Use the winter months to build strength you can use during your race season.
Written by: Ian Murray
The cold winter months mean a break from triathlon for most of us. We can look at this time of year as the “off-season” or as the “preseason,” just as the proverbial glass can been seen as half empty or half full. This is the best time to invest in a key component of triathlon fitness: strength.
Building strength can be beneficial in three critical ways:
Two areas of the human body are at risk in the sport of triathlon:
The shoulders. The freestyle swim stroke puts greater emphasis on the front of the body and ignores the back, creating an imbalance in the shoulder joints. The rear deltoids should be strengthened in the pre-season with exercises such as external shoulder rotation. The end result is stronger, more stable shoulders that can withstand longer and faster swims with less risk of injury.
Hip stabilizers. Much of what we do in running and cycling is in the same plane, with our legs moving us forward instead of side to side as in tennis, soccer and basketball. Doing hip adduction and hip abduction exercises in the pre-season will yield stronger and faster runs next season with less risk of injury.
This isn’t about the “six-pack abs” that launched a thousand infomercials. As a triathlete, your core stabilizes your body as you swim, cycle and run. Think of your core as something that reaches down below your hips and extends up towards the chest.
Your core connects and anchors your upper body to your lower body and controls their coordinated movement. It includes the lower back and the transverse abdominis (the deepest layer connecting hip to rib to diaphragm). Instead of doing the typical forward crunches, do multi-limb movements like dead bug and balancing exercises like the plank, and add bits of rotation to basic exercises like a chest press.
Strengthening triathlon-specific muscles in the preseason will enable you to train and race at a new level next season. Speed and endurance improve with greater power. Swimming faster often depends upon developing a stronger pull. Riding faster is a direct result of exerting greater force on the pedals. Running faster is made possible by more powerful foot strikes. Include exercises like squats, lunges, calf raises, lat pull-downs and tricep extensions.
Power-up your pre-season by committing to two to three strength sessions each week for three months. All these exercises can be done in a gym or in your home with minimal equipment. Do two to three sets of 15-20 repetitions with moderate resistance for the strength our sport demands. You’ll arrive at the next racing season healthier, stronger and faster.
Ian Murray is an elite-level USAT coach and the writer and host of the DVD box set TriathlonTrainingSeries.com.