Getting in cold, open water can hold fear or confusion for many athletes, or others just simply don’t enjoy it. Whatever happens, it’s good to be prepared; follow these tips for preparing for the open water.
When you get in open water, take time to familiarise yourself and if you can't get comfortable, at least get acclimatised. The number one issue for panic is people setting off too quickly, either just to get on or to get warm. This spikes your heart rate and your breathing and will likely set off any anxiety that will become more difficult to control. Let your wetsuit float you up in the water and try to relax back so you can float on your back – and then on your front too.
Identify the struggles of swimming in open water
Going off course. Panicking. Swimming into people. Letting your form collapse. Maybe you’re not being used to swimming in a wetsuit. Unforeseen conditions like strong currents and surf/chop.
The number one remedy to the majority if not all of the above is practice, practice, practice.
It's true that it is hard to get a lot of practice in open water because of schedules, weather conditions, and other commitments. So continue to swim your regular sessions every week. But as the race approaches take one or two of those swims into open water, whether it be a lake, estuary, or ocean. Make it as high a priority as possible.
Swimming in the pool is not completely different from swimming in the open water – but it does have its own vagaries. So to get faster at the latter, you need to do it more. And not just on race day.
Use these swims to test your wetsuit, practice sighting, get used to not seeing the bottom, and practice with others. Also, work on longer intervals at race pace. Some people will benefit from maintaining a more constant rhythm – others will need to readjust from having a rest and a push off at the end of every length!
Prepare as much as you can in the pool
Swimming in the pool still has its place. Even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your regular weekly pool sessions, especially if your form is still weak. Of course, you can work on technique in the lake or sea, but it becomes more challenging. Pool swims are important to develop speed and improve technique without the distractions that open water provides. Use the pool to focus on your form and drill work as well as a few race pace speed sets for time so that you can monitor your splits.
If open water is simply out of the question, simulate the chop, surf, and congestion by trying to swim in a lane with three to four other people at the same time. It is tough but it will mimic that race start well. Also, close your eyes while swimming to mimic losing your ability to guide yourself with the black line (obviously only do this if you have an empty lane!) Turning before the wall is also a great way to simulate the stop-go of open water swimming, and not resting between lengths.
Swimming in open water – at least with a wetsuit – should be quicker than swimming in the pool. So make sure that you are prepared for swimming in open water. Practise putting your wetsuit on so that it fits properly over your shoulders. Get yourself comfortable entering the water so that your heart rate doesn’t take such a shock to the system come race day.
Read more: Tips For Swimming In Open Water
About the author: John Wood is a triathlete, triathlon coach, and Sundried ambassador.
It’s been a long-contested subject that has divided opinion amongst the triathlon community. Many people make the argument that strength is not important for triathletes, and that weight training will actually make you heavier, thus slower.
However, over recent years many myths surrounding resistance training using weights have been debunked. More and more professional endurance athletes have dedicated strength and conditioning coaches. There are many benefits to resistance training, but not all are obvious.
Triathlon is a demanding endurance sport that can put high loads on muscles and connecting tissue. If not sufficiently conditioned, these structures can break down leading to injury. Weight training using loads that are higher than experienced during regular training can help strengthen these structures preventing injury.
Higher Efficiency = Better Performance
Resistance training specifically targeted towards maximal, reactive and explosive strength has been shown to increase endurance performance through increased tendon stiffness and various neuromuscular pathways.
Ultimately, your tendons become better at storing and releasing energy and your nervous system becomes more advance/efficient at controlling your muscles.
Stronger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Bigger
Yes, certain forms of weight training under particular conditions can make you gain muscle. However, putting on muscle is a lot harder than you might expect.
For muscle growth to occur, you need to do a lot of lifting at a fairly high load and be in a constant calorie surplus. For most triathletes, this is never going to be the case. A correctly put together strength and conditioning programme will minimise physiological adaptions such as muscle hypertrophy.
Also, doing a lot of endurance exercise can suppress muscle synthesis, so if you’re a triathlete with a packed endurance schedule, I wouldn’t worry.
To become a good endurance athlete you need to put in the training hours. This means doing a lot of the same movements over and over again.
The problem with this is that the body can develop muscle imbalances, where the main muscles used become strong but the less utilised muscles remain weak. This can cause imbalances and is often a prime cause of injury.
By incorporating some different movement patterns into your training programme, you can address areas of potential imbalance. This will not only help prevent injury but also make you a more rounded athlete.
Modern sports science has shown that a well-constructed strength and conditioning programme using weights can have a positive effect on endurance performance. Endurance athletes should no longer fear the weights room, they should positively embrace it. Lifting heavy weights following specific protocols will not make you bigger, but it will make you stronger, more resilient and faster. However, if you’re new to weight training you should seek professional advice otherwise you could do more harm than good.
Read more: Triathlon Strength Training Exercises
Matthew Sills is the Founder and Head Coach of Trojan Fitness having been a personal trainer in Ruislip since 2013. Matthew holds a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Surrey, and guides his personal training based on the latest scientific research and literature.
I don’t think I will be alone in saying everything has felt a little bit all over the place this week, but as the week comes to an end I feel as though I am starting to find some normal in the abnormal. I am finding it helps to make new goals for each day and stick to a “normal” routine as much as I can.
As triathletes, it’s easy to disguise unhealthy obsessions with food or exercise as “training” and it’s easy to use such routines as coping mechanisms for perhaps some ordinarily slightly pathological behaviours. We like to see a sea of green in training peaks, we like to eat a certain way, we like to train a certain way and as a general rule, we like to “stick to the plan or programme”
After the initial wave of panic amongst our peers in response to closed pools, closed gyms, empty supermarkets and movement restrictions, we are left with a choice - to adapt to the change and rise to the challenge or to sulk about this new life and hang around wondering when it will end.
It’s a bit of a learning curve for us all, and it is easy to see that some are finding it easier than others to cope. I know that if you had put me in the same situation several years ago I don’t think I would have had the emotional or athletic maturity to adapt my life in response to the ever evolving world around us.
It helps to remind oneself that everything in life is a choice. I have chosen to embrace the change and be constructive in my approach - because what’s the alternative?
Here are a few lessons I have learnt this week:
- Doing daily mobility and physio exercises makes you feel healthy both psychologically and physically.
- Bodyweight/plyometric based strength workouts can be just as taxing as gym based sessions, if you don’t believe me try Soraya’s Core/Plyo “S&C Live” session, I felt like I’d run a marathon the next day!
- Land based "swimming" might be harder than normal swimming - RIP Arms. I am looking forward to seeing whether going back to basics, breaking down the stroke and working on dry land form translates in to improved technique in the pool.
I am yet to figure out the virtual world of Zwift, hopefully perseverance pays off in this situation and by the end of the lockdown I might be less of a technophobe and have a few more virtual strings to my bow.
With a new life comes new challenges, it feels fun to be challenged in an "alternative" way again. I feel a bit like I am studying for vet school finals again - being locked up in the flat with only myself for company. It prompts you to develop strategies to maintain efficiency and effective time management. Eg. Small exercise breaks throughout the day, limit social media use, sticking to a waking/sleeping routine.
My number one challenge is avoiding restriction and compulsive behaviours. Being surrounded by an unstable world is challenging my recovery (orthorexic/anorexic behaviours of the past) but something I think I'm strong enough to cope with right now! Game on brain. Training smarter is more important than training harder right now, I feel more in tune with my body and know when I need to rest (even if sometimes I try to trick myself/ignore my own advice - now is not the time to ignore!)
Psychological stress can have as big an impact on your body as physical stress - monitoring Heart rate variability (HRV) is a good way to monitor this and know when your body needs a little less stress.
I really feel as though the current situation is really making us slow down and think about our core values and our "why's" in the world of triathlon (or whatever other hobby you might have) - it's helping me to develop habits and routines that I (think/hope) I will carry forward beyond this time.
About the author: Rebecca Fellows is an Ironman triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
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.