In a year’s triathlon training cycle, offseason is described as a period of time dedicated to rest from the prior race year, mental and physical recovery, reflection on the past year of racing and planning for the season to come. Triathletes generally denote the winter months to their offseason period. While some athletes refrain from swimming, biking and running all together, others may continue to participate in triathlon training with less intensity, duration or frequency. Offseason should not be described as complete rest; on the contrary, this period of time should include strengthening to slowly prepare for the next season and maintain strength from the prior training period. Offseason should also be a period of time to review injuries possibly sustained in the past year and prepare a plan to prevent re-injury. Core strengthening is an imperative part of the offseason to target weak areas, which may lead to injuries.
Core strengthening can be easily performed two to three days per week without equipment during any time of the training period. Some triathletes may be involved in different cross-training sports during the offseason such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, etc. When a triathlete is involved in sports not regularly performed, core strengthening can help to decrease risk of injury and increase their level of enjoyment. If one isn’t strong in their core, they are at risk for injuring their upper or lower extremities. Research has found that a strong core can prevent common athletic injuries such as low back pain, knee ligament injuries (ACL, MCL, PCL), plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, ankle sprains, ITB syndrome, rotator cuff dysfunction, piriformis syndrome and patellofemoral dysfunction, to mention a few.
The term core is used to describe several muscle groups in the middle of the body or the trunk region, which is the mid-point of the upper and lower extremities. Muscle groups included in the core are the abdominals and pelvic floor (rectus abdominis, obliques and transversus), back extensors and stabilizers (multifidus, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum) and hips (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, gluteus maximus, piriformis). The main action of the core is to stabilize the trunk during dynamic movement. Think of it as your platform or base for your extremities. The more stable your core the less risk of adverse motion on the extremities and therefore less risk of injury.
Here are five exercises that can easily be performed during the offseason with no equipment needed.
1. Full Boat PoseKeep the shoulders in neutral with the shoulder blades retracted. The knees should remain in extension and the abdominals contracted. Hold for at least 5 breaths. Progress to 10 breaths or 1 minute.
Muscles worked: Abdominals and hip flexors
2. Side Plank with Hip AbductionThis can be performed on the elbow or the outstretched arm. The body should be in a long line. Raise the top leg up and down for a count of 10-15 reps or hold the top leg away from the body for a count of 10 breaths.
Muscles worked: Abdominals primarily the obliques, QL, erector spinae and gluteus medius
3. Single Leg BridgesWhile lying on your back with one knee bent and foot on the floor, the opposite knee should be straight. Lift the buttocks off the floor slowly with the abdominals contracted. Maintain a neutral spine. Lower slowly back to the floor. Perform 10-15 reps.
Muscles worked: All of the gluteus muscles, back extensors and abdominals
4. Prone Plank on Elbows with Hip ExtensionWhile on your belly rise up onto your elbows. The spine should be in a neutral position with the abdominals and glutes contracted. Lift one leg up toward the ceiling as high as you can without changing the position of the spine. Lower the leg back to the line of your body. Perform 10-15 reps.
Muscles worked: Glutes and back extensors
5. On Back Scissor KickLie on your back with your lumbar spine firmly on the ground. Lift one leg straight up in the air with the knee in extension. Gently pull the leg toward your chest for a small hamstring stretch for 1 breath. Keep your spine firmly into the floor with your abdominals contracted. Lower the leg and repeat on the other leg. Perform 10-15 reps on each side.
Muscles worked: Abdominals and hip flexors
Wendy Benwell has a doctorate in physical therapy, a master’s in kinesiology and is a USA Triathlon Certified Coach. She is also certified to teach yoga to athletes per Sage Rountree. Wendy has competed in marathons, ultra-marathons and ultra-distance triathlons for 16 years. Currently, she is working in an outpatient setting and serving clients on a one-on-one basis for run/tri training and yoga for athletes. Wendy can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.