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4 single-leg exercises for triathletes

Will Jurkowski, a professional triathlete training in Boulder, Colorado, discusses the concept of functional core and gives 4 single-leg exercises for triathletes.

Core is a broad term applied to things as varied as having a six-pack for summer or maintaining proper hip position during running.

The importance of core work is determined by how it is applied to a given sport – but what does that really mean? At 6’2 and 154 lbs I never had the slightest inclination core was something I was going to show off at the beach, that’s just not in the cards. So let’s talk about how a strong core serves me in triathlon.

As a professional triathlete, functional core is a concept that permeates our strength sessions. In order to be effective at swimming, riding or running an athlete must first create a strong foundation from which to work. While core is often thought of as the abdominal/oblique muscles (as well as those you can’t see on the surface), we’re going to look a little outside this box and think about where power production starts in all three sports.

Hint: It’s in the hips!

(I’m always seeking information to constantly enhance my understanding and better focus my training. I seek out information constantly to enhance my understanding and better focus my training. At RallySport in Boulder I am continually peppering one of our strength coaches (Amy Quirion) with questions about what exercises I need to add to strengthen my hips and build a stronger foundation. )

Core strength, balance and swimming

Power and – maybe more importantly – balance in the water comes from the core and the hips.

Drawing the belly button towards the spine and finding a neutral position in the water allows us to use power to move forward in the water. If you are not balanced, much of your energy will be spent balancing the body so it’s at the surface of the water.

It’s much easier to move forward when you are horizontal than if your body is at an angle (to your forward direction) with your head near the surface and your feet lower in the water.

Engaging your core allows you to find that balance point.

Core engagement while riding

Whether you’re riding a road bike or a triathlon bike, if you don’t engage your core you will see your upper body wiggle and your hips rotate over the top of your saddle.

When riding a triathlon bike in aero this upper body wiggle can become even more pronounced. On the bike, any movement that isn’t moving the bike forward is likely wasted energy.

Proper bike fit coupled with core engagement allows the upper body to be quiet, to hold strong and minimize fatigue while providing a foundation for your legs to drive the pedals.

Running with your hips

Running without your hips underneath you to allow you to pull the leg through and without engaging the glutes to drive your leg back behind you is dramatically harder than necessary.

With your hips relaxed and not underneath you, driving your knee up and forward is limited by the rotation of your pelvis. Engaging your core and bringing your hips underneath you allows for a much easier knee drive. Core engagement also quiets the upper body to keep shoulder rotation to a minimum. Remember, we’re trying to run forward not side to side.

The easier the knee drive, the easier the stride – and the faster your speed.

Putting it all together

The answer to all of this isn’t throwing around huge weights in the gym or using some peculiar piece of equipment you need a 200-page manual to navigate.

I’ve picked four single-leg exercises that we do with regularity. When I was choosing these four, this is what I had in mind:

An athlete should be able to do them

  • On their own
  • At home
  • Safely
  • Without much equipment

What’s more, the single-leg exercises should benefit the athlete for a triathlon or individual sport performance.

While these may not require fancy equipment, they do require great focus (a mirror helps so you can see how you are moving). This post is about being conscious of the position of your hips and these exercises focus on them as well as engaging other, more traditionally thought of aspects of core.

Whether you are new to sport or a full time professional, these single-leg exercises will be of benefit.

1. Single-leg Romanian dead lift

  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 on each leg.
  • You can switch which hand you hold the dumbbell in to challenge your balance.
  • Focus on keeping your weight spread throughout your foot and think about holding on to the ground for a strong foundation

2. Single-leg bent over row

  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 with each arm
  • Think about deepening the squat to give your quad a challenge
  • Keep your shoulders back and chest out and your back straight for better posture
  • Focus on keeping your weight spread throughout your foot and using your toes to hold onto the ground

3. Single-leg single-arm military press

  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 with each arm
  • Try to keep the leg in the air with the knee as high as possible to activate the other glute
  • Focus on using your foot as a strong foundation and keeping your weight spread throughout as you hold the ground.
  • Alternate which leg you have in the air for a greater balance challenge

4. Single-leg hip opener/closer


  • Aim for 3 sets of 10 on each leg
  • Focus on maintaining a long spine with shoulders back for good posture
  • Try to envision the upper body as one piece with the only movement coming from the hip rotation
  • Maintain a strong foot position with good ground contact to provide a stable foundation.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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