Triathlon Specific Personal Training
Triathletes are in general a very dedicated and focused group of people. Having not one, but three disciplines to train for requires a huge commitment of time, effort and self discipline and it’s no wonder that when not training, the last thing they’re usually thinking about is yet more different exercise or training.
However, the physical demands placed on the body by the sport are intense and cumulative, and especially so for the longer distance Triathlons, ½ IronMan and above, where the steady speed and highly repetitive nature of the training can often lead to repetitive-strain (overuse) type injuries, and connective tissue damage (tendons, ligaments etc)
This is where Triathlon / Triathlete-Specific Personal Training can play a huge part in your off-season preparation and training and aim to better prepare your body for the demands of your season’s training and racing.
In this article I will outline the Triathlon-Specific Personal Training Program** we use, although for reasons detailed below cannot go into too much detail on individual exercises.The plan is all about developing “headroom” in your performance, by which we mean having spare capacity, in both muscular & connective tissue strength, so that you are not performing too close to your limits, and are therefore less likely to strain or injure yourself, and in VO2 capacity, which hopefully will allow you to chase down that guy (or girl in front of you with a sprint, or up your pace for the home stretch when required.
The Training Plan is in three stages, each lasting approximately 4 weeks, and progressive, with each phase preparing you for the next, but with some overlap of exercises depending on your own levels and to keep the body guessing, and with a strong emphasis on core strengthening throughout all three.
The 1st stage is the same for everybody, regardless of your individual Triathlon aims, and focuses initially on injury prevention. The 2nd and 3rd stages will be tailored to your individual Tri-based ambitions and will vary radically depending whether you are aiming at Sprint or IronMan distance Triathlon as have very different approaches and tend to produce very different kinds athletes.
All the exercises are of a totally “functional” nature, with no machine-based exercises, and no exercises train any muscle groups in isolation, i.e. without the rest of the active bio-kinetic chain (that is the entire system used in that movement) involved.
The Program requires that you back right off from your usual training and allow yourself only one relatively easy session of each, Swim, Bike & Run per week until the middle of the 3rd phase, to ensure that you don’t overdo things until you are strong enough to cope with the new demands this will make on your body. Happily, in the off-season this is what most triathletes tend to do anyway.
1st Phase – Injury Prevention & Posture Correction
Triathlon is by its very nature a sport, which requires a high amount of repetitions of each movement, in both every training session, and in every race, and this leads to a high incidence of injuries, mainly overuse injuries, including, but not limited to:
- Achilles tendonitis – painful inflammation of the Achilles tendon & surrounding tissue.
- Patellar tendonitis – painful inflammation of the kneecap area.
- Plantar fasciaitis – painful inflammation of Plantar fascia tendon (foot arch to heel)
- IT Band syndrome – Rubbing of Iliotibial band against side of knee joint.
- Bursitis - painful inflammation of bursa(e) on joints, commonly shoulder, hip & elbows
- Low Back pain
- Neck pain
You will notice that the first five of these complaints are all of the connective tissue type problems mentioned, hence at this stage we aim to strengthen these connective tissues, tendons, ligaments etc, using a combination of light “beginner’s” style plyometrics, a strong focus on lateral movement, and intensive stretching, including Active (PNF) Stretching for to dramatically improve flexibility where required.
Flexibility and it’s role in performance and injury prevention is a whole subject on it’s own, but for the purposes of this article, suffice to say the flexibility work starts in Phase I, and goes on for the rest of your training career. …Ideally, anyway. J Active (PNF) stretching is a 2-man activity and is a very effective way of addressing the well-known flexibility issues Triathletes are unfortunately known for.
Triathletes are also notorious for not warming up properly, and you will be taken through what would be considered a good functional warm-up routine and see how yours compares, to allow you to judge and make changes if required.
“Warming up properly” means specificivity, i.e. warming up for the activities you intend to perform, and whilst the warm-ups for our 12 week Program will not be the same as the warm-up for your more usual Tri Training, again the principles hold true, and you may want to modify your usual tri warm-up after this work.
The beginner’s plyometrics serve as an excellent tendon strengthening system, and even if you are the long-distance type of Triathlete for whom developing explosive power is not high priority, this work will build in extra headroom to prevent accidental strains and tears, and will also serve to focus on strengthening the fixator and stabiliser muscles around the joints to allow the prime movers to do their jobs even better.
As all 3 Tri disciplines are by their nature very linear sports, with almost all movement in the “Sagital” plane, i.e. forwards, and athletes are often prone to developing muscular imbalances between their highly trained “linear musculature” and their neglected “lateral musculature”.
Other common problems for Triathletes are various Anterior/Posterior or Front/Rear imbalances which will invariably manifest or show in one of three ways in general posture known as “Upper Cross, Lower Cross & Pronation Distortion” Syndromes, and which your Personal Trainer should spot and start correcting immediately in this 1st phase of training.
2nd Phase – Functional Strength Work
There is a growing acceptance of the need for and the use of Functional Training in the Fitness Professional’s world, and rightfully so. Phase II gets to work on improving functional muscle strength using functional variations of the more common strength & conditioning exercises, and ups the ante on the core work already started in Phase I. T he Plyometrics training now starts in earnest as the connective tissues will now be ready for the increased stress on them that this involves.
Midway through Phase II it is also time to start combining some high output interval work with your strength training, and the last two weeks of this phase also see the introduction of Explosive Power generation exercises, which even if you never plan to work at this rate in training or racing, give your body the extra headroom we are aiming for, and start to prepare you for the cardiovascular onslaught to come, which is Phase III
3rd Phase – Integration & Consolidation
This is the stage where we really take into consideration your individual Triathlon aims, but regardless of how far you want to go, certain principles remain true, i.e. a good interval-training program will increase your cardio headroom. The main differences in individual programs will be largely based on your intended race pace and variations thereof, but will always aim to develop the ability to put in much faster stretches, and then be able return to race pace and recover whilst holding that pace, and without this adversely affecting the rest of your race. It is cardio headroom that makes this possible.
At the end of this period of sustained functional strength & cardio training you will be able to return to your usual Tri Training Program a stronger, faster and better-conditioned athlete, less susceptible to injury, and able to put in your best Race Season yet.
Good luck & happy racing
More Useful Links
- IronManSite. -Strength Training - Excellent Series of Articles covering Strength Training, Posture & more.
- Tri-Fuel.com Site – Functional Strength Training for Triathletes – by Eric Schmitz
- Peak Performance Online – Agility - Article on Agility, Sports-Specificivity & Use of Plyometrics in Sports Conditioning.
**Unfortunately due to the need to tailor the program precisely depending on your intentions and your current levels of functional fitness, and the importance of postural correction and the early stages of connective tissue strengthening, the first 4 weeks must be supervised, hence it is not possible and would not be responsible of me to publish the program and let you get on with it.
After the first 4 supervised sessions however, it is then in theory possible if not desirable, to continue alone, with email or phone support, as you will be aware of the basics of functional training and able to progress with correct form.
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