Have you been daydreaming, looking forward to the summer racing season? If you are a new triathlete, you might be asking, "How can I get in shape for a triathlon?"
If you raced last season, your dreamy thoughts may ask: "What should I do different this season? How can I get faster? How can I go farther?"
If these questions are on your mind, know that the same training principles guide the plans for addressing either question, whether you're a beginner or seasoned triathlete.
The deeper we look into a training plan for an individual sport, we'll find further refinements of the training principles. For example, the details of the plan for an athlete doing his or her first triathlon are different from the details of the plan for an experienced athlete trying to get faster.
The plan for a beginning triathlete is different if the athlete is fit, compared to the plan used by a currently hibernating athlete. Of course, the training plan for an Ironman-distance event is different than for an Olympic-distance event.
The old saying "The devil is in the details" holds true for training plans. When working with the devil in your training plan, keep in mind the following training principles:
1. Individual and progressive overload must be applied to achieve physiological improvement and bring about a training change. A widely accepted rule of thumb is to increase annual training hours or annual volume by 10 percent or less.
2. Training volume can be defined as the combination of frequency and duration. When assembling your training plan, annual training volume is one piece of the puzzle. Broken down, the monthly, weekly and daily training volumes are as important as annual volume. Establishing your personal training volume based on what "the pros do" is faulty logic. Your personal training volume, to bring about physiological improvement for you, should be based on your personal profile, past training volume, current lifestyle, goals, the number of weeks you have to train before your key event, and your response to training.
3. The duration of your longest workout may or may not be the length of your goal race. It is common for beginning and intermediate sprint and Olympic-distance triathletes to include a bike ride in their training that totals the length of time estimated for them to complete their event. This is seldom the case for Ironman-distance athletes.
4. Depending on your current fitness, race goals and available training time, the frequency of workouts scheduled will vary. Some athletes will work out only once per day while others workout twice or more times per day. Frequency also applies to the number of workouts per week. Not only is workout frequency important, but so is frequency of rest.
5. Individual response to training does vary. Given the same training plan, individuals using that plan can make improvements at different rates and can have varying gains in overall fitness. This means there is not a single magic-bullet training plan that is right for everyone.
6. The duration and frequency of workouts vary with each particular training block and with the intensity of individual workouts. Intensity can be measured as heart rate, pace per 100 yards, pace per mile, miles per hour, power output and rating of perceived exertion, to name a few methods. The appropriate training intensity minimizes the risk of injury while achieving the goal pace on race day.
7. The mode of training becomes more important as race day approaches. For athletes utilizing a year-round approach to training for triathlon, aerobic cross-training in the early training blocks is appropriate. For example, northern-latitude triathletes often use cross-country skiing workouts to bolster endurance. As the athlete approaches triathlon race day, training that is specific to the triathlon (swimming, cycling and running) becomes more important than generalized training. In other words, the specificity of training becomes more important.
8. Goal-oriented triathletes must consider rest and recovery as critical training components. Performance gains are made when the body has a chance to repair and absorb the training workload.
Whether you are looking to do your first triathlon or improve your results from last season, if you haven't mapped your plan for success, now is a good time to get rolling.
In your design, consider the training principles outlined in this column. Haphazard training brings hit and miss results.
While a carefully thought-out and executed training plan does not guarantee a personal best this season, the chances for a well-timed peak performance are much better with a plan than without.