Cyclists have an awful habit of disregarding the incredible fitness of those who practice the three sports of swimming, cycling and running in quick succession. It’s even said in the love-or-hate Velominati rules:
Also keep in mind that one should only swim in order to prevent drowning, and should only run if being chased. And even then, one should only run fast enough to prevent capture
At TWC, we know we’ve got quite a few readers who are dedicated triathletes, or just dipping their toes in the water – and we actually reckon those cyclists that turn their noses up at triathletes are probably just jealous of their multitasking skills and fitness levels.
Provided you get enough rest in between, combining your riding with these two other sports can be an excellent idea – swimming is not weight bearing but gives you all all-over workout, helping you develop excellent core strength. Running is hard on the body, but it’s easy to squeeze a good workout in if you’ve got limited time and will help really work those legs.
If you’re thinking of trying a triathlon in 2016, or perhaps you’ve been racing all season and are looking for an even better summer of competing, we’ve got some tips for a successful off season…
Before you do anything: take a break
You may have done this already, but if you’ve been riding, running or swimming a lot over the summer months, it’s a good idea to take a break before you start preparing for the new season.
This applies especially if you were racing, as the rigors of those high intensity bursts will really take it out of you. You’ll only need around two weeks of rest, and if you struggle with restlessness, you can try other forms of exercise, such as gentle yoga.
Determine your goals
All rested up? Right – you’ll want to get training, then. Before you get going, you need to establish exactly what you’re preparing for.
Triathlons are run over different distances. Though individual events will vary slightly, the most common formats are:
- Super sprint triathlon: 400m swim/10km bike /2.5km run
- Sprint distance triathlon: 750m/20km/5km
- Standard distance triathlon: 1500m/40km/10km.
- Middle distance triathlon: 2.5km/80km/20k.
- Long distance triathlon: 4km/120km/30km.
- Ironman distance triathlon: 3.8km/180km/42km.
Clearly, a triathlete preparing for a super sprint triathlon is going to want to focus on shorter distances and speed, whilst if you’ve got an Ironman on your ‘To-Do’ list you’ll want to be all about the endurance.
Once you’ve decided on your key distance, it’s time to put together a loose training plan, leading up to your event.
Pick some key events, sign up (provided you KNOW you'll be able to make them, triathlons aren't always cheap!), and work out what you need to do to get the results you want. What you need to do will depend upon your current level of fitness and your goals – but break up the challenges and write down what you intend to work towards each month.
It's also a good idea to keep a training diary, to help you keep a track of successes, and perhaps any sessions that really took it out of you in the energy department (so you know not to repeat them just before race day!).
Plan for challenges outside of fitness
Fitness will be a major component of your success – but it’s not everything.
For a beginner triathlete, learning to swim efficiently will make a big difference, so if your experience is limited think about getting some lessons or joining a local club. If you’re new to running then make sure you keep yourself supple to avoid injury by stretching daily.
If you’re more experienced, practice little tricks that will help cut down delays in transition – learn to leap onto your bike and do up your shoes as you ride, and make sure you can get a wetsuit off in double quick time.
If you’re thinking about entering Age Group Qualifying races – 2016 brings a new challenge with draft legal races. These mean that the bike leg allows drafting. Group racing is a skill that executed well will save your legs for the run. However, riding in a bunch safely requires knowledge and practice. Join a cycling club, try some chaingang sessions and enter some local criterium races if you can – but be cautious – this is not an overnight learning curve and mistakes made at high speed can be painful.
Use drills to improve technique
Are you weaker in one sport than the others? Though it can be tempting to devote your time to your strengths, working on weaknesses will be more beneficial.
There are loads of fantastic swimming drills that are designed to improve your stroke - sculling for example will help develop your catch and feel for the water. One of the best exercises, however, is to try counting your strokes per length, then work on getting that number down. For example, at the start of each swim session, swim 300 metres front crawl, counting strokes n the first length, then aim to swim every length after with 2 fewer strokes. Concentrate on reaching and gliding as far as you can with each stroke.
In terms of cycling, cadence is one of the key areas you can improve on using drills. Practice spinning in a lower gear than normal, with a high cadence. For example, ride 5 minute repetitions - starting with one minute at 90 revolutions per minute (rpm), increasing to 95 rpm for one minute, 100 rpm for the next minute, before working back to 90 rpm.
When it comes to running, high knees and high skips will help you to activate your glute and core muscles - so try 'high skipping' between a couple of lamp posts before each run to get the right muscles working.
Go long and slow, but keep some intensity
Most athletes adopt a periodised approach to training - putting in the long 'base miles' in over the off-season and picking up the speed work in the months leading up to competition. Of course the length of your base miles will depend upon your distance, a 'long ride' for an Ironman athlete will differ to a 'long ride' for someone planning sprints.
These long rides, runs and swims build up endurance, help you learn to burn fat as fuel, and on top of all that you'll totally burn out if you try to keep up with daily interval training all year - so it's worth building them into your plan and then focusing on faster paced sessions come spring.
However, aim to still fit in a few interval sessions - maybe one short hard swim, bike and run a week (or alternate the sports if your time is limited). Interval sessions will keep your systems sharp, help you to continue to push your boundaries and improve, and if you literally do none all winter they'll really hurt come spring!
Triathletes use a lot of different muscles. Strength training for swimmers revolves around the arms and core, whilst for cyclists it's all about the lower legs and core, and for runners - you guessed it - core strength is the number one ingredient in your injury prevention recipe.
Whilst it might be a good idea to add some tricep dips, press ups and a few weights into your regime to work your arms for swimming, the core is your number one concern in the gym and a little bit of work over winter could do wonders.
And why over winter? Well - gym time can result in 'delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)' - muscle aches two days after exercise. In winter this can be a bit annoying, but you really don't want DOMS during race season.
Before you get started strength training, check out our tips for beginner gym-goers.
Nutrition plays a huge part in your success as an athlete. Firstly, you need to fuel your sessions well for maximum results. And secondly, you need to eat the right foods to make sure you recover well. Check out this guide for advice on making your own nutritious goodies and keep an eye on your intake during the off-season - when it's easier to make changes.
Winter is a good time to aim to lose weight if it could help you to reach your goals. Dropping a few pounds may help you to improve your power to weight ratio and make you less susceptible to running injuries. It's easier to lose a little weight when you're not racing, as fueling and recovering after events can really get in the way. However, if you're already pretty lightweight, don't overdo it, as losing too much weight will have a negative impact and being hungry unnecessarily will make you miserable!
Of course - once spring arrives you'll want to start thinking about collecting all of the right kit together. If you want to start shopping in advance, check out this list of essential gear.