Multiplanar Strength Exercises For Triathletes And Runners

We explore the need for triathletes and runners to incorporate multidirectional strength exercises into their regular program, and show you some great exercises to enjoy the benefits of this type of training.

Triathletes and runners spend most of their time engaged in what are primarily “straight line” activities, particularly running and cycling. Certainly most of the load bearing work that most triathletes and runners complete is uni-directional.

Not only are these movement patterns uni-directional (running in a relatively straight line and cycling), they are also very repetitive, repeating the same movement pattern again and again both in training and in competition with very little variety to our movements.

Those of us who do any strengthening work at all on a regular basis to supplement our running, swimming and cycling (definitely the minority!), often fall into the trap of also only doing straight line exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups and single leg squats.

“So what? Those straight line movements mirror the demands of our sport…”

“Well yes and no…!”

Remember this important fact:

The body is able to move through three planes of motion at one time. And at any given time it’s moving in all three. Just because (using running as an example) the outcome is a uni-directional “one foot in front of the other” movement, it doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of rotation and lateral motion going on behind the scenes to produce that movement!

Lets look into the anatomy of different types of muscle for a second:

The big, powerful, two joint muscles which help to drive us forwards (think hamstrings, rectus femoris, quadratus lumborum etc…) all have their fibres aligned longitudinally, making them very good at producing force into flexion and extension in the sagittal plane, and pretty rubbish at controlling rotation and ab/adduction in the transverse and coronal planes respectively.

Planes of Motion

On the other hand, the muscles which provide stability as we move (think glutes, obliques and adductors etc…) all generally have fibres which lie at more of an oblique angle, making them very good at controlling rotation and ab/adduction in the transverse and coronal planes respectively… but pretty bad in comparison at producing straight line power on their own.

So what happens when we train predominantly the muscles which work to produce straight line, sagittal plane movements? They become the ones which get worked hardest and develop strongest, leaving the muscles which get loaded more effectively through rotation and lateral movement (yet are responsible for providing stability as we run and cycle) to remain weak and deconditioned.

These days, common underlying causes given by medical professionals when assessing the cause of overuse injuries in sports such as ours are “poor stability” somewhere or “weak glutes”, or another diagnosis linked to the conditioning of these stabilizing muscle groups which thrive on rotational and lateral loading to provide stability.

So logic would dictate that to help remain injury free, become more stable and improve functional strength, we need to train these stability muscles. We can do this highly effectively by adding rotational and lateral strengthening work to our weekly schedules.

Below is a video showing just a few examples of such exercises.

It’s no coincidence that triathletes and runners who have more of an all round sporting background, especially those who play(ed) multidirectional sports involving twisting and turning seem to have more resilient bodies when it comes to training. Perhaps because their all-round, multidirectional, multiplanar strength is more advanced than those who just run.

Try some of the exercises in the video for yourself and see how you get on.

Last updated on January 10th, 2019.


  1. Great post! We often get way too caught up in the uni-directional. I love running trails to help mix up my routine and get some of the multi in there, but these exercises can help me to build on that and strengthen more around that. Thank you!

  2. Great stuff.

    Just be careful with Triathletes (particularly) that are suffering from ITB compression/friction symptoms at the knee. I’ve had to patch up patients that have been prescribed the reverse lunges for rehab. They significantly increase the pressure that is creating the irritation in the first place with this movement, and typically these patients have progressed onto this level of exercise before adequately correcting underlying deficiencies….like poor glut med function.

    Keep up the good posts!

    Ellis Taylor
    Senior Physio @ Tatami Health

    1. Thanks Ellis, I agree completely. In symptomatic athletes these are definitely a rehab progression, not a start point!

      Too frequently in general, I find athletes tending to go for (and being prescribed) exercises that they’re not ready for.

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