Triathlon Training: A Comprehensive Guide to Injury Prevention

Jan 02, 2024

Triathlon, with its unique blend of swimming, cycling, and running, demands a high level of physical fitness and resilience. The repetitive movements and changing environments in training leave one open to a high risk of injury; but we can prepare accordingly. Learn about what we can all do to stay healthy and the importance of injury prevention in triathlon.

Why Is Injury Prevention Important?

You might think that the most important goals in your training are one or some of the following:

  • Hitting a personal best
  • Increasing your pace
  • Becoming more powerful
  • Getting stronger
  • Having better endurance

And the list goes on. While all of those are admirable, they can all be negated slowly over time or in a sudden instant by:

  • Swimmer’s shoulder
  • Low back pain
  • Runner’s knee
  • Pulled hamstring (pulled anything)
  • Torn knee ligament (torn anything)
  • Impinged hip (impinged anything)
  • Shin splints
  • Tendinitis

And that list, also, goes on.

Injury prevention should be the number one goal of any athlete, regardless of their sport (or group of sports, in the case of triathletes). Quite simply, if you’re injured - you can’t train, and you can’t compete. You’re on the shelf, or at the very least limited in your capabilities. 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Triathlon Injury Prevention: By the Sport

Because triathlon is basically three different sports combined into one, it’s important to give each one its due. With individualized considerations and recommendations, we can understand the risks our bodies face and make sure we’re ready to face them head on. 

How Can You Prevent Injury While Swimming?

Swimming has significantly lower injury rates than the other two sports in triathlon. That being said, it still has its own issues that need to be accounted for. Conditions such as shoulder impingement syndrome and swimmer’s shoulder are common enough to require some attention, and the reasons they occur are often multi-faceted.

The repetitive overhead motion associated with a freestyle stroke can prove troublesome over time for many triathletes. A lack of mobility in the upper back is often found in people who have shoulder issues, as not being able to properly extend the spine places excessive stress on the shoulder as we try to reach overhead. Combined, wear on the shoulder joint can occur.

Swimming is done in a semi-weightless environment (as a result of buoyancy), which may sound injury preventative in and of itself, but this isn’t always the case. Swimming, similar to cycling,  discourages a high bone density because of how they cancel out the effects of gravity. Certain muscles become overdeveloped, others underused, all the while bones become weaker.

Strategies for Injury Prevention

Mobility in the upper back needs to be optimized for proper overhead action of the shoulder. There also needs to be a strength and conditioning program in place to account for the lack of gravitational stress, and to help balance out the muscular activity in important joints like the hip and shoulder.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

How Can You Prevent Injury While Cycling?

Lower back pain is the number one injury concern among cyclists, with well over half of participants reporting it at some point in their cycling career. The positions our bodies are subjected to on the bike are troublesome to say the least, and need to be balanced out through other aspects of our supplementary training.

A weak core and cycling go almost hand-in-hand. Nothing about riding a road bike is inherently beneficial when it comes to core strength and stability, because the bike is doing all the stabilizing for you. That combined with the hunched forward position and pressure on the handlebars discourages the core muscles from working almost at all.

The lower back is one of the main victims of this unfortunate equation. Deep abdominal muscles are responsible for supporting the lower back, and without their activation leave it susceptible to wear, pain, and injury. Other parts of the body are also left vulnerable due to the nature of cycling; the neck, hips, and knees to name a few.

Strategies for Injury Prevention

Full body strength training, stretching, and mobility work are necessary for the health of the cyclist. While the bike offers many cardiovascular and muscular endurance benefits, it does so in a way that negates posture and strength throughout the body. Stretching the hips and upper back into extension while strengthening the core and glutes is a great place to start. 

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

How Can You Prevent Injury While Running?

Running, both in training and competition, is the discipline most responsible for injury when it comes to triathlon. If you think about the impact running has on your body, it is quite a bit more substantial than cycling and swimming, even if you were to combine the two. Nowhere is it more important to have a strong, fit body, especially considering that it is the last event of the race.

Runners are highly prone to injury due to the exponential forces (2-4x bodyweight) placed on a single leg with every landing. Variances in gait and footstrike can amplify or mitigate the chances that those forces are hurting the individual, and the former becomes ever more likely as fatigue sets in throughout the run or throughout the triathlon.

Shin splints, hip pain, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome and other nasty ailments all befall the runner who is not prepared properly. The only grace triathlon provides is that the other two disciplines are relatively low-impact and can still be trained if your running has been hampered by injury. However, as we’ve already discussed, that also has its downfalls.

Strategies for Injury Prevention

Proper warm ups and cool downs are essential for runners to stay healthy and injury-free. Using off days to do strength training, stretching and mobility work are keys to injury prevention for triathletes and optimized running performance whenever it hits your schedule. Running is hard, and everybody knows it, so we need to pay attention to that in our training.

(Credit: Adobe Stock)

Dynamic Triathlete: Injury Prevention Specialists

Our Dynamic Triathlete platform is designed to help triathletes train and compete pain-free. We’ve put together comprehensive strength training, stretching/mobility, and injury prevention routines to help triathletes worldwide become stronger, faster, and more resilient out there on the course. Now, we’re inviting you to join us!

Take care of everything we’ve mentioned in today’s article through the help of one convenient, easy to access platform available 24/7 on your desktop or mobile device. The Dynamic Triathlete app is designed for simplicity - just pick your routine and follow along with a world class coach telling you your every move. Sign up for a 7-day free trial by CLICKING HERE!


Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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