Give it a Tri: injury prevention exercises for triathletes

March 18th, 2020
exercises for triathletes

The 37th Annual Chicago Triathlon featured roughly 10,000 athletes this past August of 2019 and one of TFI’s team members happened to be one of them. 

Caroline Kurdej competed in the Collegiate Division, running up against other current college and university students, but she didn’t leave anyone out of the scope of her competition. The International/Olympic distance race included a 0.93-mile swim, followed by a 24.8-mile bike, and concluded with a 6.2-mile run for a grand total of 31.93 miles.

When Caroline hopped on her bike to train for the first time, “I had the unfortunate realization that I ran the mile faster than I could bike it,” she said. “Since that first bike ride, I put in hours of training: pedaling away on my bike, swimming in Lake Michigan, and striding along Chicago’s Lakefront path.”

She came to accept that she would get destroyed in the bike component of the triathlon, judging by the father that passed her on the lakefront path a few weeks before her triathlon debut. “He was fully equipped with his 3-year-old son in back, and a Chihuahua in the basket up front,” Kurdej said. “But I’m hoping to make up ground in the swimming and running portions.”

As a former Division I collegiate runner, people frequently asked Caroline why she liked to run. On good days, she would simply respond that she loved the sport. It was the harder days, when her mind would give in to fatigue and when her legs couldn’t push any farther, that she truly began to question why she did it in the first place. 

“Sports are one of the greatest metaphors for life,” Kurdej said. “You train every day, yet you rarely manage to achieve a personal record or podium finish every competition. You go to work, or class, or other obligations on the daily, and you stumble and fall over hurdles. But in life, just as in a sport, you have the decision to either take the challenge in stride and learn from it, or give up. There’s something incredible about pushing our bodies one second faster, one step farther, and one weight more than we thought we could bear.

The morning of the triathlon, the waves leapt over the side of Chicago’s concrete edge, spilling out onto the lakefront path. The 0.93-mile swim was cancelled—a run would take its place. Caroline’s first triathlon experience turned into a duathlon—run, bike, run. Yet, by the time she crossed the finish line, she found herself physically depleted, sore and hurt.  

Ian Keith, TFI’s Strength & Conditioning Coach, compiled three exercises for triathlete injury prevention. Exercises that could have prevented Caroline’s muscle imbalance and weaknesses. Update: since her first triathlon, Caroline has been more committed to an all-encompassing strength program, including the exercises below, the prevent

Give these three preventative exercises a TRI!


T Fly

The T Fly is one of the best scapular retraction exercises for all athletes.  This works well for triathletes who may be weak in these areas due to high volumes of swimming and postural positioning during cycling.  Overly protracted shoulders or “forward shoulders” in swimming and biking can contribute to upper-cross syndrome. In most cases, the anterior musculature/internal rotators of the shoulder are overactive, whereas the external rotators of the shoulder are underactive. The T fly can be performed with either suspension straps (TRX), bands or cables.

Lateral Lunge

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Due to lack of lateral movement in the sport itself, lateral lunges are a great exercise to counteract the time spent in the sagittal plane.  With the lateral lunge you can also use several forms of loading to target more quadriceps, glute, hamstring or central/cross-stability.  The lateral lunge also allows us to increase the range of motion in our leg adductors, which tend to be a limited area for runners.

Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) Squat

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/P5uqMkH6F70G-e9QL3jNDqy-L8p2I9o87DIpMKEwxA1RCdoqC7-_1FQgTGkSS5E4pEfWcfpuKrpjIff6OzqvWeyL1xjHCOajKWp_Am-VhITJnVAyRQInRs6RclVVXaYT-6yar-aX

It is not uncommon to have muscle imbalances amongst limbs, whether it be strength or flexibility.  The Rear Foot Elevated Squat is a unilateral exercise that allows for more range of motion through the hip, knee and ankle joint that may not be attainable during a bilateral exercise (squat).  Due to the high volume of running and cycling, tight hip flexors are a common issue for triathletes.  Add in a desk job or large amounts of sitting throughout the day inevitably worsens the problem.  

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