It’s the season to tri this
I know what you’re thinking — it’s triathlon season again. Whether you are a veteran or a first-timer, these alternative quick tips will help you earn the T-shirt. Even if you are not into self-torture, the following tips will help you at any sport or activity.
Counteract repetitive movements. There is a lot of repetitive movement in any endurance sport. In fact, triathlons are made up of 3 almost entirely repetitive movements. Just about every component of swimming, biking and running requires a great effort from your flexion muscles (calves, quads, psoas, pecs and biceps) over and over and over again. Overdoing it to these muscles and underdoing it to extension muscles (shins, hams, glutes and back muscles) creates dysfunction and eventually symptoms. Train to counteract repetitive movements. Stretch and foam roll flexors and strengthen those extension muscles. Do this during the pre-season to make the biggest difference and hang with it as much as possible during the season.
Make time to keep your extension muscles in check — especially you “couch to megathlon” people. All the pink K-tape in the world will not fix major imbalances in strength and conditioning of opposing muscle groups. You must strengthen opposing muscles throughout your training cycle. This will help to reduce wear and tear, which accounts for an estimated half of all sports injuries. Overdoing it and not allowing for proper recovery time is a great recipe for injury and thus, not earning the T-shirt.
Bikers: Think about going cleatless. I spend a lot of time doing nerdy things like reading about and the practical application of human anatomy and physiology, which in English means making athletes better based on the laws of physics. We exercise geeks have realized what cyclists are doing by pulling up with one leg while the other pushes down. The average human can push down with much more repetitive force than they can lift their knee up (hip flexion). The psoas muscle is your primary hip flexor and goes from the inside of your low back to the inside of your femurs and causes low back pain when overworked by too much hip flexion. This is usually how you get back pain from riding — coupled with no stretching or foam rolling, less than adequate hydration, and not enough recovery time, too much orange juice, etc.
I went cleatless when I switched to mountain biking to bail quicker when necessary, and I noticed a difference in back pain, and was able to eliminate another “thing.” No amount of float in your cleat will allow your foot, ankle and knee enough room to change position. This is good for efficiency but bad for beginners or people whom are developing chronic injuries. You don’t’ have to ditch the cleats completely since they have the potential to keep you in a consistently efficient position, just avoid pulling up so hard if you are getting symptoms. Get set up on your bike professionally from one of your local awesome bike outfitters because your frame size and positioning matters as much as going cleatless.
IT band syndrome: The term “syndrome” is used to describe a bunch of related symptoms, none of which being the isolated cause of injury. Basically there is enough overload or poor mechanics or both that symptoms develop, usually pain. In simple terms, quads are overloaded because glutes can’t keep up. Glute strength counteracts the forward flexion needed to run and bike. When glutes are weak, some kind of IT band irritation or psoas overload causes pain. Strengthen your glutes! All the ibuprofen in the world will not fix the problem until you balance strength.
Overall mechanics: It’s fun to blow crazy money on new, fancy, carbon fiber gear. Consider investing in some less glamorous but more effective tri-gear by listening to your coaches when they teach efficient swim, bike and run mechanics. You can’t buy good technique, you have to earn it. You might be surprised how bad your form really is and how that is affecting your race times, recovery and wear and tear on your body. Getting some coaching goes a long way. Objective, educated analysis will help you shave off more time than a new $250 triathlon suit.*
*OK, you absolutely do need a $250 triathlon suit. Just get some coaching on how to use it.
Steve Wells is a personal trainer and co-owner of Midland Fitness. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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