Building strength the key to reaching peak performance as a triathlete

Training for this month's Hong Kong ITU triathlon? Building strengthis the key to a peak performance, a professional tells Rachel Jacqueline

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 4:38pm

Hard work and talent are essential to becoming a professional triathlete, but so is a regular strength regime, according to coaching educator Ryan Mannix. Building a stronger body will make you faster, more efficient and more resilient to injury.

Recently in Hong Kong, Mannix, 31, works with Triathlon Australia, which produces some of the world's best swim-bike-run athletes. During his visit he shared some of the exercises in his professional arsenal.

There are many exercises that build strength, but Mannix says any programme for a triathlete should focus on the gluteus and core muscles.

"They are the two major stabilising muscles for the body," he says. "Making them stronger will provide better energy efficiency in the body, as well as protecting you from injury."

The gluteus muscles - your buttocks - stabilise the hips and are a source of power in all parts of the triathlon: kicking in swimming, striding forward when running and transferring power on the bike.

In fact, they are three muscles, not one. If not strengthened and engaged during activity, the middle layer, the gluteus medius, lies dormant, leaving most of the work to be performed by the outer layer, the gluteus maximus. This reduces the overall potential of the muscle group and the amount of force it can produce.

"The gluteus medius is especially weak in a triathlete because we spend a long time in training just sitting on the bike and don't always use it."

The core muscles, which include those in the lower back, are major stabilisers in the body. Working together, they control the torque forces in the swim and on the run and help support the spine and pelvis on the bike.

"It's also a vital muscle for triathlon in particular as a powerful core helps to transfer energy to the outer limbs for greater propulsion."

Also, with a strong core, you're able to hold your posture for longer. "As soon as you break your form, then you start to waste your energy." Poor form may also lead to injuries and imbalances in the body.

Try these exercises at home: Donkey kick Start on all fours with your hips as level as possible. Suck in your belly. Lift your left heel to the ceiling, while squeezing your gluteus muscles. Alternate legs. Watch for swinging hips and a loose belly. "This exercise is a particularly good one for engaging your gluteus medius," says Mannix.

Do 10 kicks on each leg. Rest and repeat three times.

Crab walk with resistance band Step onto a resistance band with your feet hip-distance apart. Widen your stance while stretching the band so your feet are just more than shoulder-width apart. Take 10 short steps to your left, keeping your legs shoulder-width apart, working against the resistance of the band. Walk back 10 steps. Repeat three times.

"This exercise is a lot tougher than it looks and you will really feel it in the entire gluteus muscle complex the next day," says Mannix.

Prone bridge Lie on your back with your hands by your side. Lift your hips while squeezing your gluteus muscles, creating a 90 degree angle from your shoulders to your knees. For an added challenge, lift your legs alternately to help build strength in each leg. "You should feel your hamstrings in this pose as well," adds Mannix.

Hold the bridge for one minute: 15 seconds both legs, 15 seconds for each single leg, and 15 seconds both legs again. Rest and repeat three times.

Dynamic lunge Use a medicine ball, weight or a water bottle. Hold your arms out in front and step forward with your left leg, bringing your right knee as close to the floor as possible. At the same time, bring the weight across the body on the same side as the front leg. Pause, then bring your right foot to meet your left. Repeat with other leg. "This is a dynamic lunge, working through the full range of movement and engaging the core at the same time," says Mannix.

Do 10 repetitions each side. Repeat three times.

Superman Lie on your stomach with hands directly in front of you and feet together. Alternate lifting your left arm and right leg, hold, then repeat with the right arm and left leg.

"This pose works the muscles in the lower back, which are a vital and often neglected part of the core group of muscles and are essential for any triathlete," says Mannix.

Do 10 repetitions each side. Repeat three times.

Plank Lying face down, push yourself up onto your toes and elbows in a plank position, arms shoulder-width apart and hands facing forward. Squeeze your glutes and suck in your belly. Hold for 15 seconds. Turn onto your side for a side plank and hold for 15 seconds. For an added challenge, lift your top leg. Transition back into the regular plank and hold for 15 seconds, then shift to the other side for another 15 seconds. Finish off with a final regular plank for 15 seconds, for a total of one minute 15 seconds. Rest and repeat three times.

"By moving through the different variations of plank, we engage a fuller range of muscles in the core," says Mannix.