June 7, 2017

Are Your Habits Helping or Hurting Your Training?

Get Triathlon-Fit First

Triathlon training is simple.

All you need is enough swim, bike, and run volume and you’re ready to race. That is, if your main goal is to cross the finish line.

But if your goal is to race fast, increasing your volume isn’t enough.

In fact, getting faster is less about training MORE, and more about incorporating 6 potent habits into your routine.


Why volume training only goes so far

Just for fun let’s say that this season one of your top goals is to get as triathlon-fit as possible.  And due to your work/home/life demands adding another five or ten hours/week of training time isn’t realistic.  So, what do you do?

Since increasing quantity isn’t an option, increasing the quality of your training is your path to fitness.

The following six habits are game changers. They will bring you closer to your goal of getting as triathlon-fit as possible, while still preserving time in your schedule for all the other things you have going on in your life.


Habit #1:  Focus on Frequency First:  Upping the frequency of your swim, bike, and run sessions is the fastest way for you to improve your basic triathlon fitness.  The key at first is to focus more on frequency than duration, e.g., do two 30-minute runs and one 60-minute run instead of two 60-minute runs each week.  As discussed in the training videos that accompany the free training plans at my website, a training rule of thumb is two sessions a week in one of the sports will keep your performance the same, three will improve your fitness, and four will really make a significant improvement.

While it’s true you will probably have to increase your distance at some point, especially if your focus is long course races, if you build the habit of frequency first then you’ll find that stepping up the duration once or twice a week to meet the needs of your key race(s) won’t be as challenging.


Habit #2:  Better Technique = Free Speed: Energy management is one of the most important factors in any triathlon and the simple fact is that the better your technique the faster you’ll go at the same or less effort.  That’s why elite athletes always build technique (skills) work into their training. And so should you.

The key is to build technique drills into your regular training. Here are some examples:

•   During your swim warm up and cool down include kick on side drills to improve body position and catch-up and single arm drills to improve stroke power;
•   During your easier rides shift to a lower gear two or three times for five minutes and spin at a higher cadence;
•   During your easy runs incorporate four to ten sets of high knee and/or kick-butt drills.


Habit #3:  Short Speed All the Time:  Short speed work is one of the most effective ways to build your fitness and get faster.  It also has the added benefits of improving your technique and, frankly, it’s just fun to go fast! The best way to do this is to incorporate it into your training regularly and keep it short…7 to 10 second bursts.

For example, during your ride you might do a ten second burst every two minutes and repeat it five, ten, or twenty times depending on the ride duration and your fitness level.  A favorite of mine on the run is to do four to ten sets of kick-butt drills followed by a ten second burst every couple of minutes.

If you’re just starting your training then give yourself a couple of weeks before you build in this short speed work and increase slowly to avoid injury.


Habit #4:  Eat to Train, Don’t Train to Eat:  Proper fueling is important whether your reason for taking up triathlon is weight management or high performance.  While there’s lots of information floating around about the right triathlon training diet, the most important thing to remember is that no single diet plan works for everyone. Each of us is bio-individually unique, with different genetics, cultures, metabolic rates, physical demands, and much more. If anyone tells you that there is just one perfect diet for all triathletes to follow, run away. Fast.

Instead, focus on fueling your training with whole foods first, like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats (if you want to know what a healthy fat is, be sure to check out Miriam’s video here). Curtail your reliance on processed foods and wheat products like breads, cereals, pasta, and pizza, especially during your base aerobic building phase because it will help your body learn to burn fat more efficiently for fuel.

Remember triathlon training puts a lot of demands on your body both mentally and physically so feed yourself well and you’ll enjoy the journey more.


Habit #5:  Consistency is King:  Triathlons are very demanding and they get exponentially harder as the distance increases.  It takes a lot of triathlon specific fitness to achieve your potential so be consistent in your training: Take your time, build a solid fitness foundation, establish good training habits, and step up the volume and intensity of your training slowly.  Do this and you’ll have more fun and likely spend a lot less time sitting on the couch nursing frustrating injuries.


Habit #6:  Give Yourself a Break:  A common refrain overheard at the start of every race is, “I should have trained more!” Don’t let this be you.


Show yourself some compassion and learn to talk to yourself as if you were coaching someone else:  Be positive and encouraging.  Remind yourself that everyone from the pro’s on down the line harbor doubts about whether they should’ve done more to prepare.  That’s just human, we all do it, and it’s okay.


Bonus Habit #7: Have FUN!

I’ve never met anyone who accidentally did a triathlon; participation is voluntary. You chose this sport because you wanted to get fit, love the variety and challenge of training, enjoy the community, or perhaps for something deeply personal and meaningful to you.

Regardless of your reason, enjoy the process and have fun.

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