How Has Training Advice Changed in the Past 20 Years?

There was minimal discussion of body roll and hip rotation. Head position was discussed some, but a higher head position (water breaking about mid-forehead to eyebrow level) seemed to be favored, rather than a head position that keeps the spine in line (water breaking higher on the forehead).

Most of the information for swim training was taken from elite pool swimmers and loosely applied to triathlon. Triathletes were encouraged to use the offseason to work on swimming strokes other than freestyle (butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke) in order to get better at swimming freestyle next season.

Early Aerodynamics and Cooking Oil

There was not a lot of column space dedicated to bike training. Most of the cycling columns were focused on the new gear hitting the market, all intended (of course) to make you a faster triathlete. Aerobars were relatively new, as were bar-end shifters. Clipless pedals were coming in vogue, as were disk wheels. Bio-pace chainrings (oval shaped, rather than round) were found on new bikes.

An interesting maintenance recommendation I found in the August 1988 issue was in answer to a question about the best lubrication to use for the moving parts on your bike. The column noted, "All purpose oil sold in bike shops is fine, as is automobile motor oil. Don't use lightweight household oils and sprays; they don't hold up and leave a sticky residue." It made me wonder how many people were using cooking oil on their bikes.

The offseason training recommendation for bike workouts was to limit the time you take completely off from any kind of exercise. Just getting on your wind trainer for 30 to 45 minutes per week is all you need to maintain fitness, one author noted. The only indoor training options for cyclists were mechanical wind trainers and rollers. The high-tech CompuTrainer was in some ads, but there were no other trainers like it. On-the-bike power measurement did not exist, at least in a mass-market product.

Trucks on Tracks, Sand Dunes and Fanny Packs

Some of the running recommendations were interesting, and I admit this is the first time I recall seeing anything resembling these two tips:

  • "Attach a bar to the back of a truck and have your runners hold onto the bar, running on the track at over-speed pace." I suppose you could let go of the bar if the truck got going too fast, but what if you can't? It happens in water skiing, people can't let go of the bar though they've fallen. The consequences are higher on the hard track. Ouch.
  • "Run hill repeats up a sand dune." How many people have sand dunes in their neighborhood?

Running stadium stairs has been around for as long as there have been stadiums.

One column recommended that in order to build your running strength in the offseason, you needed to do a workout that involved running some six to seven miles. After the first mile or two, "Run until your legs are truly fatigued. Then, finish four to five miles in a depleted state while trying to maintain good form and speed." Tough assignment.

One author touted Long and Slow Time training (LST) and did not want this confused with Long Slow Distance (LSD) training. According to this theory, in order to improve your running in the offseason you needed to run LST runs that were some 3 to 4 minutes per mile slower than your race pace. You needed to run a minimum of 90 minutes for it to be effective.

"If you are an accomplished triathlete, run for two to four hours."

"On an LST run, it is impossible to go too slow."

"On an LST run you can carry a fanny pack with some water and a little food."

Binging on Brick Workouts

Keep in mind that the magazine I reviewed was distributed to help educate the general population of triathletes. That written, many of the columns were based on the personal experience of elite athletes or those coaching elite athletes. The coaching experience pool was quite limited at that time.

With the elite twist in mind, I noticed several columns mentioned bricks or going right from a bike ride to a run. One column was specifically written about "How to Vastly Improve the Bike to Run Transition." It recommended:

  • If you are training for an Olympic-distance race, a good workout is to do 25 to 30 miles at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate (it does no good to do this bike ride easy) and transition right to a fast run in the six- to eight-mile range.
  • If you are training for an Ironman event, ride 80 to 100 miles at 75 percent of your maximum heart rate and transition to a 10- to 14-mile run.

The column noted that "After several weeks, you should be fairly familiar with running on legs fatigued from cycling and you should know from experience that you will run through it."

If you did several weeks that included these fast and long brick workouts in addition to fast workouts in each individual sport, I suspect it wasn't long before you were sick or injured.

What the Future Holds

It was fun to look back at the recommendations for training and nutrition. The authors at the time had limited information and scientific studies on endurance sports. The studies that did exist were published in a paper journal months after the results were available. Of course, there was a much smaller population participating in triathlon than exists today, which meant fewer study subjects as well.

As more technology is developed and further knowledge about the workings of the human body is gained, I suspect a coach some 20 years from now will look back on the training advice I've given and make some interesting comments.

Perhaps in the future it will be easy to prescribe very specific, individually-optimized workout routines based on a DNA sample and a completed questionnaire asking about your work and family commitments?

In advance of future studies, I'd like to make a request for scientists. I'd like to see the invention of compacting sleep hours. I'd like to get two to four hours of sleep each night, but have the same physical and mental results as when I get eight or nine hours now. This is a great project because there is just too much fun stuff to do and too little time to do it in.

Learn More About the History of Triathlon

Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.


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