Core work is often a neglected part of a triathlete’s training. I can personally say that I too am guilty of rarely doing any strength work, especially core exercises.
As triathletes we are constantly pressured to put in a tremendous amount of time and energy into 3 different sports with little time for anything else. So who has time for core training?
Trust me, I completely understand. However, as most of you have had an injury at some point in your triathlon careers I am sure you wish that you will never have to go through that again.
Well I am here to tell you that with core training you can help improve the odds that your triathlon career will be long and healthy.
Core Training for Triathletes
Let me start by clarifying that core training is not solely about getting a six pack. Yes, the abdominal muscles are part of your core but not the entire thing.
Your core is the group of muscles that back up the trunk of your body. That includes everything from your abdominal muscles to the deeper muscles of your lower back and spine. Strengthening these muscles will help:
- Prevent injuries
- Improve biomechanics and form
- Improve performance
The key to any core training for triathletes is what most in the fitness world describe as functional strength. This isn’t your normal crunches that you had to do in 8th grade gym class.
Functional strength is centered around the philosophy that your triathlon core training should be focused on exercises that help mimic real world uses instead of laying on your back and crunching 3 inches off the ground over and over.
This type of core training for triathletes helps by improving muscle imbalances so when you are training hard or racing even harder your body won’t give in to bad form and bad habits.
Isn’t cardio enough?
Most triathletes have the belief that in order to get better at their endurance sport they have to simply put in more time and more miles.
Strength training used to be considered taboo but as more scientific literature has come out showing the benefits of strength training on endurance performance we are seeing things change.
While most coaches and elite triathletes are finally realizing that strength and core training are key elements to performance, the average age-grouper is still holding out. This needs to change.
As Scientific Triathlon states, ” A properly designed strength training program is among the lowest hanging fruits for improved endurance performance.”
How much does core training impact triathlon performance?
There are a few studies that show a large range but on average core training will impact performance in a:
- 5% improvement in running
- 7% improvement in cycling
- About 10% improvement in exercise economy
Exercise economy is the “catch all” metric in long endurance events such as an Ironman race.
5 Core Training Exercises for Triathletes
The best part about core training is that it doesn’t take very much time at all. As triathletes we are all so used to spending a tremendous amount of time training so how much harder to add in 15 minutes?
All it takes is 15 minutes, 3 times a week, and you will see incredible benefits.
Here are the 5 best core exercises for triathletes:
We have all seen the plank exercise before. It isn’t fancy and doesn’t have a cool name but it is extremely effective. Simply lay down on the floor stomach first and push you body up while resting on your toes and elbows.
Keep your body as straight as possible and just hold it.
This exercise helps work the “six pack” ab muscles that are dead center in your stomach. However, it also does a great job at working out the inner abdominal muscles that are extremely important for overall balance and posture.
2. Side Plank
Getting crazy up in here! Same idea as the regular plank but instead of facing down you are going to go to one side and rest on the outside of your foot and one elbow.
This core exercise does a superb job at working out your obliques and other “off-center” abdominal muscles but one of its greatest benefits is to your quadratus lumborum. This muscle is essentially your lower back muscle that connects to your glutes.
Having a weak quadratus lumborum is only setting you up for back pain, IT band problems, or any other common triathlon injuries.
3. Glute Bridge
Ah the glute bridge. That move that you see mostly women doing in the gym right? No, wrong!
For all you stubborn triathletes out there that are too proud to do this move you are setting yourself up for failure.
The 3 glute muscles are important for a TON of things. Hip mobility, proper run mechanics and form, and back alignment are but a few of the things that properly trained glutes are responsible for.
Most of us triathletes spend way too much time sitting at a computer or a desk. Well, here is a fun fact for you: our bodies weren’t meant to do this.
When sitting at a desk all day our hips become tightened which essentially “turns off” our glutes. If you don’t want to get injured in triathlon training you need to turn them back on. Glute bridges are easily one of the best ways to do that.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. With your arms by your side lift up your hips until your body forms a straight line. Hold it.
Yes, even I will say that this one looks particularly absurd. It doesn’t even look like you are working anything. But looks can be deceiving.
We triathletes rely a great deal on our hip abductor muscles in both training and racing. These tiny little muscles are on the sides of our hips and help keep our hips and pelvis aligned. If your hips aren’t aligned you are just asking for an injury.
Have you ever tried to drive a car in a straight line when both of the tires on one side are deflated? That’s what you are asking your body to do when your hips aren’t aligned. Fix it with the clamshell exercise.
Lie on your left side on the floor, with your hips and knees bent 45 degrees. Your right leg should be on top of your left leg and your heels together. Raise your right knee as high as you can without moving your pelvis. Pause, then return to the starting position. Don’t allow your left leg to move off the floor. Repeat.
5. Reverse Crunch
Many triathletes are great at pushing with our legs. Pushing off the ground when we run or pushing down on the pedal when we ride. However, that only makes up half of the movement for each of those sports.
The pulling motion of our legs is something that we often neglect yet is one of the lowest hanging fruits for efficiency.
This core exercise works the lower abdominal muscle groups that help us lift our legs.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your knees up to your chest and lift your hips off the ground. Slowly return back to the starting position and repeat.
Beginner Core Workout for Triathletes
*Take 1 minute rest in between each set.
3×30 seconds plank
2×20 seconds side plank (make sure you do 2 sets on each side!)
3×30 seconds glute bridge
2×10 reps clamshell (make sure you do 2 sets on each side!)
2×10 reps reverse crunch
Intermediate Core Workout for Triathletes
*Take 30 seconds rest in between each set
3×1 minute plank
3×45 seconds side plank (make sure you do 3 sets on each side!)
3×45 seconds glute bridge
2×15 reps clamshell (make sure you do 2 sets on each side!)
3×15 reps reverse crunch
Advanced Core Workout for Triathletes
*Take 30 seconds rest in between each set
3×90 seconds plank
3×1 minute side plank (make sure you do 3 sets on each side!)
4×1 minute glute bridge
3×20 reps clamshell (make sure you do 3 sets on each side!)
3×20 reps reverse crunch