Attempting to master the art of juggling three sports, performing at work, maintaining a social life, and spending time with your family is a difficult venture. Life can get extremely overwhelming for the amateur triathlete, especially as they are often high-achieving individuals who do not like to compromise performance.
However, all is not lost; it is possible to strike the right balance between commitments and not compromise on athletic performance. The key is training efficiency.
Frequent stimulus is superior to any ‘hero’ day
Your body will make adaptations over a prolonged period of time, not after one big training session. Shorter workouts that are consistently more manageable within a busy schedule are far superior to longer sessions that are likely to be missed; your body will reward you for consistency over an extended period of time.
A big mistake that many triathletes make is that they perceive training sessions that are under an hour as a waste of time. They try to cram in big workouts at the weekends to compensate for the lack of training within the week. Of course, high volume days are important, but they are secondary to shorter and more consistent workouts.
More training does not mean more gains
Triathletes love numbers and often fixate on the number of training hours completed each week. More is more, right? Wrong!
Solely focusing on training volume each week leads to a sub-optimal training cycles that place little emphasis on intensity. A good training plan should incorporate a mixture of VO2, threshold, sweet-spot, endurance, technique and recovery sessions, regardless of how many hours it encompasses.
Focus on the key sessions within your plan, these may be the higher intensity ones during the racing season or the technique focused ones during the off season, and prioritise them.
Discipline time allocation should be strategic
Understanding how to distribute your time effectively across three disciplines can be a quandary. To do this effectively you need to identify your race goals and personal performance weaknesses.
For example, in a long course triathlon, a large component of the race is spent on the bike and consequently more time should be invested into improving one’s cycling strength and performance. Conversely, in a shorter draft legal triathlon, the swim composes a greater portion of the race and cycling ability is less paramount because of the ability to draft.
You also might want to take into account personal strengths and weaknesses. If you are particularly strong on the bike but struggle during the run element of a race, it would be best to invest more time into your running training. Many athletes worry about focusing on a single discipline in fear of neglecting the others but, fortunately, it does not take much training to maintain a level of fitness. Initially, training will give an athlete very large fitness returns but as time progresses the improvement trajectory becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain. Once you achieve proficiency, you can perform quite well on 2-3 target sessions each week which can free up time to focus on a less developed discipline.
Higher intensity sessions will feature more heavily in a time-poor athlete’s schedule
In order to obtain maximum rewards for the minimal amount of time, a greater percentage of your training needs to be in the higher intensity zones compared to a professional, who has the luxury of time. It is important to note here that this does not mean the majority of YOUR training will be at higher intensities.
A good training plan for those short on time should encompass around 30% of higher intensity work and 70% of lower intensity work. These are very rough parameters, so it is important to listen to your body and establish a split that works for you. There will also be discrepancies between the individual disciplines, with running typically having a reduced amount of intensity comparatively.
Before you go and hammer the higher intensity workouts, it is important to ensure that your body is primed to withstand this more traumatic type of training. You will need to develop durability first by regular zone two work and strides.
Every minute of training should have a purpose
Precise training is fundamental for anyone that struggles with time restraints. Spending intervals in your personal training zones will allow your body to adapt appropriately.
The best way to identify your training zones is to perform a number of fitness tests and measure either your heart rate, power or pace. These metrics can then be inserted into an online calculator which will produce your training zones. Once you have accurately determined your zones, you will need to start using them in training and keep track of progression using an online training platform.
There is a fine line between optimal performance and burning out
Your body needs time to rest and regenerate and this only happens with the appropriate amount of recovery. Make sure that you are sleeping enough, eating well, keeping your easy sessions and days easy, and taking regular days off for optimum recovery.
If you continue to train hard without having some time off, your body will break down and this will result in an injury or illness. It is important that every athlete, regardless of ability, takes rest seriously and prioritises it above anything else.
Triathlon training is notoriously time intensive but if you approach it right, it does not have to rule your life. Best of luck!
About the author: Laura Smith has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
Holly is a professional musical theatre performer and dance teacher. She talks to Sundried about her fitness journey.
Please tell us about sporting events you have taken part in or have coming up.
I have a passion for all things dance and fitness. As a professional musical theatre performer I have worked in film, television & theatre, appearing in musicals in the West End, on tour around the UK and in Japan.
I regularly take part in charity running events and have ran the Manchester, East London & Blackpool Half Marathons. This year I ran the Lancaster Trimpell 20 miler in preparation for the Manchester Marathon, which was sadly postponed until next year. The Manchester Marathon will be my first marathon event!
Tell us about your journey to fitness? Where did it all start?
My dance and fitness journey began at a very young age. I have always danced! It is my passion and it’s what I’ve been determined and fortunate enough to make into a 10 year career. My Granddad worked at my primary school, he was a teacher who specialised in sports and would teach after school dance and gymnastics classes, which I attended. He’d also encourage us to run 6 laps of the playing fields as part of his lunch time running club! I loved it. Both dance and fitness were instilled into me from a young age and have had a profound effect on my life. The discipline and healthy competitiveness (with myself & others) have helped me through my dance career and my Granddad’s passion for dance, fitness and teaching has been passed onto me!
What are your training goals now?
To train for the marathon next year!
Tell us one unusual fact we wouldn’t know about you:
I tried surfing for the first time this year - in Scarborough!
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started dancing?
I wish I’d have been more aware of how having a career in the dance and theatre world will affect your ‘normal’ life. People tell you how hard it’ll be and how much training you’ll have to put in but nobody can really prepare you for the impact it’ll have on your personal life. It is an ‘all or nothing’ kind of industry and requires the same kind of commitment to your profession as that of an elite athlete. You may miss family and friends’ birthdays, weddings and decide to cancel or postpone holidays because you’re auditioning or rehearsing. It’s hard to prepare yourself for making those choices until you find yourself having to make them. It’s a different kind of commitment compared to the physical side of training every day, but I think it’s just as challenging.
Talk us through your training regime.
I currently keep myself fit by running about 3 times a week. I also maintain my body strength by attending Pilates classes with one of the fab instructors from the gym where I work. Recently I have done some online workouts with my personal trainer colleagues too. I teach 2 online dance fitness classes and an online ballet class, which help me stay in shape and keep my creative side active by choreographing and planning lessons.
How do you keep your fitness knowledge up to date?
The personal trainers that I work with at Energie Fitness inspire me with their fitness knowledge and workout ideas and I read Runner’s World for running tips.
What are your top 3 dance teacher tips?
Have fun with your classes! If you have fun and enjoy yourself your dancers will too!
Think carefully about what music you use. I am a BIG music fan and enjoy using a variety of music styles for my classes. Really prepare this before the class, make sure the exercises fit and that there is something for everyone. Regularly keep in touch with your dancers. Whether that be through social media or email & texts. Make sure they are kept up to date with information about your classes but also make sure they know enough about you to feel engaged with you. Give them a bit of insight into what makes you you!
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Haha I love my food so that’s tricky. I really had to think about this. At the moment I love a tasty brunch so I’d probably say that. Eggs on toast, tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado, everything that makes up a yummy brunch. Either that or a roast dinner.
Why work with Sundried?
I’m so excited about the opportunity to work with Sundried. Sundried combines my love for fitness clothing and trying to look after the planet, so I was very keen to get involved. We share the same eco friendly values. I have consciously been shopping much more sustainably recently, trying to buy clothes made from recyclable or recycled materials, so I was very happy to discover Sundried’s EcoTech range.
Favourite fitness quote:
"We dance for laughter, We dance for tears, We dance for madness, We dance for fears, We dance for hopes, We dance for screams, We are the dancers, We create the dreams." - Albert Einstein
2020 has been a tough year and the ever-growing list of race cancellations and postponements have caused mass disappointment. Of course, public health and safety is of the upmost importance and so race rearrangements are the right course of action.
With 2021 looking as unprecedented as 2020, it is important to devise a racing calendar that keeps you motivated to train. For this week’s blog, I wanted to share some ideas on how you can get the most out of your training and racing next season.
Take a non-negotiable 2020 end of season break
Just because you have not raced, it does not mean that you can carry on training into next season. Your body has worked hard in training and your mind will be fatigued from the early mornings and intense sessions. Take a couple of weeks off any training regimen to recuperate, re-energise and recover.
Focus on a challenge rather than an event
To ensure that your main focus will go ahead irrespective of the restrictions, choose to embark on a challenge rather than sign up to a race. This will prevent you having to change plans and alter your training because of cancellations and postponements.
Schedule in small local time trials
Build up to your big challenge with small local time trials that are secure and less likely to be disrupted if new restrictions are applied. These types of events are often relatively cheap and do not require upfront payments so that you will not be paying for anything that does not go ahead.
If you are set on an event, be prepared to race solo
For some, having a target race is non-negotiable. If you are set on a particular race then put it in the diary and make sure you do it, no matter what. Even if the event has to be delayed, make sure you get out and complete it as a solo challenge. This will give you something to aim for and ensure your motivation does not dwindle.
Make the most out of group sessions but be primed to fly solo
When you can train in a group, make the most out of it. However, it is important that you do not become reliant on others as the future of group training sessions is currently uncertain. Ensure that you have pre-organised solo workouts and virtual training groups.
Utilise the gym and pool whilst you can but plan for closures
The reopening of pools and gyms were well received amongst the fitness fans and so take advantage of them whilst you can. The closure of leisure facilities is not completely off the cards and so I would recommend investing in some basic gym equipment and swim cords to utilise at home if necessary.
Respect the stress
The pandemic and its ramifications can be overwhelming. We all must respect that this is a stressful time and decrease our training load to keep the stress/rest cycle in balance. This is definitely a time when we must be flexible in our approach to training and take into account external pressures.
About the author: Laura Smith is an athlete who has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
Strength training is an important part of any balanced workout program and for a triathlete, this is especially true. All three sports of swimming, cycling, and running are strenuous activities that require careful attention to muscle balance to prevent injury and promote optimal performance. When you are consistently training in all three, strength training takes on a completely new component of importance.
Strength training for triathlon
Training for a triathlon is usually pretty time-intensive to gain the fitness level and specificity you need for each leg of your race. While lifting is a must, efficiency can help maximize your results without feeling too overwhelmed by your routine. (Plus, it’s nice to have time for other things in your life.) Find strength exercises that address multiple muscle groups at once, promote muscular endurance and stability, and ultimately give you the power you need.
Why you need a good lifting routine
Build muscular endurance for that extra “oomph” at the end of your race and power throughout. You don’t need to have bulging biceps to gain benefits either. Rather, you will maximize your muscles' reserves for pushing yourself to that next level. Plus, you’ll prevent injury. If you are intimidated by gyms or don’t have the time, consider a home gym set up. Ultimately, go for lower weight and higher repetition to gain endurance.
These moves will focus on typical problem areas that are common with all three sports. Complete 15-20 repetitions of each exercise for 2-3 sets. Your whole routine should take 20-30 minutes. When possible, do it 2-3 times per week.
- Choose light dumbbells.
- Get in a plank position on your hands with the elbows straight but not locked out or hyper-extended.
- With the core tight, bend one elbow as you extend the arm back and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Alternate between sides.
Keep your arms tucked in close to your side. Choose a weight that is challenging while still keeping good form.
Side Plank With Hip Abduction
- Get in a side plank on your elbow; make sure your body is in one line with no sagging at the hips.
- Lift the top leg straight up toward the ceiling.
- Keep the toes pointing forward toward the wall.
- Modify your knee on the lower leg if needed.
- Switch to the other side when complete.
You should feel this exercise in your obliques and glutes. You can add an ankle weight for extra resistance.
Prone Swimmers (Superman)
- Lie on your stomach with the arms outstretched in front of you.
- Lift one leg and the opposite arm off the ground 2-3 inches and hold 1-2 seconds.
- Focus on squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades as you lift.
- Alternate between sides.
You can progress to holding light weights in your hands when possible. You can also try doing this move on a yoga ball.
Lunge With A Bicep Curl And Overhead Press
- Get in a lunge stance while holding dumbbells or kettlebells in both hands at your sides.
- Bend both knees as you bring the back knee toward the floor (into a deep lunge).
- As you return to your original stance, curl your arms up until your elbows are bent past 90 degrees (bicep curl).
- Once you reach the top of your lunge, do a full overhead press.
- Bring the hands back to your side as you move into the next deep lunge.
Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet (no leaning forward) and knees in line with (and behind) your toes as you bend.
Single-Leg Dead Lift
- Holding light weights in both hands, shift your weight onto one leg and find your balance.
- Then, hinge forward at the hips as you reach with your opposite hand for the inner ankle (the free leg will extend behind you).
- Stay slow and controlled as you return to the starting position.
- Switch to the other side when ready.
Try standing on a foam pad for an additional coordination challenge.
Rotator Cuff Strengthening With Static Sumo Squats
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width and the toes pointing out slightly.
- Hold a resistance band in both hands with the palms up and elbows bent and tucked into your sides.
- Assume a deep wide squat that you will hold while completing your arm exercise.
- While keeping your elbows tucked into your side, pull the hands away from each other as you externally rotate the shoulders and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Focus on keeping good posture and keeping the neck relaxed. The motion should be slow and controlled.
The caveat of specificity training
Specificity training is the theory that in order to make improvements with a specific sport, you must train your body to do those specific movements. Makes sense, right? However, when you are doing three completely different sports that require slightly different muscular coordination, this can be a tough balance to find.
Multi-move exercises are the way to go
Always try to incorporate key body stabilizers into your lifting routine, like the rotator cuff, shoulder blades, glutes, and abdominals. Challenge these muscles in ways that promote dynamic strength that you can easily carry over to your swimming, cycling, and running form. As a triathlete, don’t be afraid to get creative with your lifting routine and find what works for you.
About the author: Kevin Jones is a fitness coach and enthusiast. He writes about all things surrounding health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Kevin found his love for running on the trails in the Wasatch Mountain Range and regularly participates in half and full marathons.
On 17th May, after a serious 6-hour brick session, I was saying: "It's great! No races means more training, less recovery but my body is coping extremely well with it. No injuries, not one little niggle. Nothing!"
Not even 24 hours later, I was getting out of the water after an easy open water swim with my training partner, stripping off my wetsuit still in the water and falling a bit awkwardly to my left. Walking to my car, ready to go to physical therapy, I realised a weird sort of pain hitting my left lower back/hip area. Nothing serious, I thought (and hoped). I got a massage and got the area taped very well so the pain was bearable and we were all of the belief it would be gone in a few days.
The next day, I had another open water swim in the morning, a stability workout right after that, followed by a bike ride and – late in the evening – a run which was around 25km. Because of the tape, the pain wasn't there from the start but it kept coming harder and harder and I was glad I finished the run.
I finished the training week, hitting every session – including interval running on Sunday. The pain was at a 10 out of 10 during the cool down run so I decided to walk the last few hundred meters to my house. I knew there must be something wrong.
The next week, a recovery week, we decided to take a break from running for at least 3 days. I took 7 days – something I had never done before.
On day 8, after taking some painkillers throughout the week, I thought the pain was gone, or at least, on its way. It wasn't. A 5km run almost left me crying because of the pain after I finished. Again – I knew there must be something wrong. Really wrong.
I kept training on the bike and in the water as much as possible but the pain was constantly there. Never as bad as during the running but, it was there.
I decided to give running a go here and there and – after seeing an osteopath who suggested it was down to some bowel thing and that it should be gone in 2 or 3 days (he was right about the first, but not about the 2-3 days sadly) – I wanted to do my brick session of 4 hours on the (indoor) bike followed by an hour run at Ironman race pace (3.55 min/km).
After 4 hours on the bike – no pain. Nothing. Great! Off on the run, it came and it went from bad to worse to the point where I had to just stop after 10k, again walking back home. This time, I decided that enough is enough. There is something seriously wrong.
I went to a hospital nearby (it was a Saturday) hoping for a chance to get an MRI or CT scan as I suggested it might be a stress fracture in my sacroiliac joint and I knew that this would be the only way to find out.
The doctor sent me back home – having not done any more than putting his hands on my back, trying to feel an injury. He suggested that I could resume training after 3 days as it's surely nothing serious. He knew. At least he said that he knew. He knew nothing, as turned out.
A day later, after barely being able to get out of bed – let alone walk down the stairs – I decided to give it another shot. Another hospital. This time I got lucky: I could stay at the hospital for one night, having been promised a scan the next morning.
Even then, one of my doctors – a great doctor and really good guy as it turned out, a triathlete himself – suggested that the SJ-stress fracture was “the only thing we can exclude.”
Two hours later, he came in with an apology and crystal clear MRI scans in his hand, showing an injury that I had only seen on Jan Frodeno or Lionel Sanders' Instagram accounts.
Wow, what a crazy 24 hours. From running a painful sub 4 min/km for 10k, to being out for the foreseeable future. For me, it was quite a mix of emotions: a slap in the face but also a moment of relief. Clarity – finally. And finally no one doubted that there was a real injury. From that moment, there weren't any problems getting more scans, physical therapy prescriptions and regular talks to my doctors in order to get this done successfully.
I think it's important to share experiences like this as there will be other athletes with symptoms similar to mine, so here's my advice: if you feel or think that it's serious, be persistent in your communication with doctors in order to clear the situation and find out what's really going on with your body.
A stress fracture like mine can happen to anyone – from the very best athletes like Frodeno, to a spare time runner. It might be overtraining, it might be a couple of nights poor sleep, it might be bad nutrition for a couple of days, moving house or just a mix of it.
I'm now seven weeks post-diagnosis and here are some thoughts on how to handle an experience like that:
My first thought was that it might be great to (finally) take a break after long and hard sessions week in week out, getting some wine and ice cream (which I did on the first night after returning home from the hospital) and taking it easy. But that doesn't work.
You have to keep your nutrition as good as possible as the body needs a lot of energy to repair damage. Things like alcohol will only slow down the healing process, which is the last thing I would want. I had three days in my 7 weeks with a bit of wine, no more. Yes, I went for the odd chocolate, ice cream or so as that was just necessary to improve my mood at times.
The biggest thing was the lack of movement. My body (and brain) is used to working out every day. Getting up early, training, eating, having a nap, training, eating, sleeping and doing it all again the next day. I wasn't doing anything for 9 days, starting to get some short walks with the dog after that. Still, it was 16 days without any sort of training. No bike, no swim, no run. Nothing. The first scan after two weeks showed improvements, I was allowed back on the bike and back into the pool. Both only at very low intensity and not longer than an hour per day, but it was helping my head a lot.
Also, I introduced my girlfriend to cycling. I rebuilt one of my bikes for her and we started doing our “ice-cream-tours”. Something like 20km, very easy and with a stop at our favourite ice cream place in the middle. Great for both of us! What really helped me during that time, though, was getting my coaching company “GET Active” to life. That was initially planned for the winter but I realised that my off-season was now. So, I tried to sleep longer in the morning as sleep would help my injury and would do a lot of office work afterwards. One hour of “sport” per day.
Fast forward to week 7: After another scan and a talk with my doctor, I was allowed to do a little bit more cycling, a little bit more swimming and doing some strength workouts again but, most importantly for me, I was allowed to get on the treadmill twice a week for walking with 3x2 minutes easy running.
I felt some discomfort in the area that wouldn't be there normally but, apparently that's not the fracture, but more the fact that everything around it has weakened.
So, getting on the treadmill, I was sort of nervous that it would all begin again. I was glad I was wrong. The running felt good, despite feeling rusty, unfit and almost overweight. But the best feeling was, that after stepping down, no pain came back. No sensations, no strains.
I'm glad I've been able to take my first steps now and can go on from here. I'm taking it day by day and week by week. Patience (my biggest weakness by the way) has been the most important factor in the whole process and I know, that wanting to much too soon could take me back a week or two very quickly.
This is also an advice I want to give for other athletes, coming back from an injury, coming back from a long off-season or just for people who want to get (back) into sport: Don't rush it. It will all come but it won't come faster just because you want it faster.
Do your training, take your breaks and always remember: recovery is key. Train, eat, sleep, repeat. Don't just train and repeat.
For me, I've accepted the situation that my season is over before it began this year. I hope to be back in early 2021. After all, this is my December now, so why shouldn't next January be my summer? I try to be in in top form in January/February, hoping that races will take place and I'll be a better athlete than before.
At least one thing is for sure: I'll never take pain-free running for granted anymore and be super grateful when I'm back to full fitness, getting back in some sort of form and getting back for race preparation. Here's to 2021!
About the author: David Rother is a German professional triathlete who competes at full and 70.3 distance.