Injury Prevention for Triathletes!

Picking up an injury can be a frustrating experience and like many things prevention is far superior to cure.

Ruth Mills chartered physiotherapist with Sports Med Ireland details the types and causes of some common injuries affecting triathletes and advises on ways to avoid injury

Ruth Mills - Sports Med Ireland

Overuse injuries most frequently affect triathletes and are the result of repeated micro-trauma. This micro-trauma results from small amounts of stress imposed on the bodies tissues over time. Overuse injuries may initially begin as a ‘niggle’ which gradually deteriorate over time to the point where ability to participate in training is no longer possible. These injuries can present themselves anywhere in the body such as the feet (e.g. plantarfasicits), ankles (e.g. achilles tendinopathy), knee (eg. iliotibial band friction syndrome), hip (e.g. hip bursitis), back (e.g. low back pain) or shoulder (e.g. rotator cuff tendinopathy).

Early intervention is key and denial of an injury will simply cause more damage and prolong the rehabilitation period. If you are currently experiencing symptoms it is important that you get assessed by a health professional and a plan is put in place to address the factors which may be contributing to your pain. Underlying muscular imbalances, biomechanical imperfections, equipment defects or a poor training programme can all contribute to the development of an overuse injury.

The first step in preventing these injuries is to plan and periodise your training, ideally with the input of a coach. This may mean that periods of heavier training are interspersed with periods of recovery which will allow the body to adapt to the training and will reduce the chances of musculoskeletal break down.

Secondly get professional advice regarding proper footwear for your feet, bike set up and the mechanics of your swim, bike and run. Poor biomechanics refers to movement mistakes in which the body compensates and uses suboptimal joint alignment, muscular co-ordination, and posture. These little imperfections often cannot be detected by the untrained eye and don’t immediately hurt performance. Therefore you may not even be aware of the problem.

Thirdly a sound programme of strength and mobility work will go a long way in preventing injuries. Joint mobility and muscle control can often be eroded though the repetitive nature of swimming, cycling and running. Muscles act like springs. Sudden increases in volume and/or intensity can lead to inadequate recovery of those muscles and impair their function as springs. Although stretching can reduce muscle tension temporarily there is probably an underlying cause as to why a particular muscle is getting tight. Commonly the cause for the tightness experienced in a certain area may be due to overuse of this muscle group to compensate for a weakness or restriction in another area. For example excessively tight hamstrings may be the result of a lack of hip extension mobility and gluteus max strength as the workload is transferred to the hamstrings to compensate for these deficits.  Thus in order to fully address the issue a comprehensive programme of engaging and strengthening the pelvic musculature should be implemented. A stable pelvis is a fundamental requirement to optimum performance and injury prevention. The gluts and abs may not necessarily be engaged when you are active and this will cause an unstable pelvis and overloading of your quads, hamstrings or calves. This can only occur for so long before the load which is imposed upon these tissues reaches a critical point and breakdown occurs. Training these muscles how to engage and work in a functional/sport specific way will mean that when you get back in the pool, on the bike or out running these muscles will automatically kick in and do their job.

Including a strength session to your weekly training programme will not only reduce the risk of injury but will promote energy efficiency and improve performance! Well worth the investment in training time!

Incorporating these simple exercises into your training routine is an excellent way of strengthening the muscles which may be neglected through triathlon training. It’s worth taking the time to hone your technique to maximise the benefits.


Step 1

                                                                                        Step 2

The bridge is a great exercise to develop hip strength and mobility that can be lost through training. Start in position as shown palms facing up and arms to the side. Tighten stomach, squeeze glutes and lift hips pushing arms into ground. Hold for two counts then lower and repeat.

Single leg dead lift

Step 1

Step 2

The single leg dead lift targets the gluteals and emphasises keeping the pelvis stable. Stand on one leg, extend free leg backwards and extend arms forward. Keep spine straight and tighten stomach. Keep the knee, foot and ankle in a straight line.

Core Drill

Step 1

Step 2

Start as pictured on front with spine straight and stomach tight for 6 seconds, move to the right side and hold for 6 seconds, then return to front and then turn to left for 6 seconds and finally finish on front for another 6 seconds.

For more information on Injury Rehabiliation, Coaching and Advice contact Sports Med Ireland at: or click on the below link!

5 responses to “Injury Prevention for Triathletes!”

  1. newtotri says:

    Emlyn Maher:

    Great Article but could the bridging be done with a swiss ball to introduce more stability through the pelvis and the inner unit making it a more functional exercise…

  2. newtotri says:

    Response to query:

    Using a swiss ball is one way in which the exercise can be progressed. Make sure soles of feet are placed firmly on ball and the ball is close enough to you so that when your hips rise your knees are at a 90degree angle (otherwise may feel burn in hamstrings). Other variations to increase the difficulty of the exercise would be to do a single leg bridge (one leg flexed at hip and knee and kept in tight to chest while other foot stays planted straight on floor (ensure knee alignment doesn’t deviate) or the arms can be folded across the chest which will again decrease the base of support and make the hips have to work harder to stabilise the pelvis. The same movement at hips occurs as glutes are squeezed and hips raised. Control hip movement both up and down.

    Ruth Mills
    Chartered Physiotherapist

  3. Emlyn says:

    Are you doing these to form or to failure and what is the hold for the first 2

  4. Kevin Morgan says:

    Nice basic article. For injury prevention is seems that early detection in one key element, for which massage can be effective (detecting tightness that you are not aware of) and Feldenkrais (for finding odd imbalances or weaknesses. Injuries really are a pain. My goal for every race is to arrive injury-free, but I don’t always succeed. -k @FitOldDog

  5. Rhona says:

    Great article, thanks. Can you suggest any dynamic exercises for recruiting glutes? I am familiar with many glute strengthening exercises (eg clams, side bridge etc) but putting them into a more dynamic context would be good.

    Also think triathletes need to think about recovery between sessions, eg good nutrition, but also things like contrast bathing, compression and self-massage/mobilisation. So much to do!!!

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