Working with triathletes is a very rewarding coaching experience. Triathletes are on the whole committed, enthusiastic, work-orientated, goal focussed athletes who are a pleasure to coach. Over the past ten years however, working with triathletes of all ages and levels, I have found that there are certain mistakes commonly made by many triathletes in their first year or two of training and competition.
These mistakes are often made purely because the triathlete is so enthusiastic and determined to do well in the sport, that they often take short cuts or make poor training decisions based on anecdote rather than on intelligence and logic.
Fore-warned is fore-armed, so here are the ten most common mistakes made by triathletes so you can avoid making them!
Increasing training volume too quickly. When many triathletes take up the sport, early improvements in performance come from improvements in aerobic fitness associated with increased physical activity. This is particularly true of senior age group triathletes who may have not exercised regularly for some time. The danger is that often a "SOME TRAINING IS GOOD, THEREFORE MORE IS BETTER" attitude develops and before you know it you have an overuse injury. Try to limit increases in training loads to 2-3% per week and every four weeks have a week of rest and recovery.
Ignoring stretching and injury prevention. When your triathlon training and racing is going well, you can be confused into thinking you are invincible. Talk with triathletes who have been involved in the sport for some time and they will tell you how tough it is to be injured. Take time to develop flexibility around key joints. Develop a strong core of abdominal and lower back strength. See a qualified and experienced sports physiotherapist and ask for a musculo skeletal screen. The MUSCULO SKELETAL SCREEEN is a simple physical examination conducted by a skilled sports physiotherapist, which measures your flexibility and stability in key muscles and joints like your back, hips, ankles and shoulders. The physio can then give you some ideas on injury prevention and performance enhancement through the right stretching and strengthening program. We call it a CD-ROM program, which stands for CORE DEVELOPMENT-RANGE OF MOTION.
Relying on technology instead of technique and skills. Triathletes are among the most committed, hard working athletes I have come across. Many are in a great hurry to increase training volume (how much you do) rather than taking time to develop technical excellence first then increasing the training kilometres. When commencing a triathlon training program, take a few months to get some coaching in all three areas. See a swim coach for some technique work and stroke development. Work with a cycle coach on bike set up, cornering, gear selection, pedaling, bunch riding, (AND not forgetting bike maintenance). Consult a running coach on speed development, running with correct technique, etc. Be wary of gimmicks with promises of fast improvements. The short cuts you take this year, you will pay for next year.
Spending too much time on your strongest leg instead of working on your weakest. An old coaching friend once told me, "work on your weaknesses, your strengths can take care of themselves". Triathletes from a running background find long slow distance running work easy, so if given the choice they will often run rather than swim or cycle. Every training session is an opportunity to gain a competitive edge and to improve an aspect of performance. Take advantage of every opportunity to improve weaknesses whilst maintaining the edge you have in your strongest leg.
Avoiding speed work. There is no doubt that triathlon is an endurance based sport. However there are times when speed is important and being able to move really fast on demand is a deadly competitive skill. Speed is a tool that allows you to race and compete rather than just finish. It is also a fundamental aspect of successful endurance performance. The physiological concept of "speed reserve" suggests that endurance athletes need to develop speed, so that their endurance training and racing can be done at faster speeds. If your best time for one hundred metres is 30 seconds (five-minute kilometre pace) it is unlikely you can run 50 minutes for 10 k's since no one can operate at 100% for very long. Speed is a vital component of successful endurance performance.
Using training hard as an excuse to eat and drink whatever you like. What you eat today, swims, cycles and runs tomorrow. Training hard is not an excuse for eating junk. You don't put low-grade fuel or unleaded petrol in a high performance engine or Formula I car. Triathletes are Formula I athletes. Training for a tough demanding activity demands high performance fuel. And remember it's CARBO LOAD NOT GARBO LOAD.
Not taking time to rest and recover. Rest, recovery, regeneration, relaxation are all words to describe the process of allowing your body to adapt to hard training. Getting enough sleep, having a spa, getting a massage, doing some exercise for fun instead of training, eating well and stretching are all part of effective recovery. . Effective recovery has many benefits. Effective recovery techniques increase the rate at which your body recovers from training stresses. This has two main benefits:
You can train harder (quality)
You can do more training (quantity)
Training stimulates your body to adapt and improve. Everyone gets a little tired and fatigued from training. Being tired is NOT a BAD thing. Being tired after training is all part of the process of improving and achieving your best.But, being over tired, and carrying tiredness from one session to the next can cause real problems. Recovery is the process of monitoring fatigue and doing things to overcome it.
Sleep is a key recovery technique. Everyone needs sleep; some triathletes need more than others. Get to know how much sleep you need to make you feel rested and recovered.
Training at too high an intensity. Many age group triathletes, particularly those from team sport backgrounds, often train too hard. The intensity of their training sessions is a little too high, resulting in excessive body stress and residual fatigue carrying over from one session to the next. Aerobic training is training which helps triathletes develop their endurance - their "staying power". It is usually done early in the season and prepares triathletes for the hard work and hard racing to come later in the season. Coaches sometimes refer to this as " the aerobic base".
Aerobic training is done at low intensity, with rhythm and relaxation. It gives your body the physiological characteristics to handle fast work, to recover quickly from hard efforts at training and between races and to burn fat for fuel more efficiently.
Intensity is a measure of how hard your body is working. You can measure intensity by training at a specific pace, timing your efforts, taking your heart rate, training to a scale (ie. 1 out of 10 is easy, 9 out of ten is really hard). How hard you are working AND NOT just how far you go is the key to training effectively.
Not planning an integrated, balanced training program. It is important that you find time to develop a training program for triathlon, not swim, bike and run. It sounds weird but there is a difference between training for the individual legs and for the overall sport. Recently a friend rang me. He was very frustrated with his training program. He had a specialist swim coach coaching him in the pool, a top cycling coach working with him on the road and a track and field distance coach for his run sessions. However, because the three coaches didn't share training session information, he ended doing three hard lactate type sessions in the one day! There are times to work on the specific skills and techniques of the individual legs and times to integrate and balance a training plan incorporating all three. It is difficult to make significant improvements in all legs at once. Stress is stress. A hard ride places a tough demand on the body just as a hard run or hard swim.
Copying the "secrets" of champions. Much of what we know about athletic performance we have learned from observing, monitoring and testing great athletes. The challenge is that the factors that lead to these athletes becoming great are not always reproducible or even measurable. Listen to the great ones. Learn from their successes and avoid reproducing their mistakes. Above all, take from the champions what is appropriate and applicable to you at your level of competition and suitable to your training background.
T - Triathlon is a great sport.
R - Rest, recover, regenerate and remember to take it easy from time to time.
I - Ignore injury prevention and correct stretching exercises at your peril.
A - Avoid, tricks, cons, gimmicks and fads. Success has few short cuts and fewer rules.
T - Train as you would race, that is with a balanced program developing skills and excellence in areas of weakness and maintaining a competitive advantage in your strengths.
H - Hard work is rarely without reward. Train hard then rest hard.
L - Learn from the successful techniques of the great triathletes then improve on them. Do what the successful triathletes of 2008 will be doing, but do it now.
O - One thing is certain. Develop your training program on a philosophy of staying healthy, uninjured and with a commitment to sensible balanced training with adequate time for effective recovery and you will do well.
N - Now - get out there and do it