How a Strong Core Can Boost Your Triathlon Performance

The workouts for an NFL quarterback are quite different from the type of training a triathlete needs. Football requires a focus on anaerobic, explosive strength, while triathlons emphasize aerobic endurance and muscle efficiency.

Former NFL quarterback and current triathlete, Terry Nugent, learned the differences the hard way.

In this interview, Nugent details what he learned under the tutelage of Dave Scott about the importance of core strength for triathletes, and offers tips on what you can do to improve your own core strength and become a more well-rounded triathlete.

More: Core Work and Bike Intervals

It Ain't All About How Much You Can Lift

Nugent has experienced first-hand the highest levels of training in both football and triathlon. He explains, "With football, you spend a lot more time in the weight room, a lot more time on the anaerobic side of conditioning, as opposed to the core and the balance and the aerobic engine."

"It's all about periodization as an endurance athlete. Breaking down each action into a specific function."

This insight on core training was well-earned for Nugent. He walked into an early training session with the six-time Ironman champion expecting to blow him away.

"First time he took me through a weight workout – he absolutely destroyed me," said Nugent. "I was stronger. But he just killed me with all the core stuff."

More: 4 Core Exercises for Triathletes

"There's Fit and Then There's Triathlon Fit"

Nugent believed being in shape, in this case "football shape", was enough to compete in triathlon. But all his football training had simply prepared him for quick bursts of physical performance, not the sustained

"I was a completely different body type, training for football as opposed to training for triathlon. I didn't have a huge aerobic engine that hopefully I have now. A lot of it then was built for speed and power."

With football training, Nugent focused on anaerobic conditioning, whereas with triathlon, his training is focused on aerobic endurance, balance, and core strength.

More: 20-Minute Workouts for Endurance Athletes

It's Not a Sprint, It's a Triathlon

Nugent believes it is this exact emphasis of explosion and speed over balance and endurance that fells many newbie triathletes.

"During the course of a race, you recruit different muscle fibers based upon the terrain that you're on."

Oftentimes, the unstable environments of all three events of triathlon require strong core muscles to counter the terrain and stabilize the body. Core strength is ideally suited to tackle this job.

"Core strength carries over to the day of a race where you need to be able to draw upon those muscle fibers that you have trained because the terrain is not always static," said Nugent.

How to Get a Strong Core

Nugent does have a core-strengthening routine he prefers. (Click here for an extended description of his three favorite Dave Scott-certified core exercises.) Most of them involve variations of a plank. (With alternating push-ups included.)

But Nugent isn't going for a six-pack ab look. He's going for a strong core to help him produce on race day. And to accomplish this, Scott has him perform basic exercises in an unstable environment.

For example, Nugent will complete lunges with his right foot on a fit disc, forcing his body to recruit almost every muscle in his legs in order to remain stable. "The core is forced to balance your body, which is what it will have to do on race day."

It's part of a functional training mantra that Nugent clearly adheres to.

"The goal of functional training is to make sure that things that I'm doing in the weight room, outside of my traditional swim-bike-running workouts, will translate into improved performance," said Nugent. "Believe me, it works."

More: 5 Keys to Long-Course Triathlon

Active logoFind your next triathlon.

About the Author

Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke is an online video editor for His favorite part of the job is covering inspiring races and athletes who push themselves to be the best they can be.
Michael Clarke is an online video editor for His favorite part of the job is covering inspiring races and athletes who push themselves to be the best they can be.

Discuss This Article