Tons of Tri Cross-Training Offseason Options (Part Two): By Ben Greenfield

Close-up of Golf Club and Golf Ball 1tennis

Part 1 of this article was featured in “The YoungTri Times” Newsletter. You can also view it here.

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Indoor or outdoor soccer:

Like downhill skiing and snowboarding, soccer requires quick, explosive
efforts, but each effort is followed by active recovery, rather than complete
rest. As a result, muscular endurance and the ability to buffer lactic acid
can be vastly improved by playing soccer. Although a similar muscular
endurance effect can be achieved with cross country or skate skiing,
soccer has the advantage of being biomechanically identical to a specific
triathlon skill – running. Therefore, the muscular endurance can be
enhanced with better leg turnover and stride length.

In addition, triathletes are notoriously weak in side-to-side motion, resulting
in a higher risk of injury to overtrained front-to-back motion muscles. The
frequent changes of direction and lateral movement in soccer can address
this weakness.

Compared to triathlon, you’ll find some sports to be relatively dirt cheap,
and soccer is a perfect example, simply requiring a stable pair of shoes
(cleats are optional), and possibly a ball. If you are in a cold climate, look
for an indoor soccer league in your area. If you are in a warm climate, and
have difficulty finding a soccer game to join, try an ultimate Frisbee league

Summary: Improve muscular endurance, stride turnover and length, and
lateral movement ability.


Similar to soccer, basketball improves muscular endurance with explosive
efforts followed by active recovery, and can also improve stride turnover
and length. However, the arm jostling and pushing, shooting and passing

in basketball are good upper body training, while the frequent jumping and
landing are perfect lower body plyometrics, which have been shown to
improve running economy in distance runners.

Like soccer, basketball requires minimal equipment: shoes and a ball.
You’ll be able to find pick-up games on the schedule of your local
health club or gym. If you find yourself on a busy court, the weakness of
basketball for exercise-obsessed triathletes is the requirement to stand
around between games as you wait your turn to play. But by jumping rope,
shooting or jogging and dribbling between games, you can turn an hour of
basketball into pure fitness.

Summary: Improve muscular endurance, stride turnover and length, lateral
movement ability and plyometric training.

Tennis: As an ex-collegiate tennis player, I can honestly say that the only
sport during which I have ever thrown-up due to extreme fatigue was
tennis. With frequent start-stop and lateral motions, torso, and upper
body and lower body power requirements, and long time spent “on your
feet”, a rigorous game of tennis can be highly effective cardiovascular and
muscular training.

Tennis offers many of the same training effects soccer and basketball,
but also requires a high degree of torso and shoulder rotation, stability
and power, resulting in good cross-over for the core stability required for
distance running and swimming.

A tennis skirt or white polo is entirely optional, and for tennis, you simply
need access to a public court, a tennis racquet and a can of balls.

Summary: Improve muscular endurance, stride turnover and length, lateral
movement ability, upper body strength and core stability.

Golf: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Surely the sport of golf is far too
sedentary relative to triathlon for any possible cross-training effect. But not
only does the golf swing provide similar torso and core rotational power
stimulation as tennis, but also similar enhanced shoulder and upper body

power. In addition, the long walking required during 18 holes of non-cart
golf is perfect for an injured triathlete who has been forced into low-impact
aerobic cardio due to knee or foot injuries, and for that injured athlete,
golf can be a welcome break from simply hiking, going on a long walk,
or staring at a TV on a treadmill. Don’t worry, there is no need to join an
expensive country club – most metropolitan areas have a range of public
courses that offer hitting lessons, affordable golf, and even club rentals.

Summary: maintenance of aerobic fitness during injury, upper body
strength and core stability.

Final Tips: For many of the cold climate athletes who I coach that have an
early season half-marathon, marathon or triathlon, we will use a half-day
of winter sports such as skiing as a pre-fatigue activity for an early evening
aerobic run. Soccer, basketball and tennis can also be turned into a long
endurance run or brick training event by “sandwiching” a game between an
aerobic run or bike ride to the sporting venue.

Below, you’ll find a sample week for using sports in an off-season cross-
training program, without completely neglecting triathlon skills (this is
actually how my Ironman triathlon training program frequently looks during
the winter):

(click the picture to make the chart bigger)

table ben

I realize there are some sports that were not addressed in detail in this
article, such as volleyball, water polo, Frisbee golf, badminton, cricket,
rugby, and other sports that I’ve probably never heard of. But you now
possess the knowledge to creatively analyze how a sport will help your
triathlon skills, and the confidence to hop off your wheel and try some new
activities without the fear of losing your triathlon fitness.

Tons of Tri Cross-Training Offseason Options (Part 1): By Ben Greenfield


Triathletes are kind of like hamsters on wheels. We finish a season of training and racing, then realize that we don’t really know how to do much more than stare at the bottom of a pool, spend hours in a bike saddle, or pound the pavement in our running shoes. We become accustomed and addicted to the wheels of swimming, cycling and running, and whenever physical activity beckons we begin turning those wheels.

And so, from October through March, many triathletes in cold climates
spend the majority of their training time staring at the underwater lane
lines, hunched over the aerobars of an indoor training bike, and wearing
away the surface of a treadmill belt. On the other hand, triathletes in warm
climates just keep on swimming, cycling and running outdoors. The result
is often a feeling of being stuck in an exercise rut, and being mentally and
physically burnt out when the next race season finally arrives.

Although it may not seem like it,  there is a wide world of sports just outside your front door – and many of these sports are not only entertaining and a fresh mental break from triathlon training, but also a perfect way to address cardiovascular fitness deficiencies, train weak muscles, stimulate and grow the mind and expand social circles. This article will give you a variety of off-season
sports to choose as an ideal cross-training strategy, and give you tips
for becoming involved in these sports – for both cold weather and warm
weather triathletes.

Cross country skiing or skate skiing:

Your first clue that these snow sports have an incredible cardiovascular
effect should be the fact that cross country skiers have a higher oxygen
utilization capacity than any other athlete on the face of the planet. If
you’ve seen the winter Olympics, then you may have witnessed the
incredible pumping action required by both arms and legs during either
sport. While cross-country skiing will strengthen hip flexors and hip
extensors, the skate skiing motion shifts more force to the adductors and
outer hip rotators, while requiring a high degree of single leg balance.
Interestingly, all of these muscles and movements are chronically weak in
many distance runners, and also necessary for enhancing cycling power.
Both activities require a push-off arm motion that involves many of the
same muscles as the pull phase of the swim stroke.

Triathletes who want to reduce risk of running injuries, improve tolerance
to lactic acid, and enhance cycling power will benefit from these cross
country or skate skiing. If you begin these sports, expect to experience
not just flats and hills (there are no chair lifts in this sport), but also faster
downhill stretches. While ski equipment is certainly expensive, many
bargains can be found at used sporting goods stores and ski swaps – you
can easily start skiing with a $200 investment.

Summary: Train weak running and shoulder muscles, and improve
muscular endurance.

Downhill skiing or snowboarding:

I’ve put these two sports in a different category because from a
physiological standpoint, they are completely different beasts. While cross
country and skate skiing fall into the category of muscular endurance,
downhill skiing and snowboarding fall into the category of power
endurance. Power endurance fitness requires the ability to move slowly for
long periods of time, interspersed by brief efforts of high intensity exercise.
While this may seem counter-productive to triathlon, research has shown
that high intensity interval training with hard work periods followed by
long rest periods can produce a highly beneficial aerobic training effect.
In addition, explosive or dangerous efforts can stimulate a hormonal
response that enhances testosterone product and lean muscle tissue

In these higher speed snow sports, the rotational hip power and the
required ability of the core to respond to quick changes in direction results
in torso stability and strength, which is perfect for both swimmers and

If you begin either of these sports, plan on working hard for 5-10 minutes,
and then getting a long rest on the chairlift after each hard effort. If you do

not plan on cross-training with this sport enough to justify a spendy season
ticket, simply purchase a 5-10 visit punch-card at the beginning of the

Summary: Improve power, hip rotation, and lower body lean muscle.

Check out Part Two here.

Ben Greenfield is YoungTri’s official coach and nutritionist.

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