Finding the Balance in Triathlon
By: Playtri Coach Morgan Davis
It's summer time! Warm weather and so much time to train... THINK AGAIN! Summer means kids are out of school, a few family vacations are sprinkled in and limited hours in the day to train without melting into the sidewalk. Training in the summer is all about balance. Don't worry, you can do it! Just follow these 4 steps to enjoy your summer, your family and your training.
1. Plan, plan and more planning
It's always best to plan one week in advance. First, start with the swim and see if and when you have access to a pool. Once you have that in place, decide where you can fit your long workouts. Planning your workouts in advance is key!! When that alarm goes off at 5am, you know you have to get up because it might be the only time you have.
2. Invest in a bike trainer
Having a bike trainer is a game changer! You can now ride your bike in the comfort of your own house or hotel. You can ride from the comfort of your home, early in the morning and before the kids get up. If you are on vacation and unfamiliar with the roads, this is a great alternative too! I recommend the Kinetic Road Machine or the Wahoo Kickr Snap.
3. Train with your family and friends
Who said training kills your social life?!?! If you have a long run, have someone ride their bike next to you. My favorite long run was on the beach with my mom riding a beach cruiser next to me (I had a personal aid station and buddy for 16 miles!) On recovery days go out on a hike or walk with friends and family.
4. Finally, DON'T FREAK OUT IF YOU MISS A WORKOUT!
I know this is hard to comprehend...lovely Type A triathletes that are reading this. It will be OK to miss a workout. If you have a coach (which I highly recommend), just communicate with your coach about missing a workout. In the long run (literally), one missed workout will not make or break your race.
WHY TRAIN WITH A GROUP?
By: Playtri Coach Amari
It is simple, group workouts are fun and motivating.
The goals in every Playtri group workout are simple. As coaches, we strive to:
1- teach the athlete something new and implement the knowledge in each workout
2- push limits that are appropriately designed around the athlete's strengths and weaknesses
3- make new friends and have a great time!
But don't take our word for it, check out what some of the athletes are saying about Playtri's Weekly FREE Group Workouts.
"I look forward to meeting up with a group to train, it makes it much more enjoyable."- Tish R.
"Accountability, and there is always a friend there who is going to push you harder than trying to do the same run alone. Sweating together is always more fun than training by yourself.
Or real reason- you will get texts from everyone asking where you were!" - Lauren S.
"Not all group workouts are created equally... yours are the best...I'm not really into group workouts - everybody doesn't have the same fitness level or speed...your workouts cater to all levels and speeds...I feel I can challenge myself by trying to keep up with speedier athletes, or I can stay in my own level and steadily improve...reading a workout isn't the same as you explaining an interval with appropriate rest...you make them fun and appropriately stressful at the right moments." _ Michael D.
"It pushes me past my ability alone. It makes hard stuff fun."- Stephanie B.
"With almost all skill and experience levels represented at group workouts it's very easy to pair up with others around your ability. I find this group collaboration to be a key to dig deep and give the workout all you have. It brings home the social aspect of the sport. We are also coached on by the best and most experienced triathletes in the industry. I have finished each of my group workouts thinking - that was a great workout; I'm looking forward to the next one."- Paul S.
When the Going gets Tough, the Tough Stay Focused
By Coach Morgan Johnson Hoffman
What makes a great training session? That’s a long list with a lot of variety. However, one thing always pops up regardless of all other factors, and that key factor is focus.
During my years as a coach, I’ve worked with an extremely wide range of athletes, across ages, abilities and goals. Consistently, there is one “variety” of athlete who I see achieve more. This athlete has a few distinct characteristics:
- Almost obsessively thorough logging of feedback and files for review, usually within hours of workout completion
- High attention to detail outside of workouts – nutrition, hydration, sleep, and other self-care/recovery factors
- Seeks to know and understand the “meaning” behind workouts – not doubting the workout per se, but desiring to know how and why it will benefit their goals, giving them a mental boost when working to achieve the workout on the day
- Attempts to complete each workout as instructed “to the tee” – achieving specific details such as time, heart rate, pace, form, mental tactics, nutrition, hydration, etc.
The unifying feature behind all of these characteristics is a high level of focus on the task at hand.
There are a number of factors that can impact an athlete’s focus on the day, and it is important to be aware of these focus impactors so you can plan physically, mentally and emotionally to account for them in your approach to each training session:
- Physical preparation – Hydration, nutrition, hours of sleep, cross-training/manual labor load going into the workout. The more fatigued your body is, the more challenging it will be to focus and achieve the workout.
- Emotional fatigue and stress – These two items can easily eat away at our focus if we let them, as struggles outside of the sport will compete for our attention even in time set aside for training.
- Motivation – Highly motivated athletes will certainly find it easier to focus in on workout components, while those struggling to stay motivated will generally spend more time during the workout searching for the answer to “why am I doing this?”
- Trust in the plan – Athletes who struggle to trust their training plan are much more likely to overthink workouts and goals, ironically crippling their ability to simply focus on achieving the goals of the workout.
- External factors – Heat, cold, wind, humidity, and other external factors can challenge the athlete, and make it easier to lose focus on the primary goals of the workout. Not properly preparing for external factors will add to the challenge.
- “Those days” – sometimes it’s just one of “those days,” and you can’t even pinpoint why, but everything feels slower, harder and more painful. Every stroke, every step requires additional brain and muscle power.
Good athletes will maintain focus in sessions where focus impactors are either not noticeably present, or are creating a net benefit to the athlete. Great athletes will maintain focus regardless of a net negative effect from focus impactors.
As an athlete, do you have the ability to maintain focus when the going gets tough?
Our Head Coach, Ahmed Zaher, has a good philosophy when it comes to approaching training sessions. His belief is that it is not the athlete’s job to overthink the session. It is their job to complete the assigned session to the best of their ability every time. Sometimes the session will feel good, or easier, or faster – oftentimes it will not. However, every session completed is like a penny. Not worth much on its own (meaning sometimes in the moment it is difficult to see the value of that one tough session), but when saved up over time, all those pennies eventually become a worthy investment.
As the championship portion of our season draws near, stay the course, and maintain focus in the workouts that feel great, and the workouts that don’t. Inevitably it is the athlete who can look past the “feel” of the individual session to the collective benefit of the whole that prevails.
Disclaimer: This article was originally written to apply to short-course elite triathlon swimmers. However, I feel the principles within can apply to many distances, goals, and abilities - always remembering that the basics (such as body position) are the foundation upon with more elite skills are developed, and should not be forgotten in the face of new information!
Triathlon Swimming – Developing a Well-Rounded Technique
By Coach Morgan Hoffman
Anyone who has ever raced in a competitive triathlon swim (i.e. one with a large, fast front pack) can vouch for the fact that it is dramatically different from a pool swim at the same level of competition. It is not uncommon to see exceptional pool swimmers come to triathlon and wonder why their performances in the open water are not comparable, and why in fact they are getting beaten by athletes they could comfortably beat in the pool.
There are four primary components to a successful open water race for short course athletes aiming to come out with a lead group (or just closer to the front):
- Mental preparation
- Race strategy
We’ll be addressing all four of these components at our junior elite training camps throughout the course of the coming season, but today I’d like to address the technique component with an examination of the different methods of creating effective forward motion, specifically in the short course/draft-legal triathlon swim.
At Playtri, when we define great open water freestyle technique we use the metaphor of the four “gears.” Just like on the bike, the swimmer has multiple gears he or she can access to achieve forward motion. We define these four gears as hydrodynamics, stroke power, stroke cadence and kick. Pool swimmers in general have great hydrodynamics and stroke power, meaning they move through the water very efficiently and get maximum forward motion out of every stroke (kicking with this group seems to be on a case-by-case basis – some have a strong kick, but many are deficient, relying more on core strength and rotation). While these two skills are a strong foundation for triathlon swimming, the issue we run into with these athletes is that there are three big problems with relying solely, or even primarily, on hydrodynamics and stroke power in the open water:
- The amount and variety of disturbances in the character of the water
- The amount of disturbances to the athlete’s stroke
- The need for quick reactions and changes in direction throughout the race
Let’s break these down.
Disturbances in the character of the water – Pool swimming takes place in a reasonably controlled environment. Any swimmer will tell you there are “fast” and “slow” pools, but even the differences in those pools are insignificant compared to those that occur in the open water. Current, waves and other swimmers can all create a turbulent environment for swimmers to move through, making it more challenging to consistently achieve max power and efficient forward motion from each individual stroke, due to the difficulty of consistently finding static water to push/lift on during the stroke and kick.
Disturbances in the athlete’s stroke – A large pack of swimmers comes along with a lot of moving parts, and it’s common for athletes to repeatedly come into contact with other swimmers during the stroke cycle. These interruptions in the momentum of the athlete’s stroke often negatively impact his or her movement through the water, as well as the ability to effectively “grab” the water to create forward motion through power.
Need for quick reactions and direction changes – Not to get too far into the strategy of open water, but these swims require athletes to continually respond to what the race field is doing, as well as adjust course on a fairly regular basis. This means that athletes need to be able to make quick, oftentimes unannounced adjustments to speed and direction regularly throughout the course of a race to be both competitive and efficient (always considering that there is a maximal effort bike and run following the swim).
Because pool swim coaches rely primarily on hydrodynamics and power to create competitive pool swimmers (as research indicates that they should), triathlon coaches too often follow their lead and take the same tact without consideration for the differences in environment, and to the detriment of their athletes.
As seen by the three points above, a competitive triathlon swimmer does not have the luxury of relying predominantly on hydrodynamics and stroke power – instead, they must equally develop and have at their disposal all four gears as described above. This is why we emphasize the importance of a “well-rounded” open water freestyle technique for triathlon swimmers.
When we work with triathlon swimmers we use some of the following tactics for developing the two aspects of freestyle that we most often see neglected – stroke cadence and kick.
1. Reverse stroke count drills – Challenging athletes to get as many strokes as possible during an interval while maintaining proper technique (rotation timing in particular has a tendency to be negatively impacted for athletes used to a slower stroke).
2. Vasa cadence drills – This moves into the realm of strength training, but creating Vasa goal sets with high cadence goals can be invaluable in developing an effective high cadence stroke.
3. Flutter kick time trials – In our experience, kick times can be almost as indicative of open water success as freestyle times, especially at longer distances.
4. Kicking with a leg band – Having athletes perform regular kick sets or even freestyle swimming with a loose kick band (we utilize the Finis yellow band) at a hard kick effort.
Many athletes and coaches will wonder if emphasizing the kick is a good idea when athletes have to put forth maximal efforts on the bike and run immediately after the swim on race day. This is a valid concern, to which I will make two counter-arguments:
1. With a properly developed kick (and some swim-to-bike training), the athlete should not be excessively fatigued from engaging a stronger kick during different portions of the swim. He may even be able to engage a strong kick throughout the swim without excessive detriment to the bike and the run.
2. Building on the above point, the athlete should not necessarily be engaging this stronger kick throughout the entire swim unless it is necessary to stay with the lead pack (this gets into strategy, which I will address at a later date). Ideally the athlete has a strong enough swim to only “turn on” that strong 6-beat kick at various “reaction” points – i.e. during attacks, turns, other course changes, etc.
Successful short course draft-legal triathlon swimmers must equally develop stroke power, high stroke rate, body position and kick to reach their optimum potential in the open water.
For those interested in individual triathlon swim technique work in our Endless Pool, please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an analysis or private lesson.
Step Two: Practical Recovery
By Coach Morgan Hoffman
I recently had the parent of one our teenage athletes ask me what he could do outside of practice to help facilitate his development – a great question, though one with perhaps an unexpected answer. I think the expected response is usually some form of additional exercise and/or skills work. I see the “I just need to do more” mentality across the sport, but instead of focusing on the things that will actually allow us to do more, a primary difference between elite athletes and most amateurs is that amateurs tend to just keep doing more until their bodies tell them “no.” In reality, most amateurs may be capable of more, but the basic practices that would allow them to take the extra steps – recovery practices – are considered soft options, secondary to workouts and “pushing through.”
Building fitness is a process of applying stress to the body (during which time the body breaks down) and then facilitating recovery from that stress (during which time the body adapts and grows stronger to prepare for future applied stress). Without effective recovery, the body has no time to adapt, and eventually just continues to break down – the opposite of the desired effect. This is known as the supercompensation cycle. This cycle is built upon using periodization, which facilitates structured periods of stress and recovery based upon individual needs and timelines. In short, gaining fitness is a two-step process:
Step one: Apply stress to the body in the form of exercise
Step two: Assist body in recovering from stress, facilitating adaptation
For many of us, step two remains a bit of a mystery, or, just as often, merely a less exhilarating part of the process – however, when consistently treated as another workout or part of the training regimen, it will actually improve the athlete’s ability to manage more of the workouts he or she would like to accomplish. For those who want to recover better and be able to do more, below I’ve outlined some of our preferred “Step Two” actions that can put you on the road towards more effective training. Coach Ahmed has a great saying, that workouts are like pennies – one by itself is worth almost nothing, but save them up over time and one day you have a fortune to cash in on. It is important to note that, much like a single great workout, a single great day of recovery will do almost nothing for your training. It is the consistent application of recovery processes, saving up your pennies, that will lead to improvement.
Step Two Actions
Following are practical recovery actions that you can take to begin the process of facilitating your body’s adaptation. I usually recommend focusing on adding one thing at a time (just as with any new routine) so that the amount of actions does not become overwhelming. Spend 1-2 months focusing on one of following, and then examine the effects on your overall training capabilities and fitness.
Doing active recovery: Active recovery workouts are some of my favorite workouts of the week. This is a workout, usually a bike or swim (due to the low impact), that is used to increase blood flow in a sport-specific manner in order to increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to recovering muscles. Active recovery workouts are done at a very low heart rate – Zone 1 or below Training Pace (for those using Playtri zones) – with a focus on quality technique. I like to have at least one active recovery workout each week, and athletes with more time available may work in more as a way to spend more time on the bike or more time in the pool, increasing sport-specific neuromuscular activation and speeding up recovery from prior workouts. It is important to note that if you get excited and take your HR up past Zone 1, you are no longer doing strictly an active recovery workout, so learn to control your efforts here in order to have more quality endurance and high intensity workouts the rest of the time.
Rolling: Rolling out muscles and fascia with either a foam roller or a small ball is a practice many endurance athletes are familiar with, but few implement regularly. Often just called foam rolling (even though it is done at times with a ball or other tools), this type of exercise can encourage blood flow to tight/recovering areas, help work out built up lactic acid, and release adhesions in the fascial tissue covering the muscles (which create imbalances and restricted movement patterns). Rolling can’t be effectively taught in a brief paragraph, but I encourage athletes to reach out to an informed source (coach, sports chiropractor, or other professional) to learn more. I try to get on the foam roller or the ball at least 5-10 minutes every other day to facilitate hip and shoulder mobility specifically, which allows for smoother movement patterns in all of my workouts (meaning easier recovery and better technique development). My junior elite athletes are required to roll 10-20 minutes every day due to the volume and intensity of their training regimens.
Getting a massage: While rolling is extremely helpful, and assists in ways similar to massage, good sports massage still takes the cake for speeding up recovery and facilitating higher training load. I have a weekly standing appointment with the massage therapist at our training facility in McKinney that allows me to tackle any tight spots or soreness that I can’t fully address with the foam roller or ball. It’s a great mental boost knowing that whatever difficulties my body is handing me that week will get addressed in the near future, and I encourage all of my athletes to integrate quality sports massage into their routine. We are fortunate to have a great sports massage therapist in-house – however, if you are not from the McKinney area, make sure to do your research before selecting a therapist. Ask local coaches and athletes who they use and what their experiences have been to help you select a good fit.
Practicing good nutrition: Most of us have heard the phrase “eat to train, don’t train to eat.” This essentially says that food is fuel, and without proper fuel, the good training isn’t going to happen – or worse, it will happen and we won’t see the benefits. There are a million fad diets and “superfood” trends out there at any given time – ignore these. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Find an experienced sports nutritionist (preferably one who is also a registered dietician), and do a consult to discuss your needs. Regardless of your goals, it is always a best practice to eat a sufficient recovery meal (more or less calories depending on the length of your workout) within 30 minutes of finishing every workout, as this is the period during which your capillaries are most open, and will send nutrients to replenish fatigued muscles most efficiently. Worst case scenario, if you can’t make 30 minutes, definitely have something within 2 hours of finishing. Because your body will be express sending these calories to your muscles, it is also important to make sure these are some of your healthiest calories of the day – save the burger and beer for later.
Hydrating: We’ve discussed the importance of in-workout hydration in prior articles, and daily hydration is equally important. I can often tell going into a workout how high quality it will be based on how well I hydrated throughout the day prior to exercise (particularly with end-of-day workouts), and the same goes for how I’ll feel the next day, based on how well I hydrate during and after the workout. The easiest solution for daily hydration is to take a water bottle to work, and sip on it throughout the day, refilling as needed – there are ample guidelines available for appropriate daily hydration based on individual weight and activity levels (higher exercise load means more hydration is needed). If you have a job that takes you outdoors during the warmer months, consider adding a zero-sugar electrolyte supplement to one of your bottles. This is also an area that you can discuss at a nutrition consult.
Sleeping: A simple action that seems to be increasingly difficult for athletes. 7-8 hours is the minimum recommended amount of sleep for adult athletes, while 9-10 hours allows for more thorough recovery. Developing athletes (teens and younger) need 9-10 hours at a minimum. During sleep, the body produces increased amounts of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which speeds up the repair and adaptation of muscle tissue. Less sleep = less time for repair and adaptation. To facilitate better sleep, athletes should put down their phones and other “blue light” devices an hour or more before going to bed, and stick to a regular sleep schedule. Those who have difficulty falling asleep should also avoid afternoon naps if possible, as these can throw off your evening sleep schedule.
Wearing compression: I mentioned above the value of increased blood flow to recovering areas, and compression apparel can provide that and more to athletes. There are two primary types of compression – recovery compression, which is usually a tighter fit and is more focused on increasing blood flow to recovering areas, and performance compression, which is usually a lighter fit designed to support muscles and dampen vibration during exercise. Many compression garments are now designed to be functional for both uses, though some will still specify one or the other (2XU in particular is good about distinguishing their compression items, which is one of the reasons we stock them at Playtri). I like to put on recovery compression for a few hours after all my longer and/or harder workouts, and to wear performance compression during active recovery workouts, and any time I feel that I am not quite recovered from the previous day’s training.
The above seven practices are my favorites for athletes to start with. Other helpful practices include various forms of cryotherapy and sports chiropractic adjustments, among others. Essentially any habit that aids in your muscular recovery and adaptation becomes part of “step two” for you.
Actions that do NOT aid in recovery
I also want to take a brief moment to address actions that hinder our recovery and ability to complete more and harder workouts. Of course, “life happens,” as they say, and some days we don’t have an option – however, I have found that just being aware of the actions that are best avoided can greatly decrease their overall occurrence. Finding ways to avoid the following actions will have a positive impact on your training.
· Following up a hard workout with more challenging physical activity – mowing the lawn, jumping into cross-training, heavy chores, etc. mean more stress on your body, the opposite of recovery and adaptation. Get the most out of workouts by actively practicing recovery afterwards whenever possible.
· Following up a hard workout with alcohol and processed/greasy foods – as mentioned above, capillaries are wide open immediately following workouts, so unless you want recovering muscles getting a double dose of poor nutrition, have a healthy option available for right after training, and save the other stuff for later.
· Anything that increases stress – our bodies have many and varied responses to stress (particularly prolonged stress), and in general they work against the recovery processes. While no one chooses to be stressed, finding ways to reduce stress can facilitate faster recovery, also making workouts (and life in general) more enjoyable. My husband and I enjoy yoga classes as a guided way to empty the mind and re-center, but anything that allows you to intentionally relax and refocus counts!
My response to the parent question mentioned in the initial paragraph was to ensure that their athlete was hydrating throughout the day, making good nutrition choices, sleeping 9-10 hours a night, and using the foam roller regularly. Fitness is a two-step process – don’t neglect the second step. Find a way to add a new recovery action to your routine every few months, and you will find that not only will the quality of your training and fitness increase, your quality of life will, too.