Category Archives: swim triathlon

The Deeper Core: Triathlete’s Performance Center

Triathlon is a cadenced endurance sport requiring hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of movement repetitions in the extremities and torso. As you train, you experience ongoing stages of movement, adaptation, and skill learning as you progress toward advances in technique and fitness. Constant interplay occurs in the intricate and interrelated processing of movement, including cognitive skills (understanding what needs to be done), motor skills (executing the skills), functional movement (moving in full ranges of motion), and functional and stable performance (maintaining body posture through the core).Stability of the core is crucial to optimal performance. Movements begin deep inside your core and are transferred to your extremities. Your core controls not only your spine to maintain alignment but also movements relative to your spine. A stable core enhances skill and efficiency and can limit recurring injury by reducing stress caused by movements working against each other.

Your core is your body’s stabilization system. Every aspect of motor learning and skill development is enhanced by a stable core, including postural control, functional movement, limb coordination, muscle exertion to produce tension and force, and neuromuscular control.

Performance stability is your body’s ability to maintain an even, balanced, and graceful posture during all movements. The best triathletes demonstrate precise and stable movement fully observable by the most untrained eyes. Your muscles must be stable and specifically trained to move efficiently. Functional movements connect to muscular stability and, when optimal, allow muscles to work in accordance with their structure and ability. Stability must be present on both sides of the body to provide a base for equal and balanced movements.

Stability increases your capacity for potential energy and the storage of elastic energy to further optimize movement. For example, while swimming, you load and unload with changing forces during the catch, insweep, and outsweep. In cycling, the pedaling and loading of muscles and corresponding structural stability are necessary when your hip extends during the downstroke. During the run, your muscles play a critical support role during the stance phase, without which stability would be impossible.

For many triathletes, the control and coordination of movements at some point become more accurate, more controlled, and even automatic. Others struggle with developing efficient movement patterns and have difficulty refining, adapting, and putting into practice the movements that are most efficient. In such cases, there’s often an underlying instability in which muscles are weak or underactive, preventing normal motion and contributing to inflexibility in muscles and joints, which are very often exposed in competition as fatigue increases. The stronger your deeper-layered core, the more stable and effective technique can be. In this chapter we’ll focus on assessing, strengthening, and training your core in ways that work the deepest stabilizers and postural muscles.

The Deeper Core: Triathlete’s Performance Center

Think of your core as the epicenter of your body. It is a collection of muscles that support your spine, back, hips, and pelvis. Functional triathletes are especially stable from the deepest muscles of the core – the primary and secondary stabilizers. These deep core muscles are at the axis of motion, attach to the bony segments of the spine and joints, control positioning of and provide stability and are made up of slow-twitch (type 1) muscle fibers for muscular endurance that fatigue slowly. They function at low loads and do not produce much, if any, force or torque for movement in swimming, cycling, or running, yet they play a vital role in controlling the positions of your joints. For the best transfer of load, your joints must be in optimal position for generating the highest amount of efficient energy for movement. Your deep core functions to hold your joints in neutral positions by responding with just the right amount of force during changes to posture caused by outside forces such as foot strikes while running, water pressure while swimming, and pedaling forces while cycling.See table 5.1 for a list of the core stabilizer and mobilizer muscles and table 5.2 for their characteristics.

Every level of triathlete can benefit from assessing functional capacity of the core and learning how to move from within the center points of the body to the outside limbs most effectively. Talented triathletes of all ages tend to demonstrate balanced and symmetrical movements with sureness. These efficient motions are accomplished through years of training and further enhanced by training the deep-layered muscles of the core. But training these deep-core muscles – chiefly, the transversus abdominis, multifidi, and quadratus lumborum – is far different from common high-intensity core exercise training. These muscles are not trained through intense workouts but through controlled deep-layered techniques and body-region-specific exercises.


The most efficient athletic movements are those that originate from the center of the body. As a triathlete develops more efficient skills, energy expenditure is minimized as movements consolidate. Early on, however, if limitations in flexibility, mobility, and stability are ignored, movements can remain error prone, sometimes stiff and halting, and there can be an unnecessary and inefficient use of the extremities. Asymmetrical motions can produce compensations not only in functional movements but within the stabilizing muscles of the core.

A fitting expression among physical therapists and movement practitioners is that proximal stability enhances distal mobility. The core (stability center) provides the most effective way to transmit energy to the limbs (from inside to outside). For example, instead of pulling, the capable swimmer will anchor the hand and arm (slowly) and engage and transfer power from the centerline (spine, pelvis, and hips) through the hand and arm holding (sculling) against dense water. An efficient cyclist similarly works from inside to out by maintaining a level pelvis, straight spine, and limited swinging or tilting in the upper body. The triathlete runner above all depends on core stability and posture and position of the upper back and scapulae to provide ample support of the body during the exchange of foot strikes.

This excerpt is from the book, Triathletes in Motion. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics. Please purchase this book from Human Kinetics.

Author shares his swimming secrets (podcast)

Swimming anatomy is quickly becoming a top seller for those wanting to learn more in depth about their swimming. Here’s a podcast by the author of from Swimming Anatomy. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.

“Ian McLeod, is the author of Swimming Anatomy. Recommended by USA Swimming, McLeod has extensive experience working with world-class athletes, particularly swimmers. A certified athletic trainer and certified massage therapist, he was a member of the U.S. team’s medical staff at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. He has also worked extensively as an athletic trainer with the sports programs at the University of Virginia and Arizona State University.”


Nutrition truths for endurance athletes

Some practical wisdom on endurance sports nutrition from the book is “Endurance Sports Nutrition“, reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics

“You are responsible for experimenting in training (before the actual
event or race) to discover and build a repertoire of acceptable foods
and drinks, and any other supplements, that you will use to meet your
fluid, energy, and electrolyte needs during long-distance events and
races. You must figure out the basics—what and how much you need to eat
and drink and when you need to eat and drink it. Don’t neglect to put
your strategies to the test in various weather conditions at your
intended race pace or intensity.

  • The only way that drinking and eating on the move become automatic
    on the day of the event or race is by practicing beforehand. Aim to be
    consistent and stick with what you know. When your favorite or old
    standby is no longer working, however, you must be willing to try
    something new. If you’re contemplating tackling ultralength challenges,
    you first need to establish smart drinking and refueling habits in
    longdistance events and races.
  • Consider how your body processes foods during exercise. Blood flow
    to the gastrointestinal tract falls as your pace or intensity
    increases, making it harder to digest and absorb foods that you take
    in. In addition, your ability to consume and absorb calories when
    running (because of significant jostling of the stomach) is far less
    (by as much as 50 percent) than when cycling. Rely on simple
    carbohydrates during high-intensity efforts or when you need a rapid
    energy boost. Choose electrolyte replacement drinks, energy gels (take
    with water) and sport chews, glucose tablets, and  if tolerated, soda
    or juice. During longer efforts of moderate intensity, add  solid foods
    and high-calorie liquid drinks to boost your calorie intake and your
    spirits.
  • Refuel frequently instead of eating a large quantity at any one
    time, which diverts blood away from your working muscles. In other
    words, spread your hourly energy needs over 15- to 20-minute
    increments. Don’t try to cram it all down on the hour mark. The best
    sports drinks, high-calorie liquid drinks, energy gels, and energy bars
    for you are the ones that go down and stay down.
  • Hitting the wall means that you have essentially depleted your
    muscle glycogen stores. Your legs (and other major muscle groups) have
    gone on strike, even though you may have been consuming adequate fluids
    and calories. Your training, or lack thereof, improper pacing, and
    general fatigue can contribute to this phenomenon. You will often be
    able to continue and finish, albeit not with the desired performance.
  • Bonking, when the body completely shuts down because of a severe
    drop in blood sugar, is a much more serious situation. The glycogen
    stored in muscles and the liver is essentially gone. Muscles and, more
    important, the brain are not receiving sufficient fuel. If left
    untreated, you may become increasingly irritable, confused, and
    disoriented. You could find yourself sitting or lying down and could
    possibly lapse into a coma. Stop whatever activity you were engaged in
    and boost your blood sugar by consuming readily absorbable
    carbohydrates, such as sports drinks, energy gels, soda, fruit juice,
    or glucose tablets, if available. Seek or ask for medical attention if
    necessary.
  • The best way to avoid bonking is to create a calorie buffer. Liquid
    calories in the form of electrolyte replacement drinks and high-energy
    liquid products are favored because they tend to be well tolerated and
    require less effort to get down than solid foods do. Large male
    endurance athletes often have to consciously work to consume enough
    calories (for example, as much as 500 calories per hour of prolonged
    cycling as compared to 300 calories per hour for smaller female
    athletes) to stay in energy balance.
  • Athletes who struggle with sensitive stomachs and other
    gastrointestinal problems are advised to learn beforehand what sports
    drink will be served during races and organized events. They can then
    train with that product or, if they will have access to water, carry
    their own acceptable powdered sports drink in premeasured baggies and
    reconstitute it along the way.
  • The less fit you are, the fewer shortcuts you can take. Knowing
    what you can survive on and still perform well with comes with
    experience. If you are less fit or less efficient (a novice rider or
    trail runner, for example), you need to drink and eat on a regular
    schedule. Set your watch or bike computer and train yourself to drink
    every 15 to 20 minutes and refuel every 30 to 60 minutes to keep pace
    with the energy that you’re expending.”

Top 3 bike selection steps for triathletes

Having the right bike for you and having it dialed in can make a lot of difference.  It will make the ride performance better all around.  It can also help prevent injuries associated with cycling and cycling position.  This excellent excerpt from Triathlon Workout Planner by John Mora reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.

 

Selecting a bike

“If you’ve only recently been bitten by the triathlon
bug, the very first, most obvious symptom is an inexplicable need to
visit the nearest bicycle shop. Once you’re there, your symptoms might
progress toward writing out a check for a thousand bucks, or worse,
taking out the plastic. Hold on there. You might not need to shell out
four figures at this point.

If you currently own a bicycle and just want to finish
your first triathlon, you might be able to get by with what you have
until you’re sure you’ll be a lifelong multisport maniac. It’s not
uncommon for beginners to use a beat-up old road bike or a fat-tire
mountain bike for their first event, and there’s nothing wrong with
that. However, if you don’t have a bicycle (or can’t borrow one), then
you have no alternative but to look into buying a triathlon bicycle.
Also, if you’ve done a few triathlons and are looking for some advice
on making your first serious multisport bicycle purchase, the following
sections provide some guidance for you.

Tri-Bikes, Step by Step

Making your entry into the complicated world of cycling
equipment can be expensive and intimidating. Somewhere among the fancy
designs, shiny components, and black rubber is what you need. Without
some basic knowledge, a good understanding of your current needs, and a
clear vision of what lurks on your triathlon horizon, there’s a strong
chance that you’ll purchase the wrong bicycle.

Fear not. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making that
first big multisport purchase, with advice from triathlon bicycle
dealers, manufacturers, and coaches. Add to that some tales of woe from
professionals who can tell you (through their experience) what not to do when you’re making that big purchase, and you have no reason to panic.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Walking into a bicycle shop with no plan can mean
walking away with no money. Although most bike dealers will not
deliberately take advantage of an eager first-time buyer, by setting a
budget you are taking the first step toward controlling a situation
that might seem uncontrollable.

A cautionary word about overemphasizing equipment is
warranted. “Your best bet is buying a reasonably priced, entry-level
bike with a clip-on aero bar,” says cycling coach Bob Langan. “It all
comes to this: It’s not the seconds equipment will save you; it’s the
minutes a good aerodynamic position and proper training will.”

How much will you spend on your first triathlon bike?
Generally speaking, prices for entry-level racing bikes range from $900
to $1,400. Of course, the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend (if your bank account can handle it), but spending more than $1,400 is risky for two reasons:

1. You might not know what you need.

2. You might think you know what you need, but you might be wrong.

Does that mean you should go the other way and get the
cheapest two-wheeler you see on the dealer floor? No. Although the
frugal side of you might want to buy the cheapest Wal-Mart special you
can find, you’ll likely find it to be less than what you need. Better
to buy the most bike you can afford and be able to train and race with
comfortably, than have to start all over a few months down the road.

Step 2: Don’t Forget Accessories

One common mistake is excluding accessories from the
budget. Earmark $300 to $500 for accessories, more if you intend to
purchase optional equipment such as an aerodynamic disk, tri-spoke, or
deep-rim wheel. Some of the more basic bicycle accessories include the
following:

  • Frame pump
  • Patch kit
  • Spare tubes
  • Helmet
  • Clothing (shorts, jerseys, jacket)
  • Gloves
  • Cycling shoes (optional)
  • Clipless pedals (optional)
  • Aerobars (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Computer (optional)
  • Sunglasses (optional)

As you can imagine, your $900 bicycle purchase can run
well into four figures with the addition of these or other accessories.
Is all this stuff really necessary? Most of it is. You can’t race
without a helmet, and you need the additional comfort and safety that
cycling shorts, jerseys, gloves, and the other necessities afford you.

If you intend to transport your bicycle in your car, a
roof-mounted bicycle rack can run you well over $500. A less expensive
alternative is a trunk-mounted rack. Still cheaper is taking the wheels
off your bike and throwing it in the back seat or trunk.

In recent years, many bicycle manufacturers have included
clipless pedals, contraptions that attach your shoes to the bike for an
efficient, more comfortable pedal stroke, as basic equipment on
entry-level road bike models. This addition will save you close to $150
that you might have earmarked for this accessory. (If the bicycle
you’re interested in doesn’t include clipless pedals, it’s time to
start negotiating with your dealer.) Though many people fear being
attached to a bicycle with clipless pedals, you can get out of the
pedals at any time simply by extending your heel outward.

Cycling shoes are designed for use with clipless pedals.
Cycling shoes are stiff and transfer energy more directly to the
bicycle than do rubber pedals or toe straps. Cycling shoes vary widely
in price, from $100 on the low end to more than $200.

Aerobars help you slice through the wind. Better
aerodynamics with aerobars increases your speed and helps you save
energy for the run. As you train for longer distances, this accessory
will definitely fall out of the “optional” category and into the
“mandatory” list.

Speed Demon Fact

If you recall, Greg Lemond’s historic victory in the
1989 Tour de France came as a direct result of the performance
advantage of his triathlon aerobars. Wind tunnel testing has shown an
estimated average time savings of five minutes during an
Olympic-distance bike leg (40K) when a cyclist maintains an aerodynamic
position on aerobars. Other studies have shown that cyclists in a
proper aerodynamic position are more relaxed and experience decreased
heart rates.

Step 3: Understand the Choices and Know What You Need

Purchase a good racing bicycle that is versatile and
durable. Buying an entry-level racing bike that is upgradable can save
you time and money in the long term. For example, pioneering duathlete
Ken Souza’s first duathlon bicycle was a Nishiki International he
bought in 1982 for a scant $175. Though the bicycle served its initial
purpose, it was a touring model (a bicycle designed primarily for
casual riding) that Souza quickly outgrew. Yet the pioneering athlete
who put duathlons on the map continued to pour money into a pocket full
of holes. “It was ironic. I was spending all this money trying to
upgrade, trying to save a few dollars by not buying a racing bike. I
could have bought a real racing bike sooner if I hadn’t tried so hard
to upgrade a bike that wasn’t worth it.” So Souza’s experience makes an
important distinction—find a good upgradeable bicycle, but just be sure
it’s something that’s worth upgrading over a reasonable period of time,
You may very well outgrow an entry-level bicycle, but try and find
something that will last you for as long as possible.

Souza’s solution to his novice woes was one that you
might want to consider if the opportunity arises: “I bought a used
racing bike—a Vitus carbon fiber—from ex-pro Mark Montgomery. I think
that’s one of the smartest things a beginner can do. You’ll get
top-of-the-line gear, you can get a great deal, and it’s usually not
beat up.”

Reduce water resistance and increase propulsive

I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

  • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
    rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
    the downward and upward movements of the arms.
    The entire body
    must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
    maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
    while the arms and shoulders

    I am getting back in the pool these days and see beginners making the same mistakes I made, thinking, “If I just increase my strength, then I’ll be so much better.”  I’ve since read that swimming is 70% technique and 30% endurance/muscle.  Much of the technique is learning how to move through the water-space with as little drag as possible.  Drag slows you down.  Drag makes you work harder for the same speed or distance.  The take-away from this excerpt is to reduce your drag!

    In this excerpt, we learn about reducing drag and increasing propulsion from the book “Swim Fastest“, reprinted with permission of Human Kinetics.

    Fundamentals for Reducing Resistive Drag

    • Maintain lateral alignment in the front crawl and backstroke by
      rotating the body around its longitudinal axis in synchronization with
      the downward and upward movements of the arms.
      The entire body
      must rotate, from head to toes, as an entire unit. Never try to
      maintain one part—the hips or legs, for example—in a flat position
      while the arms and shoulders are moving up and down.
    • To reduce form drag, keep the head in line with the trunk whenever possible.
      The only time the head should be out of alignment is when it is lifted
      out of the water for a breath in the butterfly and breaststroke. The
      head should remain aligned with the trunk when it is rotated toward the
      side to breathe in the front crawl stroke.
    • Maintain horizontal alignment by swimming through the water, not over it.
      Any efforts to elevate the head and shoulders above the water will only
      increase form and wave drag. The exceptions are the butterfly and
      breaststroke, in which swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out
      of the water to breathe. Even swimmers in these strokes should maintain
      a horizontal body position during the propulsive phases of the
      armstroke and kick, however, at least when it is possible to do so.
    • Body undulation is essential to propulsion in the butterfly
      and, to a lesser extent, in the breaststroke, but it should not be
      excessive.
      Swimmers should raise the head and shoulders out of the
      water sufficiently to reduce resistive drag during breathing and, in
      the case of butterfly, to allow arm recovery without forward dragging.
      Undulation should take place at or just below the surface to a position
      above the surface where the breath is taken. Swimmers should not push
      the body underwater simply to increase range of undulation. Excessively
      pushing the body downward will only increase form drag.
    • All entry and recovery movements of the arms and legs should be “soft” and smooth to reduce pushing drag.
      Where possible, keep the limbs within the cross sectional area of the
      body as they enter the water, and slide them forward through the water
      with the smallest and most tapered surfaces, the fingertips, facing
      forward.
    • The first portions of all underwater armstrokes, the downsweep and outsweep, are not propulsive.
      Therefore, they should be executed softly and smoothly to keep pushing
      drag to a minimum. Lead with the smallest and most tapered surfaces of
      the hands and arms, the fingertips, when sliding them down and out
      during the downsweeps and outsweeps of all four competitive strokes.
    • Don’t kick any deeper, higher, or wider than necessary to produce an optimum amount of propulsive force.
      Kicks that are excessively wide and deep will increase pushing drag and
      may disrupt horizontal and lateral alignment. Kicking upward
      excessively will push the body downward. Where possible, maintain an
      optimum leg spread that keeps the legs within the cross sectional area
      of the torso in both lateral and vertical directions.
    • Don’t pull the legs into a flexed position in the flutter and dolphin kicks.
      The legs should only travel upward to body level during the upbeat of
      the flutter and dolphin kicks (downbeat in the backstroke). The
      remainder of their upward motion should take place during the
      subsequent downbeat (upbeat in the backstroke). Leg flexion at this
      time may make it appear that the upbeat is still underway, but that
      flexion should occur as the thighs are actually pushing downward. At
      that time, the water underneath the relaxed lower legs will push the
      body upward into a flexed position until the legs start to extend at
      the knees. Use the minimum amount of muscular effort needed to flex the
      legs forward during leg recovery in the breaststroke.

    Guidelines for Increasing Propulsive Force

    • Always wait until a high elbow catch position has been achieved before applying backward force against the water.
      Inexperienced swimmers try to apply force when the arms are facing
      downward or against the water. They must learn to wait until they have
      positioned the undersides of the arms and the palms of the hands to
      push back against the water before applying force. The arms and hands
      should travel through approximately one-third of their underwater
      armstrokes before swimmers begin to push backward against the water.
    • The arms should be flexed approximately 90° when the catch is
      made, and they should not be extended or flexed further by any
      significant amount during the propulsive phases of the strokes that
      follow.
      In other words, swimmers should form a boomerang-shaped
      paddle with the undersides of the arms and hands when they make the
      catch, and they should press backward against the water throughout the
      stroke without changing the shape of the arms appreciably. In this way,
      the work of forward propulsion is done by the large adducting and
      extending muscle groups of the shoulders and torso instead of the small
      muscle groups that tend to rotate the forearms and hands. The only
      exception to this rule occurs in the backstroke, in which the arms
      extend backward and below the thighs during the propulsive phase of
      their strokes.
    • Keep the palm of the hand and the underside of the forearm
      aligned as though they were one jointless unit during the propulsive
      phases of the various armstrokes.
      The tendency to rotate the hand
      in and out in advance of the arm in the same direction and the tendency
      to overflex or hyperextend the hand at the wrist during the propulsive
      armstroke phase are two of the most common errors swimmers make. The
      hands do rotate during the various underwater armstrokes, but this is
      only because they are facing in the direction the arms are moving. This
      rotation is not initiated by rotating the palm and allowing the arm to
      follow. Swimmers should keep the palms of the hands aligned with the
      undersides of the forearms and allow the direction the arms are moving
      to dictate the pitch of the hands.
    • Always stroke in diagonally backward patterns during the propulsive phases of the underwater armstrokes.
      Even though drag is probably the dominant propulsive force in swimming,
      pulling and pushing the arms straight back through the water will not
      provide the greatest distance per stroke, nor will it provide the
      fastest forward velocity. Effective swimming requires deviations from
      the straight backward application of force for all of the reasons
      described in this chapter and in chapter 1.
    • Hand speeds should accelerate in pulses with each major change
      in their direction, from the time they make the catch to the end of
      each underwater armstroke.
      The hands accelerate in pulses during
      underwater armstrokes, slowing as they make the transition from one
      sweep to the next and then accelerating to the next point of
      transition. Nevertheless, hand velocity does accelerate from the start
      to the finish of their propulsive phases. Although they accelerate and
      decelerate in pulses, the hands should never reach maximum velocity
      until they are near the end of the propulsive phase of a particular
      underwater armstroke.
    • Propulsive efforts should cease as the hands approach the legs on their way to the surface.
      Many swimmers make the mistake of pushing against the water until the
      hands reach the surface. Because the arms will be facing too far upward
      after they pass the legs, applying force at that time will not create
      any additional propulsion. Instead, it will push the body downward,
      decelerating forward speed in the process.”

Triathlon Training Plan

Here’s what a lot of you are looking for, a basis from which you can build your own triathlon training plan. You probably have questions like; How long do I base train?, At what point do I start to taper before a race?, When should I add speed work? You’ll find many answers in Triathlon 101-2nd Edition, reprinted here by permission of Human Kenetics.

“Setting up your triathlon training calendar and log can be the two most important actions you take, perhaps more important than any swim intervals, long rides, or morning runs you do.

Your Triathlon Training Calendar
Your training calendar can be a preprinted calendar, a poster board, an appointment book, or a calendar software program that prints out customized monthly grids. Just make sure that you have enough room to write down your daily workouts. Your training calendar should also be on paper, as opposed to just on a computer screen. Although a software program is great for creating customized calendars, make sure it can print out monthly grids. You want your training calendar to be within plain sight, not hidden away somewhere on a computer hard drive. Dedicate a space for your calendar—someplace that you know you’ll see every day. Once you’ve chosen your calendar and picked a place to put it, it’s time to make the commitment and put pen to calendar (scary, huh?).

Work Your Way Back From Race Day
First, write your race goal on your training calendar. How much time does that give you to train properly? Again, take into account your current fitness level and skills. If you need to reassess your race goal and set your target on something more realistic, now is the time to do it.

Divide Your Calendar Into Phases
Although part II covers training in much more detail, you’ll need to know a little bit about what experts consider to be the optimal way to train. Training in phases or cycles has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise. Each phase has a specific objective, and the workouts fulfill that objective.

Coaches and fitness experts don’t always agree on the exact number of phases and objectives (largely because training differs among sports and elite athletes require more complex training plans). However, if you are a multisport novice or future triathlete looking for your first finish-line crossing, you should integrate some basic phases into your training calendar. Following is a brief description of each of these phases.

If you think you have a good handle on how much time you need to devote to each phase after reading this section, plan your training calendar accordingly. If you’re super organized, you might even want to use color highlighters to block off phases, using a different color for each one. Don’t worry about writing down specific workouts; that comes later. For now, just get familiar with the phases, objectives, and estimated time frames.

Initiation Phase (Beginners Only)
Objective: Learn a new activity never or rarely performed before.
Estimated time: Depends on level of inexperience. If you are learning to swim the front crawl, this phase can take three months or more.

Base Phase
Objective: Create a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity.
Estimated time: Three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance for which you are training.

Speed and Technique Phase
Objective: Increase both the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise.
Estimated time: Three weeks to several months, depending on current conditioning and performance goals.

Race Simulation Phase
Objective: Boost race day confidence by completing workouts similar to what you will be doing in the event.
Estimated time: One to two months, depending on current conditioning and race goals.

Tapering Phase
Objective: Feel mentally and physically fresh for a race.
Estimated time: One to four weeks before your event, depending on the distance. Sprint-distance races usually only require a week of tapering.

Your Training Log
When you think of a journal or log, the first thought that might occur is sentimentality about the past. Part of the value of keeping such records is to remind you of your accomplishments, but keeping a record of your triathlon training and racing has more practical applications as well.

Training logs can help you avoid injuries and improve your performance. Maintaining an accurate log of your daily and weekly workouts is one of the best ways to keep on track. A log that chronicles the variables that affect your energy level and performance can help you achieve your triathlon goal.

You can purchase preprinted training logs. Some have motivating quotes and pictures and space for many variables. If you’re a computer geek, several workout log programs are available.

There’s no one way to keep a training log. Whatever you think are the most applicable variables are fine. Consider these variables for your own log:

• Hours slept. Current research suggests moderate sleep deprivation has little effect on performance during the adrenaline high of competition. Still, that ragged feeling during a three mile training jog might be the result of too little snooze time.

• Waking pulse. Record your beats per minute when you awake, preferably while you’re still in bed. An increase of more than three or four beats can signal overtraining.

• Distances and times. Tracking correct distances and workout times can keep you honest. It is also your most reliable measuring stick to check your progress.

• Time of day. Studies show that our energy levels fluctuate during the day. As long as all other variables remain the same, you can pinpoint your peak time of day for a workout.

• Intensity. Use descriptive terms or a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is very easy and 10 is extremely difficult). Monitoring intensity levels is a key in avoiding too many back-to-back killer workouts (or in avoiding that crippling disease couchus potatoeus).

• Feelings. Though many things can affect your mood, a change in mood is sometimes a precursor to sickness and an indication of overtraining. For example, irritability can be an early sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard.

• Injury flags. Pay close attention to any unusual pain, especially around the joints where most injuries occur. Note any such aches and pains in your log.

• Weight. Get on the scale in the morning, after you’ve relieved yourself. A 3 percent or more loss of body weight might mean you’ve lost too much fluid. Take an easy day or, better yet, a day off.

• Weather. If you are easily affected by heat, cold, humidity, or other weather variables, keep track of these conditions.

• Notes. Perhaps the best part about keeping a training log is flipping back to read about that special swim, ride, run, or race.”

Designing Your Own Training Week

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, …

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, such as long runs, interval work, tempo runs, and so on, are all important and necessary for helping you improve as a runner. The key is classifying the various workouts and then scheduling them into your training consistently. Following a map–one that successful runners have used time and again–can ease the uncertainty and doubts that creep into every athlete’s mind. Following an outline that has led to success allows runners to train with greater focus and purpose, knowing their work will achieve long-term results. A workable training schedule brings workouts together to form a routine that addresses every relevant energy system necessary for top racing performance and continued improvement over time.

I cannot name one individual heroic workout that will take someone to the next level, but there are a few workouts that, when done consistently and repetitively as part of a training schedule, can lead to substantial progress for the majority of runners. The surprising thing for many runners is realizing that the training principles are the same for any distance you want to race. It doesn’t matter if the event is the mile, 5K, 10K, marathon, steeplechase, or cross country; the same training elements and concepts apply. As a coach, if I base an athlete’s training on the key elements, the athlete invariably maintains his or her health throughout the season, improves his or her race performances throughout the year, and competes well at specific goal races. It’s basic, it’s fairly brainless to follow, and most important, it works.

The following suggestions will help you fit each of the six elements into your training consistently within your standard training cycles. Some advanced athletes who recover quickly can address all six within a single week. Athletes who require more time between hard efforts to recover fully should consider fitting these within a two- or three-week cycle. You can also try a 10-day cycle if one week doesn’t work for you, but given that most people have schedules that revolve around a standard 7-day week, we tend to stick with 7, 14, or 21 days as the standard options.

For my athletes, I generally schedule two harder workouts every week, cycling through anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, and anaerobic-capacity training. Once we’ve addressed each of these individually, we start the sequence of workouts over again; this allows us to elevate the athlete’s fitness level by concurrently working all of the energy systems necessary for distance running success. For athletes who recover especially quickly, I schedule a separate anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, or anaerobic-capacity session each week, thereby allowing the athlete to address all energy systems within a single training week. For those who require additional recovery, a single session each week of one of these types of training is sufficient, allowing the athlete to address all relevant energy systems within a three-week period. Here’s the most effective route to incorporating the six elements in your program:

Step 1. Designate Your Recovery Day

Because most of the athletes I work with have families and careers, a recovery day is usually one on which they’d like to complete additional chores around the house, spend time with their families, or socialize. It may be a day to do little or nothing except read a book and relax. Others travel frequently for business and have a floating schedule; these runners need a day on which they can miss a run without feeling guilty. View the recovery day as a day to let your body and mind unwind and allow modern life to take priority over training. As an added benefit, it’ll keep you healthy, allow you to improve, and help keep you motivated.

Step 2. Determine Your Long-Run Day

This is pretty simple because most athletes do their weekly long run on either Saturday or Sunday. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you do it consistently. I don’t have a hard and fast rule regarding spacing recovery days around the long run. In most cases, my athletes run a harder effort on Saturday, run long on Sunday, and run an easier day on Monday. This allows Saturday to be fairly hard and Sunday moderate while providing a recovery day following these back-to-back harder run days.

Step 3. Determine Your Primary Workout Days

On primary workout days you run scheduled harder workouts. My athletes schedule primary workouts every Tuesday and Friday in the fall. In the spring, the longer-distance athletes maintain this schedule, while the middle-distance runners adopt a Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday schedule. Depending on the length of your workout cycle, combinations of hard days vary. A 7-day cycle might include primary workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Runners on a 14-day cycle might designate Monday and Thursday as primary hard-workout days. On the other hand, some runners can only tolerate a single hard workout each week and are therefore on a 21-day cycle. Based on your particular goal event, rotate workouts in this order:

1. 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace (anaerobic capacity)
2. 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K race pace (aerobic capacity)
3. Tempo run of approximately 30 minutes at threshold pace (anaerobic conditioning)

On the fourth hard-effort day, start over again with the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K pace and work your way through the lineup again. In this manner, you address all the relevant energy systems needed for top-level performance. The 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K pace handle aerobic capacity, the tempo runs address anaerobic conditioning, and the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace develop anaerobic capacity (economy).

Most runners use a 14-day schedule of two primary, harder workouts each week during the two-week period. The question arises: There are four harder workout days and three primary workouts to do, so should I adjust the schedule? Rather than starting again with workout one on the fourth workout day, would there be a benefit to focusing on one area of fitness more than the other? I allow for the following slight variations based on the fact that most athletes see the greatest improvement in race times by giving increased focus to aerobic-capacity development.

Week 1: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-conditioning workout

Week 2: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-capacity workout

During the final four to eight weeks of the training year before the championship racing season, I make the following adjustments based on event focus:

1,500 meters. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout on another.

5K to 10K. During week one, perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic conditioning workout the second harder day of that week. During week two perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout the second harder day.

Marathon. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-conditioning workout on another.

Step 4. Schedule Your Double Days

I generally schedule double days on the primary harder workout days of the week because I want the athlete’s hard days to be hard. Without exception, my top athletes do a minimum of two double days per week on Tuesdays and Fridays, the same days we schedule either the 200s, 300s, and 400s, the 800- to 2,400-meter intervals, or the tempo run. The more experienced athletes add double days on an additional two to four days per week as they see fit.

Step 5. Fill In Rest With Aerobic-Conditioning Runs

The remaining days should consist of runs varying in distance from 45 to 90 minutes. Whether you choose to do two-a-days and whether you keep to the shorter end of the 45- to 90-minute range or the longer end is as much a matter of preference and “recoverability” as it is a function of your chosen race distance.

To help illustrate the previous concepts in detail, tables 3.1 through 3.3 provide some sample training weeks using this program. These are not set in stone, but rather are intended to illustrate how to apply the training principles to the everyday training of fast competitive athletes who also happen to have careers and family obligations.

So that’s it. Designing a training plan is important yet simple. I’ve described the elements it should include and provided examples of runners across the race-distance spectrum who have used these elements to form training plans that have taken them to the top of their game. Now, it’s your turn. Reread this chapter along with the other information in this book, set clear goals, grab a pen and paper (or a mouse and computer), and go to it.

Five training phases for triathlon success

It’s not often I can do this but the following is an excerpt from an upcoming book (currently only available as a pre-order), Triathlon 101 (Human Kinetics, due out March, 2009). In this updated edition reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Triathlon 101, you’ll learn the five training phases for triathlon success.

“Training in phases, or cycles, has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise safely and effectively,” says Mora. “Each phase has a very specific High-Tech Cycling book coverobjective, and the workouts are thoughtfully designed to fulfill that objective.” Mora suggests beginners approach training in five phases:

Initiation phase.
Specifically for beginners, the initiation phase allows the body to learn a new activity never or rarely performed before. Depending on the level of experience, this phase could take up to three months. “This phase may try your patience because you’ll be learning at least one activity that you’ve never attempted before,” Mora notes. “It is a time for your body to adapt gradually to new activity and to overcome the inevitable discomforts that go with triathlon training.”

Base phase.
This phase creates a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity and consists mainly of long workouts done at a slow pace. According to Mora, the focus of this phase should be on gradual increases of the length of workouts of no more than 10 percent per week, a rule that is especially crucial for running and helps in avoiding common overtraining injuries. This phase can last from three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance being trained for.

Speed and technique phase.
This phase increases the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise. According to Mora, the speed and technique phase is for those who have already run a few races and would like to hone their skills. However, for those running a triathlon for the first time, Mora recommends dismissing any expectations of finishing in a certain time and instead focusing on simply finishing the race.

Race simulation phase.
This phase helps boost race-day confidence through completing workouts similar to those done on the day of the event. According to Mora, many first-time triathletes have questions about transitioning from one sport to the other and the transition’s effects on the body. Race training improves performance on race day and provides the confidence needed for race day. “Workouts known as bricks combine two sports in a single session and are instrumental to any racing success,” Mora explains. “If you complete workouts that simulate what you will be experiencing during a race, the shroud of mystery surrounding your upcoming first triathlon will soon begin to evaporate.”

Tapering phase.
Tapering involves a period of decreased activity in the days or weeks before an athletic event. According to Mora, tapering allows the body ample time to recover from the previous months of training and refresh the muscles in order to be primed for racing. “Although there is much debate about the ‘perfect’ tapering schedule, it really depends on how fast your body recovers from training, how long you’ve been training, and what you are training for,” Mora says. “And although there may be some disagreement about how to taper, experts do concur that you need to taper in order to perform your best.”

“Hailed as a must-read for triathlon rookies, Triathlon 101 covers all the steps necessary for triathlon training. The updated edition also offers new chapters on what to expect on race day, information on off-road triathlons, and information on recovering to compete again