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The TBN #46-90% of Triathlon Injuries Comes From Running. Here's How to Avoid Them

Updated: Apr 8

Read time: 3min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Most of injuries in triathlon comes from running. Here is how to avoid them.

In over 30 years of experience as both an athlete and a coach, I have concluded that, surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, about 90% of these injuries in triathlon training come from one source: running. When you consider the constant impact of each stride compared to the more "gravity-free" activities of swimming or cycling, it makes sense.

A 2020 study, which looked into the injuries of 174 triathletes, presented a slightly more optimistic picture, with injuries from running at 71%. However, this still shows a significant trend. So, how do we navigate this minefield of potential injuries?

Here are some strategies that have proven effective:

Gradual Changes are Key:

A lot of running injuries result from sudden changes in intensity or volume. So, progressivity is king. This applies also to introducing new shoes too quickly. Use new shoes gradually and resist the urge to take them on a long run fresh out of the box.

Find Your Volume Sweet Spot:

Injuries often hit those who run too little or too much the hardest. Beginners might experience aches as their bodies adjust, while seasoned athletes pushing high mileage risk overuse injuries (according to the same study, 41% of injuries are caused by overtraining). Finding that sweet spot is crucial for your training longevity.

Focus on Running Technique:

Emphasizing a higher frequency and avoiding overstriding can keep injuries away. Higher frequency will lower peak impact, and landing your foot underneath you rather than in front of you will allow the stride impact to be absorbed with the whole body and not just your knee or hips. It’s not just about running more, but running smarter.

Combat the Sedentary Lifestyle:

The hours spent in poor posture in front of your computer or phone can't be undone with training alone. Sitting for prolonged periods can tighten your posterior chain, leading to reduced activation of your glutes and hips, which can exacerbate pain during runs or even lead to muscle tears. Sitting is the new cigarette; it’s a silent killer. Make it a point to shift positions at least every 20 minutes.

Embrace Cross-Training:

To excel in triathlon running, arriving fresh at T2 is essential. This requires a balance in your swim and bike training. Use longer bike sessions to build endurance while keeping your run lengths in check; this strategy is particularly beneficial for heavier athletes. Don’t underestimate also the swim volume. If you lose too much energy in the aquatic battle, you won’t have it on the run.

Shorter, More Frequent Runs:

Instead of a few long runs, opt for shorter, more frequent sessions. This can help maintain good posture and form, which are vital for injury prevention.

Incorporate Strength Training: Endurance might get you far, but strength keeps you going. Weakness in posture towards the end of a race is often due to a lack of strength rather than endurance. Adding strength training to your program can help maintain form, especially in the last kilometers of the race.

Don't Neglect Mobility:

As a complement to strength training, mobility exercises address the limitations due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. A routine focusing on mobility can facilitate a more efficient running technique with fewer restrictions.

The beauty of triathlon lies in the variety of its disciplines, making it easier to remain injury-free if the cross-benefits of all three are understood and used smartly. Swimming can eliminate nagging pains through the natural stretching that occurs in the horizontal body position in water. Cycling allows for long hours of endurance training, which is not feasible in running without a high risk of injury. In my training method, I always emphasize maintaining running volume on the quality side rather than focusing on volume.

Ultimately, the best way to perform on race day is to be able to show up, rather than staying on the bench because of overtraining. This also highlights the importance of effective coach-athlete communication in fine-tuning the right training volume to gather progress and avoid pitfalls.


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