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Activation drills for triathletes

Keep the injury bug at bay with these prehab exercises

Prehab is the term given to a group of exercises that are used to activate your muscles before a training session to avoid injuries. It doesn’t take long, maybe five to ten minutes before a workout, but for whatever reason, many will skip through these drills and go right into a swim, bike or run. It may not even be that we skip them, some triathletes may have no idea what exercises to do.

Related: The strength training you should be doing

Here are a few activation drills you can do before a swim set, spin or run.

Activate the lats with swim cords 

Swim cords create visual cues for athletes trying to improve the catch phase of their stroke. Using the ropes and a mirror helps an athlete understand their arm positioning and creates the connections in the brain to apply the drill in the water.

Related: Smart swimming mobility

Start by doing pulls using high elbows, engaged back muscles, relaxed shoulders and go until failure. You can do both arms at the same time or one at a time (suggested at the beginning).

Wall angels to improve mobility 

Stand with your back pressed to the wall. Bring your elbows up to shoulder height, pressing your arms and wrists to the wall in a surrender position. Slowly push your fingertips straight up the wall until you feel a stretch, then release. Keep your lower back, arms, shoulders and head pushed against the wall while you do this stretch. Do sets of 10 repetitions.

Planks to activate the core 

You don’t have to hold the position for minutes on end before a swim. However, a bit of core activation is good before jumping into the pool, onto the bike or heading out for a run. The core is the connection between arms and legs, and to transfer energy effectively, you need a strong link (the core) between both.

Ensure your upper back is flat and your shoulders rest above your elbows (time trial position). Use a mirror to hold a straight line from your shoulders to ankles. For activation purposes, hold the position for 10 seconds or until your body begins to shake.

Turn on the glutes

For swimming, biking and running, it’s important to activate the glutes. Swimming and running especially rely on glute engagement. Although cycling does not rely on the glutes as much, it’s important not to neglect the glutes when increasing your bike volume.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and ankles underneath your knees. Then extend your hips up. You can add difficulty by raising and lowering one leg at a time.

Pee like a dog… Fire hydrants

The fire hydrant is a great way to wake up your glute medius, a hip extensor and external rotator. Activating and strengthening your glute medius will reduce lower limb injuries and improve hip stability.

Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips (quadruped position). Then raise one leg out to the side. Lift it as high as you can while keeping your core parallel to the ground. Hold this position for a two count. Lower and repeat until fatigued.

One leg squats on Bosu ball

A great drill before running, especially on unpredictable terrain, are one-legged squats on a Bosu ball. This drill helps activate the muscles of the lower limb and improves balance.

Stand upright with feet on the ground or a Bosu ball. Transfer your weight to one foot and lift the opposite leg and do a one-legged squat. The bend in your knee can be as small as a few degrees to 90 degrees.

Extend the hips

A drill that is great for all three sports is hip extensions.

Begin by lying face down on the ground. Then briefly raise one of your legs a few centimetres above the ground. You can also do a superman by raising both your legs and arms at the same time. This will activate your glutes and shoulders.

Opening up the hips with clamshells

Triathlon is very unidirectional. In all three disciplines, triathletes travel in a straight line and repeat the same movement over and over again. So, while we develop those primary movers, we neglect the stabilizing muscles needed to support those movements.

A great drill to incorporate into your pre-workout routine is the clamshell. Begin by lying on your side, using your arm and forearm to prop yourself up. Your feet should be together, one on top of the other. With your knees slightly bent, your ankles should be aligned with your hips (underneath). Begin the movement by lifting your top knee open, keeping the feet together. Hold for a second and then come back down. You can add resistance by using a band.