Taking Triathlon to the Gym

Functional fitness builds foundation for multisport athletes.


Functional strength training is part of the foundation for every athlete, particularly in triathlon. Functional strength is the ability to load multiple joints through a full range of motion without restriction, with core strength being the primary focus.

Craig Alexander, 3-time Ironman world champion, says functional strength contributed to his success and an incredibly long career. But you don’t have to be a podium contender to benefit from this form of training. Here’s why strength training matters:

  • It decreases your risk of injury. Being injury-free and training consistently equals success and enjoyment.
  • It improves stability, boosts fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle growth, body awareness and enhances economy of movement and co-ordination.
  • It is an efficient way to gain strength. A lot can be achieved in even 10 minutes.

To optimize your triathlon training, incorporate these simple, yet effective, exercises designed to stimulate the anterior (abdominals) and posterior (lumbar spine) chain. Perform each exercise for 30 seconds (working up to a maximum of 90 seconds) with proper technique and load. Take minimal breaks between exercises.


Five minute treadmill jog or stationary easy spin, 30 seconds bent over double arm side-to-side swings, 30 seconds side-to-side single leg swings, 30 seconds standing forward flexion hamstring stretch, 30 seconds standing back extension stretch.


1. Stability ball walkout, single leg knee tuck, and swim

  • Lie on top of stability ball and walk forward on your hands until your lower legs are on top of the ball.
  • In this plank position, lift and bend your right leg toward your right elbow.
  • Maintaining the plank, lift your right arm off floor, drawing the hand back in a freestyle swim motion.
  • Keep your core and glutes engaged throughout.
  • Repeat 10-14x, alternating sides.

2. Single leg squat/cross-over with shoulder press

  • Standing tall on your left leg with a dumbbell in your right hand, squat down, reaching the dumbbell to the outside of your left leg.
  • Stand and press the dumbbell over your right shoulder.
  • Repeat 6-10x, then switch sides.

3. Hip extension with dumbbell fly

  • Keep feet shoulder width apart, firmly pressed against wall, knees bent, holding Swiss ball between your quads.
  • Slowly lift your upper torso while winging out slightly bent arms with dumbbells or light hand weights, feeling your lumbar and mid-back muscles contract.
  • Repeat 10-15x.

4. Step-up & hop

  • Plant your right foot on a bench and step-up.
  • With enough plyometric force, drive that bent left knee as high up as you can, causing your right foot to lift slightly off bench.
  • Go faster on the up motion, slower on the down.
  • Repeat 12-15x, then switch to the other side.


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