I am a big advocate of strength work for athletes, particularly those that are older than 30. Most of my athletes have a routine that is more cumulative and repetitive than actually high weight/effort work. I don’t think there is time in a triathlon training season to put a block of really heavy weights in for most people because most age group athletes are limited in time. Instead, incorporating a bit of plyometrics mimics the demands of high weight/low rep weight training with the added benefit of incorporating some fast twitch/high intensity training in an otherwise more aerobic build time of the year. I think pre-habilitating with regular core and functional strength is hugely beneficial as is some training for supporting muscles that are usually neglected in triathlon movement. Here is an article I wrote on functional training for Triathlon Magazine Canada you might enjoy.
Functional training focuses on training movement in the body rather than training to strengthen individual muscles. By using movement in the body through all planes of movement (serial, frontal, and transverse) with a foot or both feet planted on the ground, functional training incorporates stability, balance, coordination, agility and proprioception. This is a better way to mimic the demands of sport and create better preparation. These more complicated movements also incorporate more neurological stimulus which is crucial for muscle recruitment and performance.
The best approach to functional training is to try to mimic the demands of your sport or your weakness with the exercises. Strong core, lower back, gluteus and shoulder muscles are all key for triathlon but having just the individual muscle strong is not enough, they must work well together. An athlete needs to be strong from the ground up as each muscle has a role in the kinetic chain from your feet to the top of your head. One weak link in the chain can impair a muscle further up the chain.
When you build your program you want to ensure your functional training involves coordination in a similar pattern to the demands of the sport. Simply running in a perfectly straight line is not realistic. You must have resilience to turns, broken and uneven ground, and lateral movement. Doing exercises that prepare your body for that demand is functional training.
The exercises below incorporate more complex movements that equate to a full body workout when you are finished. Incorporating some weight resistance as you become more skilled at the moments is beneficial if it fits into your periodization. These exercises should be performed with an awareness and engagement of your core and a neutral spine.
1. Monster Walk
This is a great glute exercise. With the resistance band around your ankles keeping your knees locked, walk sideways with locked knees maintaining resistance in the band. Your posture is upright with your shoulders down and back. After you take 10 steps in each direction, with the band in the same place, then take a large step forward with your left leg planting at 45 degrees to the left of your body, then lift the right leg and lift it out at 45 degrees to the right, repeating 10 times per leg. This will challenge your glutes and hips in all directions.
2. One legged squat in four directions.
One leg squats challenge balance, proprioception, hip and glute strength. These exercises are a cornerstone for injury prevention in running athletes. Balancing on one leg with your arms at shoulder height pointed directly in front of you, hands together, bend your standing leg as far as you can while maintaining balance and your knee directly over mid foot (no dropping your knee inside) while stretching your other leg back behind you imagining you are rolling it on a tennis ball just 3 inches off the ground. Return to upright position as one repetition. Complete 10 on each side then stretch your leg out to the side, imagining the outstretched leg rolling on a tennis ball 3 inches from the ground and your bent leg maintaining knee position over your foot.
Burpees are a very complex exercise that you probably think have nothing to do with triathlon but when broken down into the components the movements are in fact very specific to the sport.
1. Start with a vertical jump from the ground: driving downwards quadriceps and glute moment mimics force onto pedals
2. Drop to plank position: specific strength for aero position
3. Pushup: builds core and shoulder strength useful in all sports.
4. Jumping knees to standingt: hip flexor driving movement builds power for run stride and cycling.
5. Bonus benefit: in the offseason many take a break from higher intensity training in running and cycling to let the body recover. This complex exercise will help you just keep in touch with that part of your fitness without requiring a dedicated workout of cycling or running.
4. Kettlebell Exercises (start with a very light one so you get the hang of the movement)
Waiter carry: holding the kettle bell with a straight arm directly overhead, core tight and engaged, walk for one minute with the kb overhead. Then switch arms.
Suitcase carry: hold the kettle ball with a straight arm about 15 cms away from the hips. Walk for one minute each side.
Walking halos: holding the kettle bell with both hands, rotate the weight around your head as you walk with erect posture for one minute.
Heartbeat: hold the kettlebell with both hands and walk while pushing the kettle bell away from your sternum and then pulling it back towards the body. Walk for one minute while doing the exercise.