S&C programme is key for jelly legs!

Sarah Green explains how to stop that feeling of jelly legs when you get off the bike and still have a run to do… TriathlonPlus Physio Corner September 2016

It’s very easy to think that swimming, running and cycling alone is enough when training for a triathlon. But then why do we all know that feeling of ‘heavy legs’ when you get off the bike in transition and you think “how am I ever going to run when my legs feel like this?”  If we want to maximise performance, ensure our muscles are ready for the sudden change in activity and stop that uncomfortable ‘jelly leg’ feeling, it is key to add in an element of strength and conditioning to your training programme.

The combination of the three disciplines means we need good flexibility, core stability and strength.  A dynamic strength and conditioning programme will help stabilise joints, improve performance and increase muscle efficiency. This is particularly important in triathletes because repetitive movements such as running and cycling, can result in certain muscles becoming shorter and tighter whilst the opposite muscles become weak and lazy.

Good hip extension is essential for a good running technique to ensure the glutes activate well to stabilise you when running. However, after cycling our hip flexors often become very tight due to the position on the bike. This tightness can make it almost impossible to get the glutes, the opposite muscles to hip flexors, firing correctly ready for the run. In the long term, this can often result in the knees and shins being overloaded, frequently causing pain. Exercises specific to glute strengthening and hip flexor mobility will reduce this risk of injury.

Lots of training time on the bike can cause our upper backs and shoulders to get very stiff, this can be detrimental not only to cycling, but also to swimming and running. Regular upper back flexibility and shoulder mobility exercises will help with this.  Finally, having good core stability will enable you to maintain good alignment and therefore improve your efficiency when swimming, your stability on the bike and your posture when running.

Strength training also helps target specific areas to promote muscle balance and stability. It helps the body’s tissues become used to higher levels of loading, enabling them to deal with the increased demands of training and competing and therefore minimising the risk of injury.  It is also key in improving postural imbalance and therefore improving efficiency.

Common concerns that many triathletes have is that strength and conditioning will increase their muscle bulk. If you are doing regular high intensity exercises such as cycling and running, it is almost impossible to put on large amounts of muscle bulk, instead you will become leaner, stronger and faster. Secondly, this does not mean you have to hit the gym and lift huge weights. Try circuits in the park, use weights at home and use the following simple exercises to improve your strength and control. Ensure you keep good form when doing these exercises and if this is new to you, take it slowly and take time to build up your reps. 30 minutes, 3 times a week can be enough to ease that heavy/ jelly leg feeling in transition and give you an all-round more efficient performance.

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