Johnny is a personal trainer who is embarking on a triathlon journey. He talks to Sundried about training and motivation.
Please tell us about any sporting events you have completed or have coming up.
At this precise stage in my life I am all about triathlon. I do not have any races set up as yet but for me it is about challenging myself. I have run a lot of marathons, very few official but mostly just for me, by me, when I felt like it. I love the lone wolf style of training, just me on a road clocking the miles.
My longest run to date would be a 50k (32 miles) but I feel I could better this next time I get 5-6 hours free. I have competed in a number of CrossFit competitions both team and individual. I love fitness, exercise and the general feeling of being wrecked after pushing your body to its limits through whatever sport you choose.
Tell us about your journey to fitness? Where did it all start?
I started training back at school through rugby and took it up to club level. I was introduced to the gym at a young age so got hooked on achieving the body beautiful. I then qualified as a trainer and became really passionate about running, taking myself of for impromptu marathons when I was bored. I have always been keen on bettering myself and had my eyes opened when I started CrossFit. A very competitive, ego driven sport but I loved it, made a lot easier by the great community behind it. I definitely caught the bug for it. Currently I am swimming, cycling, running, lifting and just generally trying to be the best version of me.
What are your training goals now?
I am currently buzzed to do a triathlon and one day I will do an Ironman. The funny thing is that my swimming is horrendous. I think the last time I did it was back at school some 20 years ago. I am determined however and really embrace new things, so I am going to enjoy the process, nail the swim and enjoy getting pains from sitting on a saddle for way too long.
Tell us one unusual fact we wouldn’t know about you:
I starred as a background artist in 7 seasons of Game of Thrones, playing a character from nearly every different house, doing stunts and also being a stand-in for some of the lead actors.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
I sort of wish I had stuck with a sport and tried to master it. I do feel you need to try everything and I encourage people to do that but I suppose the curious side of me thinks that if I pumped the amount of time and energy into one sport and only that sport I could have achieved big things in it. Then again, I have no regrets.
Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what/when do you eat?
Honestly, not really. Don't get me wrong I watch my macros and eat around 2900 calories a day with a well balanced diet, but because I am training a lot I do occasionally throw in a bar of chocolate or post long run I tend to eat absolutely EVERYTHING going in the house.
What do you do to keep your clients motivated? Do you have any top tips to keep motivated?
Try to see the bigger picture. I have been training for years and it is now an essential part of my life but when I started out, it was slow, I had to learn to enjoy it. I would say just be consistent, going for the first time to anything new is always the hardest but after your first session you have done the hard bit, so just sit back and enjoy the process no matter how slow or hard you think it is. It never gets easier you just get better at doing it. The barrier always moves, that's called progression
Talk us through your training regime.
I train 6 days a week currently with a rest day on Sunday. I start each morning with a 2.5 mile run and a cold shower. I usually workout best at midday when I do a full body functional fitness style workout. Recently, I have set my goals on a triathlon so I have been incorporating 2 rides, 3 swims and 3 runs a week, on top of my strength training at the gym.
How do you keep your fitness knowledge up to date?
As with every industry, you are always learning and to do this you need CPD, Continuing Professional Development. Try new sports, try new training methods and most importantly surround yourself with people who are better than you and feed off their knowledge.
What are your top 3 trainer tips?
- Eat well
- Sleep well
- Keep it 'stupid simply'. My biggest accomplishments to date have come from just doing the basics great and turning up without fail.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I love chocolate and I know coming from a trainer this is bad, so I would have to say sushi. I love the stuff and with its high protein and omega 3 content you cannot go wrong.
What do you like about Sundried and what's your favourite bit of our kit?
I absolutely love the training t-shirts, in the gym you can have a great level of figure hugging comfort whilst not getting too warm or cold. The cycling gear is great too
Favourite fitness quote:
"It is what it is" by definition, "This circumstance is simply a fact and must be accepted or dealt with as it exists". I always find this pushes me on with my training. Whether I pick up an injury or a workout was not as productive, I accept the current situation, address it, make changes and carry on as a better human.
Swimming, cycling, and running will inevitably take up most of your time as a triathlete, but hitting the gym and doing strength training is just as important. We chat with two professional triathletes to get the low down on how they strength train to improve their performance and get the most out of their training.
Matt Leeman - professional triathlete
Matt doesn't do strength training in the typical sense. Instead of hitting the gym and lifting weights, he uses natural factors like hills to help him improve his strength and increase his muscular endurance.
Triathlete strength training
Strength training is a big component of any sport, the common definition of strength is "the ability to exert a force against a resistance". Each sport has different demands and hence requires different classifications of strength, triathlon predominantly requires strength endurance - the ability to express force many times over.
Although I personally do not lift weights, which are commonly associated with strength training, I do triathlon-specific strength training, adapting the training of the disciplines to a strength based way of training.
There are swim specific tools that can be utilised to enhance swimming strength, the main ones I use are the pull buoy, hand paddles, and band. The muscles used in swimming are predominantly the lats (side of the back) and triceps. The pull buoy enables swimming with less kicking to maintain the body position so that the upper body can be worked more. The hand paddles create a larger surface area to increase the resistance of a stroke. The band is used to take leg kicking out of the equation and rather get propulsion from the overall movement of the body and core muscles.
The majority of the time in a triathlon is spent on the bike so having good bike strength is essential for putting together a good race, both directly, making you ride faster, and indirectly, the less the bike takes out of you, the more you’ll have left for the run. The two things that can be utilised for bike strength are the bike's gears and hills.
By doing specific intervals ‘over-gearing’ i.e. using a bigger gear than you would usually use to train your leg muscles to produce a greater force so that when we are racing we are working at a lower percentage of our overall capacity. Hills obviously give a great stimulus for developing strength, ensuring you ride on different terrain is important for developing a well rounded strong athlete.
The main ways in which I train my running strength is using hills and mixed surface terrain. I will often do a specific hill repeat session where one specific hill is targeted and run up multiple times. The beauty of hills is that it prevents you from over-striding and promotes glute engagement, which improves our ability to utilise the bigger muscles in the legs such as glutes and quads that handle fatigue better than the smaller muscles of the leg, which is very important in an endurance sport.
Claire Steels - World Champion duathlete
Claire tells us about her three favourite strength training exercises and why they are well suited to an endurance athlete.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This exercise is great for running and cycling power but also glute, hip and core stability. Unilateral exercises like the Bulgarian split squat are fantastic for developing the individual leg strength required for sports such as running and cycling, where each leg is required to produce power independently.
TRX Mountain Climbers
This exercise requires core stability and control whilst moving each leg independently. This replicates the physiological control that is required in a duathlon as a strong core is essential for efficient running and cycling.
This is a fantastic exercise for developing power through the posterior chain along the back of the body. It challenges the strength of the whole body but primarily the glutes and hamstrings. It is also a fantastic exercise for testing the cardiovascular system while also trying to produce power making it yet another great exercise for duathletes.
For six years, I have been a professional triathlete and have enjoyed achieving at a high level and racing the best athletes in the world. After winning an Ironman 70.3 in 2016, my initial goal was completed and in my heart I admit I felt it was ‘job done’. However, I embarked upon another few years in the hope of taking the ‘next step’ – however good you get, there is always a next step! Triathlon has always been a little ‘faffy’ and techy for me though and you have to love what you do.
I am so glad I got the opportunity to compete at such a high level, but at 37 years old I have other things to achieve and if I’m to do them, it’s now time to get a move on! So come this summer, it was time to put triathlon to one side (though not abandon completely, as you will see!)
Ultra running. That’s where I came from and that’s where I’m heading now. I restarted triathlon after a run injury sustained shortly after my last long ultra: a successful 100 miler in 2012. Then aged 30, if I wanted to seize the opportunity of trying to be a pro athlete, triathlon was my best bet, and the time window relatively small. So when the opportunity presented itself, I put ultra to one side in the hope I could return one day (ultra runners tend to get good results when older - so in that respect I hoped I could afford to wait a while).
I have big goals for ultra and I have my eye on some British records that are rather mind-boggling, but I’ll give it a go and see how close I can get. I am not scared of failing, as I’ll still achieve lots along the way. It’s good to have a target though. Unlike triathlon, where there are no real times to aim for as courses are so variable, it is refreshing to have something specifically time-based as a goal.
The only problem with ultra running is the extreme nature and the need to build resilience without too many injuries. I have already overcooked it once in the past few months and had to take 3 weeks out from running - hard to do when you love it so much. Hence, the cycling and swimming will stay in place a bit this year, whilst we ‘transition’. I’ve already done my first cyclocross race, Redbull Timelaps and have a local duathlon lined up for December. It’s nice to be able to mix it up a bit - being ‘pro’ means you’re generally quite restricted in that respect.
As for life balance, I’ll continue to work closely with my key sponsors, including Sundried (watch out for some exciting new kit drops arriving soon!) and as well as paying the bills with freelance copy writing, I’ve relaunched my other passion, art.
Messy, crazy art. I studied art when younger but didn’t touch it for years. I have now ransacked my partner’s son’s old bedroom and it is now a splattered ‘art studio’, out of which comes all sorts of creations made with resin and/or acrylic pouring. I am still in the exploratory stage, but the business is gaining traction, particularly in ‘useful art’ - bespoke trophies, coasters, clocks, table tops, jewellery etc. Follow @aliceartuk on Facebook or Instagram to see my experiments!
In summary, it’s hard to make changes, especially when a routine is so drilled, but if you take a few weeks out of the sport every year or two, and let the dust settle, then you can truly reflect on what it is you want to be doing. I found a week off here and there doesn’t break what essentially is a habit, but after 3 weeks, it became clear where I wanted to go. Take your time to reflect. The body WILL thank you for an extended rest anyway!
Whilst I slowly build towards record attempts (I anticipate 3-4 years but that’s a guess), I simply want to get out and enjoy the blissful feeling of rhythmical running, take part in ultra events, enjoy some success and see some amazing sights, that can be right there in the doorstep.
My advice to you:
- Try new things in the off-season.
- Your gut instinct will tell you all you need, if you let it.
- Change is always possible.
- Take time to reflect: no goal is going to be a joyous upward trajectory so there will be ups and downs. Knee-jerk decisions are risky.
- Accept you cannot have success without failure.
- Having said that, make sure to regularly check in with yourself that you are predominately enjoying your journey, wherever it takes you!
About the author: Alice Hector has been a sponsored Sundried athlete since our inception and has been competing professionally in triathlon since 2014.
Getting in the water can be incredibly daunting for some people. 20% of the UK’s adults are scared of the water or can’t swim. A lot of people doing triathlon or contemplating doing one don’t enjoy swimming or are new to the concept. So, starting out can be a tense process.
There are 3 main steps when getting started with swimming:
Putting your face in the water
This will make your life easier and you won’t then get a horrible shock if you get splashed.
Learning to float
Most humans will naturally float to some degree. Maybe not perfectly (men especially), but if you can learn to trust the water to support your body weight, you can learn to allow your body to relax.
Frantically trying to kick and pull will spike your heart rate and breathing rate, which are counter-intuitive to feeling that calm and zen feeling that being in the water can give.
My go-to when teaching to swim is to get people floating on their back – aiming for some sort of starfish type position. It takes some confidence that you might not entirely have, but the trick is to try and stay still and fight the urge to kick or pull to keep yourself stable on the surface. These things will lift you in the water, but then you will sink again to your starting point so there is no real gain. Once you find that you can trust the water to support you, you’ll be a fair bit calmer!
The second thing to do when getting water-ready is to do some sink downs. Take a big breath of air, sink under the water/push yourself under and breath out – then stand up. Simple! In practise, if you’re not so comfortable it can be a little challenging to start with, so really force the air out of your lungs. When you come to swim this will be key, as it will allow you to breathe in efficiently when the time comes.
The final stage to getting started in the water is getting comfortable on your front. My favourite drill to teach this skill is the dead man float.
Start face down, completely relaxed and floppy. You should feel your legs and arms hang down (for the vast majority). Then repeat the float but with 3 distinct changes:
- Lengthen your spine – pull your ears away from your shoulders, keeping your neck neutral
- Lift your arms up in front of you so that your ears are between your biceps (keeping your hands in the water)
- Engage your core – pull your belly button toward your spine, and squeeze your glute muscles.
For the most part, people should feel their legs raise up toward the surface – if not completely then at least in part. This gives us a starting position to work from in the water. From here, you can practically do anything with your arms and legs, and you should get smooth forward movement.
One point to remember; swimming is incredibly counter-intuitive. Human nature is to want to look where you are going – but this will drop your legs in the water and make it harder to pull and to breathe. Survival instinct is to want to lift your head to take a breath – but the same thing happens. Your brain will tell you to frantically kick your legs to keep you afloat and moving, but a smooth relaxed and slower kick will be far more productive and less energy-sapping. If you can overrule your panic and discomfort reactions, it will make your life in the water far easier.
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete and triathlon coach.
Image credit: Wahoo
The turbo trainer – love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it is a fundamental piece of training equipment that triathletes and cyclists need in order to execute important sessions, especially during winter. Ironman triathlete and Sundried ambassador Danny Mansfield gives his advice for making the most of your turbo sessions with some key workouts for you to try.
Learning to love the turbo
I think it’s fair to say that not many people like long turbo sessions, and I am one of those. I take my hat off to the few that can stay on longer than 90 minutes. That is about my limit when the mind starts to wander and boredom sets in. For most, including myself, a good hour on the turbo trainer can reap good training benefits. The turbo also comes up trumps when the weather is awful or you need to do specific intervals, which on the road can be difficult, not to mention dangerous.
So how do we learn to love it? There are a few things to consider before we get into what those key sessions are.
Turbo Trainer Set Up
Where you complete your turbo session is a real consideration to make. If you set it up in a cold, dimly lit garage it will not help in motivating you to get on it. Not everyone can have a pain cave, but an area where you are comfortable and have enough space is important. Make sure you have a towel and access to water – you will need it! Another important tool is a fan. By keeping cool, you will control your heart rate a little more, plus it’s a little more comfortable with a fan on.
Danny in his pain cave. It's important to train somewhere you're comfortable.
When on the turbo and following a particular session, I tend to have other distractions to help the time go that little bit quicker. My personal favourite is an iPad with Netflix and something to watch, or sometimes just music. You will find that following a structured workout also helps, as you tend to concentrate on what you need to do. Getting on that turbo for some aimless spinning will lead to inevitable boredom!
Ask yourself – when is the best time for me to complete my session? Are you an early morning person? Do you have other people to consider? Have you tried the turbo at different times? This is key, as it will open up flexibility to your training and time you have. Usually, double day training for me means an early morning session, which I don’t mind at all. I much prefer jumping on the turbo trainer early in the morning than running outside in the cold.
Do you have a heart rate monitor or power meter? Are you using them to their full potential? Although I train by power on my trainer, for beginners a heart rate monitor is a great addition. If you can combine this with some simple testing to work out your heart rate zones, your training is likely to be a lot more scientific in its approach. Having a plan that matches your current fitness and goals will give you purpose to your training. But, to keep things easy, you can also use perceived effort (RPE) if just starting out.
Once we have worked out these things, we can start to consider what sessions to complete. There are lots of different workouts that allow us to build strength, aerobic endurance, tempo or sweet spot work. For me, there are three key workouts along with the dreaded FTP test that triathletes need to consider. Let’s explore these.
Turbo Trainer Workouts
This strength building turbo trainer workout is all about developing leg strength, making you push harder on the pedals. It will encourage your leg muscles to become stronger, which is great for climbing!
Start with 15 minutes of endurance pedalling with some high cadence spinning. We are talking perceived effort 3 or heart rate zone 2. Cadence should be comfortable, somewhere between 80-90 rpm or higher when you add in some high cadence spinning.
Here you will need to change up a few gears to add resistance to the pedals. You want to get into a gear where your cadence drops to around 50-60 rpm and then push as hard as you can for 30-60 seconds. Once complete, recover by shifting down again to easy spin for 3 minutes. Repeat this for around 5 sets and you can increase the sets or the duration of interval as you become stronger and fitter. Be careful though, your knees will take a pounding so start easy and find out what you can sustain and build from there.
10-15 minutes easy spinning bringing your heart rate down.
Sweet Spot Workout
This workout will be taxing and make your legs, lungs, and heart work hard. The idea is to ride just below FTP/threshold zone for short periods of time, enabling you to train your body to cope for long sustained efforts. It’s a must-do workout for long distance triathletes.
Complete a 20-minute warm up. This will be 10 minutes of easy endurance pedalling followed by 7 minutes of fast cadence efforts – aim for around 105-110 rpm. Split this 7 minutes up into 1 minute fast cadence followed by 1 minute easy. When you’ve completed 4 faster efforts, take the last 3 minutes easy.
Complete 3 x 10-minute intervals at around 85-90% of your threshold power or threshold heart rate. If it is too much or you can’t sustain it, shorten the duration of the interval. Separate each interval with 5 minutes of easy pedalling. As the season progresses, you can increase the length of the interval so you are spending longer in that zone.
Spend the last part of your session with 10-15 minutes in your endurance zone.
Boost Your VO2 Max Workout
This one is all about developing your lungs and body to use oxygen more efficiently. More oxygen means less lactic acid! It involves some high-end short efforts and requires you to have a bit of base fitness beforehand. If you know your FTP number, then your VO2 will typically be 110-120% of that benchmark.
Ride at a steady pace for 10 minutes then increase your effort for another 10 minutes. This should only be slightly harder in which you can still hold a conversation.
We are looking for 5 intervals lasting for around 3 minutes with a 3-minute recovery sandwiched between the hard efforts. Remember, each interval is 110-120% of FTP.
Complete a proper cool down and try not to do this workout back to back. You need proper recovery. To progress this workout, you can always extend the amount of intervals you do or the length of them.
What is FTP Testing in cycling?
An FTP test is a simple 20-minute hard-as-you-can and sustain for the duration of the interval. Ideally, this is done with a power meter but can also be tracked with heart rate. It starts after a warm up and also includes a cool down at the end. This is the key workout to give you your zones and check you current fitness level.
There are a variety of ways of doing an FTP test but the 20 minute effort is the most popular. If you don’t possess a power meter, you can also track your heart rate in this test, although it isn’t as accurate. This is not your everyday workout but one we use every 4-6 weeks to check on progress and adjust our training zones.
These turbo trainer workouts will not only give you bang for you buck, but will actually make the time go quicker on the turbo. Don’t forget to include that aerobic longer, lower intensity ride, which ideally is completed outside. Spread the workouts carefully as some are pretty taxing on the system, so make sure you manage your recovery, especially if you add in swim and run workouts too.
You can read more training advice by Danny on his blog.