Strong abdominal muscles are vital for triathletes because the core is responsible for the stable transfer of forces and movements between the upper and lower extremities. That transfer of power is necessary for the running, swimming and biking activities that make up a triathlon. Triathletes should incorporate several abdominal-specific training exercises into their workout regimen.
A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the bicycle crunch is the most effective exercise for targeting the rectus abdominus or main ab muscles and the second best exercise for targeting the obliques or side abs. To perform the exercise, lie on your back on a mat with your hands at the sides of your head. Contract your ab muscles and lift your knees to a 45 degree angle. Move your legs in a slow cycling pattern and twist your torso so that your elbows alternately reach the opposite knee as your legs go back and forth.
Another effective abdominal exercise is the Captain's Chair. It ranked second in the ACE abdominal study for strengthening the rectus abdominus and first for strengthening the obliques. Stand in a Captain’s Chair apparatus with your forearms on the padded parallel bars and your hands on the handles. Push your back against the vertical pad and contract your ab muscles. Slowly flex your hips and knees to raise your legs, aiming to reach your knees to your chest. Slowly extend your hips and knees to return to the starting position.
Stability Ball Crunch
The stability ball crunch ranked third in the ACE study for targeting the main abdominal muscles. The instability of this ball forces the abs and supporting muscles to work hard to keep you in position, making it a more challenging and effective alternative to the regular floor crunch. Lie with your lower back on the ball and your knees bent in a 90-degree angle. You can place your hands across your chest, behind your ears or straight over your head to perform this exercise. Contract your ab muscles and slowly curl up, bringing your shoulders off the ball. Pause briefly and slowly return to the starting position.
Planks are a safe exercise to strengthen the abdominal muscles because they do not have risk of neck or back strained associated with traditional abdominal crunches. To perform a regular plank, lie prone on a mat. Place your forearms and your toes on the mat and lift your body so that it is in a straight line. Hold the position as long as you can. To perform a side plank, which targets your obliques, lie on your side on the mat with your right leg stacked on top of your left leg. Rest on your left forearm and lift your body up so that your torso is in a straight line. Hold the position for as long as possible and repeat on the other side.
How and When to Train
Apart from the plank exercise, which can be performed to failure, perform three sets of each exercise; each set consists of 10 to 25 repetitions. If you find that this amount of repetitions is not challenging, slow down your movements to increase the intensity of each exercise. While many people train their abs every day, treat your abdominals as you do any other muscle and give adequate rest time to recover and strengthen between workouts. Leave at least 48 hours between your abdominal workouts.
- American Council on Exercise: Functional Training for Triathletes
- American Council on Exercise: American council on Exercise (ACE) - Sponsored Study Reveals Best Abdominal Exercises
- Exercise Prescription: Weighted Vertical Leg-Hip Raise
- 7 Weeks to a Triathlon; The Complete Day-By-Day Program to Train for Your First Race …; Bret Stewart et al; page 100
- Trifuel: A Speed, Power & Core Workout for Triathletes
- American Council on Exercise: Should I Train My Abdominals Every Day?
Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.