The 5 Keys To A Strong, Balanced And Coordinated Musculature

author : BobbyMcgee
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Why triathletes must absolutely warm up, activate muscles, strengthen core, and stretch effectively.  


Triathletes are some of the fittest people on the planet. Deciding to participate in triathlons is not only a sport choice, but also a lifestyle choice—a hugely positive lifestyle choice. I have always been proud of being a triathlete and I have always been extremely honored to be the coach of triathletes both at the Olympic level and at the beginner level.

Asymmetric body development

But despite the all around fitness that is gained by training for the triathlon, this sport, like most sports, has a tendency to develop the body asymmetrically —some muscles become stronger and tighter, while others grow weak and begin to fail in their propulsion and support duties as the race progresses.


Most athletes have a rather good idea what it takes to develop their peripheral muscles— muscles like the quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings, and rectus abdominus (the abs or 6 pack)—but have less knowledge of what it takes to strengthen the core support muscles, those deep layer muscles that cannot be seen under the skin. In fact, these muscles are crucial if we hope to stay injury free as triathletes and have a long and enjoyable journey in the sport over the years.

Consider this: The skull protects the brain, the ribs protect the heart and lungs and some fragile internal organs. The more pliable viscera like the stomach and intestines are protected by shock absorbing fat and a surrounding wall of muscle. None of these organs actually assist in the act of propelling the triathlete’s body through the water, or pushing and pulling on the bike pedals, or catching, loading and driving the body when it runs—they are simply along for the ride! Sure, the brain does the decision making, the heart and lungs distribute oxygen to the working muscles, and the digestive organs provide the necessary fuel, but they do not actually propel us.

In order to get the most out of our bodies as triathletes we need to develop them in a holistic fashion. For example, a common mistake that athletes make when they are injured and cannot run is to bike more. The trouble is that both swimming and cycling, when not balanced with a full run program, tend to over develop our bodies in such a way that we become less effective runners. Swimming and cycling can cause the athlete to arch the back somewhat, making this “mechanism” dominant, which can lead to the ineffective, high-chested upright (and sometimes almost backward) torso position we often see when triathletes run.

How do we make sure that our musculature is strong, balanced, coordinated and prepared to race?

The phrase “warm up” is a very minimally descriptive term for a process that is so important, without it an athlete could literally not have access on race day to the abilities that months of training have produced—to me, as a coach, this is inconceivable! We need to absolutely insure that when we toe that start line, be it our 1st triathlon or our 10th Ironman, our bodies are ready to work on all cylinders for the duration of the event. We want and need to know that we are “switched on” and optimally tuned to produce the performance we genuinely are capable of.

The body, being a safety mechanism, does not care about your triathlon race! We have to con it into believing that the event that we are about to participate in is a life or death affair in which we need all of our resources. Successful athletes do this by performing a detailed, well-planned, specific series of pre-race preparatory activities that:

  • Recruit muscle

  • Mobilize joints

  • Initiate the appropriate bio-chemical processes

  • Facilitate effective movement patterns

  • Bring muscle up to operating temperature

  • Activate the proprioceptive neural systems

  • Put us in a mental and emotional frame of mind that will ensure success

Other than specific mental skills training (that I have covered in an earlier article) the key facets are the following:

1. Recruitment and Facilitation Exercises:
A muscle can only perform work when it is activated. If this does not occur, muscles that are less effective and perform secondary or supportive rolls will take over. The result is a weak, inferior performance. By simply identifying the key muscle groups that require activation and performing a few simple low intensity exercises, the athlete can ensure that they are ready to rock & roll with their training or racing.

2. Aerobic System Initiation:
Just like a car, the heart, lungs, organs, and musculature must be slowly brought up to operating levels. While we do not want to unduly fatigue ourselves, some form of light aerobic activity MUST be performed prior to hard training or racing. This normally takes the form of a walk, easy run, light short bike ride, or relaxed swim.

3. Dynamic Warm Up Drills:
Research has repeatedly proven that stretching the muscles passively before exercise actually can lead to injury and definitely deactivates the muscle groups. A series of activities that increases the range of motion in joints and initiates and establishes the correct motor firing patterns is crucial in the search for our best performances. By loading the muscles dynamically we increase their core temperature and bring the optimum amount of muscle tissue to bear in the activity that we are about to perform. Acquire and consistently execute a series of these activities before intense training and races—you will be amazed at how much better you feel and how your performance improves.

4. Core Conditioning:
A characteristic of well conditioned core muscles is that they hold the body in a safe and effective position for triathlon performance. When a triathlete’s core begins to fail, inefficiency sets in. This leads to a reduction in economy, which in turn slows the athlete and can, in some cases, also lead to injury. Core strength is not abdominal strength—core strength is that level of conditioning that stabilizes the platform off which a propulsion movement occurs.


For example, when running, the leg must first absorb and load elastic energy when the foot strikes the ground, then release it rear-wards as the body drives forward. If the pelvis were unstable, it would buckle under these pressures and valuable energy would “leak” outwards, failing to assist with the running motion. This requires glute (butt muscle) strength, groin strength, low back strength and ab strength—ALL of this is considered the core. Learn an effective strengthening routine and habituate the process.

5. Post Exercise Stretching:
Once training or racing has been completed, various muscle groups will be highly fatigued both mechanically (in the form of microscopic tears) and metabolically (there are many systems that will be working overtime to restore the physiology to normal). In order for the body to absorb training (repair and become stronger), rather than break down (illness and injury), we need to “switch off” the musculature and restore “length” to the possibly dehydrated and fatigued tissues. To do this we need to bring the heart rate down gradually by walking, swimming, running or cycling gently for a short period of time. Then we need to refuel, rehydrate, and stretch.


Like so much about endurance exercise, stretching is surrounded by many myths, and many people either stretch ineffectually or just down right dangerously! The muscle belly needs the stretching, not the origin or the attachment. The muscle being stretched must control the stretch. The antagonistic muscle (opposite) must be activated. If you were to stretch your quad muscle by picking your lower leg up behind you and holding the foot to your butt or close to it, the stretch would be ineffectual if you did not strongly clench your butt—try it, notice the increase in sensation in your mid thigh, rather than in your low back for example.

Approach your training with science and passion. Be your own experiment of one. The body is a complex machine that comes without a manual. Treat it right and it will give you many years of pleasure…

Happy racing out there folks!


Bobby McGee is a highly successful Olympic level coach who has honed his skills over 25 years having worked with a number of the sports greats.
His new manual Running Sports Essentials, which includes detailed programs for the above activities, is available from his website:  You can also get a copy of his critically acclaimed book Magical Running on the mental skills required to succeed in endurance sports from his website.


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date: September 3, 2006


Bobby McGee is an internationally acclaimed endurance coach who has produced an Olympic Champion, world champions and numerous world record holders. Through his coaching, lecturing and writing, he has become a much sought after figure in the world of human potential fulfillment.


Bobby McGee is an internationally acclaimed endurance coach who has produced an Olympic Champion, world champions and numerous world record holders. Through his coaching, lecturing and writing, he has become a much sought after figure in the world of human potential fulfillment.

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