When we ponder the typical reasons to exercise, we usually come up with the following:
- maintain an ideal body weight and body composition
- instructed by our doctor
- reduce common health risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol, stress; obesity; metabolic disorders)
What if we engage in exercise to experience the excitement and rewards of learning a sport, enjoying its competitive nature, and building strong character traits. All of those initial reasons to exercise would automatically be addressed simply because you are working towards something bigger and more rewarding. What sport do I have in mind…the sport of triathlon.
Though exercise is great for health and fitness, there is always a risk of over-training, eventual loss of interest, or simply driving your body into a “rut”. These risks can lead to over-use injuries, boredom or noncompliance in your training plan, and asymmetries in your movement patterns.
How can triathlon training not only remedy these risks but add variation to your workouts? Tri training obviously includes swimming, biking, and running. Sessions can focus on speed or endurance, which target both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. But that’s not all, strength training (too often neglected) adds a fourth and crucial element to success in the sport.
Let's say you’re building up your running but need to ease up for one reason or another. Hop in the pool and fine-tune your stroke or breathing pattern. Jump on your bike and improve your aero position. Or, hit the gym for strength training and mobility work. While you actively recover from your strong running efforts, you can still improve cardiovascular fitness and strength from other areas of training. With respect to asymmetries in human movement from falling into that "unchanged exercise routine", let’s examine ways that tri training complements each other:
- biking puts you in hip and spinal flexion ---> swimming opens the hip and straightens the spine
- running places varying degrees of impact and stress on the hip and knee areas ---> biking reduces that impact
- strength training stresses and tightens muscle tissue ---> swimming loosens up muscles, tendons, ligaments, and increases blood flow
III. All 3 Sports – A Closer Look
Swimming is a complete conditioning sport, as it contains elements of strength and cardio. Swimming improves coordination and fluidity in executing the chosen stroke (i.e. freestyle) and demands a rhythmic breathing pattern that greatly conditions the lungs.
Flying down the road on a tri bike demands balance to ensure forward progress while navigating the course AND flexibility to maintain proper aero position for maximum speed. In addition to these bio-mechanical elements, cardiovascular strength keeps the heart pumping and oxygen flowing while working the quads, hams, and glutes.
Finally, we all know the cardiovascular benefits of running, but it extends beyond that. In a tri, the mental and physical strength required to hit the ground running with a fatigued body is not an easy feat, and in these moments you build your inner strength and character. And when you cross the finish line, the flood of emotion truly makes it all worth it.