By athlete ambassador, Lesley Maisey
Triathlon…it is just swimming, biking and running, right? Not necessarily! What about core strength, functional motion, spinal mobility, or rotary stability. As a triathlete, I know that the training week involves more than just focusing on the three disciplines that make up the event on race day. To be truly ready to start and successfully finish an ironman distance race also involves training and learning to initiate movement in an efficient manner.
Core strength is not about abdominal strength. Our core muscles are found in the torso. Core strength is important because all of our movements are powered by our torsos; the abdominals and back muscles work together to support the spine when we sit, stand, and bend over. A triathlete with poor core strength will have a challenging time sustaining the spinal flexion and pelvic stability required in the aero position on the bike.
Thoracic spine mobility and rotary stability are essential for energy transfer from one segment of the body to another through the torso. Imagine swimming flat with no rotation. This is obviously not the most efficient way to move forward through the water. Spinal and shoulder mobility are both important in swimming. The majority of triathletes I know did not start as swimmers so we spend hours in the pool trying to turn back the clock and perfect our freestyle so we are as efficient as those who learned to swim fast when they were six. What many athletes forget is that the time on land training for the swim is just as important as all the hours in the pool.
Functional motion in running is about efficiency in acceleration, deceleration, and directional changes all with dynamic stability. Running is a single leg activity so it is important to train the body for ankle, knee, and hip mobility for both legs independently and train stability through motion to efficiently complete the reciprocal pattern required in running.
My training week involves a lot of time swimming, biking and running but it also includes stability/mobility exercises. These are not complicated, nor do they require much more than your own body weight and a band or two. Plank, side plank, bridge, and in-line lunges are examples of exercises that will help improve functional motion. Supine resisted arm and leg extensions and tubing resisted diagonals are great cross body exercises that help strengthen the core and increase rotary stability. Long distance triathletes are already spending 15-20 hours a week training; incorporating two 30-minute stability/mobility sessions a week helps to balance out the impact of all that physical stress and trains the neuromuscular pathways needed for efficiency in motion.
Some say the fourth discipline in triathlon is nutrition. While I agree this is crucial to get right in training to be ready on race day, the often neglected fifth discipline of stability/mobility is just as important. You might fuel correctly but how well will that serve you if you are wasting a ton of energy on how you move?