Triathlon: train to prevent injuries


When it comes to triathlon, whether you are a newbie to the sport or a competitive athlete, there are some key aspects of training and preparation which can help prevent common injuries.

Triathlon involves three disciplines; swimming, biking and running.  There are different length triathlons and all involve swimming first, transitioning on to the bike then putting on running shoes and finishing with the run leg.

Triathlons may be : super sprint distance of 300m, 9km, 3km, sprint distance of 750m, 20km, 5km, standard (Olympic) distance of 1.5km, 40km, 10km, 70.3 distance (commonly known as half Ironman distance), 2km, 90km, 21km or long distance (Ironman distance) with a huge 3.8km swim, 180km ride and a 42.2 km (marathon) run to totally finish one off.

To prepare for a triathlon involves training in all three disciplines.  Of course this can present issues with trying to stay injury free in order to train fully and reach the start line in one piece. Many athletes break down with an injury and fall by the wayside before the triathlon starts.

The team at Sports Med Physiotherapy in Hamilton are well equipped with experienced, knowledgeable staff to manage and treat triathlon injuries. Four of the team are involved in the sport.

Director Mike Lovell has competed in triathlons, completed an Ironman triathlon and seven half Ironmans. He was also the Elite Triathlon team physiotherapist for Triathlon New Zealand for 12 years.

FionaFiona Goddard is still actively involved. She competes in running, cycling and triathlon events, having completed numerous standard course events, 10 half Ironman distance events and four full Ironman triathlons.

Justin Ralph, from a cycling and triathlon background, is a former Waikato Road Cycling champion, and has completed standard course triathlons with one Ironman medal to his name.

And India Kraal, who is also actively involved, competing in standard and half Ironman distance events is currently training for her first Ironman.

Calf muscle strains
With all the run training required, as well as the runs off the bike (known as brick sessions), calf strains are an all too common in triathletes.  These can totally derail even the best and cause them to be side-lined or limp in the run leg and not reach their race goal.

Ways to prevent these are: correct training load, properly fitted running shoes, efficient and biomechanically well aligned running technique, a warm-down run, stretches and/or rolling on a roller after the run, use of compression recovery socks and calf strengthening exercises.

The use of hot/cold water immersion (swimming pool/large tubs of water/bath) can aid in recovery. This is especially good in the hot summer months, when diving into a swimming pool or standing in a large bucket of icy water (15 degrees Celsius) really works a treat after a long run.

And calf strengthening, did I mention that? A minimum of three times a week, to keep calves long and strong.

triathlontipsPatello-femoral pain syndrome
This is due to maltracking of the patella in its groove at the front of the femur.

This is a common affliction in cyclists and runners and can be caused by poor biomechanical alignment. The maltracking will damage the articular cartilage at the patello-femoral joint and cause inflammation and pain.

Prevention is via: good running technique/or correct bike set-up, maintaining good flexibility through quadriceps and hip flexor musculature, good gluteal strength (particularly gluteus medius), which aids in preventing the ITB from becoming tight, good core strength and stability and again, good footwear (running shoes or cleats).

Use a roller on your quads and ITB after training sessions, stretch quads and hip flexors, strengthen gluteals and abdominals and make sure you don’t overtrain.

ITB friction syndrome/ITB issues/gluteal strains
These are more of a problem in the running training.  Having good gluteal strength, core strength and stability will help ward off these issues. Also, rolling the ITB and buttock after training is very helpful.

Oh, and POSTURE! Stand with feet in line with your pelvis, do not sag/lean/slouch or stand with a wide base of support. Remember, if you want to be an athlete, it means using your body like an athlete all of the time, not just when you train.


tritip1Swimmer’s shoulder
Unfortunately this is a very common problem with swimmers.

It is largely due to poor technique, muscle imbalance and the repetitive use of the shoulder.

Getting some swim coaching can be a great help. A video analysis of one’s swim style, with subsequent faults and how to correct them is extremely beneficial.

It is no good trying to rehabilitate a sore shoulder and then swimming with faulty mechanics.

Get your technique checked by a swim coach.  Joining a squad for your swim training can be very beneficial.



tritip2Achilles tendinopathy
This is when the tendon has pathological changes at tissue level and has become painful.

Achilles tendon problems are the domain of the run training. Good footwear, good run technique, adequate training load, recovery principles and calf strengthening are all ways to prevent Achilles tendon issues.

Once you have Achilles tendinopathy, you are in for the long haul with rehabilitation.

It is not a quick-fix but with perseverance and guidance one can overcome it and soon be back training.




tritip3Trunk/core strengthening
To have a stable and strong platform from which to operate the limbs it is worthwhile to do regular strengthening exercises a minimum of three times a week.

Some good, simple exercises that can be done at home or in the gym are:
– Prone holds (planks)
– Side holds (side planks)
– Sahrmann lower abdominals
– Gluteal strengthening
– Latissimus dorsi strengthening (chin ups)

With the many distance options available in triathlon, this is a sport which really does offer something for everyone. The key is to start out at what is achievable for you personally.

Seek expert advice and train with correct technique and consistency to avoid common injuries.


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