Injury Prevention

Improving Flexibility Through Strength

Learn how improving your flexibility can make you a better all-around triathlete.

Learn how improving your flexibility can make you a better all-around triathlete.

Written by: Melanie McQuaid

To be a good triathlete, you need to have strength, speed and endurance. And if you choose to race off-road, agility becomes another important skill. Agility is a combination of coordination, flexibility, power and speed that allows a trail racer to pick his way through technical terrain quickly and efficiently. What many athletes are missing when they move to off-road racing is adequate flexibility to allow them to stay loose while reacting to terrain.

New research has shown that stretching might be less effective in improving flexibility versus using strength training. This is a glowing recommendation for Pilates and yoga, as both combine exercises using bodyweight to challenge muscular strength while leading the body through movements that will also lengthen muscles.

However, hyperflexibility is not the goal; in triathlon functional flexibility is most valuable. Focusing on having a loose and relaxed body at rest that can spring into action when engaged is important. Strained or damaged muscles and ligaments from overstretching are certainly not good for performance. Do not go beyond what is comfortable in any of these movements.

Beginners: Start with one set of 8-15 repetitions of each exercise without the use of a foam roller.

Intermediate/Advanced: Do two sets of 10-15 exercises. Slowly introduce the foam roller to further increase the difficulty but be careful to take your time relearning the exercises with the roller.

Your back and core are the first places to start, as all extremities generate power from here. But as with all exercise, consult your doctor before starting any new program.

Cobra pose: Lie face down on the floor with your arms stretched out in front of you. Slowly push your hands into the floor, relax your buttocks and lift your head and chest off of the floor with your eyes towards the ceiling. This pose is great for back strength and flexibility. Resting your arms on a foam roller will increase the workload for this exercise.

Chair pose: Stand with feet together, arms parallel overhead, palms together. Bend your knees, attempting to bring thighs parallel with the floor. Hold for from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Chair pose strengthens and lengthens muscles in the hips and legs while also stretching muscles and ligaments in the lower legs and feet.

Bridge pose: Lying on your back with your feet hip distance apart, slowly lift your pelvis up while supporting your weight with a straight back on your shoulders. Adding the instability element to the bridge pose with a foam roller requires more strength for an already difficult exercise. Start with pelvic tilt and work your way through bridge pose to the foam roller version.

Side leg lift: Lying with your hip on the roller, lift your top leg up and hold it up. Bring the lower leg up to meet it. Then drop both legs. This exercise increases hip flexibility and strength. Again, if you are strong, add the roller underneath your hip to increase the challenge to all of your stabilizing muscles.