How to become a triathlete (whatever you may be now)

Credit: Rocky Mountain Sports
After many years of training for a single sport event, such as a marathon or a long bike ride, you may find yourself getting bored or even injured from excessive mileage.

Multisport training or training for a triathlon can bring variety back to your workout routine. For many, the simple fact of not doing the same workout day in and day out will be a real lift to the body, mind, and spirit.

One of the keys to success in training for a triathlon is striking just the right balance. Youll have to become proficient at juggling types of workouts, intensity and duration in addition to balancing the overall amount of time devoted to all three sports.

Training for a short-distance triathlon is a hell of a lot easier than training for a 26.2-mile running race, at least in terms of total workout time. I don't mean to imply that completing your first triathlon will be easy. If you're afraid of water, learning to swim may be the hardest thing you do in your life.

Yet a short-distance triathlon that might take you 90 minutes start to finish is certainly a more manageable goal than a marathon that might take you four or five hours.

Triathlon has a reputation as a sport for super-fit endurance animals. However, they also appeal to the everyday mortal endurance athlete and offer a challenge for the recreational runner, cyclist, or swimmer and even people with no previous racing experience who want to get out of the old health club routine.

Multisport training to achieve your fitness goals

As the science of fitness has become more sophisticated, weve learned that no single workout can offer complete conditioning for all parts and systems of the body. All too often, an avid cyclist with excellent aerobic capacity and good leg strength has poor upper body strength and poor hamstring flexibility. Total body conditioning can be achieved in training for a triathlon.

Training for a triathlon allows you to train both upper- and lower-body musculature. Multisport can also be used to improve a single component of fitness. For example, you can work on developing your aerobic capacity by running one day, cycling the next day and swimming the next.

The fitness benefits of training for multisport events include the following:

Provides variety. Studies on exercise adherence indicate that many people drop out of exercise programs because they become bored or burned out. Cross training, with its variety of challenges, can stimulate your motivational levels as well as your muscles.

May help prevent injuries. By using a single aerobic mode to develop cardiovascular fitness, you continually stress the same parts of the body. This is particularly true in the weight-bearing activities such as traditional running. The force of impact with which the body lands during each footstrike is approximately three times the weight of the person. Continual and repetitive impact stresses can result in overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, runners knee and tendonitis, to name a few. Cross training reduces total impact forces and spreads the stress of the work to a variety of muscle groups and anatomical structures.

Develops higher levels of fitness. By participating in a variety of activities, you can recruit new muscle fibers and develop new neuromuscular pathways formerly left untapped. Higher levels of aerobic capacity, flexibility, muscular strength and endurance are the result. Exercisers will often report reaching a plateau, which seems to prohibit further improvement in their traditional activity. The new challenges and overloads afforded by cross training allow you to work new muscle groups and sports skills. This can provide the push you need to overcome a stall.

Develops muscle symmetry. The average exerciser is becoming more educated about the importance of muscle symmetry — the appropriate ratio of both strength and flexibility in opposing muscle groups. Without the appropriate ratio, selected sets of muscles can become strong and their opposing muscles disproportionately weak. Well-balanced muscle pairs working in concert allows for more effective and efficient movement of all your muscle groups. By changing activities and the ways in which muscles are used, you are more likely to develop greater muscle symmetry.

Enhances weight loss. Those of us interested in weight loss need to design our exercise programs to promote caloric burn and the mobilization of fat. This can be accomplished by exercising at moderate intensities (60 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate) for long periods of time (30 minutes or more). This combination of intensity and duration encourages the body to use fats and fat stores as well as carbohydrates for fuel. You can extend your workouts safely and enhance weight loss by switching activities. For example, an exerciser can run for 20 minutes and then cycle or go for a walk for another 20 minutes.

Keys to success

What are the necessary ingredients for success in triathlon? There are four areas of concentration, which include the three disciplines themselves, plus the transitions between them.

Swimming. Technique is more important in swimming than in any other triathlon event. Arm strength and endurance are needed, but unless you know how to pull yourself through the water efficiently, you'll quickly fall behind those with smoother strokes. You need to learn to relax all your muscle groups. Being supple is better than being strong in this event.

Bicycling. Technique is less important on the bike than in the water, but it can still save you time. It's not only aerodynamics; you need to be in a position to deliver power to the wheels and yet remain relaxed. Position on the bicycle is crucial to performance and comfort. One way to work on this is by seeking help from an experienced cyclist who can help you with your position.

Equally important is cadence, or the rate of your pedaling. Spinning at too low a cadence in too high a gear wastes more energy than the proper cadence (85 to 100 revolutions per minute) in the proper gear. You can determine your pedal cadence by counting one pedal stroke from its 12 oclock to 12 oclock position for 10 seconds and then multiplying that number by six. Many runners ride at too low a cadence and too high a gear when moving from their regular sport to the triathlon.

Running. Work on attaining a quick and efficient stride as soon as possible in your training. This is not easy, because in most running races you have time to warm up. In a triathlon, you're both fatigued from the swim and stiff from the bike ride before you start to run. You can waste a lot of time and energy in the first few miles unless you teach your body to switch quickly into its running mode.

Transition. You need to practice transitions. Schedule one or two dual-sport workouts a week (called bricks), where the emphasis is on moving quickly from one discipline to the other. You need to practice the little things, like tying shoes and changing clothes. If you wear a wetsuit for warmth and buoyancy, youd better learn how to peel out of it quickly.

The triathlon experience

The triathlon represents a fresh approach to three traditional sports. Regardless of what you bring into the sport, just focus on your abilities and work patiently toward minimizing your limitations.

Remember that the primary goal of training should always be the same for everyone: to experience the joy and satisfaction of being physically fit and of finishing something you start. With these goals in mind, were all winners.

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