Triathlon Off Season Cross Training
By Coach John Taipale
The most evil thing in endurance sports is getting stuck in a rut. Despite being divided amongst three sports, Triathlon can become monotonous. After working in a gym, it is apparent how many people are stuck in a rut. My prediction is 80% of the guests make no changes to their workout, have no change to their performance, and hope for better results. It’s insanity. The true definition of insanity is doing the same thing, yet seeking different results. That being said, we’re all probably guilty of this. We’re creatures of habit. We make systems and routines. It can be a good thing and a bad thing.
Considering I work with other, “creatures of habit,” I have built some non typical off season blocks of training for the last two years for a select few, willing clients (and myself). These training plans encompass very little Triathlon training and more Cross Country Skiing (Not limited to snowy areas via roller skiing), just as an experiment to break up the monotony. I am more than happy – even shocked – at the results, and it has left these athletes, mentally fresh through the Triathlon season. This is a new habit that’s not insane, it’s really good.
Let’s talk Exercise Physiology. Muscles adapt specifically to the movements they’re doing. This is not my opinion – This is a law. It is why some people may be stuck in a rut, why some don’t want to cross train, but it is only part of the equation. In doing cardiovascular training there are two adaptations, peripheral and central. Peripheral adaptations are things like mitochondria and capillaries within or around the working muscle. Central adaptations are things like heart rate and stroke volume (cardiac output). Peripheral adaptations (especially capillaries) take a long time to build. They also take a long time to go away. Central adaptations are very quick to adapt and very quick to go away. If you become a couch potato for one week, you’ll lose some mitochondria, a lot of cardiac output, but probably no capillary density will be lost. XC skiing will Increase central adaptations and maintain peripheral.
There is not a better sport for building cardiovascular fitness: XC skiers have the highest V02 max, they burn more Kcals/minute, and when they cross the finish line and collapse out of breath – it’s not for show. It’s a humbling sport, built on efficiency, and it maintains fitness like no other. With skiing, your cardiac output will go through the roof, (central adaptation) due to arms and legs both working. Despite a difference in specificity, you will retain some peripheral adaptations to bike, run, and swim muscles, but remember these adaptations last the longest without stimulus. For my guinea pig clients, results have shown that during power tests on the bike – during ski season – have not maintained, not a slight loss, but…wait for it… an increase in power. Power on the bike increased, while doing very little Triathlon training (I have not tested the other two sports). That’s pretty cool. I will say, however, this is after putting in some serious, well planned effort on the ski trails, as well as minimal, but smart Triathlon training. That’s not even the best part though; imagine yourself looking forward to more snow. The mental break is priceless.
Mental burnout is another evil thing that goes hand in hand with being stuck in a rut. Picture yourself waking up to a snowy morning; no chance of getting outside to bike or run. You’ve experienced snow for two months and snow for the next month is the likely forecast. You check the weather channel for the seventh time, just to make sure there was no sunshine. Nope. You must get on the trainer and then the treadmill – again. They stare at you like the bully who’s come to collect his lunch money. You think, “I can do this, one more month of winter,” but in reality, you know that’s not happening. You set up a nice YouTube video to watch while on the trainer. “The Ironman World Championship,” the perfect motivation for your upcoming Ironman. You have to get in a three hour bike ride – all the other Type A Triathletes are doing it. All of a sudden, the internet connection is lost… You curse the computer, then curse the internet, throw your bike shoes, storm out of the room. Your significant other is sound asleep – it’s 5am on a Saturday, “Wake up! What’s wrong with the internet!”
If this is you, you may need a cross training sport. I am representing XC skiing, as one of the best from a physiology standpoint. However, others would certainly do the job: Hockey, Basketball, Weight lifting, Yoga, Winter Mountain Biking could all give you a mental break. Even if they’re not physiologically perfect, they’re better than nothing. In some studies I’ve read, a 10 week training benefit was lost in 1 week. Ouch. Those who enjoy indoor training, hats off to you. But if you’re loosing interest in your sport, becoming irritable, not looking forward to the upcoming season, or even becoming burnt out in the middle of the summer, that’s not good. You may need a re-charge. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.
John Taipale is an amateur elite triathlete and coach based out of Hudson, Wisconsin. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology at University of Wisconsin at River Falls with a research focus on determinate factors of VO2max performance.
There are times when science leads to better training methods. There are other times with science only comes in after the fact to validate what we are already doing. In the case of foam rolling as a recovery tool for runners and triathletes, science has finally validated us.
The theory has always been massage of any kind breaks up the adhesion (read: knots) in our muscles and allows them to “grow” back in nice straight lines like muscle fibers should be. As a result of this, muscle length increases and/or we have a greater range of motion (ROM). Up until 2012 there was very little data either proving or disproving these claims. Now we have some data.
One study showed that ROM increased for up to 6 days post-self massage with a foam roller when combined with static stretching (J Sport Rehab, Jan 2014). This differs from most static stretching studies that generally did not result in any lasting ROM improvement.
The best piece of info to come from these studies is that there appears to be no change to muscle force production as a result of foam rolling and self-massage (Int J Sport Phys Training, June 2013; J St Con Res, Mar 2013). This is great news. For years those of us who felt better after stretch were forced to face the facts that stretching has the potential to decrease performance. Foam rolling on the other hand, can be done prior to activity without the potential loss of perfromance.
And, finally, in the category of “Oh, Duh!” yet another study found that foam rolling leads to a decrease in pain at 24, 48, and 72 hours after activity (Med Sci Sport Ex, Jan 2014). But you already knew that.
In summary, why foam roll?
And when it doubt, if it feels good – do it.
Don’t wait until the new year to start thinking about changing your body composition and making your race weight. The time to lose fat, put on muscle or reshape your body in meaningful way is right now.
Since 1998 we have been helping all types of athletes reach their ideal weight and body composition. And, no matter what the magazine cover at the supermarket tells you, the reality is that no one method works for all of us. Why? We all have different diet restrictions, lifestyles, and vices.
This system will be presented at 6:00 pm on Thursday, November 20th at Trkac Running in Grass Valley. Bring something to take notes and leave your checkbook at home. This is an education seminar. Not a sales pitch.
Contributed by Coach John Taipale, NASM, USAT
Have you ever thought about why you do this sport? Ok, why do you really do this sport? It’s not an easy thing to answer. Hopefully you don’t arrive to the conclusion that this is kind of a waste of time. But rather, your answer brings a tear to your eye or a chill down your spine. If so, you’re likely on the right track.
My grandma often asks me the same question, “Why the hell do you do that!? I don’t understand it!” My response, “well…it’s a long story. I don’t understand knitting, Grandma.”
Triathlon may just be a hobby for you – I get that. But, considering the work/effort each of you put in, while exuding a lot of passion, I am suggesting this is more important to you than darts or Tuesday night bowling. Most people use running (for example) as punishment: miss a free throw, go run; PE students misbehave, go run. But you are running all year long – as enjoyment. Other people swim, run, or bike for exercise, but what you are doing is not the same thing. Right?
The point is that placing human emotion into the equation makes it different; human emotion will make you a faster triathlete. Did you know, in war, you shoot your gun more accurately when the target is shooting back at you? Or, why is it that when I play the guitar, it sounds different than Jimmy Page’s guitar? Ok, I’ll come clean, it just sounds different in general. But, this is suggesting there’s an element of art involved in our sport. It allows for your identity, expression, feelings, and emotions to boil to the surface. It is the ultimate X factor. Athletes have proven that many times: “Based on my calculations, that can’t be done”…“Hey, Mr. Lab Coat, PhD – with the nose in the air – it just got done.” The mind powers the body.
It might take awhile to answer the above question about why you do this sport – maybe the whole year. That’s why I’m talking about it now. But, training for these things is like a marathon not a sprint, so it’s nice to have some purpose – it is more rewarding in the end.
Once you understand why you do what you do, the next step is to create your specific goals. Perhaps you start with an ultimate goal, such as qualify for worlds/nationals, place top five in your age group, or simply to shave a few seconds off of last year’s time. You may arrive at some race times to focus on – those are good. But eventually, you should establish some times that you want to shoot for in your marker sets. We will have an increased focus on these marker sets in the year ahead. These sets are critical. They show your progress. They are more replicable and more accurate than race times. They also prove how fast and you are. For example, I know that every morning it will take 14 minutes to boil my eggs. It’s not cocky; I just know. You should race the same way. (This gets into confidence, which is a different lesson for a different day). You may have other goals: body fat reduction, weight loss, less injuries, do a longer race, impress a significant other, etc. Whatever your goals are, they drive the whole season.
Last step, plan your season. You should document your goals and race schedule. The more detail, the better. They should, for the most part, circle back to the first question; they should generate some emotions. If you could send some me (and Coach Bees) your 2015 goals/race schedule that would be great! I do not need to see your reasoning behind them.
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – unknown
The “off season” is a good time to develop habits, such as, a weekly training schedule (that is not too strenuous), going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time, and good eating habits. It should be second nature: get up, workout, eat healthy, brush your teeth, and get on with your day. Perhaps not in that order, but it becomes your lifestyle. Try to abide by the 90% healthy and 10% unhealthy rule, which, in theory is a good balance. Don’t beat yourself up when you slip – you’ll be back on track tomorrow. I am of course available for more detailed help on nutrition too.
Whatever your goals, and whatever your motivation, use this “off” season as a time to reevaluate and reorganize your priorities, and then refocus to get them done. Make the months ahead a step in the right direction and not two steps backward.
Coach John Taipale of Soles Inspired is a retired Army Ranger and USA Triathlon All-American Honorable Mention athlete. He is currently back in school for his masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology at University of Wisconsin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any athlete looking to bag an Ironman PR should go to Arizona. It is really that simple. Yet just because the course is relatively easy (for a 140.6 mile race) and predictable, it doesn’t mean it there aren’t some quirks and challenges for you and your Iron Sherpas. Here are 15 things you hopefully already thought about in your plan for IMAZ.
1) Hotels within walking distance to Ironman Athlete Village double their prices and require a three night stay. Remember that ASU is largely a commuter university and the race is adjacent to a major business district. This means that within 2 miles of the start of the race are tens of thousands of parking spaces. Bottom line: Rent a cheaper hotel on the other side of town and commute in for the race.
2) Speaking of parking… Spectators should park on or south of University Drive if they plan to come and go during the day. Much of the through roads north and east of Tempe Town “Lake” area closed because of the bike, and to some degree run, courses.
3) This race is late in the year. Have a contingency plan for your last few weeks of training. What will you do if you absolutely need to – physically or mentally – crush that final century ride the first weekend of November and it is 45 degrees and rainy?
4) The swim entry is a mess. Triathletes – all 2,200 of you – have to enter a narrow dock then jump down from said dock into the water. From Madison to Lanzarote, every water start race struggles getting swimmers in the water on time. The whole dock situation makes it worse at IMAZ. Do not wait until the last minute to get in the water. If you hear the cannon boom for the pro start and you’re not already in the water, you better hurry up. Did I mention that you have to swim about 250 meters to the start once you get in the water?
5) Once you jump of the dock you need to expect cold water. Really cold water. Desert nights get really cold so don’t be fooled by the reported water temps in September or day time air temps in October. Phoenix is in the desert. Nights get cold. Cold nights make cold water. So, have a strategy for cold water on race day and be sure to push your fall OWS season longer than you usually would.
6) As mentioned above the swim start is in water. If you’ve done an in water start before, then skip to #7. If you haven’t done a water start you need to know that every swimmer will go from treading water in a vertical plane taking up about 2 square feet each before the gun to horizontal swimming taking up 14 square feet after the gun. If you are not comfortable with full-contact swimming, now is not the time to come to terms with it. Stay in back and stay wide (i.e. to the right).
7) In danger of not making cut off on the swim? Little known fact: In addition to the 2:20:00 swim cut off there is a 2:35:00 T1 exit cut off and athletes racing in Physically Challenged division are not given an exemption to either. This was the case through 2012 at IMAZ, though I cannot find reference to the T1 exit cut off on the official Ironman Arizona website. (pictured left, Sam and I narrowly making the 15 minute T1 cut off)
8) The first hour or two on the bike might be really cold from a combo of hypothermic water conditions and cold, dry, morning air. The average lows on race week are around 50 degrees. That means there is a reasonable chance you exit the water in 40-something degree air. Plan on riding in sleeves/cap/gloves for an hour or so. Then plan on discarding them as it often quickly hits the average high of 75 degrees and sunny.
9) The bike course is flat as flat can be. While this might seem like a blessing for those of us who train in the mountains, it can be really taxing on the back and other body parts not used to being in the saddle for that long. If you live in the Midwest you need to train your back for being in aero for 6 hours by riding through every pancake flat farming town with good roads your can find. If you’re in the mountains by me, you better get out to the Sierraville Valley or Davis and do the same. And if you’re my client, plan on a good bit of planking, dynamic warrior repeats, scap depressions, and other lumbar and thoracic spine exercises during pre-season training.
10) The sun goes down early but is really intense when it is out. If you’re one of those people that have been training at 5am, plan on loading up on the sunblock.
11) Don’t rely on speed as an accurate measure of effort. This is a topic I’ve written about at length in the past. Though the roads are flat, a head-/tailwind will really impact your speed. Focus on your goal power or heart rate and settle in. Its a three time out and back course, so what you lose on the out, you’ll make up for on the back or vice versa.
12) Some athletes experience a bit of intimidation with the out and back course as they see faster athletes nearly a full lap ahead of them. Find inspiration in this, not defeat.
13) Sunset is around 5:25 p.m. on race day. When that sun goes below the mountains the temps drop pretty quickly. Use your Run Special Needs bag to include a skull cap, light jacket, and extra liquid calories (your stomach won’t want solids at this point). Just trust me on this one. You might not need the calories or clothing. If you do it could save your run.
14) Stick to your goal heart rate on the run! This is the most spectator friendly run in all of Ironman. The good news is that this means you will have ample crowd support. The bad news comes if you let the adrenaline get the best of you and nuke the first 10k to 13.1 miles then slowly blow up. Also, generic Ironman run advice: On the last mile of the run, don’t speed up. Slow down, pull your tri top down, wipe the crusty sweat off your face, adjust your visor. You might not think so now, but you’re going to pay $40 for that finishers photo. Might as well make it look pretty.
14b) Note to all Physically Challenged athletes racing “Tri 1″ PC classification: For the last several years there has been a very short stretch of the run that is not paved. It is part hard-packed dirt and, some years, pea gravel. Other runners will help push you through without penalty, but don’t plan on getting through it in your racing chair.
15) After the race you need calories. For a quick sugar hit, Palettas Betty on Mill & 5th is open until 11:00 p.m. and serves, well, pallettas of course, which is a Mexican popsicle that they often make savory and naturally sweetened. If you need something more substantial go for a ‘za at Mellow Mushroom (also on Mill St.), a pizza chain that does gluten free and vegan pizzas and has a lot of microbrew beer options if you can stomach it.
Sore muscles? We understand. During peak training your hard working body deserves all the help you can give it to aid recovery. You can spend hundreds on recovery powders and pills, massages, compression gear, and even special “recovery sandals.” Or you can come out to our free presentation next week to learn how a short yoga practice done in your own home can further the healing process to get you back on track and trail quicker.
Free Yoga for Triathletes and Runners Workshop on Tuesday, August 25 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Fit Culture Studio in Nevada City
The root cause of most athletic injury can be summarized by one word: imbalance. Certain muscles are stronger than others and some muscles are more flexible than others. The repetitive, and unconscious, use of the stronger muscles leads to further over-/under-development. And like a pothole on a dirt road, the problem will only get worse when left untreated. The physical aspect of yoga helps to identify and correct those imbalances.
Additionally, the mental aspects of the meditative side of yoga teach athletes to turn their focus inward. This aspect of yoga not only helps triathletes “tune in” to otherwise unobserved issues in their body, it can help improve your performance. Go ahead, read that last sentence again – we said yoga improves performance. Come out to Fit Culture Studio on Tuesday, August 25th and we will explain how.
This event is co-hosted by Coach Scott Beesley of Soles Inspired Triathlon Club in Grass Valley. The workshop will be a mix of formal presentation and asana (the physical aspect of yoga). Come in comfortable clothes, though don’t expect to sweat as this will be a short and very very gentle slow moving yoga practice. This class is suitable for all levels of athletes and yogis.
Coach Bees will be hosting a Triathlon 101 Clinic at South Yuba Club at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 23. Meet in the Personal Training Center – it’s the first building on the right at the Nevada City location (not Grass Valley). This clinic is open to the public.
This clinic is designed to help relative newbies to the sport navigate race day so that there are no surprises. Although the discussion will be focused around the Barbara Schmidt Millar (BSM) “A Celebration of Life” Triathlon, many of the concepts discussed will apply to universally to all races. Topics include:
Training: How much do you really need to train to finish a sprint triathlon?
Gear: Do you need a fancy road bike? Do you swim in bike shorts or bike in your swimsuit? And how do you put socks on when you’re dripping wet from the swim?
Injury Prevention: How safe is it to train on Pasquale? What will you do during the swim, bike, and run to make sure your training and race leave you feeling better, not worse?
Nutrition: What should you eat the morning of and during the race?
Bring any other questions you have next Wednesday as there will be ample time for Q&A.
Coach Scott Beesley has safely led over 100 athletes to their first finish line. He is Western Nevada County’s only USA Triathlon certified coach and currently splits his time between his duties as Head Coach of the Soles Inspired Tri Club in Grass Valley and as Fitness Director of South Yuba Club in Nevada City. He can be reached at (248) 877-5338 or email@example.com