In practical terms, that means doing workouts that always connect one body part to another. "If you're in a machine, you're not training movements, you're training muscle," Gambetta says (you don't want to have to haul that extra muscle bulk around the course, anyway). Instead of a knee extension or hamstring curl, do a body weight squat, and you'll connect the ankle to the knee to the hip. Instead of staying in one place with the bird dog exercise, crawl. You'll strengthen your core AND practice maintaining that strength as you move through space.
Crawling? Seriously. Try crawling forward, back, and side-to-side and you'll see that being a kid isn't as easy as it looks. Gambetta, who is also co-founder of the USA Track and Field Coaching Education Program, has his pro and developing athletes (who have included Mets and Bulls, by the way) do this frequently. Other great connectors: lunges, push-ups, pull-ups. "The movements aren't very exotic, but they're effective and efficient. Try to incorporate five different types of movements in your gym workouts each week: pulling/rowing; pushing/pressing; squatting/lunging; rotational/bracing," he says. "You don't have to go to the gym for 45 minutes. Just 10-15 minutes a day, or 20 minutes 3 times a week, with different resistance depending on where you are in your racing cycle."
3. Train in all directions and all planes.
Yes, specificity of training still rules (in other words, if you want to run well, you have to practice running). But the paradoxical truth is that training in all planes (rotational, frontal, and transverse) helps you be more efficient in the saggital plane (the front-and-back plane in which we bike and run), Gambetta explains. Basically, "3-dimensional" training creates connections that rehearse the little inefficiencies out of your run. When you get tired, you start to drift from the saggital. You might start to drop your hips or swing your shoulders. Strengthening in other planes can help you control those movements so keep everything moving forward.
Think of multidirectional movements this way: If you had some race gear under a tarp on the roof of your car, you'd secure it before you left so the corners wouldn't flap around and ruin the streamlining. "Over 200 (or 70.3 or 140.6 miles) that's costing you a lot of gas mileage," Gambetta says. Look at where you break down as fatigue sets in. Spend your gym energy shoring them up.
4. Run as fast as you want to, not as fast as you think you can.
Who's imposing your limits? Sometimes it's you, says Elizabeth Waterstraat, coach and founder of Multisport Mastery (multisportmastery.com) in Chicago. "Especially when athletes train heavily with technology, they can become wrapped up and limited by where the numbers should be, rather than where they could be." Unplug the technology now and then, she says, "and tune into how running fast feels in your legs, what it sounds like in your breathing, and what it speaks in your head. If you look down at your device and see you're approaching 5K pace, you might begin to fear that you will blow up or not be able to hold it. But you just might be breaking through in that workout. Save the evaluation for later. Don't let your fears and worries limit how much you are willing to give."
Learn how to define what's truly hard for yourself. "Many athletes look to coaches or formulas to tell them what hard is by heart rate, pace, or percentage of VO2max. Hard is hard. You run hard. Until you connect to that, you will not run as fast as you want to; you'll run as fast as someone tells you to go."
Then, listen to what you're saying. "You may be focusing on the negative (I am so slow) rather than the positive (I am getting stronger; this is a solid starting point). Running fast is so much about managing the physical pain; there is no hiding behind equipment (bicycle) or conditions (waves); it's usually just you and the pavement. Your legs must be strong, but your head must be stronger," Waterstraat says.
"To know your limits, you have to be willing to test them," she says. "The best athletes take logical risks in training so they know how far they can go in racing." Don't be surprised if it's farther than you thought.
Marty Munson is a health and fitness writer and editor in Manhattan. She's the director of multimedia content at RealAge.com, and her writing has also appeared in publications including Health, Marie Claire and Prevention magazines. She's a USAT Level I coach in New York who particularly loves introducing first-timers to the sport of triathlon.
This article originally was published in the spring edition of USA Triathlon Life magazine. USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the national governing body for triathlon--the fastest growing sport in the world - as well as duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon in the United States. Visit usatriathlon.org.