Lynne Cantwell of Six Physio explains which muscle-building exercises will boost your race times and keep you injury free.

Why strength training?

Triathletes often have an endurance mentality, focusing on mileage and numbers of hours spent training, and as a result they prefer to stay away from the gym to prevent building muscle mass.

Although cardio training and working through the mileage is important, it is crucial to mix strength work into your training programme to reduce the risk of injury, and improve speed, endurance and efficiency.

We must accept that by training and challenging our bodies physically, we are naturally more at risk of certain injuries than if we were sedentary. The rewards far outweigh the risk of course. By training we must improve our body’s capacity to perform the activity effectively and efficiently.

Strength training is an important core component of triathlon training as it allows your body to tolerate training loads and build strength to improve your performance capacity.

Like all athletes, triathletes are susceptible to muscular imbalances. Managing and balancing the training of the three disciplines of swim, cycle and run is a huge challenge, because often the dominant muscles required in one discipline can be in contrast to those required in another.

For example, hip muscle imbalances commonly occur when hip flexors become tight during the cycle component of training which can then cause problems during the run leg and also training sessions. Addressing and correcting these imbalances not only helps you race faster but will also build your resilience to injury.

By focusing on higher performance percentages, developing a strength component to your training will allow you to move towards building speed across your targeted discipline. The simple equation is power equals force multiplied by velocity.

In other words by building strength, you increase your capacity to move faster once training progressively and appropriately, which will naturally improve your performance potential on race day.

Don’t overtrain

As triathletes often have so much content in their training regime, don’t feel you need to do too much strength work. Most importantly ensure you recover properly between the individual exercises as well as the whole session.

Be warned that overtraining will eventually cause underlying fatigue, which leads to underperforming. The best recovery strategies are to sleep eight hours a night if possible, eat 30 minutes after each training session and then regularly throughout the day (consult a nutritionist if you need advice) and stay well hydrated.

Back Squat 

Inka and Exercises Photograph: Rosie Hallam

Photograph: Rosie Hallam

Perfect for running, the back squat will load your hamstrings and glutes.

  • Put a bar (can be weighted) behind your shoulders and place your feet square to each other.
  • Hold the pole but don’t apply any pressure onto the top of your shoulder.
  • Bend your knees into the squat.
  • Return to standing.
  • Repeat eight times and then rest. Aim for four sets.

Front Squat 

Inka and Exercises Photograph: Rosie Hallam

Photograph: Rosie Hallam

Ideal for cycling, the front squat will help load quadriceps.

  • Put a bar (can be weighted) in front of your chin and place your feet square to each other.
  • Hold the pole but don’t apply any pressure onto the top of your shoulder.
  • Bend your knees into the squat.
  • Return to standing.
  • Repeat eight times and then rest. Aim for four sets.

Ask the expert:

Physiotherapist and running guru Sarah Green from Six Physio answers your question

Q: I have a radiating nerve pain up the front of my shin similar to the onset of shin splints, although it doesn’t feel the same. The pain gets acute when running hard so I tend to jog easy.

Tim Hardy via Facebook

A: Shin splints is a general term used to describe pain over the medial shin. Most commonly it refers to medial tibial stress syndrome, which is inflammation caused by overload. In runners, this tends to occur due to sudden increase in mileage, a change of footwear or poor biomechanics. Pain tends to be immediate and is often sharp and specific to one area. There are other causes such as a stress fracture or compartment syndrome.

An exercise routine to strengthen your feet muscles and calf could help. Look at your biomechanics, too. As a runner, you need to have good single-leg control, good core and glute strength to ensure you do not overload the ankle, foot and shin.

Do not keep running if it hurts, you could make it worse.

Seek advice before upping your speed and mileage.