The joys and benefits of mixing it up in a triathlon

Taking part in different styles of sports means no one area of the body gets overworked

It is worth putting the hours into bike training as the running leg of triathlon will be easier if the legs and lungs are strong from biking. File photograph: Getty Images

It is worth putting the hours into bike training as the running leg of triathlon will be easier if the legs and lungs are strong from biking. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The benefits of staying fit and active include not only our physical health but also our mental health and can be a rewarding and enjoyable part of life.

Triathlon by definition challenges the body through three channels: swimming, cycling and running.

Many sportspeople use swimming or cycling as cross-training since the loads on our joints can be significantly less

By engaging in these different styles of sport, we give our joints and muscles a variety of stresses, meaning that no one area gets overworked.

You often hear of athletes from a variety of sports, whether it be soccer, rugby, hockey or running, partaking in “cross-training”.

This is essentially performing an activity not related to your primary sport with the aim of enhancing or maintaining fitness while allowing your body to rest from the usual loads and stresses placed on it. Many sportspeople use swimming or cycling as cross-training since the loads on our joints can be significantly less in those activities.

Swimming for me helps to bring active recovery for the body after running or cycling. It’s extremely beneficial for the limbs to stretch out in the water while swimming. The water is also a perfect medium for doing some leg stretches if the calf muscles are tight after running or the hip is tight after being on the bike. Swimming can help us to develop good core strength as it engages the abdominal and back muscles and, when combined with Pilates, can result in a strong, supple spine.

Cycling for any triathlon race, whatever the distance, will proportionally take the most time. It is worth putting the hours into bike training as the running leg of triathlon will be easier if the legs and lungs are strong from biking. Bike training transfers well to running but not vice versa.

I believe that a good position on the bike is crucial to prevent injury and maximise performance

First and foremost, make sure that your bike is correctly fitted. Having treated people who have developed knee pain through not doing this, I believe that a good position on the bike is crucial to prevent injury and maximise performance. Often it is a simple alteration in saddle height or handlebar position together with some rehab exercises to rectify the problem.

Aileen Flynn
Aileen Flynn: "Running is my favourite discipline of the three sports and it releases the greatest amount of happy hormones."

I also have a fantastic bike fitter called Dominic who has never failed to set me up suitably. I always recommend stretching out your calf muscles and hip flexors after time spent on the bike as it is generally those muscle groups that can tighten up with cycling training.

It is, however, important not to ignore any niggles that develop when running

Running is my favourite discipline of the three sports and it releases the greatest amount of happy hormones. There is no high like a running high. If you’re hoping to become leaner, I think running is the area that results in the most weight loss. It is, however, important not to ignore any niggles that develop when running. Common running injuries include calf strain if running on hills for the first time.

I have learned over the years - personally and professionally - that it always pays off to listen to your body and not force training if you are experiencing pain. If in doubt, rest and get an assessment from a chartered physiotherapist. Running through the pain never brings a happy ending.

  • Aileen Flynn is a clinical specialist physiotherapist in musculoskeletal care at Beacon Hospital and a triathlete. She is competing in the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii on October 14th
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