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Muscular Imbalances and Triathletes

By Kelly Wissolik

Endurance athletes spend copious hours training every week. Triathletes in particular spend many hours in the pool, cranking out the miles on the bike and pounding the pavement running. Because swimming, biking and running require athletes to use large muscle groups primarily in the sagittal plane of motion, triathletes will naturally develop muscular imbalances. Triathletes generally become very strong in the larger muscle groups such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, shoulders and sometimes the upper back. While these large muscle groups have a tendency to become over-developed, the smaller stabilizing muscles such as the low back, core, adductors and abductors often become relatively weak by comparison.

In looking at an example of a swimmer, one will see a swimmer with a well developed Latissimus Dorsi, upper back, shoulders and triceps. However, swimmers may not have strong chest and pectoral muscles. Runners on the other hand usually have strong quads due to their constant forward propulsion, yet are likely to have weak abductors and adductors since these muscles are rarely engaged in forward motion. Unlike a soccer or tennis player, a runner must focus on specifically strengthening the stabilizing muscles or risk being injured while trying to catch their balance when running over uneven terrain or across slippery surfaces.  If endurance athletes are experiencing overdeveloped muscles such as quadriceps and underdeveloped muscles such as abductors and adductors, this will create imbalances that may lead to injury, biomechanical inefficiencies and wasted effort. Fortunately, if the right attention is brought to these areas, performance can be enhanced and the chance of injury can be lessened. 

Focusing on various core conditioning and balance movements, along with stretching is an effective way to improve muscular imbalances in triathletes and endurance athletes, all while sharpening mental focus. Furthermore, triathletes will quickly be able to use the body’s entire core strength to generate significantly more sport-specific power! Power from the core will enable an athlete to snap the hips and pull through the water much more powerfully in the swim. A stronger core will improve power and enable athletes to turn the pedal cranks with fluid, complete circles throughout the entire pedal stroke on the bike. A strong powerful core will aid in achieving a more aerodynamic position on the bike while allowing the athlete to run successfully with a forward lean off the bike. 

The core is the catalyst to higher levels of performance and reduced potential of injury. Achieving core stability will propel athletes toward more fluid, efficient movements in every swim, ride and run, because the core is at the center of all we do!  The core consists of the muscles of the abdominals, Torso and lower back. It is the vital link between hip and shoulder stability and it includes such muscle groups as the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, the erector spinae and many small stabilizer muscles between the vertebrae of the spine. With the right types of recruitment and targeted exercises athletes can help the core work together creating a framework of efficiency, leading to higher performance!

Invest the time to find your muscular imbalances – your health, safety and performance will be elevated to a whole new level.

Read more about muscular imbalances

Coach Kelly Wissolik is an elite triathlete and professional triathlon coach (USAT Level II Certified). As an Energy Fitness Coach, she performs Functional Strength Assessments on her athletes and provides them a detailed analysis and personalized exercise drills to correct muscular imbalances. Visit her website at