Year-Round Strength Training for Triathletes Part 4: Maintenance Phase
We are well into May now and triathlon season is in full swing. This is a time of year when athletes will often opt for a swim, bike or run session in lieu of a strength session, which can be a big mistake. This is the most important time during our training cycle to keep strength sessions in the schedule. Strength/stabilization training reduces the risk of injury, promotes full ranges of motion through all the tissues and joints while blunting the deleterious catabolic effects that aerobic training alone produces.
During the season, it’s important to try and maintain two strength sessions per week as often as the schedule permits. Since the aerobic training loads are typically more intensive for athletes in-season it becomes important to vary the strength training loads. This is done by alternating between one true strength training protocol which is more demanding (see phase three of this four part series) and a stabilization/mobility oriented session with reduced exposure to systemic load (maintenance phase).
Enhancing Neuromuscular Control
This in-season/maintenance phase is designed to enhance the athlete’s neuromuscular control on a modified or changing base of support (single leg protocols are a good example) and take the joints through more complete, robust ranges of motion. When we are running, riding and swimming, we are performing hundreds and thousands of repetitions within a limited band of motion on the human movement continuum. This partial movement in predominantly one plane, often the sagittal plane, neglecting movement in the transverse and frontal planes, (triathletes tend to move straight forward, rarely side to side) inherently destabilizes joints and creates dysfunction in tissues which are designed to move in more complete and dynamic ranges of motion.
For endurance athletes, the vast majority of injuries occur either at the lower leg, hip, or sometimes the scapulo-thoracic region (shoulder/upper back). These injuries are often avoidable with consistent and proper application of strength training, mobility, and manual therapy like therapeutic massage or myofascial work which serve to keep our anatomy “stacked” and organized appropriately. In this phase the aim is to reduce some of the loads and demands produced through heavy weight training which are necessary, but often too taxing to perform two times per week in-season, and to produce more range and balance in the system.
As a rule of thumb the athlete should perform one “maintenance” type session (example below) in conjunction with one heavy weight/plyometric protocol (see the third installment) per week while in season. However, during peak aerobic phases when the athlete is under intense load from running, biking and swimming workouts, it’s appropriate to omit the heavy weight day and perform two maintenance workouts.
Objectives of this Maintenance Phase:
- Pre-habilitative stance: injury avoidance, and improved mobility.
- Reduce some of the more intense and demanding loads of the HWT cycle when an athlete is under more training loads.
- Return to athleticism with more dynamic cognitive loads. Often endurance athletes lose much of their fine motor skill and ability to integrate complex patterns.
- Re-organize and strengthen the neuromuscular system and skeletal system.
- This is a good protocol to run for 6-8 weeks, at which time its fine to cycle back through the entire series selecting similar but different exercises for variability (if so desired). Remember that we always want to stay ahead of the adaptation curve so that workouts do not lose their efficacy.
- Try and stack the strength sessions on days with hard run, swim, or bike sessions. From a physiological-anatomical perspective strength days are never “easy” and its best to avoid putting them on recovery days wherever possible.
- Move through these exercises as modified super-sets coupling them in groups of 2. Stacking #1 and #2 together, #3 and #4 together, etc. Moving back and forth between them with 30 to 90 seconds rest between sets depending upon the level of fatigue and how you are feeling on the day.
- Let the prescribed number of repetitions guide the selection of weight/loads.
- Wherever possible, draw the navel in and activate the gluteals.
Below is an example of an in-season maintenance phase:
1. Three Point Lunge
3 sets of 8 steps with each leg. Maintain postural control throughout the movement, never forcing the range, but over time trying to gain more.
2. Jack Knife
3 sets of 12-14 reps. For more advanced athletes, instead of using the ground for an anchor, hold a bosu ball instead.
3. Push Pull On a Cable Cross
Note: Bands/elastomers can stand in the place of a cabled machine, but it’s not ideal.
3 sets of 8-10 reps. Make sure to anchor the feet flat with a split and staggered stance. Rotate through the pattern using the hips and trunk as well as the arms and shoulders. These rotary patterns are crucial.
4. Reverse Fly/Shoulder Press
3 sets of 9-12 reps. Make sure the “fly” arm remains fully extended acting as a lever which localizes the forces posteriorly (at the back of the shoulder). DO NOT “shrug” the shoulders. Do not allow the hips or trunk to rotate. Keep anatomically neutral throughout.
5. Calf Decelaration
Note: If you are pressed for time- omit this one.
3 sets of 10 reps. Really exaggerate the deceleration phase of this movement.
6. Walking Lunge-Stabilize-Curl-Press
3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg. Really work hard to maintain control throughout all phases of this pattern. It often helps to find and maintain a focal point.
7. Scapular Retraction and Depression On a Stability Ball
3 sets of 10-12 reps. Add small load (3-5lb dumbbells are usually sufficient). Remember to activate the gluteals and avoid slouching by remaining posturally long (as in a yoga plank). DO NOT “shrug” the shoulders.
8. Plank with Scapular Flexion
3 sets of 8 reps. This can be difficult. The objective is to enhance and develop range of motion through the shoulder girdle. Keep the arms long, maintaining a neutral spine and not raising or lowering the hips. The accompanying video is a good representation of what we are after here.