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5 Training Secrets for Triathletes

Pro triathlete Jessi Stensland training at Athletes' Performance in Arizona.
Scott Wachter

If there’s anyone who understands the tendency of triathletes to overtrain and punish their bodies, it’s Jessi Stensland. When the professional triathlete came to Athletes’ Performance several years ago, she was on the verge of giving up her beloved sport because her body was in so much pain. Instead, she followed the same approach used in Core Performance programs to get back in the game and enjoy some of her best performances.

After spending a couple years away from the sport to explore opportunities in television and digital media, Stensland is re-entering the professional ranks this season, though with a different goal in mind.

“I’m coming back as a lifestyle athlete who is going to perform really well, but the message I’m bringing, which is one amateurs can relate to, is that I never would have gotten to the starting line the second time around without the kind of attention I’ve given to my body through the Core Performance system,” says Stensland, 32. “A lot of people aren’t getting to the starting line at all because they’re dealing with injuries.”

Triathletes are a notoriously driven bunch, but that drive sometimes results in overuse ailments. Stensland explains how to prepare for triathlon and perform your best without burning out.

1. Focus on the most important machine.

Triathletes often get carried away with technology, investing as much as $10,000 on carbon-fiber bicycles, GPS training gadgets, and all manner of personal coaching. Yet they give little attention to the most vital piece of equipment. “We jump right into the swim, bike and run without checking to see how our body is doing,” Stensland says. “Is it posturally correct? Are you standing tall? Does one shoulder dip? These are things we need to consider.”

Stensland is a big fan of Gray Cook’s “functional movement screen” and revisits it regularly to make sure she’s where she wants to be in terms of flexibility, mobility, and stability.

2. Go 90/90 for a better swim.

Swim coaches stress the importance of creating body roll to generate power in the water. That’s easier said than done, especially if there’s little stability and flexibility in the shoulders, hips, and torso.

Stensland tells triathletes to do the 90/90 stretch. “Swim coaches don’t always realize that the athlete isn’t rotating very well at the hip and shoulder,” Stensland says. “The 90/90 stretch will illustrate that at the beginning and also help you create that mobility.”

3. Squat for better performance on the bike.

To improve performance on the bike, Stensland suggests focusing on squat technique. “The body needs to be in that powerful aero position where you’re able to generate a lot of power through your hips through the entire range of motion. We don’t just want power through half the pedal stroke but at the top as well when our hips are in that crunched position. A lot of people tend to curve their back and that shuts down the glutes. If you’re pushing with your quads, you’re missing out on your most powerful muscles, the glutes. The squat position is very similar to proper bike position. You want a nice flat back and activate the glutes so you’re able to transfer that power. So when you’re squatting, you’re actually training for more power on the bike.”

Click here to watch a video on proper squatting technique.

4. Don't zone out on the run.

Triathletes tend to zone out on the run. After all, it’s the last leg of the race and fatigue is setting in. Plus, it’s considered the least technique-oriented of the three disciplines. Stensland says it’s wrong to think that way.

“Running is about force, production, and form,” she says. “People think that just by moving their arms and legs they’re running but you can’t just let gravity take control. Be cognizant of how you’re lifting your legs. You want them where your glutes are going to be activated and you’re in control. If you focus on proper running form, you can make huge gains.”

5. Movement Prep: The secret weapon.

After she’s set up her transition area at a triathlon, Stensland will find some space to do her “movement prep” routine. It’s the perfect way to activate her muscles, raise her core temperature, and get her body ready to perform. Many triathletes are content just to get in the water for a pre-race warm-up, which is always a good idea. But “movement prep” primes the body for action and also helps work out pre-race jitters. “I get some funny looks before races,” Stensland says. “But inevitably people approach me afterward wanting to know what it’s all about.”

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Triathlon, Sports Performance, Outdoor Recreation, Cycling, Running, Movement Preparation, Swimming, Energy System Development