I recently finished reading the popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. According to the book, successful people share a number of specific habits, regardless of the forum within which they find their success.
To that end, have you ever wondered how the athletes who grace the covers of Triathlete got to that level? Me too. So I asked them. And here's what I found are the seven most important habits of effective triathletes.
1. Adequate Training
The number one secret of training is that there are no secrets. With three sports, triathlon requires a lot of training. You have to be willing to do the work necessary to attain your desired level of performance.
"An athlete who is new to the sport should start with two workouts per discipline per week," says Andrea Fisher, an Austin, Texas-based professional triathlete and multisport coach. "As you get stronger and adapt to the training, build up to three to four workouts per week per discipline for age-group athletes and four to five workouts per week per discipline for elite athletes."
One of those elite athletes, Lisa Bentley, a multiple-time Ironman champion, runs three days per week, swims five to six times per week, bikes five to six times per week, does a strength-training circuit three times per week and does physical therapy three times per week. "I believe that two to three workouts in each sport consistently will lead to great fitness gains in athletes who have full lives with work and family," she says.
Fisher suggests that you spend more time on your weakest sports to get the most out of your training time. "Evaluate what your strengths and weaknesses are and structure your training plan around the discipline that will give you the best bang for your training buck," she advises. "Because I have a proficient history with swimming, I don't tend to do as much swim training compared with other elite athletes. If I spend more time on my running, I will receive more benefit from my training time than spending more hours in the pool to be a mere couple of seconds faster for an Ironman swim."
2. Consistent Training
In addition to adequate training to meet your goals, your training must be consistent. It takes a lot of consistent work, over a long period of time, to meet your genetic potential. That's because many of the physiological and biochemical adaptations to endurance training result from the expression of genes and the formation of new proteins, which is a slow process. If you regularly miss workouts, or if your training is haphazard and spotty, it will take longer to get where you want to go, if you get there at all.
"Stringing together weeks, months and eventually years of consistency will enable an athlete to reach his or her potential and ultimate success," says Fisher. "That consistency includes key components: staying injury free, solid training blocks without overtraining, proper recovery, good nutrition and minimizing stress."
For Dave Scott, a six-time Hawaii Ironman champion and member of the Ironman Hall of Fame, consistent training is paramount for not only physiological adaptation but also for emotional and psychological reasons. "I needed that endorphin rush to get me through my day," he says.
3. Adequate Recovery
Recovery may be the most overlooked aspect of training. For all your hard training, improvements in fitness occur during the recovery periods between training sessions, when your body repairs and rebuilds, not during the training itself. Positive physiological adaptations only occur with a correctly timed alternation between stress and recovery.
When you finish a workout, you're weaker, not stronger. The efficacy with which you recover from a long or intense workout will dictate how often you can perform other long or intense workouts, which may ultimately influence your ability to reach your athletic potential.
"Without proper recovery, training is only going to put an athlete into a hole that he or she will eventually find near impossible to climb out of," says Fisher. Hunter Kemper, a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. elite national champion and the number-one ITU-ranked triathlete in the world in 2005 and 2006, learned the importance of recovery the hard way.
"I've always been the athlete who tries to get one more key session in before a big race, even when sometimes it is probably too much," says Kemper. "I've realized that if I don't recover and adapt from the previous hard workout, I will be unable to have a successful workout the next time around."