The Price of Performance – Activation

This week Alex Price, physiotherapist to the pros, shows us how to maximise your strength and conditioning training through muscle activation

In triathlon there has been much written about WHAT and HOW MANY of each exercise to do, but there has been very little written about the specifics of WHEN to do them in order to maximise benefit.

The timing of strength and stability work is vital, as an athlete will benefit from stress on specific tissues at the correct time to either 1) activate them; 2) fatigue them to build strength and resilience; or 3) rehearse and improve a skill.

These are the three categories I typically split the strength and conditioning work I do with athletes into; Activation, Strength Work and Sill Based Conditioning. I will split this series of blogs into three. This week I will cover the importance of ACTIVATION exercises and their timing.

Activation exercises are done to ‘wake up’ the correct muscles prior to exercise, encouraging them to work during the training session. By doing these exercises we are also getting the neural pathways (a web of electrical wires to a muscle) working in the correct sequence.

Activation exercises are paramount in switching on the ‘lazy muscles’ such as the core, gluteal muscles, rotator cuffs and other vital stabilising and inhibited muscles which are key to moving and training well.

Ideally the athlete would be assessed and given a small group of specific exercises that they do as part of their warm up that are specific to their individual needs. Then by incorporating them daily they can be hugely effective in correcting imbalances or weakness in an athlete and developing key areas of strength. This means they will be using the correct muscles during the training session, and therefore also getting stronger in key areas as a result of the training session. This will not only help to prevent injury, it will also improve performance through more controlled movement and strength.

Recommendations to get the most from activation work

– If possible get an experienced triathlon physio to assess any individual areas you need to work on as an athlete

– 4–10 reps for each exercise with 2 sets on each side.

– Doing the exercise until you feel very slight fatigue, do not fatigue the muscle, or you will tire your muscles out for the training session.

– Make it a part of your warm up routine. It will then become a habit allowing you to reap the rewards.

Swim specific activation exercises

-Plank – progress to lifting one leg and opposite arm.

-Dumbell/medicine ball pull over – keep back flat.

-Theraband exercises – very good (I recommend stretch cords also)

oExternal and internal rotation – in varied positions of shoulder range

oShoulder extension – taking arms back and squeezing shoulder blades

oCatch position – flat back, mimicking initial swim catch

Ride and Run specific activation exercises

-Calf raises

-Heel walks


-¼ squat – taking bottom back

-Squat into standing knee and arm drive

-Leg swings


Check back over the coming weeks for Alex’s new training blogs or follow him on twitter @apricey10
You can also check out Alex’s video on 5 Triathlon Specific Exercises to Stay Injury Free on