Plyometrics for triathlon training
Whether you race cross triathlon or Ironman, you should be using plyometrics for triathlon training. A beginner to advanced triathlon training program should include some plyometrics to improve form, economy, and durability, and a functional strength program.
Plyometrics for triathlon training benefits include:
- Greater durability/injury resistance
- Eccentric overloading helps with downhill running and agility
- Improves speed without training sprint work
- Improves running form and economy (decreases ground contact time)
How plyometrics are beneficial
A training program for Ironman racing is designed to train you to NOT SLOW DOWN – plyometrics improve durability. That is the key to Ironman, being strong and durable enough for your body to withstand the pounding from such a long event.
Ironman and cross triathlon end with a run – plyometrics improve running mechanics.
A training program for cross triathlon is designed to build speed and power – plyometrics are fundamental speed and power movements.
Cross triathlon requires quick reaction time and quick muscle firing in broken terrain– plyometrics train this.
Real world application of plyometric training
Cross triathlon athletes frequently encounter steep and technical downhills, requiring quick light steps under eccentric loading. Ironman athletes need to build good run form and economy to resist slowing down in the latter half of the marathon. Also, durability is required to stay healthy during training.
Plyometrics train the body to reduce ground contact time running. I believe this is the greatest benefit of plyometrics to triathletes, especially long distance athletes who gravitate towards slower, more aerobic training. Training light, quick steps for running is key to injury resistance.
How to incorporate plyometric training
I coach athletes to train using plyometrics starting in their base phase of training. Training muscles to fire quickly and correctly decreases the chance of injury during training. In addition, this supplemental training touches on some higher intensity energy systems while we work mostly on force and strength training.
This kind of training is not available to everyone. If there is not enough strength to perform a small amount of plyometric work, there likely also is not enough strength to train speed for running. Pre-existing injuries can make jumping movements, especially depth jumps, detrimental. Make sure you check with your doctor and physiotherapist if you are dealing with an injury. Keep in mind not feeling comfortable doing plyometrics can shine a light on weakness in strength or mobility. Having solid fundamental strength and mobility is key before any additional loading from plyos – and any fast running.
Athletes should start with pogo (hopping on the ankles using the calf muscles with straight legs) and then build to skipping rope to start. If there is good progression with the two leg hops, then it makes sense to skip with one leg at a time. For a lot of athletes, the ankle hops are enough! This may be all of the jumping that you need to improve. Ankle hops are easier than skipping as they don’t require the reaction to the rope.
For athletes recovering from a lower leg injury (like myself), pogo and rope skipping are excellent for rebuilding lost calf strength. These hops, in conjunction with calf raises, are excellent for athletes who struggle with lower leg strength or imbalance.
For more advanced athletes, we move into the additional exercises I have shown (depth jumps are last).
Start with 3×10 ankle hops twice per week. Then try 3×30 skips alternating two legs, left leg, and right leg. Once you are successfully performing this, add 5 of each of the exercises once per week, slowly building to two sets of ten. There are MANY plyometric exercises out there, so the video just shows a few that I like a lot. Distance runners are best served focusing on one leg plyometrics, as that best mimics the demands of running. This holds for all the exercises aside from depth jumps, which are very hard on the body, so keeping those to two legs and a small drop is safest.
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