Strength Training
When it comes to building muscle for triathlon, the tried-and-true methods still work best
By Pete Williams

Strength training has undergone a transformation in the past 15 years, shifting from the bodybuilding-inspired exercises of the 1970s to functional, core movements that mimic the motions of sport and everyday life.

That evolution has resonated with triathletes, who care less about building showy muscles than they do about cutting time in the swim, bike and run. And with time already scarce training across three disciplines, minutes spent in the gym or weight room must produce a similar return on investment.

Fortunately, some of the most effective core training exercises go back many years. They might not have been the most popular with Arnold Schwarzenegger and the boys at Muscle Beach, concerned more with building big muscle for aesthetics. But for triathletes training muscles of locomotion, they’re perfect.

These eight classic retro moves, some with modern tweaks, will complement your triathlon training. To save time and also get an aerobic benefit, do two sets in a circuit fashion with no rest between moves.


Why: This familiar compound yoga move improves flexibility to the lumbar and cervical spine while strengthening and stabilizing the shoulders. This counteracts the tendency we all have to be flexed forward and locked down at the hips from sitting at desks all day, to say nothing of riding in the aero position and swimming.

How: Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward. For cat, exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.

Prescription: 10 reps of each movement


Dowel Rod Pushups
Why: Place a broom handle or dowel rod along your spine and see how much more challenging the traditional pushup becomes. Not only does this force you to use proper form, with hips tall and back straight, it requires you to stay focused and engaged.

How: With the broom handle or dowel rod along your spine, begin with shoulder blades pushed away from the ground. Lower to an inch off the ground and push back up.

Prescription: 20 reps


90/90 Stretch
Why: Like Cat/Cow, this counteracts the flexed-forward effects of sitting, swimming and riding aero by stretching the muscles of your middle and upper back.

How: Lie on the ground on your left side with legs tucked into the torso at a 90-degree angle. Keep both arms straight, parallel to your knees. Keeping the knees together and on the ground, rotate your chest and right arm to the right, putting your back on the ground. Hold for two seconds and return to starting position.

Prescription: 10 reps on each side


Pullups or Chin-Ups
Why: This is a great back exercise that also works the biceps, forearms and chest. But if done properly by squeezing the shoulder blades back and down, it works the shoulders and trapezius muscles, which are important for many movements but especially swimming.

How: Grab the bar with an overhand grip (or underhand if you prefer chin-ups). Hanging from the bar, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up and build momentum. Finish by pulling up with your arms.

Prescription: 10 reps


Why: This promotes overall core stability in the hips, torso and shoulders, from which you produce power for swimming, biking and running.

How: Lie in a prone pushup position with forearms resting on the floor, elbows under shoulders and bent 90 degrees. Push up off the elbows, tucking your chin so your head is in line with your body. Keep head inline with spine and belly button drawn in.

Prescription: Hold for 60 seconds


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