Avoid the triple injury threat

Cope with the demands of a gruelling triathlon training regime with these injury-prevention exercises.

The multi-discipline nature of a triathlon means that you’re going to complete a lot of training sessions in the run up to your event, which places a significant demand on your body. The following injury-prevention exercises from biomechanics consultant Travis Allan will help you get to the start line niggle-free. 

Running drills

‘Foot exercises are the most undertrained and under-considered thing for runners,’ says Allan, who has worked with Olympic triathletes. ‘It seems obvious but very few people do specific lower leg exercises. They’re important because if your foot isnt hitting the ground properly you can start to develop common issues such as runners knee or IT band (the connective tissue that runs along the outside of your thigh) issues. The exercises below will improve your capacity to absorb the shock of each stride and dissipate force.’ 

How to do it

Perform the exercises below in order either before a run or on non-running days. Some of the exercises involve subtle movements so to get the full benefit you need to follow the form guides and concentrate on the precise movements. 

Exercise 1: Foot eversion

Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.

Secure an exercise band around your mid-foot (not your toes) on both feet so that there is a small amount of tension in the band when your feet are roughly shoulder width apart.

On one foot, tilt the heel and big toe inwards slightly then sweep your foot outwards across the floor to create a stretch in the band.

The movement will be subtle and you’ll know you’re doing it correctly if you feel a muscle contraction in the outside of your lower leg.

Hold that position for a count of 6 seconds. Come back to the start position for 6-10 seconds and repeat that six times then do the same on the other foot. 

Exercise 2: Foot inversion

Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.

Secure an exercise band around your mid-foot (not your toes) on both feet and cross one foot over the other.

Let your heel roll outwards (but don’t tilt it so far that you’re on the side of your foot) then sweep your foot inwards until you feel a contraction on the inside of your lower leg.

Hold that position for a count of 6 seconds. Come back to the start position for 6-10 seconds and repeat that six times then do the same on the other foot. 

Exercise 3: Plantar flexion

Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor.

Take one foot back to place the top of that foot behind your other heel.

Gently push the forefoot of your front foot into the ground, rotate your foot inwards slightly and pull it back in towards your other foot to feel your calf muscle engage. 

Cycling drills 

The good news is that all of the running drills will complement the work you do on the bike and help you when you come to transition from cycling to running. ‘If you are using clipped in cycling shoes and your foot alignment is off, your knee gets messed up so it’s important to strengthen the ankle, knee and hip joints,’ says Allan. ‘Your foot is also in such a rigid position. You don't get to move your foot much on the bike so it’s really important when you get off the bike to get your muscles firing for the run because being on the bike changes how your upper and lower leg muscles work with each other.’ 

The exercises above that you performed for your running training will ensure that your legs are strong in the saddle and also when you get off the bike. But it’s worth adding the following exercises to your routine. ‘The glue bridges will help knee stability and stop your knee from diving in,’ says Allan. ‘They will help your leg extend and push away from the ground when youre running or when you’re straightening your leg when pedalling. Stronger glutes will also reduce the stress on your lower back.’ 

1 Band glute bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.

Secure an exercise band around your lower thighs so that it gently pulls your knees together.

Start the move by raising your hips up to form a straight line from knees to shoulders.

As your hips rise, try to push your knees outwards to create some tension in the band.

Start with a 5 second hold at the top and gradually increase that until you are holding the top position for 30 seconds. 

2 Towel glute bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and your feet flat on the floor.

Secure a rolled up towel between your knees by pushing them together.

Start the move by raising your hips up to form a straight line from knees to shoulders.

As your hips rise keep squeezing your knees together to keep the towel in place.

You may find that your range of motion is less than when you perform the band version of the exercise.

Start with a 5 second hold at the top and gradually increase that until you are holding the top position for 30 seconds. 

3 Cat to camel drill

Start on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.

Arch your spine towards the ceiling while tucking your chin in to your chest then reverse the movement and continue until you create a depression in your spine.

As you do so, stick your bum out and lift your head upwards slightly.

Do 15-20 reps, aiming to gradually increase your range of motion each rep. 

Swimming drills 

You can do these two drills on non-swimming days to strengthen and stabilise your shoulder joints. ‘These drills are good because they externally rotate your shoulders while also working the muscles that extend your spine and that will help you get your shoulder out of the water while also helping with buoyancy,’ says Allan. ‘They’re also good for cyclists because they will open you up through the shoulders, which counteracts the rounded position of your spine that you adopt when riding a bike.’ 

Phase 1: Swimmers trunk raise 

Lie face down on the floor.

Place your hands flat on the floor, level with your face and out to the sides with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.

Slightly raise your arms and torso off the floor.

Hold that position for a count of 6 seconds. Come back to the start position for 6-10 seconds and repeat that six times. 

Phase 2: Swimmers trunk raise and press 

Once you have mastered phase one you can progress to this advanced exercise.

Perform the exercise above then straighten your arms above your head so they are parallel to the floor.

Once your arms are extended, hold that position and don’t let them drop.

Hold that position for a count of 6 seconds. Come back to the start position for 6-10 seconds and repeat that six times. 

For more on Allan, visit travisallantt.com  

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