02 Oct How to be Good at Triathlon – Shem Leong
Consistency and Repetition are the big secrets to all the top triathletes out there. If you were looking for a magic formula or a short cut to success I’m afraid to tell you there is none.
But that’s what I like about our sport – it embodies and rewards the good old fashioned values of hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
Train every day (and sometimes twice a day).
Don’t plan for 2 or 3 large ‘hard-core’ sessions in the week because these will leave you too wiped out to train the next day. The sudden shock to the system and muscle soreness from a killer session will convince you that you deserve a “Pat on the back” Day Off. Your body will indeed rest and recover and you will find yourself fresh again the next day to push (too) hard, again, through another mammoth session. This sets up a cycle of one day on/ one day off – which effectively halves your training time. .
Same goes for taking that mandatory rest day once a week (I blame runners). If you need this break to maintain balance in your life, that’s fine, but doing a little bit every day is the best way to build a sustainable level of ‘background fatigue’. The idea of building fatigue may sound counter-intuitive to some of you but the truth is that your body adapts (gets fitter) better when it is worked in an already pre-fatigued state. This is how to build endurance fitness – after all, isn’t out sport about becoming fatigue resistant?
Life will inadvertently throw you curve balls- an extra heavy day at work, a sick child, an urgent errand, – that will eat into your training time and prevent you from getting that day’s session in. Take that as your rest day instead!
Remember that convenience is KEY. As a time strapped age-grouper, work your sessions into your daily routine. This is your best chance of maintaining some form regularity. Train close to, or en route, to home or work. Map out a 2km running loop around the car park at work for those threshold intervals instead of making that special trip halfway across town to the track/ gym. As long as you have your running gear stashed away in a bag in your car/ drawer at work you can nip out and get it done.
Learn to love repetition.
My athletes stay on the same plan, doing the same sessions every week for at least 8 weeks. While this may seem like a long time, repetition is one of the cornerstones to a being successful at triathlon.
If you’re paying attention while training, it takes at least 3 – 4 weeks of repeating the same set to ‘get it’ – to understand how to execute the set well and what exactly the session is teaching your body to do. You also understand much better the recovery demands it makes on your body.
Before layering on the intensity and going balls out, your 1st task, when trying a new session is simply to complete it as best as you can, aiming for a ‘safe’ completion. The 1st couple of times you do a new set it’s always trial and error anyway.
Only after you ‘get it’, when your body has started to adapt to the physical demands and your brain already knows what to expect, then can you start layering on the intensity So while completing the set has become second nature, executing the set better each time becomes the continual challenge – and this is when the real gains come! A repeatable 3 – 5 seconds off a 400m run interval/ 10 watt average power increase over a 15 min Time Trail on the bike- small but significant improvements and good indications that you are headed in the right direction.
Repetition allows you to control the variables in training and leads you to ask the important questions –
- How did I complete this set last week?
- How can I do it better this week?
- Do I need to adjust for how I am feeling today? Am I fatigued or stressed out? Do I need to dial down the intensity to complete the session?
Start by putting together a reasonable and balanced weekly training schedule that you have a realistic chance of completing. It should take into account your available training time, the facilities close to you, your strengths and weaknesses, your history in the sport and of course your biggest and wildest triathlon dream goals.
For some triathletes these 2 principals may sound dry and monotonous but if you are looking to improve your triathlon performance, I encourage you to stay open-minded and curious about “The Method” and you’ll soon discover a whole new way of enjoying your training.