For many athletes, completing a triathlon is the pinnacle of success in regard to endurance race competitions. It encompasses the big three of running, cycling and swimming back to back to back.
Though training in each area is important for preparation, many athletes forget about the importance of cross training, specifically strength training, to peak their performance during the event. Even when some add strength training, they’re confused of which type of strength training should be the focus.
Cross training is training in different disciplines with the goal to improve yourself in your main discipline or sport, such as when football Hall of Fame running back Bo Jackson used to take many ballet classes to help with his foot speed and agility. This was a crazy idea, especially in the ’80s and ’90s, because ballet, seen as the complete opposite of football, was helping a Pro Bowl running back to be his best. However this led lots of other running backs and other football players to start exploring how training in other areas could help them be their best in their main sport. Now we know that any pro athlete spends lots of time working outside of their main sport.
It starts with core
The core is everything — yes, everything. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that the stronger your core is, the better you will be at everything, including your upcoming triathlon. When we speak about the core, we don’t just mean the six pack aesthetic ab muscles, but really all the muscles in the trunk that help to move and stabilize the spine and hips.
Some even consider any muscle that transfers energy from the mid-section into the legs or vice versa as part of your core muscles. The core muscles are especially important to major endurance athletes because the major cause of people not finishing a triathlon is not lack of conditioning, but injury and a strong core has been proven to help prevent injury. In any endurance race it’s inevitable that your body is going to get tired causing your form to change and diminish, but the stronger your core is, the longer you can maintain proper form.
Most injuries occur when people are moving in improper form for a long time. The stronger your core, the better your form, the better your form the less susceptible you are to injury, the less susceptible you are to injury the more likely you are to finish your race. I recommend starting your core training by adding three sets of one-minute planks to your training day warm ups and slowly increase to plan leg lift and reach variations.
You have to stabilize
Stabilization training is another forgotten training space that is so important for endurance athletes’ injury prevention. Stabilization training is any normal exercise that you put on a unstable surface to make it more difficult to balance and control.
The most common example is doing an exercise on one leg versus two. This cross-training technique is important for many reasons, but most directly affects triathletes because it can help prevent falls. The run is the final portion of the triathlon, because it’s the easiest for most endurance athletes, but it’s also where the most injuries due to falling happens.
You may be a killer runner, but no matter how hard you train, those legs are going to be a little wobbly after swimming and biking. Fatigued legs make for unstable legs which can easily lose balance, trip and fall. This is where stabilization strength training can help. Cross training with single leg exercises, using devices like BOSU balls, Swiss balls and Dyna discs can help improve your balance strength so you are less likely to take a spill. Besides improving balance, it also helps with our friend the core, so you’re getting a two-for-one exercise deal. I recommend incorporating three sets of 12-15 body weight lunges and squats on a BOSU ball or any uneven surface, two times a week for six-eight weeks before your race.
Cross training is shown to help prevent injury and increase performance for anyone preparing for a triathlon or any endurance race. Endurance athletes have to put in countless hours of training to maximize their cardiovascular systems, but it’s also very important to have a strong core and stable muscles to prevent injury. As we enter triathlon training season and you begin mapping out your program, be sure to include cross training days. Your performance and body will love you for it.