Train smarter, not harder
Tips for getting the most out of your Triathlon training by Geraint Forster, Programme Director of BSc Sport and Exercise Science at UWTSD in Carmarthen.
The internet is awash with all sorts of advice on how best to train for a triathlon, and it is easy to fall into the trap of constantly trying to train harder and longer in order to improve.
Unfortunately though, for the vast majority of us who are not professional athletes, we have a limited amount of time available to train, so it is crucially important to make the most of the time you have – training smarter can often reap greater rewards than training harder.
Here are a few areas where you can try to be smart:
Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion Swimming stresses that swimming is a technique-based sport. He compares it to golf – you don’t train golf, you practice golf. Swimming is the same. Thrashing up and down the pool and making yourself tired is not going to make you faster.
In your swim sessions, focus on form – ideally with a coach in a masters swim class, or if not, there are dozens of good videos on swim technique on You Tube. You will get enough fitness from your bike and run sessions, keep the pool training focussed on improving your technique.
There is a growing body of research on the importance of muscular strength to endurance performance. Most elite athletes now do year-round strength training programmes. In masters athletes, this is even more the case as strength tends to decrease as we age. If you do a reasonable volume of training, it might be worth swapping out a couple of runs/rides for a session in the gym.
Two 45 minutes strength sessions per week is sufficient to see significant gains in most athletes.
Ideally you should be performing multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges, under the instruction of a qualified coach/instructor.
Once you have good form, your aim is to be lifting a weight that you can only lift 4-6 times. This increase in strength results in an improvement in your economy of movement, meaning you use less oxygen to cover the same distance.
Go hard, or go easy
The popular maxim is that most amateur athletes do their easy sessions too hard and their hard sessions too easy. The 80:20 model, or polarised training method attempt to correct this problem.
Training at different intensities bring different benefits. Doing very hard sessions like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is very effective at improving your VO2 max, whilst doing Long Slow Distance (LSD) sessions can improve your ability to burn fat and your economy, amongst other things.
The key thing is to know what the aim of your session is, and to work at the appropriate intensity. Just going at a hard, but sustainable pace (threshold training) all the time, will likely cause greater fatigue, fewer improvements, and is a recipe for burnout.
Chasing Strava segments on every ride is a surefire way of falling into this trap.
Ensuring that you have some sessions that are of a high intensity (spending time in zone 5, or over 90% of your maximum Heart Rate) and others that are low intensity (zones 1-2, or under 75-80% of your maximum Heart Rate) ensures that you maximise your gains, and keep variety in your training.
Ease off to adapt
It’s not the training that makes you stronger, it’s the recovering. Shane Sutton the British Cycling coach used to tell Geraint Thomas that there was no such thing as over-training, only under-recovering. Training imposes stress on the body, and if given sufficient time to recover, the body adapts and becomes fitter and stronger.
Alongside a weekly rest-day, it is important to plan in easy weeks. These ‘adaptation weeks’ can be planned in every 3-4 weeks, and involve decreasing intensity and volume, in order to give the body a chance to recover from the previous block of training. Greater gains are likely from a three week block of harder training, followed by an adaptation week, as opposed to training at a consistent level.
Keep it fun
Finally, don’t forget the mental side. Don’t be a slave to a structured programme all of the time. Mixing things up with a bit of mountain biking, trail running, 5-a-side or exercise classes can give similar physical benefits, whilst adding variety and novelty to keep you motivated.