What is the role of core training for triathletes?
A broad interpretation of the core is any muscle in the region between the buttocks and the chest.
All movements start at the core, and in swimming, the core could even be considered almost a prime mover - it is that important in generating propulsion.
Core strength and stability training have been prescribed to endurance athletes for decades. The reasoning is that improved core strength and stability can prevent injuries, improve biomechanics (like holding your posture for extended durations), and improve performance.
What research studies have actually found is that, yes, core training is strongly linked to injury prevention.
For example, reduced hip abduction strength and hip external rotation have been shown to increase the risk of knee (patellofemoral) pain, and to injury overall over the course of an entire season of running.
Similarly, ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) has been linked to weaknesses in glute medius.
When it comes to performance, most of the available research points to there being no direct link between core strength and performance.
However, performance is of course affected by injury. So if core training prevents injuries, it seems clear that it indirectly supports improved performance, although the link is not causal.
It should also be noted that core strength’s potential impact on performance may only become apparent after an extended duration. Think of how your running form may start to break down at mile 20 of a marathon, although it was perfectly fine when you started.
These kinds of delayed effects are rarely tested in research studies, and to my knowledge haven’t been tested for core training.
So it wouldn’t be surprising if there is a direct performance link between core strength and endurance performance, that only becomes apparent in a fatigued state.
With all this background information out of the way, what are some practical recommendations for triathlon core training?
Doing 3-7 core training sessions per week are recommended, 10-20 minutes each.
Tucking 10-20 minutes of core work onto the end of a weightlifting session is a great way to get a couple of core sessions in per week at no extra cost.
Include a variety of exercises, and focus in particular on the hips and glutes. Make sure you also include unilateral exercises (e.g. single-leg glute bridge vs. normal glute bridge) and exercises with lateral movement in general (e.g. crab walk).
Recommended core training exercises
Plank exercises (rectus and transverse abdominus, back)
Side planks (hips, transverse abdominus, obliques, glutes)
Hips / abductors / glutes
Hamstrings + glutes
Abdominals + obliques