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Strength Training for Triathletes

Robert Gillanders, PT,DPT

Brian Neville, DPT, USAT Certified Coach

Discuss why strength training is important for
Review strength and flexibility deficits commonly
found in triathletes
Illustrate the rationale behind a functional
exercise-based strength program
Present examples of strength training exercises
tailored to the needs of triathletes

Why is strength training important?

Increased power
Greater endurance
Improved tolerance to workload
Reduced risk of injury

Focus strength training on movement, i.e.

functional strength (not muscles)
Unconscious incompetence

Conscious incompetence

Conscious competence

Unconscious competence

Impact of muscle imbalances

on functional strength
Left: Stability Problems
persisted 7 years after pelvic

Right: Stability corrected

with carefully designed
program including Pilates

Muscle imbalances also increase

your risk of injury
Most common injuries experienced by triathletes

Achilles tendonopathy
Plantar fasciitis
Medial tibial stress syndrome
IT band syndrome
Patellofemoral pain syndrome
Lower back pain
Rotator cuff strain

But dont forget about



How do you assess for muscle

imbalances and weakness?

Focus on functional movements

Target areas for functional

strength exercises
Rotator cuff
Scapular stabilizers
Deep abdominals/core
Hip abductors, hip extensors,
and external hip rotators
(i.e. gluteus medius)

Examples of functional strength

exercises that focus on target areas
Rotator cuff

Theraband | Cable external


Scapular stabilizers

Cable row | Scaption |

Prone T + Y

Deep abdominals/Core

Dead bug | Planks | Side planks

| Bird dog

Hip abductors, extensors,

and external hip rotators

Bridges | Lateral leg raises

| Clam | Single leg squats |
Single leg dead lift | Lateral stepping

External rotation
Objective: Strengthen rotator cuff to
decrease strain from swimming and
hence injury risk
Target muscles: Rotator cuff (i.e.
infraspinatus, teres minor)
Technique Tips:
1) You may place a towel placed
between the arm and your side to
minimize strain to the shoulder;
2) Keep shoulder blade tucked back
toward spine;
3) Rotate arm out to the side

Prone T over physioball

Prone Y over physioball

Objective: Increase scapular stability to create stable base for overhead arm
movements in swimming. Also helps to improve posture
Target muscles: Middle and lower trapezius
Technique Tips: 1) For prone T: focus on initiating the movement with the
muscles between the shoulder blades versus the shoulder being driven
forward. 2) For prone Y: keep thumbs pointed upward and gently bring arms to
Parallel to the floor. Slowly lower.

Seated cable row


Objective: Increase scapular stability

important for stable base for swimming

Objective: Strengthen upper trapezius

muscles to help build strong stable base for
Target muscles: Muscles between shoulder swimming
blades and posterior shoulder.
Target muscles: upper trapezius
Technique tips: 1) Focus on shoulder
blades squeezing back toward the spine; 2)
Pause at end point of the pull and slowly
release; 3) Pull to point where elbows in line
with torso (do not bend elbows so they are
behind your shoulder).

Technique tips: Raise arms, with thumbs

Pointed to ceiling, toward 10 and 2 oclock

Lateral straight leg raise

Objective: strengthen lateral glute muscles

Target muscles: gluteus medius
Technique tips:
1) Keep body perpendicular to ground.
2) Brace core muscles as leg it is elevated.
3) Keep leg in-line with the body so that it is not allowed to drift

Clam knee raises

Objective: strengthen deep hip rotators

Target muscles: Gemelli, quadratus femoris
Technique tips:
1) Keep body perpendicular to ground.
2) Brace core muscles as knee is elevated.
3) Hold at top and slowly lower.
4) Do not allow pelvis to drift backwards
as knee is elevated.

Lateral stepping with resistance band

Objective: strengthen lateral glute muscles

Target muscles: gluteus medius
Technique tips:
1) Avoid compensating movements with torso such
as side bending or hip hiking.
2) Move legs against the resistance band slowly and

Single leg squat

Objective: Strengthen lower muscles,

improve balance
Target muscles: glutes, thigh, and leg
Technique tips:
1) Establish balance in single leg
standing first.
2) Slowly lower into partial squat keeping
back straight.
3) Avoid thigh drifting toward midline, or
kneecap turning inward.

Single leg dead lift

Objective: strengthen leg muscles,

improve balance
Target muscles: glutes and hamstrings
Technique tips:
1) Establish single leg balance first.
2) Stance leg is slightly flexed at knee.
3) Keep back straight as you gently
reach toward floor, while opposite
leg extends backwards.

Neutral spine stabilization

Bird dog

Objective: Core stability

Target muscles: Core muscles, plus hip extensors and scapular
Technique tips: 1) On hands and knees brace using your core
muscles.; 2) Gently reach leg back into an extended position; 3)
Raise opposite side arm while maintaining balance; 4) Hold for a
count of 5; 5) Repeat on opposite side


Bridge (with March)

Objective: Increase glute and core strength

Target muscles: Hip and back extensors
Technique tips: 1) Brace core muscles in start position; 2) Gently lift hips off ground
such that the hip is straight, do not overly arch spine; 3) Hold at top of range squeezing
glute muscle, then slowly lower; 4) For a challenge, try to march feet at top of range,
making sure pelvis remains level.

Dead bug
Objective: Increase core strength/endurance
Target muscles: Abdominals, core muscles
Technique tips: 1) Start on back with arms
pointed toward ceiling, and knees flexed to 90
degrees; 2) Core muscle are set such that the
lower back curve and pelvis remain stationary;
3) Gently reach leg out without fully extending
it; 4) Alternate legs slowly such that the motion
is controlled; 5) You can add the opposite arm
flexion once stability has been achieved with
moving just the legs. 6) You can challenge
yourself by adding gentle overpressure to the
thigh which stays vertical to the ground.

Forward plank

Forward plank (with march)

Objective: Increase endurance of core muscles

Target muscles: Abdominal muscles
Technique tips: 1) Start resting on elbows and knees; 2) Brace core
muscles, and then extend one leg straight, and then the other; 3) Hold with
The spine straight while in the up position - avoid sagging of low back or
your hips rising up; 4) To add a challenge, you can march legs once you are
able to hold the original pose for 60 seconds.

Side plank

Side plank with leg lift

Objective: Improve core stability/endurance

Target muscles: Lateral core and hip muscles
Technique tips: 1) Start in a side lying position on your elbow, with hips
flexed to 45 degrees; 2) Brace core muscles as you bring your pelvis up and
forward - your trunk should be perpendicular to the ground; 3) Hold, then
slowly lower down and back; 4) You can extend the top leg and perform
lateral leg raises for a challenge.


Objective: Improve leg strength,

dynamic balance and control. (This is
a good warm-up exercise)
Target muscles: Glute and thigh
Technique tips: 1) Focus on keeping
legs in good alignment such that the
forward knee does not drift in towards
midline of the body; 2) Keep shoulders
over hips so that you do not lean
excessively forward or back.

Functional exercise progressions

As the basic exercises become

easier, challenges can be
added by using an unstable
surface, (e.g. ball), or by
adding external resistance (e.g.
band or weights).

Functional exercise periodization

for triathletes
The same routine should not be performed year round.
When beginning a new program, care should taken to
allow the body to adapt to the new stresses of the
It is important to focus on the form, especially when
learning a new exercise. Think quality over quantity
and do as many, or as few, repetitions as you can while
controlling the pattern of movement. Your goal can be
a controlled fatigue.
During off-season try to aim for 3x per week and 2x 15
for each exercise to build a base. This can take up to
two months.
As your season approaches, consider decreasing the
frequency to 2x per week, and add resistance to further
challenge involved muscles for 2 sets of 10 for each
During taper and recovery periods, frequency can
decreased to 0 1x per week. Maintenance work can
involve 1x 6-8 reps of an exercise, always
focusing on form and control.

Strength Training for Triathletes

Sports + Spinal Physical Therapy

2175 K Street, NW, Suite C-120
Washington, DC 20036