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3 Simple ‘Foundational’ Tips for Triathlon

Swim: More quality touches of the water!

As dry land animals, swimming is the most unfamiliar of the triathlon disciplines to all but those who spent their childhoods getting up at 5am to follow that black line only to have to repeat it again after school too (AKA. Swim club kids). For anyone else it’s likely that the sensation of lying prone with 90% of bodyweight supported and having to consciously think about when to breathe in and out is alien. Therefore at a very basic level, simply swimming more often is crucial. However swimming is also, arguably, the most technique dependent of the 3 disciplines and therefore we must swim mindfully and purposefully.

This means concentration and focus while we build muscle memory and a more proficient technique, remembering that fatigue of both the aerobic and muscular systems will be detrimental to the quality of our swimming. So, the emphasis in swimming is more quality not simply more. Consider shorter sessions and shorter repetitions within those sessions to ensure quality remains high. Try wherever possible to swim as your first session of the day to ensure both physical and mental energy are high. Lengthen the reps, sets or duration of swims so long as technique doesn’t begin to suffer. In short get more quality touches of the water each week.

Bike: More time in the zone (TiZ)!

Cycling affords itself to the longest durations and perhaps also the highest intensity levels of all the elements in our training programme. It’s typical for bike raining to be prescribed in terms of intensity and duration including both continuous state rides and intermittent interval sessions. It’s accepted that fitness gains are quite specific to the effort level or zone in which we train. So when looking to progress it is important to prioritise the accumulation of more minutes in the appropriate zone (whether using HR, power or RPE). Raising the intensity is likely to change the emphasis of the session and could leave you training the wrong energy system and/or overtrained/injured even. For example, to progress a Zone 2 steady endurance ride consider elongating it, pushing perhaps towards the top of the zone or repeating it more often for greater weekly or monthly volume. When using structured intervals to raise VO2max (maximal rate of oxygen utilisation) or FTP (threshold = highest sustainable work rate) then it is more time in zone that we look for, so 4x8mins becomes 5x8mins, then 4x10mins and maybe 3x15 etc…. we do not go harder unless data suggests that fitness has been gained. So if you’re looking to do a little more than last week on the bike aim for more time in zone (TiZ).

Run: Don’t stop but mind the intensity!

Running is the discipline which results in the most discomfort afterwards (DOMS – delayed onset soreness related to the eccentric muscle actions). It also has the highest injury rates. Soreness and injury are more likely if we train both erratically and repeatedly too hard. Running is also more dependent upon the stiffness of passive support structures in the body (ligaments, tendons, fascia) than the other disciplines are. With continued regular running, of any speed/intensity it is possible to maintain and even ‘stiffen’ these structures.  Stiffness is beneficial as it results in greater elastic return of energy with each step and therefore improved running economy i.e. a faster pace for the same energy input or reduced energy demand for the same pace. So my tip here is to run regularly, each and every week, to keep your body used to the motion and impact. Avoid prolonged time off running but be cautious with the intensity; have faith that even slow running can improve performance.

The common theme with these simple tips is TIME. More quality swim time, more time in zone on the bike and the consistency of time spent running. Find the time then spend it wisely…

By Phil Ellison, Senior Coach at Total Tri Training, you can reach Phil by clicking here  Or on Instagram @phil.ellison 

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