Starting the Season Right: Integrating Strength in Triathlon

    Posted On Jan 06 2017

      By Alun Woodward, ironguides online coach, ironguides.net

      Many of you will have recently been enjoying an end of season break, be it a total rest from any endurance training or just a period of time with some unstructured training sessions. As we head towards the start of the season its a good time to start thinking about stepping back into a plan and starting the process of preparing for your 2017 season.
      So when putting together that first training plan starting back the focus should always be strength, always remember a strong body is a healthy body and being strong is going to greatly reduce your risk of injury as the intensity and volume of your training program ramps up.
      So when i say strength we can look at hitting the gym for some conventional strength training but i am also talking a lot of sport specific strength work, paddles in the pool, hills on the bike and run for example. Lets have a look at how we can hit strength in many different ways to make you a stronger better athlete in 2016.
      To start off lets look at a core routine, you can search the internet and find many examples of core exercises and it would be very easy to overcomplicate any program with a variety of exercises. What we want ideally is something very simple and easy to add to our program. Kettlebells are continuing to grow in popularity and are a great piece of equipment for providing pure strength and core strength at home. Adding kettlebell swings into your weekly program 2-3 times per week will see you develop a range of benefits from increased hip power, stronger abs and a functional posterior chain, an area that tends to be particularly weak in triathletes.
      As a coach one of the most common problems i see in athletes is weak and non functional glutes also known as gluteal amnesia, kettlebell swings have been shown in a study by Dr Stuart Mcgill to lead to significant gluteal activation and power development. We have seen many gluteal exercises using bands and tubes come to popularity over the last years but can something as simple as the swing replace all these tedious exercises with much bigger results, it is definitely worth giving this a go.
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      Another problem we face as triathletes is the postural problems that occur from spending hours on the bike and especially in the TT position, this leads to tight hips which can lead to loss of our normal functional movement patterns. By this i mean tightness in the hips alters posture and the body gets around this by finding different ways to move using muscles not designed for those movements. This is not something we will not really notice at first but is like a ticking time bomb in terms of injury. When looking at a strength program we want to be looking at getting back to functional movements and as the core exercises we want something simple in order to achieve this rather than a large list of exercises. Again using the kettlebell we have a great excursive called the Turkish Get Up, this exercise teaches the body to move once more the way it was designed to move, tracing the movement patterns we use in childhood development. This is definitely not a exercise to just try alone and i would recommend you search an instructor for some technique lessons before adding this to your exercise routine. The get up has a great added bonus that it works on developing shoulder stability which is always a good thing for our swimming.
      So above we have 2 basic strength exercises that added to your program 2-3 times per week will see a significant development of strength and while this will enhance performance it will also go a long way towards preventing injuries and at a very minimal time commitment, a basic program of 5×20 swings with a 1 minutes rest between and then 3-5 get ups each side should take no more than 15 minutes.
      Lets have a look at sport specific strength now, and swimming is a great place to start, swimming is non weight bearing and so a great place to add sport specific strength as there is very little injury risk associated. In the swim we have many tools for adding strength such as the pull buoy, band tied around ankles and of course paddles to increase the resistance of every pull.
      Sticking with the simple theme of this article paddles have to give the best benefits of strength to the swimmer, the paddles do not need to be large to have an effect and you should be starting out with small paddles, at ironguides we recommend the TYR Catalyst paddles. When we swim with paddles we force more muscle fibres to be activated during the pull and have to work harder to pull the hand through the water. Not only do paddles increase strength but they also work on improving technique without us having to think – aways a bonus! The way this works is due to the bigger area we have to pull through the water we slow down the pull and have a greater awareness of hand position during the pull. A big mistake a lot of swimmers do is pull the hand too fast through the water, this causes the hand to snake during the pull and water to slip off the hand, by pulling slower with more awareness on the hand due to the paddles we tend to pull back in a straighter line and keep the water fixed on the hand all the way back. As you start back i would recommend adding some paddle work to the last half of your swim sessions.
      Biking in triathlon i see as the strength sport, when racing ironman we need to be strong on the bike and use our power as we want to be saving our cardiovascular system as much as possible for the swim and run sections. As with the swim biking is a fairly safe sport to do sport specific strength work and riding hills is the perfect way to do this.
      Power hill riding is a great session for strength development and used correctly in your program will lead to some big strength gains and performance gains on the bike. The idea of power hill riding is not to get to the top of every hill as fast as possible, in fact it is the complete opposite. What we want from this session is to go as slowly as possible up the hill, turning a big gear with max resistance on the pedals the whole time. Interval length should be very short for this type of session due to the demands on your legs, starting at 1 minute and working up to a maximum of 5 minutes at a time. Cadence is key here and we are looking for a cadence under 50, this will ensure the exercise is more strength than cardiovascular dominated.
      Adding at least 1 power hill session into your weekly program is key at this time of year. That leads us to running and the most risky of the 3 sports when it comes to sport specific strength work, due to range of motion when running and terrain variations any strength work on the run comes with a risk so should be very minimal and come at a time in your week when you are not heavily fatigued. With running the strength work needs to slowly come into your program as your fitness develops, to start with hill running is great for strength development but i am not talking about running hard intervals uphill rather just adding some hill running into your easy runs is enough to start developing your run specific strength. We leave any hill intervals until we have gained a good level of fitness.
      Starting this year lay the foundation of strength as you start training and you will reap the benefits into your racing season.
      Enjoy your training.

      See also:  Training: The Ups and Downs of Ironman Training

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