Strength training is one of the most overlooked aspects in triathlete’s training program. Usually, the athlete will find other “more important” things to do when it is time to work on the aspects of their training that are not actually running. Strength training does not need to take too much time. There are ways to gain total body strength in 2 or 3 30 minute sessions a week. The athlete does not even need access to free weights or machines to effectively begin a strength program. For the purposes of this essay we will focus on some basic exercises that can be done virtually anywhere with no special equipment.
The only equipment that you need can be found on any school playground. In general, the body can be broken up into 3 basic focus groups: Upper Body, Lower Body, & the Abs. The Upper Body includes the neck, chest, arms, & back. The Lower Body includes the feet, legs, & buttocks. The Abdominal Muscles include all the stomach muscles. There is some cross over in these regions but these arbitrary divisions will allow us to separate the exercises into easy to remember categories.
Pull-ups: The pull-up is the single most effective upper-body exercise. It works the chest, the arms, the neck, the back, & the abs. All it requires for equipment is a bar or anything the hands can comfortably wrap around. There are multiple ways to position your hands to highlight different aspects of the upper-body, but for our purposes we will recommend the standard hand placement, which has the knuckles facing away from the face. Some people may find pull-ups very difficult or even impossible, if this is the case find a partner to hold your legs & lift some of your weight while you pull up. As you progress, your partner should slowly allow you to handle more & more of your weight until you are able to do the exercise yourself.
Push-ups: The push-up also works most of the upper-body muscles. The proper form consists of keeping the back as straight as possible, the feet together & hands on the floor about shoulder width apart. Different parts of the chest can be worked by varying the placement of the hands. This exercise can be adapted for those who find this too difficult by placing the knees on the floor rather than the feet.
Dips: The dip focuses on the chest but also strengthens the arms, back & neck. It requires a flat bench or two parallel bars at about hip height that the hands can comfortably wrap around. Sitting on a bench, the hands should be placed beside the hips, about shoulder-width apart, the legs should be extended straight ahead. Move out of the sitting position by stepping the legs forward, sliding the butt off the bench & hold your body weight up with the arms. Then lower your body as slowly as possible, as low as possible & then push yourself back to your original position. With the parallel bar version the amount of your weight dipped can be adjusted by placing your feet on the ground.
Lunges: The lunge is the single most effective lower-body exercise. It works the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the hip flexors, the gluteus & the calves. The proper form consists of placing the hands on the hips & stepping forward with one leg in an exaggerated manner, lowering the knee of the opposite leg to the ground & then pushing forward with the first leg back to a standing position. You should alternate legs, moving forward in a straight line.
Skip for Height: This exercises develops explosive power throughout the legs. The goal is to skip as high as possible while still maintaining balance. The proper form is the same as a standard skip but it is exaggerated by bounding into the air, raising one knee to a 90-degree angle & keeping the arms in a running motion. It is important to be gradual with the number attempted initially, as the body needs to adapt to the stress slowly.
Calf Raises: The calves generate the initial power for the running & are susceptible to cramping & tightening, so it is very important to maintain strength in these muscles. All you will need for this exercise is a wall or step over which the heel is lowered. Once the heel has dropped to its lowest level the athlete pushes up to a tippy-toe position. It is best to do this exercise one leg at a time in order to maximize the amount of weight the calf raises.
Crunches: Crunches are a variation on the standard sit-up. It allows the athlete to focus on the abs with a minimum of unnecessary movement. The athlete lies on his or her back, keeps the feet on the floor & bending the knees so they point skyward. With hands behind the head or crossed over the chest, you lift your shoulders off the ground & hold the position for 3 or more seconds before the shoulders are lowered back to the floor.
Leg lifts: While hanging from a bar, lift the knees to chest & hold for 3 or more seconds. Try to limit the amount of swinging or jerking & keep the movement smooth. This exercise will work the lower abs, which are frequently neglected in abdominal strengthening programs. Pelvic Lifts: This is another exercise that works the lower abs effectively. Lie on the back with knees in the air & bent, so the legs are perpendicular to the ground. The arms should be straight, beside the trunk, with palms down. Lift the trunk & knees into the air, hold for 3-5 counts, then slowly lower the trunk back to the ground. Begin with repetitions of 5 & build to 10 over a period of weeks.