5. Mix it up for Whole-body Fitness
Triathletes are masters of cross-training. Swimming is a great cardiovascular sport and it is good for upper-body strength. Its non-weight bearing nature allows knee and hip joints to have a break from pounding, while keeping both aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) fitness at high levels.
Cycling works powerful lower-body muscles. Cycling can be done alone or in a group. It's easy to vary cycling intensity from a joy ride to a very aggressive group ride in the hills or into a blasting head wind. Running puts the majority of workload stress on slightly different leg muscles than cycling. Cycling and running is an excellent combination to work legs.
Running requires the least amount of special equipment and preparation. Lace your shoes and you're out the door. Running is a weight bearing activity, good for keeping bones strong and healthy. Look for ways to mix your training to work your entire body.
6. Get Strong
Even though triathlon is an endurance sport, triathletes can benefit from pumping iron. Strength training can help prevent injury, improve the ability to climb hills and improve the ability to generate more power, given a single level of exertion. A nice side benefit is strength training paints wonderful muscle definition to give you that athletic look.
7. Monitor Workout Intensity
There are several methods to monitor exercise intensity, sometimes called exertion or effort. One of the oldest methods is the Borg Scale using "Rating of Perceived Exertion" or RPE. How do you feel? Is the pace easy, moderate, hard or my-legs-are-about-to-burst-into-flames difficult?
The second oldest method of monitoring intensity is pace. Pace is easy to monitor in the pool and running on the track. Only in recent years has monitoring pace while running off of the track become possible. Now there are systems that give you current pace, like a speedometer on a car, while running on the open road.
Pace or speed on the bicycle has been available technology for quite some time; however, going 20 miles per hour with a tailwind or while coasting downhill requires very different energy output than keeping the same speed while pedaling up a slight hill.
A more accurate measure of cycling effort is a power meter that measures the power the rider exerts to pedal the bike. Although power is becoming a more popular tool, the most widely used training tool to monitor intensity on the bike, as well as for most aerobic exercise, is a heart rate monitor.
Heart rate can give us some indication of how the body is responding to exercise stress. Often, triathletes use a combination of these tools to monitor intensity. At minimum, use a RPE scale to monitor your workout.
8. Change Intensity, Get a Range of Gears
The most common error I see in recreational athletes is use of a single speed, all the time. This single speed tends to be medium--not too fast and not too slow. The constant use of medium speed brings mediocre performance and can lead to injuries.
One of the most popular methods of varying intensity is interval training. This is where speed, work, bout length and rest interval time is varied to bring a desired training effect. In addition to the training effect, learning to change gears makes training more fun.
9. Once Achieved, Maintenance is Easy
Athletes that have worked for months to achieve a certain level of fitness have found fitness is easier to maintain than it is to achieve.
In other words, a given level of fitness can be maintained with less training volume than it took to achieve that level of fitness. If an unintentional event forces you to take time off--know that fitness comes back quickly for those who have been training consistently.
10. Technique, Technique, Technique
Triathletes are constantly working on proper technique or form. Good form reduces the likelihood of injury and improves economy. Economy is the oxygen cost at any given level of exercise effort.
If you can reduce the energy needed for a given level of effort, this translates to faster speed, given that level of effort. It doesn't matter what sport is your preference, spend time working on proper form at least once per week and preferably every workout.
No matter what your goals are for the New Year or whether you are new to triathlon or you have years of experience--best wishes to you.