Triathlon Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

Triathlon stretching exercises to improve your performance and help do away with triathlon injuries.

by Brad Walker | First Published October 22, 2010 | Updated August 12, 2017

Triathlon Stretches and Flexibility Exercises - Photo by Lois SchwartzA triathlon comprises of three events: swimming, cycling and running. The winner must compete and be the best in all the three events.

Apart from the individual sports training, quick transition from one sport to another is also very demanding on the athlete’s body.

Triathlon does not have much history. It began with the IronMan in Hawaii. A friendly debate on who was the best among a swimmer, cyclist and runner led to a competition where all the three were incorporated to determine as to who was the best athlete.

It started with the following:

  • 2.4 mile rough water Waikiki swim;
  • 112 mile bike race around the island of Kona; and
  • 26.6 mile Honolulu marathon.

Word of mouth publicity and articles in sports magazines regarding this friendly competition turned it into the Hawaiian IronMan Competition in 1979. It is now called Triathlon, the world over.

Anatomy Involved

The competition level of a triathlon is so intense that there is very little of the body that is spared. The true workhorses of it all, used in every facet of the race, have to be the legs. Whether swimming, cycling or running, the majority of the punishment and torture is focused on the legs. From the quadriceps to the hamstrings to the knees, ankles and feet, the pounding, and flexion takes its toll over the gruelling miles, on the road, on the bike or in the water.

The next in line on the circuit of muscles that will require special attention in training are the arms. From the biceps to the triceps, the rotator cuff, the elbow, the wrist, deltoids and abs, all of it gets to play center stage during the swimming portion of the competition. The best preparation, physically, for this type of endurance competitions, is to be certain that all of your muscles, tendons and ligaments remain as flexible and strong as possible. Aerobic and cardiovascular strengths are also a huge part of the body being used in this type of activity.

Most Common Triathlon Injuries

Triathlon Stretching ExercisesTraining for, and competing in a triathlon requires hours of rigorous exercise and practice. One of the most common problems associated with the sport of triathlon is overtraining; or not giving your body the rest it requires to stay fit, healthy and injury free.

Another major concern, during training and competition is dehydration and exhaustion. It is far too easy to tire out, and forget to keep yourself hydrated, because there are no real rest breaks during the race, simply transitions from one phase to another. You are literally going from one race to another with very little time to catch your breath, let alone be able to drink enough water to keep you safely hydrated.

That being said, common injuries include muscle strains, muscle cramps, torn ACL, repetitive strain injuries like rotator cuff tears, sprained ankles, and fall-related breaks, cuts and contusions. If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, your balance and vision may be affected, and you can easily trip or stumble while running, or fall off of your cycle. A triathlon is hands-down the most strenuous sport in the world, and the list of potential injuries reflects that.

Injury Prevention Strategies

The best prevention tip of all is to be as fit, flexible and strong as you can possibly be, before even beginning to train for this type of competition. Strength training for endurance purposes, combined with aerobic and cardiovascular training is also recommended. At some point in your training, it is recommended that you add sprint training in all three phases of the competition, to build up strength endurance in swimming, cycling and running.

Here are a few other tips that you can use to lower the risk of injuries during triathlon training and competition.

  • Warm Up: Always warm-up properly prior to training and especially competition.
  • Cool Down: Allow an adequate cool-down period and perform after training or competition stretching.
  • Strength & Conditioning: Strength training leads to reduced potential for injury as it increases the strength of the muscles as well as that of the supporting joints and tendons. Agility training is particularly helpful to the triathlete as it works to improve the ability of the body to quickly adapt to a change in direction, motion and velocity.
  • Stretching: Stiff joints and muscles will ultimately lead to injured joints and muscles so improving the flexibility of the body will also work to decrease the likelihood of injury. Stretching is a key ingredient to any warm up routine and plays an important role in improving flexibility as it increases the range of motion in joints and the elasticity of muscles.
  • Gear: You simply have to have the proper gear for every phase of the sport, including a quality cycle helmet and protective eye wear. The importance of maintaining your bike must also be a priority.
  • Training Aids: Braces and supports can be very beneficial if you have a history of repetitive injuries. Any known weak area of your body should be protected and supported throughout training and competition, especially the joints.
  • Footwear: The majority of the punishment during the running phase of the race will fall on your feet, and the proper footwear can often mean the difference between running injury free or annoying lower leg injuries.
  • Rest: After training, you need rest, period. Making sure that you get enough “down-time” and sleep every day, not only on training days, will ensure that your body will adapt to the physical training quicker, and reduces the risk of injuring yourself before you get the chance to compete.
  • Stay Hydrated: Stay well hydrated by drinking water every 20-30 minutes even if you do not feel thirsty. Dehydration leads to fatigue, nausea, and disorientation, all factors that can result in falls and spills.

The Top 3 Triathlon Stretches

Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for triathlon; obviously there are a lot more, but because triathlon uses just about every muscle group in the body it’s hard to just pick 3. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.

Triathlon shoulder stretch

Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch: Place one hand behind your back and then reach up between your shoulder blades.

Triathlon hip and quad stretch

Kneeling Upper Hip & Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.

Triathlon lower calf and Achilles stretch

Standing Toe-up Achilles Stretch: Stand upright and place the ball of your foot onto a step or raised object. Bend your knee, let your heel drop towards the ground, and lean forward.

The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMWhile the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of stretches.

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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.

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Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.