Triathlon’s prefix, ‘tri’, means three. Duh. Three sports: swimming, cycling, and running. In my opinion, however, the multi-sport arena encompasses more than just swim, bike, run. Nutrition and strength training are both essential, though often overlooked, aspects of the triathlon, as well.
I’ve been beating the nutritional drum lately so I’ll spare you another post about food. I’ll just link to them here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here too. I’ve detailed my offseason strength program previously, which focuses on pulling heavy deadlifts and other quad dominant accessory work. My in season strength routine includes a lot of squats, and more deadlifts ;), at lower weight and faster movement. This recruits more fast twitch muscle fibers which we need as we explode up a climb or while passing other athletes on both the bike and the run.
This week though, I’m sharing two simple and effective core routines. These won’t take up too much of your time, will help you get those washboard abs we all covet, and will most importantly improve your stability. Everyday is #legday for us triathletes, but without the necessary stability in your core you’re leaving several minutes out on the course.
Stability needs to be dynamic
Think about your triathlon swim. A stable core will help you keep your hips, butt, and feet near the surface of the water, reducing drag, and in return make you a faster swimmer. Think about your cycling prowess. A stable core will allow you to be more comfortable in the aero position and stay there longer. It’ll also allow you to handle technical parts of the road more efficiently saving you time and energy. In return for that stable and strong core you become a faster cyclist.
As you head of out of T2, how many times have you seen others hunched over and laboring through the run course. Almost always, right? A stable core allows you to keep better posture, enables better form through a proper leg drive, and conserves energy. And in return, makes you a faster runner. Are you sensing a trend here?
Stability must be dynamic, not static. Sure, it’s impressive to hold a 4-minute plank but there’s no real pay-off for that in triathlon. It might win you a bet with your friends, but it sure as hell isn’t winning you a triathlon. Dynamic control over the core however, that has the ability to unlock some of your hidden potential!
You’ll notice in the exercises below that the movements are dynamic, meaning there’s movement across multiple planes of motion - vertical, side-to-side, and forward-backward. In triathlon, very rarely is there lateral movement. We’re almost always moving directly forward. This creates muscle imbalances that if gone unaddressed can increase the risk of injury and an unnecessary sap of energy on race day.
Jay Dicharry points out in his book, “Running Rewired” that we must redefine core stability. He writes, “drink your favorite beverage, then set the empty can on the table. Without liquid or carbonation inside, the top and bottom are supported only by the cylinder itself. Place a 10-pound weight on top, and the can will support the load.”
What he’s essentially saying is, good position = good stability. He continues, “Now take this same can, dimple the side a bit, and put the same weight back on top. The can will crumple under the load.”
In simple terms, poor position = instability. This is why a strong core built with dynamic movements is essential to your strength training. It will improve your swim, bike, and run.
This point from Dicharry is critically important. He writes, “Your brain is hardwired from an early age to put the body in a position of stability centrally (in the core) and to move distally (through the arms and legs). When that central link is blown, certain muscles unwire themselves from normal reflexive movement, others fire late, and you lose the ability to move with precision.”
Here are two simple and effective core routines featuring mostly dynamic movements to improve your stability and make you a faster triathlete.
Core routine #1
Hanging leg raises (3 sets of 8 reps)
Grab bar with overhand grip.
Focus on raising legs up while pulling with your core.
Keep a slight bend in your knees.
Use your hips to increase the ab activation.
*You can regress down to hanging knee tucks if leg raises prove too difficult.
Bird dogs (3 sets of 12 reps on each side)
Balance in plank position.
Raise opposite arm up.
Lift opposite leg while keeping arm and leg as straight as possible.
*You can regress down to your knees if it’s too difficult from the plank position.
Decline crunches (3 sets of 12 reps)
Start with your back placed firmly against the bench.
Crunch up keeping your chest tall.
*You can make this a weighted exercise by holding a plate against your chest.
Body saw (3 sets of 1:00 movement)
Start in a low plank position with a foam roller under your forearms.
Squeeze your body from head to toe to create tension.
Rock yourself forward and back slowly engaging your core throughout.
Core routine #2
Hollow holds (3 sets of :40 hold resting for :15 between each set)
Start by laying on your back with both your arms and legs fully extended.
Raise arms and legs to 45 degress.
Keep biceps by your ears and knees and elbows extended the entire time.
Squeeze entire body from head to toe to create tension.
Rotational Rage Ball slams (3 sets of 20 reps)
Start with the medicine ball up overhead, gripping with both hands.
Slam the ball down as hard as you can to one side.
Bend your knee slightly to protect your back.
Pick ball back up and return overhead extending elbows completely.
Slam down on the opposite side.
KB swings (3 sets of 25 reps)
Start with the KB just in front of your feet.
Grip the KB with two hands and hike it back up between your legs.
Hinge at the hips to protect your crotch and explode your hips forward.
The movement ends as soon as you’re vertical again.
Do not lean back at the top of the swing! Let the arms flow naturally.
Allow the KB to drag your chest forward back to the ground and into the hip hinge position.
Alternating suitcase crunches (3 sets of 20 reps)
Start on your back, making sure arms and legs are extended.
Ensure your lower back is press firmly into the ground.
Come up for a crunch while bringing one knee in towards your chest and the opposite hand to the inside of the foot.