Triathlons have experienced exponential growth over the past 20 years, growing from a mere 15,000 participants in USA Triathlon-sanctioned events in 1993 to more than 150,000 recently. It’s easy to understand why: triathlons are just plain fun. Training for three sports – swimming, biking and running – offers a unique challenge and reduces the risk of the overuse injuries that might result from spending all of your training hours on just one movement pattern.
Participating in a triathlon will give you a great sense of accomplishment plus introduce you to a world of tremendous fun and a friendly, supportive community of fellow triathletes. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your first tri:
- To become a strong swimmer and avoid injury, focus on core strengthening and exercises that strengthen the muscles around the scapula and upper back, says Dr. Scott Rodeo, co-chief of the HSS Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, team physician for USA Olympic Swimming and a former competitive swimmer.
- Prepare for the unique challenges of open water. Nothing causes more anxiety for the novice triathlete than the swim start. A mass of people swimming in open water can be daunting for even accomplished pool swimmers. Check out local Tri Clubs, USAT-certified coaches or triathlon specialty shops to find an open water swim clinic where you’ll get the chance to practice sighting, swimming in a pack and navigating around buoys.
- Keep it simple. You could spend a small fortune on a tri bike. Don’t. You’ll have plenty of time to obsess about the perfect bike once you get addicted to tri’s. For your first one, just make sure you have a bike that is tuned up and fits you. Stop by your local bike shop and have someone check your bike fit. The proper fit will optimize the transfer of power from your legs to the bike as well as reduce the risk of ending up with sore knees, an achy back or a crick in your neck. And don’t forget a helmet that fits too!
- Count your cadence. Physical therapist Leigh Ann Plack specializes in treating injured runners and videotaped running mechanics analysis. She finds that simply counting cadence helps runners to adjust their form in a way that reduces the risk of many common running injuries. Count the number of times that one foot hits the ground and aim for 85-90 times per minute.
- Strengthen your hips. Dr. Jordan Metzl, sports medicine physician, medical columnist for Triathlete magazine and nine-time Ironman finisher, finds that weak hip muscles are the culprit behind many running injuries. Squats, lunges, plyometrics and monster walks (walking sideways with a resistance band around your ankles) are all strategies to help make you a stronger, more injury-resistant runner.
Finally, congratulate yourself for embarking on this great adventure! As you progress in this terrific sport, remember that HSS has your back. From running mechanics analysis to metabolic testing to diagnosing and treating an injury, we are committed to helping make your triathlon dreams a reality!
Polly de Mille is the coordinator of performance services at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach.