Common Tri & Cycling Training Mistakes

The casual observer might naively think that seeing oneself swimming faster intervals in the pool, and riding and running faster times on the roads would be obvious ways to evaluate training and fitness gains – uh,uh.

The bane of many an IM athlete and coach is to not place primary focus on what should be the most obvious fitness metric, performance. Performance = the ability to go faster for the same level of effort.

Too often obvious performance issues are ignored while athletes/coaches focus on process and how much training one is doing. The inherent assumption with this oft-misguided metric is that more must be better. Itis thus not surprising that how much fitness metric typically leads totraining excess, where athletes see themselves getting progressively slower, stuck in a rut, and ever more tired

I often observe this stagnant fitness condition with sporadic drop-in riders at my cycling studio, M2 Revolution. Although these riders are often on atraining program whose purpose one would assume is to build fitness, theirwattage numbers never really change – nor has their fitness.

While pondering their stagnant or deteriorating fitness, these poor folks must then resort to the illogical belief that where they are doing all this training they must be getting stronger… because they are not.

This syndrome is often complemented by another silly notion, that being the generic 3-4 week “taper” where dramatically reduced volume AND intensity coming on the heels of 8 weeks of beating a dead horse will somehow see you reach peak fitness – not!

Tri & Cycling Fitness 101:

Swim: Has my 10x100m send-off improved, and/or can I swim 5-10 more repeats at my previous best send-off?

Bike: Are my 30min watts or time-trial efforts better or worse than before?

Run: Can I cover my 1hr loop faster for the same effort than before?

Conclusion: Actually seeing oneself getting stronger and faster while begin excited about your workouts are the best indications of your being on a goodtraining track.

Process can be important in training to improve fitness; just don’t forgetto measure fitness and not process. See above.

Pounding yourself into submission with amorphous globs of training hours might be good for training bragging rights, but will suppress your improvement curve and race performance.

2. Nutrition – Why allow something to be simple when you can greatly complicate it and create a mess?

Prior to mass participation in Ironman events, endurance athletes had been participating in long cycling, running, and even Ironman events; and gasp! managing quite well with common sense eating and drinking practices.

Perhaps ignorance was bliss to think that endurance athletes could somehow flourish without a myriad of powders, pills, caps, gels, fluids, blocks, squirts, bars, and secret recipes inserted into a several page flowchart diagramming the proper sequencing and combination of such.

Fast forward to the present, enter the masses and the accompanying plethora of weekend certified coaches, and one sees the birth of a cottage industry – Ironman Nutritional Strategy.

See your local coach speak to an elaborate power-point presentation on key nutritional strategy elements and execution.

A gazillion calories where X percent is solids, Y percent fluids, toss down salt pills, electrolyte supplements, special needs bags, etc. The timing of meals in the days leading up to the race are super critical factors in your nutritional strategy. Factor in more worry items with the sequence and precise timing of all of the Xs and Ys on race day, else your race will be imperiled. Gag me with a spoon!

Folks, fueling for an IM event is really not that complicated. Eat and drink with a modicum of common sense while listening to the body, and you are 99% of the way there. No need for panic – no need for over-analysis – no need to get in a tizzy listening to others and their elaborate plans!

Note that the vast majority of nutritional melt-downs and fiascos are caused by eating and drinking too much while ignoring obvious body signs that your carefully planned strategy is a brewing disaster. Remember that is easy to correct not having enough fuel (hint: eat and drink), and not so easy to correct having over-stuffed yourself (hint: nausea, vomiting, hyponutremia).

For more on fueling for Ironman and related events, see these two links.

3. Running Marathons to become better runners

Training and racing marathons causes significant wear and tear on the body, and beats you down rather than builds you up. Consider that standalone marathons are harder on the body than IM marathons, because your legs and energy system have not been compromised by swim and bike, and the pace is thus faster and more punishing.

Many triathletes add insult to injury by training for their marathon during the fall “off-season” months, thus not allowing the legs, body, and mental state to regenerate. Worse still is the early season marathon as part of your Ironman “training.” A long training year just got a lot longer.

Note that successful elite triathletes do not run standalone marathons to improve their IM marathons, and they are better equipped to both train for and recover from such an event.

So you want to become a stronger/faster runner? Focus on improving your 5-10k times by incorporating faster running workouts (track, treadmill, strides) into your weekly routine. Curious as to what you might run in a marathon? Jump in an occasional half marathon as a long training run and you get a pretty good indication of your marathon – without chewing yourself up in the process.

A marathon should be viewed as a standalone event and a significant athletic goal and accomplishment. Run your marathon because of the allure of the distance and its inherent challenge, but not because you think that pounding pavement for 26.2 miles will make you a faster runner.

Strength Training to make you a weaker Cyclist/Runner

As a full-time professional athlete I experimented over many seasons with various ways to incorporate strength training into my triathlon program. The purpose of the strength training was to explore ways to become a stronger and faster triathlete, not simply to get stronger in the weightroom.

While I do think there can be a benefit to strength training for triathletes, it is not easy to incorporate strength training into a busy multi-sport training program. Many process-versus-result coaches/athletes make the mistake of inserting formulaic strength training progressions into whatever open workout windows might exist in a busy training week, with little regard as to their impact on high priority swim/bike/run workouts.

Strength Training Rules where the Goal is to become a stronger/faster Triathlete/Cyclist:
  • Focus first on your sport specific activities; swim, bike, run – 3 solid sessions per discipline.
  • Strength training should not substitute for swim/bike/run.
  • Strength training should complement/enhance your specific activities, not tire you out beforehand for key sessions.
  • Primary Strength exercises should be sport specific. For swim this would be using a swim bench or a Vasa. Bike and run specific exercises involve hip extension – single-leg leg press, step-ups.
  • Any other strength exercises (bench press, leg curls, leg extensions, military press, etc) are general maintenance activities and should in no way tire you for your sport specific activities (swim/bike/run).
Most Common Strength Training Mistakes
  • Poor timing of strength routines. Examples would be doing leg strength the day before a focus bike workout; legwork on a Monday when your priority should be recovering from weekend so that you have good legs on Tuesday and can thus effectively enhance your sport fitness.
  • Tiring one-self with non-specific exercises. Examples would be working maximum strength efforts with peripheral exercises; leg extensions, hamstring curls, bench press, etc.
Effective Strength Training for Cyclists/Triathletes

A triathlete and cyclist’s first focus should be on good execution of the primary activity or activities. For cyclists, this would of course be cycling, and for triathletes this would be swimming, cycling, and running. Very logical it would seem.

The triathlete’s number one training priority should be hitting 3 good runs, 3 good bikes, and 3 good swims. If you have to give up one workout, it should be the swim as this discipline is where you get the least return on your training time investment, and it is the easiest discipline to bring up to par with some last minute focus.

It is pretty silly really, for an age-group athlete to think that he/she will become a better runner/cyclist by diluting their quality execution of 3 bike or run workouts with ill-timed and often extraneous strength training.

As an 8hr IM Pro and 40km/hr average for 180K cyclist, it was paramount that my training saw me nail 3 bikes/runs each week. I made sure that I arrived at these sessions rested and with hungry legs. To slog through a focus bike or run session with legs tired from doing hamstring curls was to have missed an opportunity to gain sharper cycling and run fitness.

Why would an age-grouper be any different, particularly where simply digesting the sports specific activities is a challenge in itself?

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