Maintenance by the minutes

By Dr. Caitlin Glenn | Oct. 16, 2018, 3 p.m. (ET)

The importance of a maintenance strength and mobility program, also commonly referred to as “prehab” in the endurance world, should be an integral part of any athlete’s training plan. Quality training requires quality movement. There are many benefits to an exercise prescription that primes the body for endurance activity, including improved tissue capacity, increased rate of force development and avoidance of imbalances that lead to repetitive overload of the body’s tissue that is commonly seen in swimming, cycling and running.

In order to improve tissue mobility or gain flexibility, the soft tissue structure must be stressed for three to five minutes. Below are some common areas of tightness and poor tissue mobility as a result of training for a triathlon. If one of these areas is more bothersome than the others, choose one body region to focus on. These techniques should be performed four to six times a week for three- to five-minute holds.

If you have 5 minutes

Choose one of the following to focus on for five minutes:

Quadriceps/Hip Flexors
Using a lacrosse ball, lay on your stomach with the ball under your thigh. Flex and extend the knee to mobilize your quadriceps under the lacrosse ball. You can also put the ball closer to the hip to address hip flexor tightness.

Kneeling hip flexor stretch: Kneel on one knee with the pelvis slightly tilted backward. You will feel a stretch through the hip flexor of the knee that is on the ground. 

Sit on a lacrosse ball and find a region of tissue tenderness. Flex and extend the knee back and forth.

Hamstring stretch: Bring the knee up to a 90-degree angle at the hip. Place your hands behind the tight area and straighten the leg.

Place the bottom of your foot on a lacrosse ball and roll the foot back and forth over tight spots.

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Foam roll the thoracic spine by laying your spine perpendicular over the foam roller. Roll up and down the middle of your back.

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If you have 25 minutes

Precision movements are outlined in the 25-minute routine below. These exercises are movements with high repetition and low load that can be performed one to two times weekly. Focus on these exercises if you have 25 minutes to commit to prehab:

McGill Crunch
Lie on your back with one leg straight and one bent. Place your fingertips under your back. Maintaining a neutral spine, lift your head and chest up from the floor to the level of your shoulder blades. Slowly return your head and chest to the floor. Repeat this motion slowly for two sets of 10.

Clam Shells
Lie one on side, keeping your torso and pelvis straight. Bend your knees and lift your top knee towards the ceiling while keeping your feet together. Return your knee to the starting position and repeat. Perform one set of 25 to 50 repetitions.

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Marching Bridges 
While on your back, squeeze your glutes and lift your buttocks up from the ground to create a bridge with your body. Keeping your pelvis still and abdominals tight, lift one leg. Return it to the floor and lift the opposite leg. Perform three sets of 10. 

Lie face down and lift your body up on your elbows and toes. Keep your abdominals tight and maintain a straight spine. A side plank can also be performed by starting in a sideling  position. Perform three sets of 20- to 60-seconds as able.

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Toe yoga 
Either seated or standing, lift your big toe, keeping your little toes on the floor. Next, lift your little toes while keeping your big toe on the floor. Perform this movement back and forth for three minutes.

If you have 50+ minutes

You obviously see the value in prehab! Perform these exercises (in addition to the previous suggestions):

With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the hips as if you are going to sit in a chair. Lower slowly, then return to standing. Begin unweighted and then add weight once confident. Perform three sets of eight.

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Push Press
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip a bar in front of your shoulders with your elbows pointing forward. Start in a shallow squat with your weight under the barbell. Drive the bar directly over your head until your arms are straight, pushing through the heels. Lower the bar back down to the chest and repeat as three sets of eight. 

Romanian Deadlifts
Hold a bar hip-level with your feet shoulder-width apart. With a slight bend in the knees, lower the bar while hinging your hips backwards. Return to the starting position by driving the hips forward and activating the glutes, not the spine. Perform three sets of eight.

Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing forward. Be sure the abdominals are tight to maintain neutral body position and pull yourself up until the bar reaches your chest. Use a narrower grip with your palms facing you, an assisted machine or a spotter to help lift your legs if this is too difficult. Perform three sets of six to 10 repetitions as able. 

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Box Jumps
Begin with a box that is mid-shin height. Jump up onto the box, landing softly. Step back down and repeat three sets of 10 jumps, one to two times weekly. 

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Jump Rope 
Set a metronome to 180 to 220 bpm and jump rope to the beat. Practice up to three minutes.

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Dr. Caitlin Glenn specializes in the treatment of athletes, returning athletes to sport following injury and maximizing athletic potential while developing injury-resistant individuals. She holds her Doctorate of Physical Therapy as well as her Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science. She also holds certifications as a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. Dr. Glenn is a five-time Ironman finisher and USA Triathlon All-American. Visit