TRIATHLON Wednesday, 29 October 2008, 8:21 PM

Sprint and Standard Distance Triathlon Training
By Silas Cullen

Do you remember some of the close battles you had with friends and fellow competitors last season? That may be one of the strongest motivating factors to get stuck into training again now. Some questions may also start entering your head, ‘how can I go faster with the time I have available to train?’ Here are some strategies you can apply to your training right now to improve your ability to do just that!

Triathlon Performance
There are two ways to improve performance in triathlon: you can gain a tactical improvement and/or a physical improvement. The most efficient way to improve is tactically, which is about race strategy and specific event training sessions and we will cover in the next Multisport magazine issue so keep your eyes peeled for that! Now we will go through what you can do right now to improve physically before the season starts.

Improving your swim
It has been said many times but I will say it again TECHNIQUE is what will improve you the most in swimming as well as swimming in a squad which helps in using a lot less energy to get the same session done. So as far as physically improving your swimming joining a squad is about the best thing you can do or at least swim in a group and if possible get some feedback on your swimming stroke from a coach. The time for improving flexibility with swim specific stretches is now! The fact that you may not get injured swimming does not mean it is not beneficial to stretch. You will gain far more performance improvement in swimming than cycling or running from stretching. To make improvements you need to perform a minimum of four stretching sessions per week so if you are not already, get started!

Improving your bike
Cycling is probably the most under varied of the three disciplines. By this I mean people tend to talk about cycling in volume and that is how they train. You might here someone say I did a two-hour ride or a 50km ride. If you ask what they did in that session they will say ‘I told you, ride’ and that is about it. The reason for this is often because people simply do not know many variations of what can be done on the bike to improve performance. This leaves a very small margin for improvement, it basically means if you are not doing more volume than you have ever done before then you are not going to be any better. The other trap people fall into is looking at their average speed; they might say proudly ‘I averaged 30km/h last weekend’. This is meaningless and probably just means they rode a flat course harder than they normally do, the terrain weather, specifics carried out and goal of the session can mean you may perform a good quality session and average anywhere between 23 and 43km/h depending on your ability and the session. If you are training mainly by volume and use average speed for feedback on how your training is going then you have huge potential for improvement! By varying the interrelationship between terrain, effort and cadence you can develop huge amounts of strength endurance and ultimately improve performance, here is how to do it.

Cycling speed in a triathlon is dependent on how hard you are working and the gear you are pushing. You can improve your ability to work hard by going hard. Most triathletes perform their first time trial (TT) of the season in their first race, the second TT in their second race and so on. So time trialing is a great way to improve during the season (speed work). The other determinant of speed is the gear you are able to push while time trialing. Of course you want to be able to push the biggest gear possible when you are working at your race effort and at your race cadence. For advanced athletes doing some big gear work is essential at this stage of the season to help maximise the gear you can push later on. Big gear work can be varied by effort, terrain, intervals and cadence. For some athletes changing two gears harder on the flat and pushing slightly harder may be the first stage. Others may be doing big gear uphill time trials in the aero bars. The strength endurance training that is right for you will not be right for most other people even if you are at the same performance level. Many athletes already do big gear work; you can pick them, they are the ones grinding along in races at low cadences and often struggle to run as fast as they used to. Pushing a big gear tires the muscles out fast that is why we do it in training to get a training effect of strength endurance. But if you do not maintain the ability to spin it will change the cadence you feel comfortable at when you race. This is where doing some over speed work (high cadence) training will help to ensure you do not develop bad technique or become a grinder who races at a low cadence. You might do 5min spinning at 110RPM then some specific big gear work and then another 5min at 110RPM. By doing this your neural system will remember how to spin while your muscular system learns how to push a big gear. You don’t want to be the athlete who rocks side to side all over their bike from doing big gear work with poor technique as it is very hard to correct once this happens. Talk to your coach about other drills you can do on the bike through this phase of your training and what to concentrate on as you carry out strength endurance work, it is amazing how much you can improve when this is performed correctly.

Improving your run
The run is the last discipline and for that reason the hardest discipline to maintain the same speed in as accumulative fatigue builds to its peak. The specific run training that is right for you as an athlete is incredibly individual. A common pre-season mistake is for an athlete who wants to get really fast to go and run fast in training without doing enough running strength endurance work. They see the top athletes doing speed work and think that is how they can improve too. They will be quicker running in a straight running race but when they get off the bike and run out of transition they will feel ok initially but then just keep getting slower and slower as their stride length shortens through lack of strength endurance. Almost every athlete requires different combinations of strength and speed work to get them into top form. But one thing applies to everyone when training for the run in a triathlon, if you do not do enough strength endurance then any speed work you do will be far less effective, or even a waste of time. Your ability to hold a high work rate will be nullified by not having the legs to go with it. So now is the time to start improving your ability not to slow down, once you can do that you will springboard off the speed work you do later on.

Work out which potential improvements apply to you and then focus your effort wisely. This will be the first step towards going faster in your events with the time you have available to train. Your coming season is going to be very enjoyable as you improve steadily with each event, have fun!

Silas Cullen is the founder of Smart Coaching Limited. Silas, through training programmes and coaching, can provide you with the ability to reach above and beyond what you ever thought possible. Contact Silas now if you think you could get more out of your time spent training. Or for bike fitting, muscle balance testing or technique video analysis, also contact Silas on this email.

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