The 28 days of Christmas pre-season challenge!

With many triathletes starting to turn their attention to their base phases for the season ahead, one of the most important and often neglected aspects of training is strength and conditioning. Strength and conditioning is a broad area to target so we are going to turn our attention to the strength of the core specifically. Core strength is a fundamental building block to being a strong and robust athlete so we have put together an easy to follow core training plan for the 28 days running up to Christmas. The plan is easy to do, simple to follow and will complement any other training you are currently doing. After the 28 days you should find yourself with improved core strength and strengthened calves before Christmas (very useful for any XC running you complete in the off season). So…how does it work…

You will have a 28 day programme to follow which includes four exercises that are completed for a certain number of repetitions or set time each. The number of repetitions or time you complete an exercise will steadily increase throughout the period of 28 days to provide you with a training benefit where you will begin to see results from the work you have put in. At the end of the challenge period you should be able to comfortably carry out the exercises for the amount of repetitions or time that you started the programme off with. However, it is important to ensure that the exercises are carried out with perfect technique and that this is maintained throughout if you want to see the benefits as you need to consistently work the same muscle groups.

Simply read the explanations of each of the exercises below, print off the plan below and follow the routine for each of the 28 days.

These are the four exercises you will need to complete 6 days per week for the 28 days:

Single Leg Squat – begin by setting yourself up with a good neutral spine position ensuring that you are standing tall with relaxed shoulders. Hold your arms out straight in front of you at a 90 degree angle to the body then stand on one leg with the other off the ground behind you as if you were about the start hopping. Find yourself in a nice stable position before then squatting down by bending from the knee on the standing leg until you can no longer see your foot when you look down at the floor (it is important that during this process that you keep your knee in alignment with the angle). When you reach this position, hold for a count of 2 and then slowly return to the single leg standing position before repeating. Whilst you are doing this exercise be aware that you need to recruit the glute muscles and core (think about drawing your belly button into your spine) and remember to swap legs half way through the total number of repeats you need to complete. With this exercise, the amount of repeats that you do will increase as you progress through the programme.

Glute Bridge – lie on your back and bend your knees so that you lower legs come close to your bottom whilst maintaining foot contact with the floor. Hold your arms up at a 90 degree angle to the floor, draw your belly button towards you spine to engage the core and then squeeze your glute muscles to lift your body off the ground, balancing on your shoulders and feet. You should be able to produce a straight diagonal line from shoulders to knees when in the correct position. Hold for a count of 5 before then relaxing down to the floor again. Once your body touches the floor you then need to go straight back into the hold position to keep the exercise dynamic throughout. On day 17 you will begin carrying out this exercise as a single leg exercise. All the same principles apply as above but this time you hold one leg out straight (keeping in line with the knee height of the other leg) and complete it on one leg. For those of you who find this exercise easy, you can use a FitBall which you place underneath your feet and carry the exercise out the same as explained above but with your legs straight. With this exercise, the amount of repeats that you do will increase as you progress through the programme.

Plank- lie on your front propped up on your elbows. Keeping the shoulders nice and relaxed, engage the core by thinking about drawing your belly button into your spine and then lift off the floor onto your toes and forearms whilst keeping your spine in line. With this exercise you want to ensure that you keep your body nice and straight, not letting your hips sag down to the floor or your bottom be raised too high towards the ceiling. Hold yourself in this position for the required time set in the programme. You should feel your abdominals, and glutes throughout this exercise. With this exercise, the amount of time you hold the position for will increase as you progress through the programme.

Calf Raises – for this exercise you need to find somewhere that you can elevate yourself off the ground slightly, the lowest step of the stairs or the side of a pavement would work very well. Once you have found an appropriate place to complete this exercise (it usually helps to find a place where you can also balance yourself, for example the banister of the staircase) keep the balls of your feet on the edge of the ledge with your heels hanging off the edge. Keeping the upper body nice and tall with a good neutral spine position, lower yourself down so that you feel a stretch in your calves and then push onto your toes before lowering yourself back down again. With this exercise, the amount of repeats that you do will increase as you progress through the programme.

Remember that technique is key, enjoy and get strong over the winter months!