6 Strength Exercises To Prepare For Big Race

So you want to be a triathlete, hey? Is it the pressure from people claiming “runners’ high” is their daily vice? Or, is it the conscious guilt you hold about that New Year’s resolution you’ve made for the fifth year in a row? Regardless of the predicament you find yourself in, you are one ambitious individual! Triathletes are dedicated and disciplined while sporting mighty lean and toned figures (sign me up!). Serious triathletes train year round to beat their previous record… before you run away intimidated by the amount of work it takes, preparing for a triathlon is totally doable, even if you struggle running to catch the bus.

Timing

Training for a race is all about timing. The Chicago Triathlon takes place on August 26th this year. Which means if you start training on April 15th, you’ll have 19 weeks before the big race; talk about a smoking summer bod! The Chicago Triathlon generously provides a detailed twelve-week training program for novice athletes racing for the first time. In addition, they offer $10 donation swim clinics to prepare you for open water. If you have never trained in open water, these clinics may dramatically improve your swimming skills for Lake Michigan.

So, you’re probably thinking my math skills are a bit off, right? Or, are you wondering why would you start training with 19 weeks to go? Alright, so I didn’t earn a degree in calculus, but I did work my butt off for a Master’s degree in Exercise Science. A method I love to practice is “train to train”. This theory suggests that you train specifically to be able to withstand the training that will come later on; make sense? If you dive right into the Chicago Triathlon twelve-week program with no previously structured exercise, you may develop common injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, and rotator cuff issues, ouch!

Include Rest Periods

The twelve-week program is designed to split up your running, swimming, biking, and resting days. When training for any sport, it is best to keep your exercises sport-specific. That may seem like common sense, right? However, one major element the program does not include is strength training. Strength training is essential to your performance and may have HUGE health benefits. Andy Britton, CSCS states “Strength training has been proven to strengthen muscles, joints, and ligaments in the body; while also helping to enhance aerobic capacity, anaerobic endurance, flexibility, power, injury prevention, and to decrease fatigue.”

I bet since I said strength training, your mind immediately went to pumping weights, easy there, Arnold. Strength training utilizes any type of resistance, not just the resistance of barbells and dumbbells. Resistance includes your body weight against gravity or the use of elastic bands.  Keeping it simple is crucial during the weeks prior to your twelve-week run, swim, and/or bike program and is key to avoiding overuse or burnout injuries. Take a look at these six exercises you can do at home or around Chicago to help strengthen and stabilize your muscles and joints, preparing you for the upcoming training/race! Aim to perform these three to four times a week.

Triathlon training pull up at the park

Training for a triathlon full body pull up in the flexed position

Pull Up

Pull-Ups

Why? Pull-ups are great for developing key muscles for performing your swimming stroke. They will also help keep better posture during your run, and give you killer strong arms!

How: For beginners, a pull-up is super intimidating! Start with an overhand grip on the bar (palms facing away from you). Jump, and pull yourself up to the bar, keeping your shoulders down and back. Hold yourself up at the bar as long as you possibly can (this is actually really tough!). Once you can easily hold yourself up for thirty seconds, slowly start to lower yourself down (this is called a negative or eccentric pull-up). After you can comfortably perform three sets of ten negative pull-ups, you’re ready for the real thing! Beginner or novice triathletes should keep their set/rep scheme to 3×10-12. More advanced triathletes can move to 4×12-15 and even add weight!

Outside split squat with the back leg elevated on a bench

Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

Why? The Bulgarian Split Squat is one of the best lower body exercises incorporating single leg strength and balance. As an extra bonus, it’s a great way to increase your hip and quad mobility! The Bulgarian Split Squat fires up your glutes, hamstrings, and quads helping to improve all three components of your triathlon.

How: This exercise is extremely easy to perform incorrectly! Check out Fitness Director BJ Gaddor from Men’s Health Magazine perform the exercise the wrong way, then the correct way. Start kneeling on your left knee with your left foot positioned up on a bench, next to your left glute. Next, step forward until your right foot & ankle are placed directly under your right knee. Keep your shoulders down and back, while engaging your core. Push down through your right heel, squeeze your right thigh and stand up. Maintaining an upright posture, lower straight down towards the floor, bending both knees. Beginners perform 3×10-12 reps, while more advanced triathletes may perform 4×12-15 and add weight!

Push up with a straight back

Push Ups

Full Range Push-Up

Why? You probably expected the push-up to be on the list because it is one of the most popular exercises performed. However a full range push up, yes I mean chest to floor, is one of the best exercises to develop upper body strength, helping you glide through the open water. I may have forgotten to mention how freaking amazing your arms will look in tanks!

How: Beginners will start from their knees. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders, engaging your core. Slowly lower your chest down until you make contact with the floor. Breath out as you push back up to the plank position, keeping your hips in line with your shoulders. Make sure your chin doesn’t drop towards your chest, so I suggest looking out at your fingertips. Perform 3×10-12 reps. More advanced triathletes may begin from their feet or even elevate their feet on a bench and perform 4×12-15 reps.

Lay on your back and push glutes into the air

Bridge

Bridge Walk-Outs

Why? Besides the fact that bridges will tighten and lift your booty, they’re one of the best exercises that strengthen your hamstrings, and core. Strong glutes, hamstrings, and core will transition greatly among the swim, bike, run elements of your triathlon. Did I mention they will tighten and lift your booty??

How: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Push down through your heels, squeeze your butt, and lift your hips directly up as high as you can. You are now in the bridge position and can feel free to hang out there as long as you want. To perform the walkout, keep your tummy tight and step your right foot forward. Remember to breathe during this exercise! Stay tight, not allowing your hips to drop or move side-to-side, step your left foot out. Bring both of your feet back to the starting position. That’s one rep. Beginners complete 3×10-12 reps, making sure to stay stable, keeping your hips up as high as you can. More advanced triathletes can perform 4×12-15 reps, and place your feet on an elevated surface.

Walk your hands in from a push up position and walk them back out

Walk Outs

Walk-Out To Plank

Why? This is easily one of the most underrated exercises out there. I get it, planks have been around for FOREVER. But walking your hands out to your plank and then returning not only gets your heart rate pumping but improves upper body & core stabilizing strength and helps increase hamstring and glute flexibility. This exercise is going to be a great indicator as to how tight those hamstrings really are. If you cannot perform this without your knees bending, that’s a red flag those hammys need a good stretch!

How: Begin standing, in an upright position. Keep your knees locked out and forward fold down towards the floor, reaching your hands to the ground. Once you make contact with the ground, keeping your core and hips tight, walk your hands out until they are directly under your shoulders in the standard plank position. Hold the plank for ten seconds. As you walk your hands back towards your feet, keep those knees locked and hike your hips upward without letting them rock from side to side. When your hands are as close to your feet as you can get them, squeeze your butt and stand back upright, that’s one rep. Beginners perform 3×10-12 reps, advanced triathletes perform 4×12-15 reps.

Stand against a wall and raise arms up and down

Wall Angel

Wall Angel

Why? I have a feeling you’re scratching your head at this one. It looks relatively easy, but this exercise will have those shoulders screaming with only a couple of reps. This is an exercise I use with every athlete I train. This is the best exercise to improve shoulder range of motion, strength, rotator cuff stability, and will also give you proper posture. This is one of the best exercises in reducing your risk of developing shoulder injuries.

How? Stand with your back up against a wall, feet about six inches out. Keep your head, shoulders, and butt against the wall at ALL times. Now, slowly start the motion of making a snow angel (ah childhood memories), keeping your hands and elbows against the wall at all times. Reading this, you’re probably thinking this is super easy. Trust me, it’s not. Depending on your shoulder mobility, you may find it difficult keeping your head, shoulders, butt, hands, and elbows pressed up against the wall throughout the entire exercise. Slowly return your hands back down to your sides. That’s one rep. Beginners complete 3×10-12 reps while advanced triathletes perform 4×12-15 reps.

Rachel Farr – AT, ATC, CSCS, NSCA – CPT,  MS in Exercise Science; BS in Athletic Training (Northern Michigan University)

The FIT Institute is a physical therapy and sports performance facility in North Center. We increase the of an athlete’s career by teaching proper movement patterns that often lead to overuse injuries, we do this by bridging the gap between physical therapy and sports performance.