific physio won’t stop you from running or training unless they really have to, but will instead help you modify your training programme so that you don’t aggravate the injury, while giving you exercises or adjustments that will help.

Most of the injuries above can be prevented with an appropriate and individualised training programme which is right for you. This will ensure you don’t get the overload injuries but also that you are strong enough to complete the programme.

Top tips to prevent injury before race season

  • Have more than one pair of training shoes which you use on rotation during your training. These should ideally be fitted for you by a good running shop and will ensure that you aren’t running in overworn shoes then suddenly changing to a new pair.
  • Make sure you’re strength training as well. Yes, it’s important to swim, cycle and run, but adding in the appropriate strength training is just as important. Strength training is thought to help improve the efficiency of your muscles, improve core stability and therefore allow for a higher training volume.
  • Monitor any pain. It’s likely that you will experience pain during some of your training, particularly the longer sessions and often this is nothing to worry about. However, if you’re noticing pain outside of training or are having to stop any part of it because of the symptoms, seek advice from a physio.
  • Don’t worry if you miss a session. It’s likely that life will get in the way at some point in the next few months so try not to make up for missed sessions and squeeze them into an already busy schedule. Just let them go and stick to the plan.
  • Try to vary your runs if you can. This includes training on a mixture of surfaces like roads, paths and grass, but also mixing up the speed you’re running at. This means that your body will continuously adapt and will actually reduce your likelihood of injuries.
  • Making sure you add in recovery is key to helping your body heal itself. This can be active recovery such as Pilates or yoga, but also rest days. This will ensure you give your body time to make the necessary adaptations and will actually improve your performance across all areas!
  • Trying to get enough sleep will also help your body recover and ensure you have the necessary energy to go out on your training sessions. However, if you have slept badly, consider modifying your training so that you don’t leave yourself open to injury. For example, switch the run for a pool session.
  • Nutrition plays a key role when starting to up the distance, so ensuring you’re getting the right fuel for you is vital. If you notice you’re losing a lot of weight it’s worthwhile speaking with a professional who can ensure you’re taking on enough calories for you.
  • If you are starting out, the above is really important but also consider hiring a coach or joining a tri club where people can give you pointers. Not only will they be able to help recommend reliable resources and help tailor a plan to you specifically (rather than one for the masses), they’ll be able to give you advice on equipment, other forms of training and injury prevention.
  • Finally, be realistic. If you’ve never done a triathlon before, set a realistic goal like a super sprint. This will ensure you don’t push your body past its limits, which leads to injuries. If you’re a long-term competitor and looking at improving your time in an event, ensure you’re adding in the relevant and necessary strength training as this will likely make more of a difference than simply trying to go faster!

Exercises to help with tendinopathies and muscle strains

Single-leg calf raises

You can use a wall for light support. It’s not there so you can pull yourself up but rather to help with your balance so that you can get full range of movement.

Keep the knee straight and press into the ball of your foot to lift the heel. Slowly lower the leg back down again.

Try to keep the non-working leg away from the working leg (i.e. don’t wrap it round the back).

Aim for 30 reps on each leg. You can progress this by adding weights.

Ideally you would also do it off a step so that your heel can drop down and you’re working in a bigger range of movement.

These are great to do as an activation exercise before you run as well as in the gym.

Bent-knee calf raise

Importantly, the angle of your knee doesn’t change in this movement. The step is there to increase the range of movement so make sure your heel can freely drop over the back of the step.

Start double legs with this and then move onto single leg. You can use something to help with your balance if you need in single leg. Aim for 15-20 reps.

These are great to do as an activation exercise before you run as well as in the gym.

Soleus calf raise

A great strength exercise to do as part of your gym programme. Aim for 15-20 reps on each side and you can add weight to progress. Remember to keep the knee bend the same throughout.

Press into the ball of your foot to lift the heel up, and then slowly bring it back down again.

Exercises to strengthen and activate the rotator cuff

4-point banded circles

Get on all fours and find a ‘neutral spine’. This is where the back of your rib cage, back of your pelvis and back of your head are roughly level.

Have a short loop band around your wrists and make sure there’s some tension on there when you’re in your starting position.

Transfer the weight to one side and press down into that arm to stop yourself from sagging down. Start to make circles in one direction and then reverse to the other.

You’re aiming for 10-15 in each direction. The more tension on the band, the harder it is.

Banded dislocations

This is a great movement to do as part of your activation prior to swimming. Hold onto either end of a long exercise band.

Pull the band apart and take your arms up and over your head and back behind you. Keep pulling the band apart as you take the arms back round to the front.

To progress the exercise you can hold the band tighter as this will increase the resistance and make you pull wider as you go around. Aim for 15-20.

Exercises to help strengthen the pelvis muscles and improve knee and hip pain

Side-lying glute

This is a great warm-up for your gym programme. You’re holding a side plank so that it activates core muscles as well as your lateral (outside) hip).

Once you have come into your side plank on your knee, lift the top leg up and lower it back down again. Do this 10-15x and then hold it parallel to the floor and start to make circles. You’re aiming never to drop lower than your midline. Again repeat 10-15 in each direction.

Next, hold the leg parallel to the floor and bend the knee to bring it forwards as if you’re doing a single- leg squat. Aim for 10-15 reps.

Finally, turn your leg into a clam position and tap the heel forwards, lift it up and take it behind to tap the leg back. Again aim for 10-15 reps.

Keep your hips up all the time and pelvis facing forwards rather than rotating to ensure you have good core stability.

McConnell squat

This is a great movement to do as part of your activation before you run. Find a wall and put your closest knee on the wall, bending the leg so that the shin rests on the wall as well.

Press this leg into the wall – the harder you press, the harder the exercise. Keeping your shin vertical, sit yourself down and back into a hip hinge before standing back up again.

If your leg is sliding on the wall you’ve lost your press! Aim for 8-12 reps each side.

Bulgarian split squat

A great exercise to add to your gym programme and add some weight to! Have your back leg on a step, ideally with the top of your foot on the step rather than your toes bent underneath you.

Drop down into a lunge. You should feel the stretch in your back leg.

Press down into the ground to come back up to a straight knee again. You can position your moving leg so that you’re either keeping your shin vertical, or having your knees go over your toes.

If you’re struggling with patella tendon pain, you may want to slowly progress the knee forwards. Aim for 8-10 reps on each side 3x through.

Top image credit:

Profile image of Helen O'Leary Helen O'Leary Chartered physiotherapist


Helen O’Leary is a chartered physiotherapist who graduated from Birmingham University and went straight into professional sports. Her first job was with the men’s team at London Wasps Rugby Club where she worked within a world-class multidisciplinary team and where her love of Pilates and movement was born. In 2010 she completed her Polestar Pilates Comprehensive Rehabilitation course and began to teach both mat and equipment clinical Pilates. Working with the athletes in rugby showed her the huge benefits and potential strength gains Pilates could achieve. After spending three years in elite rugby, Helen took up a position with Cirque Du Soleil. As one of only two physiotherapists on the show, she taught Pilates as part of the performer’s ongoing maintenance treatment, to prevent injuries and as part of active rehabilitation. In 2015, Helen settled back in London and started Complete Pilates. Her aim is to help people take more responsibility for their rehab and give people the confidence to move even when they're injured or ill. Complete Pilates now has three studios across London, an online rehab service and an on-demand platform.