Core training unfortunately doesn’t just mean a six pack from sit ups and side twists. Most of us now understand that structured strength training is imperative to develop safely and efficiently as athletes. But what does core training actually involve? How does it help us specifically in swimming, cycling, and running? It may seem a burden initially, but it’s not to be overlooked- and here’s why…
The core is composed of the abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, lower back, parts of the upper back and to some extent the glutes, lats and trapezius muscles. Many of these lie deep in the body and aren’t clearly superficially visible like the abdominals and so receive less attention in training programs. But as endurance athletes where we want as much functional capacity as possible, neglecting areas of the core can lead to muscular imbalances and inefficiency losses.
So why is it so important to consider core training for each discipline?
A common theme to all 3 disciplines of triathlon is that it allows us to maintain posture and form when fatigued. Thus, minimising inefficiency and keeping as much of our energy as possible going into forward movement. With equal importance to this, a strong core enables us to minimise injury risk as our form deteriorates with fatigue.
Swimming requires engagement of the entire body in a way that cycling, and running don’t. To move through the water both quickly and efficiently we need to be streamlined. A strong trunk and core allow us to hold our body horizontal and closer to the surface, cutting through the water quicker. Weaknesses of the core are quite often visible with lateral movement of the hips and legs, increasing drag and slowing us down.
Further to this a strong core, and particularly obliques, allow us to roll and rotate our body through the stroke. Full rotation like this means we can stretch further with each stroke and pull more water in the process- increasing stroke length and thereby needing fewer strokes to achieve the same distance.
For this reason, implementation of some simple dry-land exercises such as side planks, prone back extensions, deadlifts and other compound exercises can greatly improve our swimming without the need to even get in the water!
As mentioned before, a strong core allows us to maintain an aerodynamic, efficient position on the bike. But more than this it can increase comfort and make training much more enjoyable. The majority of us will have experienced lower back pain at some point in our cycling careers, and whilst this can be down to bike fit, a strong core can go some way to minimising slouching and increased pressure on the lower back. A more enjoyable and comfortable cycling experience leading to training improvements over time and speed thereafter.
A good position on the bike also allows us to maximise engagements of the glutes, and transfer force from the legs, through the core to the upper body. A weak core in this case meaning that we tire quicker and power transfer decreases. Alongside this, maintaining a good cycling position also allows us to breathe more freely, getting more oxygen to the muscles, and function more efficiently.
Coming at the end of a triathlon we hit the run fatigued from the start, and having been hunched up on the bike leg a strong core is really important for posture and maximising efficiency. Every time we strike the floor when running we tax our body, a stable core allows us to maintain joint alignment, and movement patterns to keep ourselves moving forward rather than wasting energy as lateral movement. This holds particularly true as race distances increase. Magnified up to a 70.3 or full ironman distance event, small efficiency savings can lead to huge results and importantly minimise the risks of injury.
Heading into lockdown as we are now, it’s a great time to establish some new habits. Adding one or two small strength focussed sessions each week can be a really good use of extra time rather than ramping up distances and risking overtraining injuries. Simple bodyweight routines can be found online and tailored to be triathlon specific in many ways without the need for large weights and complex equipment found in gyms.
If you still feel stuck then feel free to drop me a message or email and we can look at some simple exercises to get you started and feeling more confident in your training!