As triathletes, we are mired in our normal, daily routine. Wake up. Swim/bike/run. Go to work. Come home. Swim/bike/run. Go to bed. Repeat.
Day after day, our schedules are laid out before us like a road map for our races. But now that there are no races for the foreseeable future, what do we do?
The typical type-A triathlete may be freaking out about not knowing when the season will start or when we can get back in the pool again, or if we will even race at all this year. Rest assured, there will be races again. Only time will tell how soon. But in the meantime, we can’t just stop training. We must continue training under the assumption that our summer races will still happen as scheduled.
If we continue training and the summer races don’t happen, we will be that much further along for our fall races (and if there are no races at all this year, we will be that much further ahead for 2021). However, if we stop our training now and the summer races DO happen, we will be “up the creek without a paddle”, so they say. So now is not the time to despair.
First, let’s start with some GOOD news. The good news is that we can still go outside to run and ride our bikes (although, outdoor bike riding won’t happen for me until the weather gets a little bit warmer!) The key here is that you should be going out ALONE. If you do go with someone else, make sure you are obeying the 6 feet rule with that person AND anyone you pass on the trail/road. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus and when you are exercising and breathing hard, it puts you and others around you at an increased risk.
The bad news is that none of us can swim right now (except for those who have an endless pool!) But that doesn’t mean you have to let your swim muscles fall by the wayside. There are many different exercises you can do to simulate swimming movements from the comfort of home.
Speaking of being at home, many of us are working from home and may have some additional free time without the added time to drive to the gym or to work. Our schedules have become freer than ever before, so now we have the opportunity to train more than ever before! Unfortunately, pools are closed and we can’t train with others like we usually do. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of our time at home! Below are a variety of exercises and training ideas for the swim, bike, and run that you can do during the quarantine.
Just because we can’t swim in the pool right now, doesn’t mean we can’t build stronger swim muscles. There are many at-home exercises you can do to simulate swimming. Personally, I have a resistance band cord that I tied loops in the end of to form handles so I can “swim” at home. Just loop the tubing around a doorknob and you’ve got a swim setup anywhere you can imagine!
You can also use a medicine ball and do ball slams. Take the ball overhead in two hands and slam it down to the ground in front of you and side-to-side. One-handed ball slams are a bit more difficult but will work your muscles that much more!
Pull-ups are another great exercise for your swim muscles. But what if you don’t have a pull-up bar at home? No problem! Here is an at-home variation you can do. Place a towel on a smooth floor. Lie face down with your stomach on the towel. Put your arms overhead, slightly wider than shoulder-width, with your elbows slightly bent (like in a pull-up position). Press your hands and forearms into the floor and pull yourself forward across the floor. Bonus – you’ll get a clean floor after you’re done!
Like I mentioned earlier, the good news is we can still go outside to bike. Just make sure you’re riding alone and obeying the 6 feet rule for anyone you come across. A good way to avoid this is to pick routes that will be less crowded. Maybe that means picking a new route and even discovering some new scenery!
However, for many of us (myself included), it’s still a little too cold to ride outside. Thankfully, many of us have indoor stationary trainers that we can set our bikes up on. Now is a great time to put in some extra miles on the trainer while bingeing a new Netflix series (if you haven’t watched The Tiger King yet, you’re missing out!)
I know that riding on an indoor trainer is far less engaging than being outside, but it doesn’t have to be! You can vary your cadence and intensity to make your indoor ride fly by. Here is an example of a workout that I like to do on the trainer:
- 15’ warm-up
- 9’ as 3 x 30” on, 30” off of each – 1. high cadence 2. big gear 3. race pace
- 8′ aerobic
- 7′ aerobic as 1′ at 105rpm, 1′ at 110rpm, 30″at highest cad possible!
- 6′ tempo
- 5′ aerobic as 1′ at 100rpm, 3′ at 110rpm, 1′ at 100rpm
- 4′ negative split from tempo to 40k
- 3′ aerobic as 30″ at highest cadence possible, 30″ easy
- 2′ tempo
- 1′ at highest cad possible
- 5’ cool down
That will get you just over an hour’s worth of work on the bike. If you want to go longer, you can go back the other way once you finish the 1’ effort. So you would go 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-1-2-3-4-5-6-
If you have a treadmill, you’re all set! You don’t need to venture out at all. But treadmill running can be monotonous. An easy way to keep things interesting and stay engaged is to change the speed and/or incline throughout your run. One of my favorite ways to do this is by doing a “ladder”.
- Run at your normal pace and a 0.5% incline (to best simulate the effects of outdoor running)
- After 2-3 minutes, increase the incline to 1% but decrease the speed by 0.3mph
- Run another 2-3 minutes, then increase the incline to 2% and decrease the speed by another 0.3mph
- Run 2-3 minutes, then increase the incline to 3% and decrease the speed by another 0.3mph
- Run 2-3 minutes, then decrease the incline back to 2% and increase speed by 0.3mph (same as #3)
- Run 2-3 minutes, then decrease the incline to 1% and increase speed by 0.3mph (same as #2)
- Run 2-3 minutes, then decrease the incline to 0.5% and increase speed by 0.3mph (same as #1)
From a physiological perspective, you’re working just as hard for each of the different speed/incline combinations. You’re just changing how you get there. Running hills also recruits different muscles which can turn you into a stronger, better runner.
Running is something that we call all do outside. But again, it is important to do this alone or obeying the 6 feet rule if with another person. Discover new routes and go off the beaten path, literally! Find a new trail to run and discover. The benefit of trail running is that it forces you to slow down and focus. It’s also very beneficial at strengthening your legs in different ways than running on the roads. All the tiny stabilizing muscles that don’t get worked when we run on the road suddenly become active when running on trails.
Now I know that we triathletes typically stay away from the weights. Whether that’s because we don’t have enough time or we would rather be swimming/biking/running, but now is a perfect time to get started! Strength training helps our bodies become more resilient and can help prevent injury.
There are several exercises you can do at home to get stronger. We already discussed a few upper body strength workouts you can do for your swim muscles, but the lower body exercises are just as bountiful: squats, lunges, calf raises, leg lifts, jumps, and the list goes on! What’s more is that within each of those exercises, there are a variety of ways to do them that can keep things interesting and varied. And if you want to add weight, there are a couple of unique ways you can do that without having gym equipment.
- Use your kids! Pick them up and use them as weights. Getting them involved in your exercise routine will instill good habits in them from a young age
- Use luggage! Fill an empty suitcase with books or clothes or whatever you have lying around the house and use that for added weight for your exercises
- Use old recycling items! Do you have some empty milk jugs you were going to recycle? Well instead, fill them with water and you’ve got homemade hand weights!
- Use appliances! Have a microwave on the counter? Unplug and use it for additional weight. And if you really want to show off, unplug your refrigerator and carry it around on your back up and down your driveway! (Okay, don’t actually do that but it would be really funny!)
- Use furniture! Do biceps curls with your kitchen chairs. Squat down and lift your couch over and over. And bonus – have your significant other or kids get the vacuum out and vacuum under the couch while you work out!
At the end of the day
For those of you lucky enough to have an endless pool, an indoor bike trainer, a treadmill, and a gym in your garage, we are all envious! For everyone else, we just have to get creative! Hopefully, some of the ideas I provided help with that. Just remember, this will likely be the only time in our lives that we have an opportunity to stay at home for this long, train when we want, and spend time with our loved ones. Enjoy it. There are thousands of workers who are literally putting their lives on the line to keep us all healthy. They would do anything to be in our shoes. And for those who are going into work, we thank you for everything you are doing to keep us safe.
Stay healthy, everyone. And happy training!
Todd Buckingham, Ph.D. is the Lead Exercise Physiologist at the Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab. He is a decorated triathlete and has accolades such as:
- 2018 World Champion Sprint and Olympic distance Triathlon
- 2019 National Champion Duathlon
- Worked with all levels of athletes from beginners to NCAA division 1 to professional
- Earned his Ph.D. in Kinesiology from Michigan State University
- Expert in endurance performance testing and studied the physiological and performance-related factors associated with faster finishing times in triathlons
- 1:08:22 half-marathon PR and 2:25:29 marathon PR
- 6-time Grand Rapids Triathlon participant