by T.J. Murphy/LAVA Magazine

As you prepare for Iron Girl race day, in an ideal world you would be able to add some ancillary training to compliment your swim, bike and run workouts. Perhaps the most popular in this regard is training with weights. One of the greatest triathletes of all time, Paula Newby-Fraser, was a pioneering advocate of the importance of strength training.

Advantages of strength training include injury prevention and an increases in efficiency, and these effects will be felt throughout all three disciplines.

The problem with weight training for many people is simply a matter of time and opportunity. You’ve already committed to training in the pool, on your bike and using your running shoes. On top of a schedule already under pressure by some mix of school, work and family, there may not be time to make a trip to the nearby fitness center.

The good news is that an effective strength training program can be both simple and practical. Body weight exercises like squats, sit-ups, and push-ups don’t require anything more than some floor space. Each of these exercises (and there are many more to choose from) are especially valuable in helping a triathlete improve their core strength.

The “core” includes all of the muscles from the knees to the sternum: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back muscles and all the other muscles that work together to support the spine.

An improved ability to support the spine will help you generate more power in the swim, on the bike and on the run, and help you prevent disruptions in the flow of power from the larger muscles—like the glutes—to the extremities.

So what if you had time for just one exercise to help improve trunk strength?

The plank. The plank is wonderful way to specifically train the core musculature and requires little in the way of skill. Even if you had only 1 or 2 minutes to spare for extra training, investing this amount of time in the plank position every day will recruit and activate the muscles of the core in such a way that you’ll likely feel an improved ability to hold better posture and positions in all three disciplines. Speaking of posture, if you spend significant hours in an office chair, you’ll notice how plank work helps eradicate bad posture habits that can lead to lower back troubles.

To perform the basic plank, simply assume the position of the top of a push-up, with arms fully extended and your knees and trunk forming a plank. Keep the muscles of your butt and abs tight—but remember to breathe. Hold the position for as long as long as you can. Don’t let your midsection sink or slump. Try breaking up your plank work into 30-second sessions with 30 seconds break in between. As you improve, include longer holds.

Planks are an exercise you can do everyday.  Mix it up with variations of the plank, or include other movements like squats, yoga poses, push-ups and sit-ups.

The key is to make it a part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. This one simple exercise can be a great addition to your triathlon program—and you never have to go near a gym if you don’t want to.