A competitor in a United States Triathlon Series race in 1990 sports the typical aerobars of the times.
Photo: Gale Bernhardt
An athlete I coach raised an interesting question, "In the last 20 years, how has coaching advice changed?"
I thought it was an interesting question, so I decided to look through two years worth of Triathlete magazines to see what coaches offered as training advice in 1988 and 1989. I primarily focused on the "Swim", "Bike" and "Run" columns specific to each issue, though I did look at a few of the recommendations made by elite athletes. I further narrowed the search down to focus on the offseason training recommendations.
As you might expect, some training suggestions were similar to what coaches are advising in the 2008 to 2009 era. Other recommendations have not been seen in print for quite awhile—for good reason.
Let's take a look at what I found.
Overall Ideas on Training
In the late 80s, most of the sport-specific advice came from experts in each given category. The number of columns on integrating all three sports into a single training plan was very minimal. At the time, triathlon-specific coaches were few, as was the participant population.
Often, each sport expert recommended two or three speed sessions per week in addition to a long workout. Athletes taking training advice for each sport separately and combining all of them into a single plan could easily find themselves overtrained, especially given the overall tone of high-volume training that seemed to be common.
There was discussion about periodization of training, though it was not called periodization. As exists today, there was some disagreement among coaches about how to manage training to bring optimal performance.
Heart rate monitoring technology was just becoming more available to the mass market. The receiver units were very large and had fewer features compared to the units of today. Most coaches used heart rate training zone recommendations based on a percentage of maximum heart rate. I did not see a column discussing how to determine your maximum heart rate; I guess it was assumed you just went as hard as you possibly could and looked for a max number.
Most of the elite athletes at the time raced at multiple distances and did not specialize at long-distance racing like we see today. As you can imagine, not everyone raced well at all distances.
I didn't see any columns on strength training, yoga, plyometrics or Pilates. There were no columns discussing rest and recovery weeks, only easy workouts alternated with hard or fast workouts.
It seems that the big fad in nutrition was carbo-loading, and there appeared to be a movement away from the standard regimen. Below is a direct quote for the standard routine:
1. Exercise to exhaustion.
2. Three days of low-carbohydrate diet (less than 5 percent carbohydrates) and light exercise.
3. Exercise to exhaustion and then begin three days of a high-carbohydrate diet (more than 95 percent carbohydrates) and no exercise.
The column's author, suggesting that athletes move away from this practice, noted that the diet caused multiple porta-potty stops on race day and made athletes less than pleasant to be around. Yeow.
A refueling guide, written by a different author, recommended that for any races less than two hours, athletes need to only consume water before and during the event. "You may find that a very dilute carbohydrate drink (0.5 to 3 percent carbohydrate) may take the edge off during a shorter race if you bonk easily."
The author did increase fueling recommendations for longer races—75 to 100 calories per 30 minutes for races in the two- to four-hour range and 75 to 100 calories per 20 or 30 minutes for races in the four- to six-hour range.
Retiring the Paddlewheel and Promoting Fins
It seemed that underwater video analysis of stroke technique was a popular teaching tool among top coaches. Keep in mind there was no internet at that time, so sharing of the video was limited to visiting the facility that owned the video or attending a seminar put on by an expert coach.
One of the recommendations from 20 years ago that is no longer used now is to emphasize a "Z" shape with your underwater pull. Your hand would enter the water, move out and away from your body, change direction and pull toward the midline of the body, and then finish by sweeping out and away from the body—thus making a "Z" shape. "Paddlewheel" swimming (where the arms remained straight throughout the entire stroke) was no longer encouraged.
The other swim-specific training recommendation I found was that triathletes should have fins and paddles. They should wear fins "often" and for some portion of nearly every workout to promote ankle flexibility. Seems the bigger the fins, the better.