Triathlon Training: Striking The Right Balance
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.