top of page

Strengthening Your Body to Endure the Miles

Running and triathlon training place significant demands on the body. The repetitive motions required for logging mile after mile can take a toll over time, often leading to common overuse injuries. A targeted stretching and strengthening routine can help runners and triathletes prevent many of these nagging issues that hamper consistent training and goal achievement. 

Man sitting on track stretching his hamstrings

Pinpointing Problem Areas for Injury Prevention

The body's interconnected network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together to make running and swimming possible. However, certain areas tend to be more prone to injury in endurance athletes. Focusing stretch and strengthen efforts on these vulnerable spots can go a long way toward keeping the body healthy and resilient.

Some of the most common overuse injuries for runners and triathletes include:

- IT band syndrome: Inflammation of the iliotibial band, the thick tissue running down the outside of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee. IT band syndrome often flares up as mileage increases due to adhesions between the lateral quadricep and the IT band which causes increased friction over the outside of the knee. 

- Runner’s knee: General term for pain around or behind the kneecap, usually caused by imbalances between the lateral and medial quads that put too much strain on the supportive structures of the knee.  

- Achilles tendinitis: Irritation and swelling of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Too much too soon is often the culprit.

- Plantar fasciitis: An inability of the muscle to properly absorb forces puts excess stress on the plantar fascia/plantar aponeurosis, the thick band of tissue along the bottom of the foot. Plantar fasciitis leads to intense heel pain due to its constant tugging away from the heel.

- Swimmer’s shoulder: Pain in the shoulder caused by the high volume of overhead motion required in swimming. The muscles on the front of the shoulder and chest become overdeveloped.  Rotator cuff tendinitis is most common. 

Targeted stretching and strengthening focused on these vulnerable areas can relieve pain and reduce the risk of entering an injury cycle that disrupts training.

Lengthening Tight Tissues 

Tight muscles, tendons, and connective tissues are more prone to injury during the repetitive motions of running and swimming. Stretching with proper technique increases flexibility and range of motion, lengthening tissues before they are placed under strain.

Key areas to focus on include:

IT Band

The iliotibial band runs down the outside of the thigh, extending from the hip to just below the knee. When it becomes tight, inflammation and pain often occur at the outside of the knee where the band crosses over the femoral condyles of the outer knee. 

* Stand with one leg crossed behind the other, bent at the knee. Lean away from your back leg until you feel the stretch along the outside of your thigh. This stretch focuses on the ITB band itself.  

*Lie on one side with the lower hip flexed and thigh pulled close to your chest.  Flex the affected knee, pulling heel towards buttock by contracting the glutes and hamstrings.  Assist with the hand or a rope for a 2 second hold.  Repeat 10 times. 

* From a seated position, cross your affected leg over the other knee. Grasp your ankle and gently pull your leg toward your chest until you feel the stretch along the IT band. Hold for 30 seconds.

Hip Flexors 

The hip flexors connect the back and pelvis to the upper thigh. When tight, they can tug on the pelvis and spine, which can contribute to lower back soreness and knee issues.

* From a kneeling lunge position, shift your pelvis forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.  Contract the glutes for a count of 2.  Perform 10 reps and repeat on the other side.

* From a standing position, step forward with one leg and bend your back knee, dropping into a partial lunge. Lean forward and contract your glutes until you feel the stretch in your hip flexor. Hold 2 seconds.  Perform 10 reps and repeat on the other side.


The hamstrings run down the back of the thigh, from the pelvis to just below the knee. They are key to forward propulsion when running. Tight hamstrings are linked to lower back pain and increased injury risk.

* Lie on your back. Lift one leg straight up by contracting the quadriceps muscle.  Give gentle assistance with hands at the end of movement.  Hold the stretch for 2 seconds.  Perform 10 repetitions and repeat on the other leg. 

* Sit on the ground with both legs straight in front of you. Lean forward from your hips while contracting the quadriceps, reaching for your toes until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for 2 seconds.

Calf Muscles

Your calf muscles include the gastrocnemius and soleus. Tightness here can contribute to Achilles tendinitis and eventually lead to plantar fasciitis.

* Stand facing a wall slightly more than arm’s length away. Step one foot back and bend your front knee, keeping your back leg straight. Lean into the wall while contracting the muscle on the front of th eleg until you feel a stretch in your back calf. Hold 2 seconds and switch legs.

* Sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you. Loop a resistance band or towel around the ball of one foot. Contract the muscles in the front of the leg.  Gently pull back until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold 2 seconds and switch legs.

Building Strength 

Strengthening the muscles that support vulnerable areas can relieve strain and reduce injury risk. Focus on moves that improve stability, protect joints, and address muscle imbalances.


Weak glutes and poor hip stability are linked to knee pain and IT band issues. Bridging exercises strengthen these areas.

* Lie on your back with knees bent and arms at your sides. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up into a bridge. Hold 5 seconds then lower back down. Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

* From a standing position, step one leg back into a reverse lunge. Push up through your front heel to return to standing, squeezing your glutes at the top. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg.


A strong core stabilizes the pelvis and spine, which is key for good running mechanics. Focus on moves that strengthen your entire core, not just front abs.

* From a plank position, brace your abs and raise one arm forward, holding for 5 seconds before returning it under your shoulder. Repeat on the other side. Work up to 10 reps on each arm. 

* Do mountain climbers by starting in a pushup position, then alternating lifting your knees toward your chest one at a time in a running motion. Go for 20-30 seconds.


Squats and lunges strengthen the major muscles of the hips and thighs. This protects against knee issues.

* Perform bodyweight squats by sending your hips back and bending your knees to lower into a seated position. Engage your glutes to return to standing. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

* Step forward or backward into lunges, bending both knees to lower until your back knee nearly touches the ground. Push back up to start and repeat 10-15 times per side.

Moving Forward Pain-Free

Runners and triathletes exert incredible demands on their bodies. But a targeted routine focused on flexibility, strength, and stability goes a long way in keeping those bodies healthy. Taking the time for joint-friendly stretching and full range of motion strengthening will pay off when it comes to achieving your goals injury-free.


bottom of page