How to Do It Without Wasting Time
By Rebecca Bennion, Ryan Stromberg, and Phil Pattison
TOSH – The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital
Anyone who’s spent much time swimming, biking, or running can attest to the repetitive nature of these sports. Lap after lap and mile after mile, our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints go through the same range of motion. Safely building quantity through training allows our bodies to adapt to the prolonged repetition over the hours, days, and weeks spent in the pool, on the bike, and in running shoes.
But even the most diligent athletes may find themselves recuperating from overuse injuries, despite their best efforts to gradually increase their time spent in multisport events such as swimming, cycling, and running.
However, you can decrease the likelihood of common overuse injuries in these sports, by paying attention to proper mechanics, getting a correct bike fitting, using adequate training gear, stretching, and strength training.
Today, we’ll focus on the healthy habit of strength training.
Benefits of Strength Training
Before anyone can throw out excuses as to why they can’t add strength work into their training schedule, we remind you of just a few of its benefits:
- Don’t underestimate the role strong muscles play in performance. Stronger muscles produce more force, which makes us more efficient and faster.
- Improving our training and race-day performance is the result of a more symmetrical body. Such balance involves the upper and lower portions of the body, the right and left sides, and the agonist and antagonist muscles. We reach our full force production potential when balance is achieved throughout muscle groups in each joint of the body.
- Strength training increases time to exhaustion and leads to a higher lactate threshold point. Put simply, an athlete can swim, bike, or run further at a given intensity level than they could before.
- Athletes who lift have enhanced protection from injury.
How to Strength Train Without Wasting Time
Let’s face it—time is a concern.
Swimming, biking, and running each require a significant time commitment. And if you’re training for a triathlon, how can you possibly train for each discipline and now add resistance training without sacrificing too much time away from other life priorities?
Here are tips and exercises that will give you the best return for your efforts:
- Perform exercises that work more than one joint at a time. Consider the difference between performing a leg extension versus a squat. A leg extension only works one joint, while a squat targets multiple joints in one exercise. Whether we’re swimming, cycling, or running, our bodies use multiple joints at a time. Strength train the same way.
- Imitate movements and positioning to replicate your sport mechanics. Using the squat as an example again, there are a variety of ways to perform that exercise. Stance width can vary from narrow to wide and any position between. Consider your foot stance when you ride your bike. When doing squats, align yourself in that same width.
- Keep the number of exercises you do to a minimum. We’re trying to do what’s best for our bodies in the least possible amount of time. Rather than continually adding exercises to your routine, alternate which exercises you do and focus on sets and reps. Changing it up will force your body to continually adapt and therefore become stronger.
- Do upper and lower body exercises no matter what discipline you focus on the most. When we’re cycling and running, we use our lower body a lot, so it makes sense that we’d want to focus on building strength in our hips and legs. As a swimmer, it’s obvious that upper body strength is vital. But don’t forget that upper body strength is necessary for cyclist and runners, and that lower body strength is necessary for swimmers too. Whole body balance is vital to proper mechanics, stability, and power in each of these sports.
- Include core exercises (abdominals and back) in your routine. What connects the upper body and lower body? What ensures that movements between the upper and lower body counterbalance one another? It’s your core. Performance suffers as force is lost because of a weak core. Exercises that improve core strength can be done daily if time permits.
Six Exercises to Try
To condition your body for multisport fitness, try the six exercises below. Find more illustrated exercises in the extended article at sportsguidemag.com.
Mini Band March
Do three sets of 10–15.
Marches are a great exercise for your hip flexors, ankle dorsiflexors, and core. To perform the mini band march, place a resistance band around your feet with the feet shoulder-width apart and march in place by alternating your legs. Bring your knee to hip height while keeping a slight bend in the stance leg.
As tension on the band increases, it will pull the marching leg toward midline so be sure to resist this as you drive your leg up by keeping your knees directly in front of your hips. The closer to your toes the band is, the more it will work your ankle dorsiflexors, but be cautious, since it makes it more challenging to keep the band from slipping off of your foot. Hip flexor and ankle dorsiflexor strength are important for all aspects of triathlon.
Do three set of 8-12.
This exercise works your core, hip flexors, scapular stabilizers, chest, and triceps. Begin in the push-up position holding dumbbells, with the handles roughly parallel to the centerline of your body and about shoulder-width apart.
While maintaining the push-up position, row your arm back. Emphasize pulling your scapula toward your spine and minimize trunk rotation as much as possible. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the floor and be sure you’re stable before repeating on the other side.
Side Plank with Trunk Rotation and Push-up
Start in a side-plank position and add trunk rotations by bringing your arm from the top side under your body back to the starting position. For chest and arm work, particularly the triceps, a military push-up can be performed between each rotation.
Swimmers, cyclists, and runners all benefit from this exercise. Trunk stability and rotation are important in swimming for clearance and maintaining proper mechanics to decrease stress to the shoulder, cyclists benefit from a strong upper body, and runners need stability through the core to maintain ideal mechanics.
Standing External Rotation and Internal Rotation with Resistance Band
Do three sets of 15-20 for each exercise.
For internal rotation exercises, start with your elbows bent to 90 degrees and your arms at shoulder height while facing away from the wall. Pull your hands down so they’re facing forward using the resistance band. For external rotation exercises, face the wall and rotate your hands toward the ceiling while holding the resistance band.
Internal rotation strength is important for swimmers during the catch-and-pull phases of the stroke. It’s also important to work on strengthening your external rotators for stability throughout the stroke and avoiding poor posture and impingement in the front of the shoulder.
T’s and Y’s Lying on a Physioball
Do three sets of 10.
Begin by lying on the physioball on your stomach.
Raise your arms from the side of the ball until they’re parallel to the ground in the T position, being sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together during the movement. Next, raise your arms from the side of the ball at a 45-degree angle toward your head in the Y position.
Scapular stability is important for positioning of the arm as you propel yourself through the water. Proper positioning will help improve the efficiency of the muscles and avoid excess stress to the anterior shoulder.
Do three sets of 10 on each side.
This exercise works your hips and core. Begin in quadruped position (on your hands and knees) with your knees under your hips, your hands under your shoulders, and your back flat. Extend one hip as if performing a donkey kick, keeping your knee bent at 90 degrees.
Keep your back flat throughout the movement; don’t fall into bad form by extending your back. Once your hip is extended, externally rotate your hip like a dog at a fire hydrant while keeping your pelvis as parallel to the ground as you can. Slowly lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side.
Increase intensity by placing a mini band (resistance loop) around your legs just above the knees. This exercise will emphasize your hip extensors and rotators. Your hips, especially the rotators, steer your knees. Strong hip musculature will keep the knees in proper alignment, which improves efficiency and mechanics while reducing your risk of injury.
Phil Pattison is a licensed PTA in the physical therapy department at TOSH. Phil graduated from the Salt Lake Community College physical therapy assistant program and has worked in TOSH’s outpatient orthopedic physical therapy as a licensed PTA for 18 years.
Ryan Stromberg is sports-certified physical therapist at TOSH. After graduation from physical therapy school, Ryan completed a sports residency at the University of Wisconsin. Ryan grew up in the pool and recently started a swim clinic at TOSH, using underwater video to help patients improve their movement pattern to reduce risk of injury.