Plyometrics for triathlon training

Plyometrics for triathlon training

Whether you race cross triathlon or Ironman, you should be using plyometrics for triathlon training.  A beginner to advanced triathlon training program should include some plyometrics to improve form, economy, and durability, and a functional strength program.

Plyometrics for triathlon training benefits include:

  • Greater durability/injury resistance
  • Eccentric overloading helps with downhill running and agility
  • Improves speed without training sprint work
  • Improves running form and economy (decreases ground contact time)

How plyometrics are beneficial

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Functional triathlon training program

Functional triathlon training program

I am a big advocate of incorporating a functional triathlon training program, particularly for athletes older than 30.  The following workout is one I use to keep core muscles and the smaller muscles in the hips strong, while using plyometrics to build greater strength and power.  This workout has prehabilitation exercises which are beneficial for supporting muscles that are usually neglected in triathlon movement.  Here is an article adapted from one 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 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.   Athletes need 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 building your program, 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 need 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 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, 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. 

3.       Burpees

Burpees are beneficial to a functional triathlon training program as the elements are specific to the demands of triathlon.

  • Vertical jump from the ground:  driving downwards quadriceps and glute moment mimics force onto pedals
  • Plank position:  specific strength for aero position
  • Pushup:  builds core and shoulder strength useful in all sports.
  • Jumping knees to standing:  hip flexor driving movement builds power for run stride and cycling.
functional triathlon training program includes burpees
Simple how to do a burpee

A bonus benefit of burpees in the offseason is this exercise helps maintain some speed and power without requiring a dedicated workout of cycling or running.


4.      Kettlebell Exercises 

Kettlebells fit into a functional triathlon training program in many ways, these exercises train the muscles of the upper back and torso, which are crucial to posture and

  • 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.


Coach Mel: Improving Flexibility Through Strength

I wrote this article for Triathlete Magazine a while back.  I have been advocating a lot of strength work lately for my athletes so this article may be food for thought for a lot of you building your 2012 programs.  Enjoy!

In order to be a good triathlete, an athlete needs to have strength, speed and endurance.  When an athlete chooses to race off road, it would be beneficial for that athlete to have agility as well.  Agility is a combination of coordination, flexibility, power and speed that would allow a trail racer to pick their way through technical terrain quickly and efficiently.  What many athletes are missing when they move to off road racing is adequate flexibility to allow them to stay loose while reacting to terrain.  CLICK READ MORE FOR THE REST

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Off Season Focus (or not….)

Winter for those of us in the Northern hemisphere is a time of year to reconnect with your non-racing friends, reflect on the past season, and build some enthusiasm for the next season while giving your body a break from the traveling and racing.  Your body will have absorbed a lot of training and racing by the end of the triathlon season, so it is important to take a break in order to regenerate not only your muscles, but also your nervous system.  You need a mental and a physical break in order to be at your peak training potential.


Since our XTERRA season does not end until the end of October and Ironman pushes on even further, I think it is beneficial to take at least two weeks completely off, meaning NO training and sometimes this needs to be even longer, depending on your level of burnout.  I usually go by feel.  If I really don’t FEEL like training, I don’t do it.  I wait until I really want to go to a workout or for a ride and until then I drink coffee, hang out and do yoga.   This period of time varies from year to year and will vary from one person to another.  I think that during this break is a good time to start thinking about what your goals are going to be for the next season.


During this training break, create two lists of goals.  The first list should be your Outcome Goals, i.e. what are the results you would like to get (what place in a certain race or what time for a 10km).  The second list should be your Process Goals, i.e. how you are going to achieve those goals (what skills do you need to develop, injuries to clear up, muscle imbalances to correct, techniques to improve).  For example, one of my goals for 2011 is to qualify for 70.3 Worlds.  In order to do this, I have three process goals.  The first is to lower my race weight, the second is to improve my swim technique and the third is to work on my power on my time trial bike.  I invite you guys to share your goals on the forum so that you can all inspire each other next season and help each other achieve that success!

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