Category Archives: training

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.

Use training zones to achieve your best workout

Training Zones

Training zones are used to quantify and track intensity. Remember that workload is the product of volume (duration and frequency) and intensity. The volume component of your workload is easily tracked; all you need is a watch and a calendar. Intensity, however, is a whole different ball game. This is the toughest part of your training to get right.

As mentioned previously, every time you train you should have a goal for the workout. To reach that goal, you’ll need to be aware of how hard you’re riding (i.e., your intensity).

The purpose of a good training program is to work different aspects of your physiology. You’ll be training your aerobic and anaerobic systems, your strength, and your mental fortitude. Some workouts may be for base training, building up the vascular machinery that will allow you to go hard later on. Other workouts may focus on training your maximal speed, allowing you to blow past a friend as you race for a city limit sign.

Each training zone represents a different level of effort, ranging from easy to hard. An overwhelming amount of information is available on training zones. Different coaches and books use different nomenclature, and this can make it confusing. This book is designed to give you a solid foundation in the world of training; the goal is to simplify things so that you’ll have a good understanding that’s adaptable to whatever terminology you encounter along the way. Continue reading

Basics in getting yourself started for a triathlon

Biomechanics of Triathlon
Triathlon participation involves three activities: swimming, biking, and running. Each activity requires a coordinated pattern of muscle recruitment that produces motion about the joints and creates the power to make the triathlete move. As a triathlete transitions from one discipline to the next, a concomitant increase in weight-bearing activity is seen.

The swim requires the triathlete to be prone, lying facedown in the water and using the arms and legs for propulsion. Most people without a swimming background quickly learn that swimming efficiency and, thus, speed are extremely dependent on technique. For those who are technically challenged, wetsuits, which are legal to use in certain water temperatures, provide buoyancy to help produce better swimming position, resulting in less drag on the legs. Most triathletes use the arms to a much greater extent than the lower extremities for propulsion, possibly to prevent lower-extremity fatigue when biking and running.

The transition to the bike places a greater emphasis on both the lower extremities and core. The upper extremities contribute stabilization and assist in bike-handling skills.

Running, the greatest weight-bearing activity of the three, places the most impact on the body and requires a smooth coordination between upper and lower extremities to enable efficient gait. Strength training with both isolated and sport-specific exercises as described in later chapters will help develop a strong foundation to create power and speed and also prevent injury.

A Test of Endurance
The common thread that binds all triathlon distances together is that they all require prolonged exercise tolerance. This is unlike many other sports. Professional American football players play an average of 12 minutes during a 60-minute game. It has been calculated that during an average soccer game that lasts 90 minutes, a soccer player runs about 6 miles (10 km). At even the shortest triathlon distance, the ability to maintain sustained exercise needs to be greater.

The cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems can be trained to handle this endurance stress. As more information is learned through research about an athlete’s ability to perform both aerobic and anaerobic exercise as well as Continue reading

The Bodyweight Advantage

The Bodyweight Advantage

Many folks absolutely love the prospect of being able to train efficiently in the convenience of their own home. Most fitness enthusiasts have gym memberships and have become highly dependent on machines and free weights to work their muscles. While I’m a huge proponent of using all types of resistance, bodyweight training is without a doubt the most convenient type of resistance. All you need is your own physical being, and you’ll never be without equipment or a facility and you’ll never need a spotter. In other words, if you learn to use your body as a barbell then you’ll always have the ability to obtain a great workout. You can gain tremendous functional fitness in terms of strength, power, balance, and endurance from progressive bodyweight training, and recent research shows that you can enhance your flexibility to the same or even a greater degree through resistance training than from a stretching routine.

I like to watch all types of athletes train. As a strength coach I’ve watched thousands of athletes lift weights. Two types of athletes have always stood out to me in terms of superior muscular control: gymnasts and bodybuilders. In awe, I watch the gymnast on the rings or the pommel horse maneuvering his body around the Continue reading

Running Technique Economy

If there was a technique improvement that would enable you to run at the same heart rate but faster, would you want to know about it? Running economy, improving your technique, might help you improve your times. This might be it. It’s not new but you might not have heard about it. Here are some videos (a video playlist) that will inform you.

Three Endurance Technique Development Exercises for Runners

This excerpt is from the book, Developing Endurance. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics. Purchase this book from Human Kinetics and help keep MyTriathlonTraining.com in online!

Arm Swings

The athlete sits on the floor with the legs extended straight in front of the body; the arms are bent at 90 degrees at the sides. The athlete begins swinging the arms forward and back slowly. She gradually increases the pace, focusing on pushing the elbows back and keeping the movement in the sagittal plane (forward and back). When the arms swing very quickly, the entire body may bounce up and down. If this happens, the athlete should focus on using core strength to maintain posture and limit any twisting or cross-body swinging.

Focus points: Developing a smooth arm swing forward and back with elbows bent and hands relaxed

Butt Kicks

This is a traditional track and field drill that emphasizes the rapid hamstring pull. The athlete should allow the hips and knees to flex in order to maintain the range of motion specific to the running stride. While running slowly forward, the athlete alternately lifts the ankle vertically by quickly pulling upward with the hamstring. He begins slowly at first. The athlete can gradually increase foot speed so that he is pulling the heels up very quickly and taking a greater number of steps while moving forward very slowly (fast feet, slow body). The arms must be coordinated with the legs during this drill. The drill can also be done stationary.

Focus points: Mid-foot striking, awareness of using the hamstring to pull the heel upward, maintenance of a high stride rate, practicing the arm swing

Bounding

The athlete begins by walking, running, or simply taking one or two running steps to build momentum. He pushes explosively off the ground with the back leg, driving the opposite knee up and forward to gain height and distance. The athlete keeps the heel of the driving knee under the hip, ready to land on the ball of the Continue reading

Recognizing and preventing common triathlon-related injuries

This excerpt is from the book, Triathlon Anatomy. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics. Please also read terms of use.

Prevention and Recognition of Injuries

Rest, which by nature triathletes are inherently bad at, is an integral part of the healing process. This is when the body heals itself and gets stronger, whether you are taking a day or a few weeks off from working out or reducing the intensity or volume of your workouts. Prevention techniques that assist with healing, including stretching and specific strengthening, are often overlooked but are an essential part of triathlon training.

Injuries are not an act of nature. They indicate that the athlete has reached a breakdown point at which the body can no longer respond in a positive fashion and heal the injury. The body is pushed past its reparative capabilities and begins to develop signs and symptoms of injury. One of the hallmark symptoms of injury is pain. We all have experienced discomfort when working out, but when is it bad to push through the discomfort? Pain can be defined as an unpleasant sensation that is often associated with damage to the body. What about the sayings “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” and “No pain, no gain”? These proverbs are fun to say but if practiced can lead you down the path of chronic injury.

Any discomfort may be an early warning sign of injury. Discomfort that begins with an activity but goes away as you warm up may be an acceptable symptom you are able to train through with appropriate modifications. However, discomfort that continues through the activity should be a clear warning sign that something is not right, and activity should be discontinued. Discomfort that persists after the activity, does not respond to the basic treatment of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and affects Continue reading

Establishing training goals on the bike

Training Goals

If you want to train more seriously, you need to have a plan. Every time you get on your bike, you are essentially training. The question is whether you’re training effectively or just gaining some conditioning through random episodes of exercise. If you are brand new to the sport, you will see great gains in your riding fitness, skill, and comfort simply by getting out on rides. Your body will respond to the stress of riding and will adapt accordingly. But, you can achieve much more progression if you take the time to establish a plan of action.

Effective training is what this book is all about. Most of us have other commitments—family, work, friends, and so on. That’s why cyclists need to make the most of the time they spend on the bike.

As a performance cyclist, you should always be striving to improve, and you should focus your attention on your cycling goals. If you want to hit the target, you first have to define that target.

What are your goals? Why are you riding your bike? Are you riding in order to stay healthy, to beat a friend up a local climb, or to complete your first century? Every person has a different goal, and that’s the point. You own your goals and all the training that you complete—every pedal stroke, every climb, every Saturday you drag yourself out of bed and onto the road.

Goals can be intimidating because they come with an inherent chance of failure. A goal that is easy to achieve and includes no chance of failure would be ineffective because it goes against the very premise of this book—getting the most out of your riding. The possibility of success or failure is the crux of a good goal. You need to struggle to improve, and the only way to truly struggle is to know that there is a risk of failure. It is the risk, the chance of failure, that drives you toward success.

To help ensure that you establish attainable goals, you should apply the Four Ps of goal setting: personalized, positive, perceivable, and possible.

Personalized means that the goals are your own. Only you can determine what is important, what will motivate you to keep your commitment, and what will give you a sense of accomplishment.

All your goals should be positive. Negative energy sucks! At Disneyland, they live by this philosophy. If you ask the workers when the park closes, they will respond, “The park stays open until 8 o’clock.” You should set a goal to accomplish a desired result rather than to avoid failure. Word your goals so that the outcome is positive.

You need to set goals that have a tangible outcome. Your goals must be perceivable to yourself or to others. This aspect of goal setting is all about accountability.

Finally, your goals need to be realistic but challenging. When you think about your goal, you should have a strong sense that the desired outcome is possible, but by no means assured. You need to believe even with the possibility of failure. This will help you suffer a little longer, struggle just a bit more, and get the most out of your training plan.

Don’t think that goals are only for professionals or racers. EVERY RIDER NEEDS GOALS. Think of goals the same way you think of the rest of the training program. Training is all about progression, and goals should follow suit. They start with more obtainable outcomes. But with each accomplishment, the task becomes more difficult. Each goal builds on the last in a stepwise fashion (figure 1.1), until you find yourself faced with your ultimate accomplishment.

Be sure to write down your goals. For each time frame—short, medium, and long—fill in your primary and secondary goals (figure 1.1). Again, these goals can be anything. They should be whatever motivates you to train when you might feel like flicking on the TV instead. There is something about actually writing down your goals. This brings them outside your brain and into the real world—an accountable world.

Training is all about commitment, discipline, and perseverance. It is a slow grind, and sometimes you feel as though you’re going backward instead of forward. But if you stick to your program, you WILL get better. Writing down your goals is the first barrier to overcome.

Goals will perpetually be included in your training program. Every time you reach a goal, you can have a little celebration, even if it is internal. Treat yourself to a double half-caf, mocha chai latte if that’s your thing. As soon as you are finished basking in the glory of the accomplishment, write down a new set of goals. Stay on target!

This excerpt is from the book, Fitness Cycling. It’s published with permission of Human Kinetics.