Working out in the gym during the off-season and continuing through the season is extremely important. If you haven't been in the gym for at least six weeks, start with the smaller muscles groups. Triathletes who have been dormant as far their strength work should initially address the support muscles around the hips, glutes, abs, low back and the rotator cuff.
Jumping in to squats right off the bat to strengthen the hips and glutes should be secondary to strengthening the smaller muscles, preferring exercises that first enhance the stability of the joint, followed by increasing balance and then strength. Stability and balance form the foundation of this platform.
The first exercise I recommend is a lateral dog lift (it kind of looks like a dog next to a fire hydrant). Get down on all fours, keep your arms straight and lift one leg out to the side. Make sure your foot isn't tucked behind you, but that the angle of your knee is 90 degrees and the angle at your hip is 90 degrees. Bring the leg back down but don't touch your knee to the ground. You're supporting your weight on your arms and other leg. Keep your back straight. Do eight to 12 repetitions with one leg, then switch.
What happens is you end up working that leg's glute as well as stabilizing the other leg's glute. You'll begin to feel it more in the leg that isn't moving once you get up to 10 or 12 reps.
Start with a couple of sets and then go up to three after three weeks. To make it harder, once you have one leg in the up position, pulse it up and down for about six reps. Just move it in a very short range of about five or six inches. That will heighten the muscle stimulation.
Athletes will be dumbfounded how weak they feel after doing this, because as soon as they take their leg out of the plane where they run and ride and they move it out laterally, they'll realize that those muscles are weak. Again, the support muscles are invigorated in the multiple planes.
For athletes who are a little more fit, you can do a sequence for each side. After performing two to three sets of the lateral dog lifts, do a lateral swing. In the same motion, lift your leg up to the fire hydrant, then extend it straight out to the side. From there, swing your leg forward on a lateral plane. Your legs are about 18 inches off the ground--about the height of your back. See if you can swing it as far as your hands. Then swing it back on that same lateral plane.
You're working your hip flexor a little bit, but also your abdominals, primarily the obliques. The order is right leg, left leg, or you can do it in sequence: 12 reps of dog lifts on one leg then 12 reps of the lateral swing with the same leg--switch to the other leg and repeat two to three times.
To further challenge yourself, on the lateral swing, rather than bring your leg all the way forward, stop at about 45 degrees with your leg out to the side. Then move it up and down, bringing the instep of your foot down to the ground before raising it up. Do eight to twelve reps. By changing the angle just a little bit, you're starting to work the whole hip/glute complex.
The next exercise is what I call a mule kick. In the same position, draw your knee under your chest. Then you just kick it straight back without arching your back. When your leg is in that back position, bend your knee and elevate your heel so it goes straight up--your knee is at a 90 degree angle. That's the mule kick. Repeat the pattern.
Another variation is to make a big circle with your leg straight behind you. Do eight to twelve reps of clockwise and then eight to twelve counterclockwise. Emphasize the up and out movement of the rotations. This will really work your hips.
This is an excellent series to start with. You're in a stable position and by doing it in sequence
all right leg then all left legyou activate those muscles that are dormant. It's great to do before a ride or run to warm up the glutes and hips.
A second series of exercises can be performed with a stretch cord. Tie it together so you have a loop opening about a foot in diameter. Step inside the loop and put it around your ankles. Spread your feet apart about shoulder width so that the stretch cord has some tension. Bend your knees slightly so you look like a sumo wrestler.
You're basically doing a sideways walk. I usually take 20 to 30 steps to the left then 20 to 30 steps to the right. This works the external rotators of the hips and also "fires" the muscle on the inside of the knee--Vastus Medialus.
There are a lot of other variations of this. You can also try to walk forward, as if you had wet pants. Bring your knees up a little higher and that will engage your glutes and hip flexors. You can walk on your tiptoes forward, and then walk backwards the same way. Give these exercises a try--three times per week. They will help your running and cycling.
My next blog will address exercises for the shoulder area.