January 18, 2012

Get Fit First; Then Get Ready to Race

We’ve all heard that early season triathlon training is all about building your aerobic base with long slow distance (LSD) stuff.  Sure the LSD training is certainly important, but it’s only part of the story.  The real key is to build your overall fitness.  Building your aerobic base is only one part of it.

Why Fitness Matters

If you want to finish further up the food chain in your age group then increasing your fitness is the first step.  Or to paraphrase Dean Brittenham, the Athletic Director at the Shiley Elite training program at Scripps Clinic, San Diego, “it’s not the best athlete but the fittest athlete that will win.”  Whether your definition of winning is breaking 6 hours in your next half IM or sprinting ahead of your competitors to win your age group, start by building a solid foundation of fitness and the rest will follow.

1.      Frequency = Fitness:  One of the fastest ways to improve your fitness is to increase your number of training sessions.  Sure there’s some crossover from each of the three disciplines, particularly your aerobic development, but the more often you can swim, bike, and run the better triathlete you’ll become.  Build the habit of two sessions a day, five-six days a week if possible.  Put less emphasis on duration than frequency early in the season.  A routine I use to get started is to swim and run one day and bike and strength train the next… for anything other than strength training it’s very hard to improve doing less than two sessions a week.

2.      Drills = Skills:  The better your technique the faster you’ll go at every distance with the same effort, which is why elite athletes always work to improve their skills.  Whether it’s catch-up or kick on side drills in the pool, fast-spin or single leg drills on the bike…best done on the trainer, or kick-butt or high-knee drills on the run build some technique drills into each session.  It’s free speed so go get it.

3.      Speed All the Time:  If you’ve been off for a while or you’re just starting up, give yourself a few weeks before incorporating some speed sets.  Otherwise quit stalling!  Speed work builds strength, makes you faster, and improves your technique.  Just be sure to keep it short…5-10 seconds for the first few weeks and then build to 20- 30 seconds progressively as you feel more comfortable.  You’ll get better and besides, it’s more fun to go fast!
4.      Eat to Improve:  If you want to become a fat burning machine then you have to do more than just aerobic zone training.  You have to feed the beast to match your training.  Reduce or eliminate the breads, pasta, and pizza and force your body to tap into fat stores for fuel…also known as being metabolically efficient.   The better you do this now the longer you can hold your race pace on your big day…even the skinniest among us has plenty of fat for fuel.

5.      Make It Fun:  Not every activity, especially this time of year has to be triathlon specific.  It’s a long season so look for creative ways to build fitness, particularly if you can include your family members.  If you live in snow country tow your kids on a sled, go snow shoeing, or cross country skiing.  If your swimming is limited then try some dry land training with stretch cords and really work on your strength and technique.  Do some mountain biking or put the biggest tires you can on your bike and try some of those unpaved roads that look interesting but you’ve been avoiding because of those shinny tri-bike tires.  Remember this triathlon thing is voluntary so find ways to have fun and enjoy yourself and you’ll get more fit in the process.  Guaranteed!

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.


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