Contributed by: Dikla Barer, Dunbar Physio Physiotherapist in Vancouver

1. Let your body adapt

As simple as it sounds, injury tends to occur when the load on your body surpasses your body’s ability to accept/ adapt to that load.  When training, start with low durations and lots of breaks, and gradually increase. Listen to your body and back down as you need to. You don’t necessarily need to skip a training session when you are feeling less than your best, but you may have to simplify your session.

Low duration and simplification apply not only when you’re starting to train, but when you have taken a break from training due to vacation, illness, injury etc. You may remember where you were prior to the “break” and you may want to get back there ASAP. While you will likely be able to “push through,” your body may not be able to catch up fast enough. This is a recipe for injury.  This is also applicable when changing terrains (gravel vs. road, pool vs. lake, hills vs flat), weather (cold, humid, hot, rain, and even snow), gear (new shoes, bike, wet suit), and altitude (Mexico City vs. Vancouver). (5, 6, 7,8)

2. Stretch!!!

So where to begin? Let’s start with the truth…

Static stretches should be regarded at as an exercise regime within themselves. Each stretch should be held for at least 30 seconds.  It is more beneficial to stretch after an activity or separated from the activity.

Dynamic stretches are comprised of two types – Active and Ballistic. Active involves moving through the joint`s range of motion repeatedly 20-30 times, while ballistic is moving at the end of the joint`s range at a rapid rate. The latter can lead to injury and is therefore not recommended. Stick to active stretching. (9.10)

Given the amount of time that already goes into training for a triathlon this may sound impossible, which is probably why many of us don’t do enough stretching. However, to prevent injuries we must take into account that our bodies need to be able to move through the range that we demand of them. If a joint is unable to move through that range, somewhere up the chain we will compensate and will ultimately get injured. (7,8,9)

Stretching is even more crucial for a sport with three different disciplines that all require different muscle groups and biomechanics to perform. Where a shortened muscle may benefit one discipline for instance, it may be detrimental in another. For example: when biking, our hip flexors are held in a shortened position, while during running and swimming those flexors must be able to extend. If we don’t have enough hip extension in running, especially through the push-off phase, either our SI joint or our low back will compensate.  The situation is comparable for swimmers. Clinically it’s not uncommon to see swimmers with low back issues as extreme as spodylolisthesis and spondylolysis. Furthermore, during the T2 phase (when transitioning from biking to swimming), we need to get into an upright potion quickly after being flexed forward for a long period of time. (6)

3. A good warm up and cool down is the key

A good warm up prepares your body for the demands you’re about to put on it.  It will allow your body to increase blood flow and gradually increase heart rate, therefore allowing your cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal system to prepare for an increase in load. Furthermore it increases your ROM and decreases connective tissue stiffness. (7,8)

While static stretches help increase the mobility of the muscle there is some evidence to suggest that it hinders performance when done prior to an activity. (9)  On the other hand, active dynamic stretches do not hinder performance and should be performed prior to training or a race.

Give yourself time for a good warm up. There are many different types of warm ups but they should all include getting used to the different disciplines.  For instance, let your body get used to the water, get on your bike and spin, and get your legs used to running with a light jog.  Also, do some active dynamic stretching.

4. Muscle stability and balance is the foundation of your body

Like building a house, if we don’t have a good foundation everything else will collapse over time.

It is important to maintain a good shoulder/ scapular, pelvic, back and hip stability to protect yourself from injury. Having weak stabilizers can cause your body to compensate and therefore change your biomechanics and increase the stress on your muscles and joint. (5,6,7,8)   Furthermore we cannot neglect balance as a part of stabilizing our muscles. Without our body’s ability to sense our place in space we are vulnerable to injury.

There are many different stabilizing and balance exercises that can be done as a part of a proper strength training program. Many exercises can and should combine multiple muscle groups. This is assuming that the stabilizer muscles are firing.

5. Strength training

Strength training is increasing the load on the muscles while decreasing the volume/ duration.  Your strength training should include both cross training and sport specific training. When planning a strength training program you don’t have to do 30 different exercises to isolate every muscle that is going to have an increased load; rather, you want to combine muscle groups. You can do it in classes (crossfit, boot camps, TRX), or at the gym/ at home (rowing, weights, inner and outer core exercises). You also want to do some strength training specific to your sport (hills in running and biking, and sprints, and circuits in all three disciplines). (5,6,7,8,11,12)

6. Proper training regime, don’t over train and don’t under train:

For triathletes it is crucial that we train in multiple disciplines and therefore the risk of both over training and under training is quite high. (5,6,7,8)  When training for a triathlon, a good training program should include: Swimming, Running, Biking, strength training/ stability exercises, and some sort of a stretching program. Now we need to make sure that when developing a training program we do not increase the volume and intensity too high to prevent our bodies from recovering.

Some suggestions include:

  • Consulting with a coach
  • Joining a triathlete training group
  • As you get to know your body and ability better you may be able to branch out on your own.

7. Equipment

Just like any other sport, you must consider both type of equipment and its fit. (7,8)

  • Shoes: there is some debate around whether or not you should get a pair of shoes that fit your feet or whether or not you should adapt your training regime to fit your shoes. Either way, you want a good pair of shoes that allows you to optimize proper running biomechanics, for example mid/ forefoot landing.
  • Bike: a proper fitting bike is a crucial to injury prevention. Not only are you spending a long time on the bike, you are also transitioning from the bike to running. Stresses on your body due to improper biomechanics on your bike, can lead to an increase load when you are running, creating a cumulative impact on a body area that is already maxed. It is worth to invest in an ergonomic assessment. When seeking an ergonomic assessment, be sure that the person has been properly trained.

8. Early intervention for injuries

It is important to recognize when you are injured and seek help. If you are injured and continue to train at regular capacity, you will likely incur additional injuries. See your Physiotherapist/ healthcare professional to determine area of injury, reason for injury, and how to correct it.


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