Tri Cross-Training Secrets

Triathlon is an amazing sport because it allows us to vary our training a lot compared to the majority of single discipline sports. I am sure that if you think back to when you began training for your first ever triathlon event, one of the appeals was the challenge of training to master all three disciplines. I believe one of the big reasons why so many people enjoy triathlon for such a long time is because we are constantly swapping between swim, bike and run training, and mixing up our training so much.

However, I’m sure you will agree there are times when we mentally need to shift the gears out of the normal routine. If you are searching for a long ‘career’ in the sport it is important to stray from the path every now and then. Now, I am sure many of you reading can be just as O.C.D as I am about completing their weekly structured training plans and of course this is a very important part for consistent performance and improvement. However, what I am eluding to is that there can be a time and a place for taking the foot off the gas of your structured swim, bike and run training while still getting physical training benefits in a mentally refreshing manner within a new activity.


Hiking is one of the best-kept secrets in distance running. Many of the world’s best marathon runners use hiking to build leg strength, endurance and base mileage without having to rely solely on the harsh impact that a running-only approach offers. The science behind this is that when you are walking uphill your are relying a lot on your glute activation to move you forwards and upwards. This muscle recruitment can be likened to running hard, at speed without having the high impact that this would ordinarily require. For triathletes improved glute strength is especially important as we rely a lot on this for our cycling.

On downhill stretches, hiking recruits our quadriceps and being that all these actions are at a slower speed to running, your core will be working hard to stabilise you. In summary, the thought process behind hiking is similar to a lot of the leg and core work you may do in the gym, where you are doing movements at a slower speed to running with the goal
of improving your muscle activation
and strength.

The ability to get a great functional workout from hiking and being able to explore a beautiful environment or trail with friends, family or even alone is a great way to mentally recharge while giving your body a great functional workout.

Mountain Biking 

If you follow the training exploits of a lot of the top professional triathletes, you may be aware of just how many of them spend time on their mountain bikes. The lure of being able to do a portion of your ride training in a new environment and away from busy roads and traffic lights is an amazing way to spend a few hours. Mountain bikes are great for a variety of different reasons with one of the big benefits being that it teaches you to become a better bike handler and technical rider. It is one thing to descend or corner well on the road and another thing entirely to become proficient at descending and cornering on a rocky downhill mountain bike trail. By working on making sure you are confident at descending and cornering on a mountain bike, these same technical actions on a road bike should feel like a piece of cake.


I really believe that functional strength, stability and stretching is an area that more triathletes need to embrace as a big part of their quest for improvement. Pilates and yoga differ in that pilates helps you to learn how to correctly switch on your core and various individual muscles, while yoga is typically more focused on flexibility. For triathletes, yoga is a great tool in your training toolbox that can be credited to faster recovery times and decreasing the likelihood of injuries.

To sum up, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to increase the volume and/or intensity of your swimming, biking and running training on the quest for improvement. However, by looking outside the box and embracing the often overlooked activities that are both mentally refreshing and physically rewarding, you can be sure to see improvements in your performance by staying mentally fresh.


Sam Betten

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