Strength training can come in many different formats including Crossfit, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Olympic lifting, body weight or simply lifting some weights in the garage; but which format lends itself best to triathlon training?
Firstly, we need to consider the specific demands of our sport. Triathlon is reliant on repetitive movements mostly in one plane of motion. Add impact into the equation and muscle imbalance and overuse injuries become common place in endurance athletes. Your strength sessions need to be designed to reverse these imbalances and have an equal focus on working the muscles that you might not necessarily think you use in swim, bike and run. These muscles, however, all have a role to play in your movement patterns and neglecting them could lead to injury in the future.
I’m a firm believer in periodising strength training as you would your swim, bike and run sessions. In the autumn you might still have some underlying niggles you had forgotten about from your endeavours this summer. Once the training volume increases these niggles can reappear and put the brakes on your winter training if not dealt with.
Strength training at this time of the year should tackle these issues by focusing on re-activating weaker muscles and releasing those with too much tension running through them.
The off-season is a perfect time to improve the neuromuscular links – how the brain and spine communicate with the muscles, tendons and ligaments in our body. For example, by performing balance-based exercises you re-awaken these neural pathways and improve the recruitment of key muscle groups vital to our sport.
If, like many of our athletes, you are desk-based at work strength training should play a vital role in your winter training. Sitting down for long hours (he says tapping away on the laptop!) is damaging to our posture and core strength. Performing exercises that release tension, recruit dormant muscles and challenge our nervous system are key to building the strong foundations for the demands of triathlon.
The first strength programme I would focus on in the autumn/off-season is stabilisation and muscular endurance. This is structured in four sections:
1 Release: Myofascial release techniques using a foam roller work in a similar way to sports massage by breaking down adhesions in the muscle and fascia. I recommend rolling the full length of the muscle slowly and then returning and holding on the most tender spot and ‘relaxing’ into the roller for 20-30 seconds. (Note: ‘relaxing’ might not be the appropriate word!)
2 Activation & Balance: These exercises will stimulate the nervous system and retrain weaker or dormant muscle groups. If you struggle to balance, then the answer is simple; you need to do more of it!!
3 Plyometrics: Simple plyometric exercises (performed in small numbers of repetitions and with plenty of rest between sets) are a great way to transfer muscular strength into power and improve the functions of muscles, tendons, and the nervous system. Consider this: working on plyometrics can contribute to a reduction in foot contact time when running leading to quicker run times and reduced chance of Achilles related injuries!
4 Resistance training: These exercises should challenge all three planes of movement and focus on improving the endurance qualities of a large number of key postural muscles. And you don’t need any fancy equipment, a stability ball and a light pair of dumbells are perfect!
Matt Sanderson is a TF Level 3 coach, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Sports Massage Therapist, Level 4 Personal Trainer and the co -founder of Triathlon Coaching UK (TCUK)
Release: foam roll
1 x 20 sec hold on ‘tender spot’
1 x 20 sec hold on ‘tender spot’
4 x 10 second holds
Single leg balance rotation
1 x 10 each side
Box plyo jump
2×6 reps on 30sec rest between sets
Resistance: perform the following six exercises, take a short rest, and then repeat
Reverse lunge rotation
8 reps each side
30sec hold each side
Press up with shoulder tap
6 reps each side
10 reps each hand
Ball single leg bridge
12 reps each side