Build Triathlon Specific Strength with Functional Isometrics
Functional Isometrics can be a great way to add some variety to your strength training plan while increasing strength and power within the swim/ bike/ motor patterns. Isometric is defined as the muscle attachment closest and furthest away from the center of gravity maintains a constant length while forces being applied. Functional Isometrics (FI) are used by strength and conditioning coaches in all major sports. By integrating Tri -specific Functional isometrics, triathletes and can achieve higher levels of strength and power exactly where they need it.
There are key positions within the swim/bike/ run patterns that require increases strength or leverage. By incorporating FI into your strength plan, you will develop high levels of isometric strength which will lead to an increase in power and speed.
There are three points during the swim stroke in which isometric would be effective. They are :
1. High elbow catch position at the beginning of the pull phase
2. Mid pull phase when hand is at hip level
3. Extension at back end of stroke.
These isometric exercisers can be done using either a vasa trainer or TRX/ suspension system so that there is no movement when force is applied. Apply 85% effort for 3 to 5 seconds per repetition in each of the three positions. Completing 3 reps per set with a 5 second rest between each repetition. Each set will take 24-50 seconds to complete.
In cycling the point of highest power application is between the 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock point in the pedal stroke. There are two ways FI can be done in this high power zone.
1. Rack Pulls-The First method uses a barbell pulled up against the pins in a power rack at knee and hip angles identical to the powerful position on the bike. Again, hold for 3 to 5 seconds per repetition.
2. Squat or Deadlift with Iso Hold- The second method is to do an isometric hold for 3 seconds at the same joint angle as the rack pull when executing a squat or deadlift. Athletes can use a barbell or hex bar. Hex bars are preferred since it places less stress on the back and knees. Use a controlled eccentric (lowering phase), isometric hold for 3 seconds, then lift weight with a fast acceleration.
In running, there is a point in the stance phase that requires high levels of isometric strength at the point of contact with the ground just before take-off. As with cycling there are two ways this can be accomplished.
1. Single leg Toes taps- Using a barbell in the back-squat position and standing on one leg in a running posture (knees and hips slightly flexed as if initiating the push off phase of the run stride.) This position is maintained while the athlete does lateral toe touches 4 – 10 repetitions before switching legs.
2. Rack Single leg Iso Holds- Hold the barbell in the back-squat position and just like the rack pull exercise above. Pushing up against the pins from a single leg running posture. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds per repetition per leg for 3-5 reps per set.
There are several ways you can integrate Functional Isometrics into your strength training plans. Include FI several times through the training year to increase triathlon specific power. Below is one example of how FI can fit into any strength plan.
Tri set A (alternate between the 3 exercises below until all 3 sets are completed)
hex bar deadlift 3 sets of 5 (3 sec isometric holds just off floor on each rep)
Dumbbell chest press 3 sets of 6
Swim isometric (3 positions) 3sets of 3 sec each at 85% effort
Tri set B
Pull up 3 sets of 6
Slide board leg curl 3 sets of 6
Single leg toe taps 3 sets of 5 taps each leg
Tim Crowley is USAT Level III Coach, owner of TC2 Coaching LLC and the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Montverde Academy. If you have questions Tim can be contacted at email@example.com or timcrowley.biz. Tim’s Training Peaks Coaching Profile can be found at https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach/tc2coaching