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.

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