Triathlon’s ‘fourth’ discipline…

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Triathlons are tough on the body, which is why recovery, stretching, strengthening and conditioning are so important.
If triathlon is your next challenge, read on to avoid some more common injuries that will stop you in your tracks!

If you’re a triathlete, you’ll know all too well it’s one of the toughest sports that really pushes you to your limits.
The combination of three different sports – swimming, cycling and running – means the volume of training can be quite high.
This can make it difficult for those working full-time to fit stretching, and strength and conditioning into their training schedule.
But it is really important not to skimp on these elements of your training in order to prevent injury and improve performance.

Ideally, triathletes should be including 2-3 strength and conditioning/core stability workouts per week. You should also aim to add a stretching routine to the end of each training session.

Triathlon injuries tend to be caused by overuse, due to athletes upping their training volume beyond their physical capability. In the clinic, we tend to see more lower limb than upper limb injuries, most caused by running.

Some common injuries suffered by triathletes include:

Bone stress injuries
These commonly occur in the shin, foot, hip and lumbar spine.
Signs & symptoms includes localised bone pain, normally on running or impact, that comes on earlier in the session. It can often be felt on lower impact activities such as walking, climbing stairs, getting out of a saddle. Sufferers might also complain of aching post activity or at night.

What causes them?
Previous history of bone stress is a common cause as is a sudden increase in training volume. Changing training surface can also put stress on the bones

Female athletes and bone stress
Women are more susceptible to this type of injury as they naturally have lower bone mineral density. Hormonal factors such as menstrual irregularities and alteration in oestrogen also have an impact on bone health. It’s particularly important for women to pay attention to any dietary deficiencies which can affect the bones. Women who train more than 5 hours a day are more likely to experience this kind of injury.

Tendinopathies
These types of injuries are a type of disorder of the tendon that results in pain, swelling  and impaired function. Due to an inability to tolerate load, they’re often found around the achilles, hamstring and peroneal.

Signs and symptoms include pain on loading and an unpredictable response to load as well as morning stiffness.

What causes them?
Any spikes in loading history such as training after a break can put triathletes at risk of a tendinopathy. Sudden change in volume and speed of training is also a factor, as is poor biomechanics and insufficiently supportive footwear. Poor muscle capacity and strength is also a cause. You’re also more likely to suffer from tendinopathy if you’ve experienced it in the past.

Tendinopathies can be avoided by being careful not to overload the body when training. Be sure to only increase training gradually and take a graded return to running after a break. Too much too soon will very likely cause you problems.

Strength & conditioning: The 4th discipline of triathlon!
Building strength and conditioning the body is vital to improve your triathlon performance and prevent injury. Some of the best exercises to incorporate into your regime include:

  • Stretching – essential for before and after training
  • Foam roller exercises
  • Core control – benefits include streamlining your swimming technique, improving stability on the bike and efficiency when running. Pilates is great for this!
  • Lower limb strengthening – focus on calf (soleus and gastrocnemius), glutes and hamstrings.
  • Drills – focus on arm placement in swimming and single leg work in cycling
  • Plyometric loading – having that explosive power in order to increase speed and strength

Four excellent exercises to include are:

  • Calf – straight leg heel raises
  • Calf – bent leg heel raises
  • Hamstring – bridges
  • Glute – clams

Key components of injury prevention:

Intrinsic – what you can do for yourself:
• Strength & conditioning exercises
• Work on a range of movement and flexibility
• Focus on technique
• Rest and recovery – just as important as training
• Good nutrition is vital

Extrinsic – outside factors:
• Get a training schedule from your coach
• Vary your terrain – avoid back to back hill sessions
• Equipment – make sure everything fits you and is in good working order – especially the bike!
• Bike set up – check it frequently to ensure comfort
• Footwear – shoes should be comfortable and not too old

Wherever you are in your triathlon journey, come and talk to use for expert advice on improving your training schedule and avoiding or dealing with injuries.

Some more blogs you may find interesting:
Gait analysis
5 ways to stop hamstring and gastric strains
5 top tips for injury-free running
Runner’s knee