Fire up your training

You’ve been training for a few years now, results happened quickly, improvements kept coming, you felt unstoppable, riding the high of your triathlon successes. But as quickly as the results came, you suddenly feel like your improvements are slowly withering away and your shot at another PB seems like a distant memory. You keep training but your body just doesn’t seem to respond like it used to. Paces seem to be faltering, or even slowing down, energy and motivation wavering, race results diminishing. Does this sound like you? Good news is – you are not alone. Most athletes hit a plateau at some point in their training. We often see it in athletes after 2-3 years in the sport, but it can happen at any time. So with some understanding, practical tips and know how – you can smash through the plateau and be back on your way to your next PB in no time.  

What is a training plateau? 
Firstly, to understand why you have hit a training plateau, we must understand what it is.  When you put your body under physical exertion or physical stress (training), it creates a multitude of physiological responses at a cellular level in your body. Once the body is stimulated by the stress (training) it then goes through a process of adaption to meet the demands of the stress. As adaption occurs, the body is then better equipped (adapted) to handle the training load and it therefore becomes easier (ie you become faster / stronger / more efficient).  

Training increases must then be applied to elicit further physiological responses in the body and to continue improvement. This can be done in a number or combination of ways including increases in frequency, duration and/or intensity. If not, or if you don’t allow the adaption process to occur (through over training or under recovering) then your body will undoubtably hit the dreaded training wall plateau.  

Hitting a training wall or plateau is a frustrating part of training that most athletes will unfortunately experience at some point. The key is recognising it and making changes so you don’t find yourself stuck there and treading water for too long. So if you are consistent with your training, but have stopped seeing the results, try these practical and effective tips and training methods to smash your way through that training wall plateau and reap some serious results (and PB’s!) as a result.  

1. Don’t just train more
I put this first, as it’s often the ‘go to’ for athletes if they find themselves in a plateau. This can often be the worst thing you can do, especially if you have hit that wall due to over training or under recovering in the first place. Overtraining generally leads to fatigue, injury and/or underperforming, all that go hand in hand with hitting a plateau. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t immediately just train more. Yes it’s important to be disciplined and consistent with your training, but it’s also crucial that you pay attention and listen to your body. If you have been training consistently, then look at other signs and reasons as to why you have found yourself in a plateau (read on). More training doesn’t necessarily equate to better results.  

2. Get the balance right
How much you train, and the type of training you do over time, along with the amount of recovery and/or the recovery methods you employ will all help ensure your training keeps progressing. A well-developed training plan/program will incorporate frequency, intensity and duration to elicit a specific physiological response at specific times in your training. Training increases are needed for a progressive overload but it is the amount of overload applied to the body that is the key. Too much and you risk injury, illness and over training, not enough and you won’t get the physical response to improve. To continue to see improvements, your training plan must stimulate the body at the new fitness level. Adaption then takes place again (the plateau) and so the process then continues. If you get to a point where you aren’t coming out of your plateau, then review the frequency, intensity and duration of your sessions to ensure a continued improvement. Sometimes it can mean not quite having the balance right or at the right times that sees you landing in a plateau for longer than planned.

3. Mix it up
One of the reasons you may have hit a plateau is because you are stuck in the same training routine. That training routine may have worked well in the past, but it doesn’t mean it is right for you now. Our bodies are very smart and extremely good at adapting to outside stress, so if you don’t mix things up, it can not only affect your results, but it can also affect your motivation too. So make sure you mix things up every now and then. It doesn’t have to be drastic, but just by changing up a block or period in our training such as backing off your running and bumping up your riding can freshen up your run and boost your ride at the same time. Or if you are always prescribed an aerobic, high volume training program, try adding some more intensity into your training. You may even want to try and flip things around, start your build with some intensity, and then move back to aerobic and strength. Remember there is always more than one way to achieve results. So don’t get stuck in your ways. Change it up and then monitor your results to ensure you are getting back on track.

4. Embrace recovery
If you are one of those athletes that fears taking a day off training, you are actually more susceptible to hitting the dreaded training wall plateau.
A body grows and becomes stronger and faster AFTER it has adapted to a training stimuli. So the amount of rest and recovery you give your body is just as important as the training itself. Without sufficient recovery, over time your body won’t be able to absorb the training load and make the adaptations to increase performance.
Think of this process like climbing a staircase. You can’t keep climbing at the same rate and the same intensity forever. At some point you will need to stop and rest so you can recharge and keep going. That’s what recovery days / sessions allow. A chance for your body to recharge so you can then hit your next sessions stronger.  So if you are constantly fatigued, sore, or not hitting your target times or efforts in training, there’s a good chance that you are simply not giving your body sufficient rest and recovery. So listen to your body and back it off a little if you need. Try taking a day or two off to regain both your physical and mental strength. You may just be surprised with how taking just a few days off can actually help not hinder your training and performance. So don’t fear recovery sessions or days. Embrace them.

5. Go hard on hard days, easy on easy days
Far too many athletes spend time in the ‘grey’ zone. Sitting in that middle ground of training. I understand it, it feels like you’ve had a good work out, but still got some left in the tank, it’s not super hard, but not easy either. But there lies the problem. Each type of session has a purpose at specific times in your training build. If you are always training in that ‘grey’ zone, you will miss the benefits of building a sounds aerobic base and therefore stunt your maximum aerobic function (your engine!), and at the other end, you will never hit hard sessions hard enough to effectively improve your VO2Max – which is what every athlete should be aiming for. Plus another down-side – you are at an increased risk of over training and/or under recovering.  So know and have a purpose for every session you do. If the purpose is aerobic base development, train in that zone, if it’s technique, go slow and focus, if it’s VO2max or speed, go hard and fast. Save the tempo and threshold training for race specific sessions when they are needed, and they certainly aren’t needed in every session.

6. Include specific training blocks
Many athletes get stuck into the ‘3 swims, 3 rides, 3 runs’ routine and then find themselves stagnating in one or more of the 3 disciplines. To give your training a little boost, while still balancing your time and recovery, look at including a block of training which focuses on one or two disciplines for a specific period of time, not all three. As an example:
Plan a 6 week ‘swim’ block if you have found you aren’t making progress in your swim. You might still train 9 times a week, but the ratio may be 5 swims, 2 runs, 2 rides. Similar plans can be done for the bike and run.

7. Add a training spike 
If you feel like you train specifically, you tried the recovery, have a good balance but still feel like you are in a rut, the next step might be a training spike. A training spike can often come in the form of a training camp. Training camps provide a training spike through a condensed training overload over a specific period of time – generally from 3-5days. Your aim is to overload your training during that specific period, then allow sufficient recovery and you should see the benefits a few weeks later. You can choose to attend a specific training camp, or you can simulate your own at home. As an example, you might normally swim 3km on a Friday morning, ride 3hours in the hills on a Saturday and run 1hour on Sunday. A training spike over the same 3 day period may look like the following*:

Friday AM: 3km aerobic strength based pool swim
Friday PM: 45-60min easy technique focused aerobic run
Saturday AM: 4hour aerobic strength based hills ride
Saturday LUNCH: 2km easy recovery pool swim
Saturday PM: 60-90min aerobic strength based run
SUNDAY AM: 3hour flat aerobic ride
Sunday LUNCH: 45min easy technique focused run

*Keep in mind that everyone’s training load and demand is different. Depending on the time of the year and phase in your training program, your training spike might focus on increased frequency, duration, intensity or a combination of all three. It should also have a particular focus based on where you are at in your training such as aerobic strength base or race specific phase.

8. Plan a bi-annual /annual recovery phase
A sound training plan will build you up over time, aiming to peak you for your specific key race/s, then include a recovery or transition period where you enjoy some recovery and down time. Too many athletes are frightened of having time off after a key race for fear of loosing the fitness they worked so hard for. Yes – you will see some decline in fitness after a week or so, but it is necessary. If you don’t, you actually run the risk of under recovering. The key though is not stopping fully. In general, aim to move your body for fun, enjoyment and exercise – rather than viewing it as training. Try something new, jump on a mountain bike, sign up to a yoga class, go on a hike… the list is endless. The movement and exercise will help maintain some fitness while fast tracking your recovery. Our bodies can’t be at their peak year round, so take some time off after a key race to refresh physically and just as importantly mentally, and you will come back even stronger for your next race or season.  

9. Seek out a coach
When you started out in the sport, you may have been training yourself, joining in on group sessions or even following a template training plan. But as you progress, your training needs to progress too. So if you are serious about improving, it may be time to seek additional guidance through a Coach. A Coach can provide a training program that is periodised, with specific training blocks and cycles to help you get the most out of your training, and also leap you out of that plateau. Do some research on Coaches that provide individualised training programs designed for you. It will cost you a little more, but don’t underestimate the value a personalised coach who can add to your training and progression as an athlete. 

Although there can be a number of reasons for a training plateau, most of the time you can come out the other side with just a few small changes to your training, recovery or lifestyle to get you are back on your way. So instead of getting stuck behind the training plateau wall, listen to your body and make some changes to ensure you are back on your way to your next PB in no time!  

 

Written by Coach Sarah, as previously published in Australian Triathlete Magazine

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

 

 

Building your winter base

How to make the most of your triathlon winter season training

Building a solid base for endurance is the key to having a strong racing season, no matter the distance you are training for. Short Course athletes require a solid base so their bodies can adapt and grow and handle the intensities that will come later in their training program. Long Course athletes require a strong aerobic base to build the engine that will carry them through their training volume and more importantly, race day. A solid base also helps you become a robust athlete, which in return helps prevent injuries, illness, inconsistency and athlete burn out.

Most athletes know that building and having a strong base is a fundamental foundation to develop on as they progress through the triathlon season. But as much as most athletes know this, they may not necessary understand why it is so important and how it can help them through their racing season.

Picture this: You trained your butt off during the off season, worked hard in every training session; you had a slight injury, but nothing that you couldn’t overcome in a few weeks. You had a few sniffles over winter (but who doesn’t right?), but ultimately you feel you are in the best shape yet as you head into the racing season. You jump straight into racing, all cylinders firing, you have a great first half of the year but then slowly you start to fade. The injury niggle pops up again, energy levels start to fade, each week it becomes harder to find motivation and each race feels harder to maintain the intensity. Slowly but gradually you start to fade until it comes to the last couple of races of the season and there’s not much left in the tank. You don’t even know how you got to that point, but you cannot wait until the end of the season so you can rest and recover. And then it hits you. You literally stop. Your body stops. Everything stops. So you have a month (or two) off until you get to a point when you feel ‘heavy’ and ‘unfit’ and decide you better get back into training. So you jump head first into your training again, playing catch up to those who maintained some consistency during their break, and so the cycle begins again….

This scenario is one that we see often. Athletes going too hard at the start of their base build, believing more training and more intensity will get ‘better’ results. They try and keep up with others, while they lose sight of what their own goals are and they neglect that important base building phase.

Here are some of my key points on ensuring you develop a strong base to not only propel you into this coming triathlon season, but ensure you finish the season off just as strongly.

Start off fresh
A strong and robust base starts with solid rest. Every athlete needs a break from the racing season and structured training so they can repair and recharge. Ensure you have taken the time to have a few weeks off from structured training after your season/last event to rest. Use this time to do some cross training, go for a ride with friends you wouldn’t normally train with, throw a basketball around, kick the footy, and simply catch up on ‘life’. When you feel like you have had a good mental and physical rest from structured training (this timeframe can differ for each athlete), then start building structure back in a few days a week until you are ready for a fully structured program. The key is backing off enough to recover, but not so much that you completely lose fitness. So keep the body moving while it still rests.

Build back into training gradually
Sounds simple right? Yet it is often hard for athletes to grasp this concept. Building gradually into your training allows for your body to adapt to the stressors training (of any level/duration/intensity) places on the body. Base building provides a platform for building up training at a slow and safe rate, which helps decrease the likelihood of injury and burnout. Building up gradually following a carefully structured plan will ensure your body adapts, while also focusing on key fundamental including general strength, technique and form which are essential during the base training phase.

Low intensity / Aerobic Training
The building block of base training is low intensity aerobic training. Despite all the studies and despite the information now available to athletes, far too many athletes still train in the ‘grey’ zone. They spend too much time with their heart rate too high to develop their aerobic system (crucial for endurance) but then on the flip side, not hard enough to illicit improvement in their Vo2Max or speed. So they effectively waste a lot of their time training somewhere in between. Low intensity / Aerobic training doesn’t mean simply swim, ride and run slowly with no purpose or no effort. This type of training develops your aerobic capacity through building more capillaries to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. Your mitochondria (the parts of your cells that produce energy) also multiply and enlarge. And you churn out more enzymes that help turn stored fuel (ie fat) into energy. The result: over time, you will be able to train faster for longer. A great way to test this improvement is not through a time trial, but through a MAF HR test. (You can look this one up on how to conduct this test). If you are developing a sound aerobic base results might be something like:
20min run at 5km pace, ave HR 160. 6 weeks later, the same 20min run at 5km pace with an ave HR of 152. This is 8beats per minute (bpm) lower than 6 weeks ago. The athlete hasn’t needed to run any faster (although they could if they wanted), but they have become more efficient at the same pace. These types of results are what we are after in a base building phase – you want to develop a more efficient engine that is strong and ready to fire when the next phase of the program kicks in.

Consistency
If you have a coach, you would have most definitely have heard this one before. Consistency is key. The ability to string together multiple weeks and months of consistent training brings about far better (and more consistent) results at races during a season. If we compare an athlete who goes extremely hard for one or two weeks/months, but then has to have days or weeks of easier training as they recover from the hard training, then they are not building a consistently strong base. Athletes who go too hard too early are also more susceptible to illness and injury over winter, which again in turn results in inconsistent training.

In the winter season. The easier the better. The hard training will come. So keep reminding yourself that. Those athletes who have taken the time to build their base consistently over winter will be the athletes that will get the most consistent results for the season.

Remember to rest
Just because base training doesn’t include large amounts of intensity, keep in mind that rest is still an important aspect of training during this phase. It is during the rest and recovery portion of your training that the body repairs itself, adapts and becomes stronger. So ensure your base aerobic training still factors in easier days or rest days to allow your body to adapt and come back from each session/week stronger than before. This is where a well-structured training program comes into play to gain the best results from your hard work during training.
Fuel smartly (and healthily!)
So many athletes say they train so they can eat what they like. Well I’m afraid you can’t if you want to be healthy on the inside and out, recover quicker and perform at your optimum. The base building phase is one of the less intensive phases of a training program, so it’s the perfect time to develop sound, nutritional habits and you will find you might actually lose a few kg’s (not put them on which is what most athletes tend to do over winter!). During longer, lower-intensity training, the body is able to pull energy from fat stores rather than from glycogen, where higher intensity training sessions gets their fuel from. Therefore, base training can be the perfect time to become leaner and a more efficient fat burner. So ditch the packaged foods and gels over winter and fuel with real wholesome food.

Give it time
There is no magic number for how long a base-building phase should last. This is very individual for each athlete and can depend on training history, lead in time to the season/key race and more. But generally you will see this phase last from 6-12 weeks. If you have a heart-rate monitor and/or power meter you can measure more closely on when you have built up a strong base and ready to move into the next training phase.

On the bike you can measure your efficiency factor by dividing your average power of a ride by the average heart rate. The actual figure doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are seeing an upward trend of this number. Once it starts to stabilise / plateau you are ready for your next training phase. This can also be monitored on the run through MAF HR tests, or intuition. Essentially your speed/pace should continue to improve for the same (or even less) effort and your runs/rides should feel easier. When you feel like you aren’t making continued progress (give this time) then you are most likely ready for a change up in your training. Again this is where working with a Coach who can develop a program specifically for you will see better results in the long run than following a template program or group training sessions – unless you are really good at analysing numbers/data, reading your body and listening to your intuition.

Be patient
Don’t force or try and hurry your base training. Plan your season accordingly so you can have a strong base before you move into the next phase of your program. In saying this, there is nothing wrong with throwing in some short high intensity sessions. These won’t undermine your base training, but can improve some markers like Vo2Max while continuing to develop your base. But be patient. Build these in gradually so you don’t peak too early. You want to be at your peak for each of your key race/s, not just for the start of the season. And this all goes back to our initial discussion with your aim to finish off your season strong, not fizzling out before the season finishes.

So no matter what distance you plan to race this season, make sure you are starting off with a strong base before you build into the next phase of your training. This approach will safeguard you against injury, keep you healthy, help your race times come down and be a happier athlete in the process.

Written by Coach Sarah, as previously published in Australian Triathlete Magazine

~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

 

 

How to make the most of your winter season training

Don’t you just love this time of the year? Key races are complete and you are all set for some time off structured training. Did someone say social life? Yes please! 

It’s the perfect time to reflect, review and reset. To look at what went right, what went wrong and what can be improved and what you would do differently.

It’s also the best time to start building a solid winter base. Base endurance is the key to having a strong racing season, no matter the distance you are training for.  Short Course athletes require a solid base so their bodies can adapt and grow and handle the intensities that will come later in their training program. Long Course athletes require a strong aerobic base to build the engine that will carry them through their training volume and more importantly, race day. A solid base also helps you become a more robust athlete, which in return helps prevent injuries, illness, inconsistency and athlete burn out.

Build your best winter base yet! 

I’ve put together my 7 TOP TIPS to building your best winter base yet, ensuring you make the most of your winter season this year. Enabling you to start next season stronger, hungrier and more robust than ever and propel you into your next triathlon season! 

Start fresh

A strong and robust base starts with solid rest. Every athlete needs a break from the racing season and structured training so they can repair and recharge. Ensure you have taken the time to have a few weeks off from structured training after your season/last event to rest and reset. When you feel like you have had a good mental and physical rest from structured training (this time frame can differ for each athlete), then start building structure back in a few days a week until you are ready for a fully structured program. The key is backing off enough to recover, but not so much that you completely lose fitness. So keep the body moving while it still rests.

 

 

Build back into training gradually

Sounds simple right? Yet it is often hard for athletes to grasp this concept. Building gradually into your training allows for your body to adapt to the stressors training (of any level/duration/intensity) places on the body. Base building provides a platform for building up training at a slow and safe rate, which helps decrease the likelihood of injury and burnout. Building up gradually following a carefully structured plan will ensure your body adapts, while also focusing on key fundamentals including general strength, technique and form which are essential during the base training phase. 

Low intensity / Aerobic Training

Want speed? Slow down.” – Dr Phil Maffetone. 

And I couldn’t agree more! The building block of base training is low intensity aerobic training. Far too many athletes still train in the ‘grey’ zone, training with their heart rate too high to develop their aerobic system (crucial for endurance) but then on the flip side, not hard enough to illicit improvement in their Vo2Max or speed. Essentially you want to develop your aerobic capacity through low intensity / aerobic training so over time you will be able to train faster for longer.

To train your maximum aerobic function, I often  use the MAF Method as developed by Dr Phil Maffetone. In the winter/off season. The easier the better. The hard training will come. So keep reminding yourself that. Those athletes who have taken the time to build their base consistently over winter will be the athletes that will get the most consistent results for the season and are generally less prone to injury and burnout also.

Consistency

If you have a coach, you would have definitely have heard this one before. Consistency is key. The ability to string together multiple weeks and months of consistent training brings about far better (and more consistent) results at races during a season. If we compare an athlete who goes extremely hard for one or two weeks/months, but then has to have days or weeks of easier training as they recover from the hard training, then they are not building a consistently strong base. Athletes who go too hard too early are also more susceptible to illness and injury over winter, which again in turn results in inconsistent training. 

Remember to rest

Just because base training doesn’t include large amounts of intensity, keep in mind that rest is still an important aspect of training during this phase. It is during the rest and recovery portion of your training that the body repairs itself, adapts and becomes stronger. So ensure your base aerobic training still factors in easier days or rest days to allow your body to adapt and come back from each session/week stronger than before. This is where a well-structured training program comes into play to gain the best results from your hard work during training. 

Fuel smart

So many athletes say they train so they can eat what they like. Well I’m afraid you can’t if you want to be healthy on the inside and out, recover quicker and perform at your optimum. The base building phase is one of the less intensive phases of a training program, so it’s the perfect time to develop sound, nutritional habits and you will find you might actually lose a few kg’s (not put them on which is what most athletes tend to do over winter!). During lower-intensity training, try some of these sessions fasted. This helps condition the body to draw energy from fat stores rather than rely on constant fuelling with carbohydrates. Base training can be the perfect time to become leaner and a more efficient fat burner. So ditch the packaged foods and gels over winter and fuel with real wholesome food.  

Add a ‘spike’ in your base training

There is no magic number for how long a base-building phase should last. This is very individual for each athlete and can depend on training history, lead in time to the season/key race/s etc, but generally you will see this phase last from 6-12 weeks. If you have a heart-rate monitor and/or power meter you can measure more closely on when you have built up a strong base and ready to move into the next training phase. Working with a Coach will help you achieve this optimal phase in your program. A great way to then kick your base training to the next level is through a ‘spike’ in your training. This can be through a weekly challenge or blocks such as a swim/ride/run block (ie increase mileage of one particular discipline over a given period of time to add a ‘spike’). Another great way is through training camps. Training camps are fantastic as they add a large spike in your training over a short period of time (generally 2-5 days). Training camps offer a short specific stressor to your body to propel it to the next level, provided you then follow with a specific recovery protocol post camp to recover and adapt. These spikes helps to avoid a plateau and also provides some great motivation – particularly over winter. 

 

So no matter what distance you plan to race this coming season, make sure you are starting off with a strong base before you build into the next phase/s of your training. This approach will safeguard you against injury, keep you healthy, help your race times come down and be a more consistent athlete in the process!

Happy Base Training!
Coach Sarah 

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

 

How to move from middle of the pack to front of the pack!

You have been racing for a few years now. You are generally pretty consistent with your training. You attend group training sessions with your local Club, you enjoy training and love racing. You are self-motivated, dedicated and competitive. You feel like you are doing everything right to achieve the results you are chasing, but for some reason you still find yourself just falling short. You keep finding yourself ‘middle of the pack’ when you want to be ‘front of the pack’. You train hard between each race to move yourself up the ranks, but you still seem to get stuck in the middle. Not last, but not first either. For some reason things just aren’t getting you to where you want to be. You may want to be in the top 10. You may want to podium. Heck you may even want to win! So how to you get from ‘’middle of the pack’ to front of the pack?

I’ll let you in on some secrets – well they aren’t really secrets! Any good Coach should have these all under control, BUT it’s up to the athlete to know these and ensure they are being implemented. So I’ve chosen some of the key areas I believe can help elevate a middle of the pack athlete to a performance athlete.

– Train smarter, not harder.
This means training with purpose. Don’t just train for the sake of training. Ensure each training session has a purpose and you understand why that session is where it is, what you are trying to gain from it and how it fits into your overall training plan. If you don’t know. Ask. If your coach doesn’t know, I’d question whether they are the right Coach for you. A quote I love and use all the time – ‘you should be training the least amount possible to achieve the goals you are after’. So the first step is to ensure every session you perform has a purpose and you follow it. Where many athletes go wrong is when they don’t understand the purpose of a session and find themselves training in the ‘black hole’ or ‘grey zone’ far too often.

Black hole / grey zone training is a session that is either just below or just over your threshold pace/effort/heart rate. It is too slow to develop speed, yet too fast to build your aerobic efficiency. It’s that middle ground where your improvements will start to slow down (or stall completely) and your fatigue starts to build up. You may feel like you are training hard, but you are definitely not training smart. So this is where if you know and understand the purpose of a session, then you will be able to train more efficiently and effectively.

For example, an athlete is told to complete the following speed session:

15min easy aerobic warm up
4 x 20sec strides, 40sec easy
4 x 20sec drills, easy jog back
1-2 min rest/stretch
10 x 60sec all out, 60sec very easy jog, 60sec walk recovery
15min easy aerobic cool down

If this athlete doesn’t take the recovery prescribed – or tries to keep up in recovery with their training buddies and doesn’t recovery properly between sets, their next all out speed set will be compromised and they will start training threshold, or in the ‘black hole’. The PURPOSE of this session was speed, not threshold and definitely not in the black hole. Get the picture? Remember – you are trying to maximise your gains, to result in maximum returns.  Train smarter – not harder.

– Follow a program designed specifically for you.
You may have a coach and join in regular group sessions, but are you making the most of your time? Are the sessions designed specifically for you? Group sessions are great if you have a purpose and you are disciplined enough to stick to it, but if you are just attending sessions because you enjoy it, or it gets you to training, then maybe you need to review whether this is helping you achieve your lofty goals. Remember – you are aiming for performance, not just participation.

Following an individually designed program allows you to maximise your training time, which in return maximises your recovery time, PLUS you know the program is designed specifically for you and your needs – not for the needs of a group. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for group sessions, just not every session. A great way to find the balance between group sessions and ‘getting the job done’ yourself is to look at your strengths and weaknesses. If your weakness is swimming technique and you have access to a great swim coach who will help you with technique, then utilise them. But if you are attending swim sessions and simply trying to ‘keep up’ with the lane, and not able to focus on your technique, then you may be better off swimming on your own some sessions and include some one-on-one technique work with a coach.

– Know your training zones
Again this one comes back to the purpose of a session. If you know your training zones you will be able to train to them. Sessions will generally be prescribed in zones, or perceived efforts that would relate to your training zones. Each zone you train in has a purpose and drives back to your training plan and overall goals. Coaches prescribe sessions at different times of the year to help you develop your maximum aerobic capacity (ie your engine!), and then layer on top strength, endurance, speed and race specific sessions. If you are training outside of the prescribed zones too often, then you are defeating the purpose of the session and the overall plan is totally changed. As a result, you will often see these type of athletes peak too early, not reach their full potential or eventually burn out.

There are a number of ways tests to help determine your training zones:

Threshold tests – bike and run
Times Trials – swim, bike and run
Critical Swim Speed Test
Functional Power Test – bike

Racing – Short races can also be used for updating / determining your training zones, 5/10km run races and sprint/olympic distance racing are great distances to do this.

Ie: an athlete with a run threshold of 175bpm may have training zones that look like the following:

Zone 1: Recovery <138bpm
Zone 2: Aerobic 139-150
Zone 3: Tempo 151-169
Zone 4: Threshold 170-175
Zone 5: Anaerobic 180+

I utilise Training Peaks to calculate threshold zones using the Joe Freil method, however if you don’t have Training peaks, you can use the following formula (this is run specific):

Zone 1: Recovery – Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2: Aerobic –  85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3: Tempo – 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4: Threshold – 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5: Anaerobic – More than 106% of LTHR
LTHR = lactate threshold

Once you know your training zones, you will be able to implement this into your training and train specifically to a sessions purpose. They will keep you more accountable and the results will follow.

Example threshold run set programmed to zones.
15min easy / zone 2
(4 x)
3min Zone 4 / threshold,
2min Zone3 / tempo,
2min Zone 4 / threshold,
1min Zone2 / aerobic
10-15min easy / zone 2

– Prioritise your recovery for adaption
Recovery is the corner stone to your improvements, yet so many still don’t prioritise this part of their training. Your fitness improves as a result of adaption, adaption occurs when you recover or de-load your intensity and/or volume.

Implementing recovery protocols should be a standard in every training program and can include:

  • Legs up the wall post training for 5-10min to help reduce cortisol
  • Periodised programs that factor in recovery periods (ie 3week build, 1 week recovery)
  • ‘Recovery’ days/weeks can be a reduction in intensity, volume or a combination of the two.
  • Structured cool down after every session
  • Inclusion of easy/recovery sessions such as yoga, walking, pilates
  • Cold water immersion / icing.

Review your nutrition
What you put in your mouth can play a big part in how you feel, how you recover and how you perform. As a Coach, I hear far too often athletes saying ‘I train so I can eat what I like’. It is these athletes that generally also have the mentality of more training is better. As much as this is ok if performance or your health isn’t your main priority, but if you want to become a better athlete and perform to your optimum, then it’s time to start fuelling your body accordingly.  Your body will only function as well as the food/nutrition you fuel it with. Nutrition can be a big minefield, so if you are unsure of where to start in fuelling for performance and your individual nutritional requirements, I recommend seeing a Sports Nutritionist or Naturopath who can formulate a plan specific for you. One of the best investments you will make in building your performance and longevity in the sport.

– Include Strength & conditioning
Want some Big Bang for your buck? Strength & Conditioning may be your answer. Strength and conditioning helps develop strength and power which equates to speed. Just 30min 2-3 times a week can help improve your weakness and develop your strengths. Plus you will be less prone to injury. So if you don’t include any S&C in your training, it’s time to chat to your coach, or a qualified Strength & conditioning coach who can design a program specifically for you.

-Include Mobility, stability and activation
Most athletes wake up in the morning, throw on their training gear and run out the door just in time to make their session. If you think about this process, you have just been asleep for 6+hours and all of a sudden you are asking your body to perform when it is still half asleep! The same goes if you have been sitting at a desk all day for 8+hours. You need to prepare your body for each training session before you actually start the session. 5-10min of simple but effective mobility / stability exercises can help switch on the muscles you want firing and help you feel a lot better from the very first stroke, pedal or step of your training session. Don’t believe me? Watch any professional athlete ‘warm up’ for the start of their session. They will spend a good 30min doing mobility, stability and activation work!

– Work on your weaknesses
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but are you just listening? Or are you doing? It’s easy to get caught in the trap of training more of the things you love (and are good at!), Yes you want to maximise your strengths, but if you want to improve up the ranks, it’s time you start focusing on your weaknesses. A well formulated plan can help build your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths. Focusing on weaknesses could mean spending more time on technique, it could be developing strength/power, it could be working on your mental aptitude. Whatever your weakness, understand it, find out how to address it and work on it.

And remember:
There are no short cuts to performance. Nothing will beat patience and hard work. As long as your hard work is smart work. So train with purpose, have long and short term goals in place, have a team around you who is willing and able to support you and you will be well on your way to moving to the front of the pack!

Coach Sarah

Written by Coach Sarah, as previously published in the  Australian Triathlete Magazine  

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.