As a student of the sport since 1991 (over 23 years) I’ve grown from the average teenage athlete, awkward and full of questions, to an elite and some considered me to be world class athlete. Early in my triathlon career I took an interest in coaching and throughout my adult life I have been invested in learning as much as possible about how to improve performances effectively.
Endurance athletes have a special need that is different from strength athletes. Their muscles grow differently, and because of this much of the orthodox (make it all hard) training has shown (and in my experience) not to be effective.
Through experience, and by watching top athletes who competed when I was younger, I knew that I had to do more than just train hard. I had to be smart about training.
Training was hard work, it took a lot of time, and it was a real investment. I wanted to be like those athletes. I wanted to stand on the podium. There was a lot of good competition out there, and if I didn’t do well, I didn’t eat.
I had to achieve this performance like everyone else. I had to work while competing. There was no back up plan so I learned these principles the hard way.
Through education, trial and error, from my own former coaches (former East German: Dr. Gleissner; Mr. Steffen Grosse) and from top athletes when we’ve trained together.
I’ve applied these principles to my own training and these are what make the difference between the average athlete and the extraordinary athlete. When two athletes spend the same amount of time training, and one is successful and the other is not, it is the genetics. Genetics (although different) may not dictate that one athlete will do better than another, it is the difference in how each individual adapts to the training stimulus.
There are many factors that explain these differences which are studied, but the bottom line is to get the best from your training, considering that you are investing hundreds of hours a year into it, you need specific training that allows your body to adapt the best.
This may mean you need more rest, better nutrition, or different stimulus. This is where a knowledgeable coach with experience both in the sport and in coaching (generally the more the better) makes a difference.
Individual triathlon coaching and training planning. The primary goal of athletes looking to improve their performance – which includes everyone from the beginner to elite, is that the “training analysis and planning” show success. When training performances begin to stagnate, begin to drop, or “training targets” fail to appear we have to turn our focus on the “training plan”. Training principles and the knowledge of endurance sports mustn’t be ignored or else desired success remains absent.
One of my athletes, before coming to me, (in the 46-50 age group) used an excess of high intensity (or called quality) training.
This resulted in overtraining, muscle tissue damage, and injuries. After several years of training with this program he was much fitter, but his aerobic performance during races had not improved more than a few minutes a year.
We worked together for six months using my indivualized training principles and he went from being a middle of the pack finisher (despite 3 years of training and racing) in Olympic distances to finishing his first Ironman in the top 17% at 11:20.
This may not happen with all athletes however it shows that by analyzing how he was adapting to his training, and by understanding the principles that have worked for myself and for other athletes, we were able to achieve this kind of improvement.
The following Ironman he had continued to improve finishing in the top 5% and with a bike time comparable to pro performance in under 5 hours (112 miles at 4:50 = 23 mph).
This kind of performance improvement is due to a well-developed training philosophy. He is looking forward to his 3rd Ironman and hopes to qualify for Kona.
All of my athletes receive personal attention for their individual training plans and receive the right amount of the following principles. It is easy to misunderstand the body and it’s signals without experience and education, this is when overtraining
and injury can occur.
An experienced coach understands how our bodies react to training stimulus and can watch for the signals which indicate
what training is needed for the next day, week, or block.
A training plan is not something to be taken for granted.
Ensure successful endurance training and avoid overtraining with the following 8 principles:
- Training and performance goals.Most athletes want to improve but training goals must be set which can be realistically achieved. Performance will improve with the right quantity and volume of training, but unrealistic goals can push us to train too hard. Goals should be set incrementally and be remembered as goals. Always keep in mind that good athletes do not develop overnight and injuries occur more frequently when we over train.
- Training while injured should be avoided. It can lead to a more serious injury and or a domino effect of injuries. Depending on the type of injury many things can occur. In running you may step on a rock or have a nagging foot pain. All one has to do is type in foot injuries on the internet and a slew of remidies will pop up. A nagging pain can change into a stress fracture. Your running takes on a new form from the pain as it adopts to the and new injuries occur or it takes longer to recover. One of the keys is to keep training intensity and volume at the right levels. After all it is much harder to train while injured, but if injured a good coach can recommend an alternative training to maintain fitness while the body heals.
- Triathlon Training intensity and volume must develop dynamically throughout the training process. Training quantities and qualities must have the right mixture which depends on athletes background, athletic history, goal event, gender, age, muscle type (ST,FT), life circumstances (work, family….) and recovery ability (availability). The athlete must receive adequate amounts of time to absorb past training loads.
- Individual annual triathlon training should follow a dynamic progression where training stress builds from one training phase to the next (pre-season, base) until the competition phase.
- Developing the core capability endurance. Aerobic base (<2mM/lactic acid) and aerobic strength development (z2-z3; 1.5-3.0mM) should be trained often, improved and maintained until competition phase. The right quantity at the right time, avoiding overtraining, and knowing when to push the limits will make a huge difference. Keeping the body training and taking advantage of improvements is key to overall performance. Not all training is easy… occasionally (I say this with caution) you have to push the base. This is tricky and easily misunderstood. And this is one area where an elite coach makes a difference.
- The right “quality” training at the right time. Specific qualities (low-end anaerobic development, sprinting, V02max, Anaerobic Threshold work etc) ought to be kept in the program throughout the entire build-up (pre-season, base). That way our body will be less “stressed” (sore, tight…) once race specific target training (e.g. Ironman, Olympic or Sprint Distance Triathlons, 10k or 5k running etc) must be resumed during pre-competition phase.
- Specific Load Training. The athlete’s capacity to handle “specific training” loads (“AT” intervals, tempo or speed workouts) can and should be enhanced through all-year general strength training (core work or weights for example).
- Personalized Annual Triathlon Training Plans. Annual training follows a systematic periodization and training emphasis. Remember that setting goals, and many factors about the athletes previous training, age, and abilities will dictate the annual training plan. The annual training plan is a general plan to follow so that we understand and can plan base training vs. quality training. Block training will come from the overall annual training plan and is adjusted by performance, health, schedule, etc.
Here is a basic example:
→ Aerobic base (zone 2 training)
→ Endurance training (moderate, z2-z3)
→ Threshold training (z3-z4)
→ Anaerobic [structure depends on race goals, race characteristics, athletic background, fitness level (elite or beginner)…).
- Recovery (this is where I stomp my feet). Recovery is as much or even more important than training. Only with adequate amounts of recovery after training will our body restore itself, absorb (stimuli), adapt and ultimately become stronger. Hence, a healthy relationship between training and recovery must be maintained otherwise we risk no adaptation and worse overtraining. This is an area that age group athletes tend to overlook. It is not the orthodox way that many athletes were taught to train. Many Mantra’s are counter to good training principles. The idea “No Pain no gain” is a kindergarten approach if applied incorrectly. I use a train smarter not harder approach. It wont always be easy, but pushing at the wrong time will not help good performance improvement.
- Triathlon Race schedule. Athletes should only focus on a few important Triathlon races during pre- and competition phase. Knowing when to race is as important as everything else. Pros will use races as training races to prepare for their ultimate goal race or “A” race. Understanding this strategy and how to apply it takes experience and knowledge.
- Training intensity. “Quality” training should be attuned to athlete’s individual capabilities and should be integrated with the annual training plan, training block plan, athlete goals, work and family schedule, and recent performance.