Health: Strength and Conditioning with Helen Jenkins

Endurance athletes of any level can make significant gains in performance and comfort by adopting strength and conditioning training, with a particular focus on core work. While it might sound complex, in reality you can link together some simple exercises for a programme that can yield some big gains.

SiS Elite Sports Consultant and former World Triathlon Champion Helen Jenkins is hitting her winter training hard at the moment as she returns from a lengthy injury sustained in the Olympic year. An integral part of that training regime is a rigorous strength and conditioning programme that she touches on daily, and then completes an extended version of twice a week. Here are five of her recommended exercises.

Foam Roller:

Not exactly a strength conditioning exercise, but still a vital part of Jenkins’ routine as a warm up. Every gym session starts in the way, as do most run and bike sessions. The foam roller is placed under the side of your leg, and you rest your body weight through it, using the roller to move up and down the leg. Often incredibly painful, nevertheless there is something very satisfying about this, not least because it can prevent IT-band injuries.

Foam rollers can be bought in varying degrees of hardness, and certainly when you start out you will be looking for the softest ones. Over time, you may feel you can progress on to firmer rollers.

Goblet Squat

This is a freestanding squat, but using a dumbbell as opposed to a bar to apply extra resistance. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and hold the dumbbell vertically with both hands under your chin. As you begin to squat down, concentrate on rotating at your hips, keeping your centre of gravity in-line with your heels, not over your toes.

Control your descent, stopping when your hamstrings are roughly parallel to the floor. Push up, driving with your glutes until you return to standing. It’s important to keep a straight back, and keep looking up with your head to maintain the correct squatting position.


Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and lift one foot off the floor. Pivot forward at the waist and lean forward, countering your weight by extending your lifted leg behind you. Aim to get your torso and trailing leg parallel to the floor. Hold for 15 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.

Swiss ball Jackknife

This exercise requires a Swiss ball, which if you don’t have at home, you could certainly find at your local gym.

Assume a press up position with your arms completely straight, resting your shins on a Swiss ball. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Tense your core muscles, and maintain that contraction for the duration of the exercise.

Without changing your lower-back posture, roll the Swiss ball towards your chest by pulling it forward with your feet. Your legs should remain straight, thus forcing your hips into the air. Pause, then return to the starting position by lowering your hips and rolling the ball backwards.


The classic core exercise, the plank involves lying prostrate on the floor, face down. Start on your elbows and knees, locking your hands together. Straighten your legs and raise your body so that you’re supported by the balls of your feet, with feet hip-distance apart. Face the floor, being careful not to arch your back or lift your bum in the air. Hold this position for 15 seconds to begin with, extending the time as you get stronger, and repeating the frequency of reps.