Train Smarter, Not Harder

Becoming a better triathlete is not about finding more time to train, it's about using the time you do have to greater effect


Posted: 24 November 2009

Monday: three-hour bike ride; 90-minutes weights; 40-minute swim. Tuesday: 60-minute swim; 90-minute run. Wednesday: two-hour bike ride; 60-minute swim. That might be the start of the training week for a professional triathlete. But they don't have a life, and you do. With three sports to juggle, as well as
a full-time job and maybe a family, training for triathlon is a compromise between training you know you should do, and the training you know you can do.  But that doesn't mean you can't improve when time is limited.

TRAINING SMART
      Plenty of triathletes with full-time jobs and families have gone on to achieve great things in endurance sport. James Gilfillan, for instance, is a busy town planner for Poole Council in Dorset. He was second at last year's Ironman UK 70.3 and is hoping for a top-five finish at the full Ironman this year. Or family-man Eamonn Deane, who is the reigning 24-hour Cycle Time Trial National Champion and has this to say: "In the early 1990s I wanted to win the national long-distance triathlon championships, and decided to take three months unpaid leave from work so that I could train full-time. I ended up finishing tenth. I had a terrible race, and was exhausted from beginning to end. I had overdone my training in those three months. I was in great shape before I took time off work.  If I had stayed at work for those three months and trained sensibly I could have won it."
      There are plenty of busy people who do manage to train and race to their full potential. They all have one thing in common. They cut out the junk, and concentrate on quality training. To borrow a phrase from the music industry, their training is 'all killer and no filler'. Quality training means you know the reason behind every training session; you are not just training for training's sake.  
      Quality training also has a plan behind it, so that the training progresses over time and includes recovery time. Junk training is where you do the same sessions week in week out with no overall plan or progression. You put in junk miles because you can fit them in, not because they are specific to your goals. They fatigue you, but have no meaningful benefit. Remember this: it is not about finding more time to train, but using the time you do have to greater effect.

TEST DUMMY
To help determine whether you are making the most of your time, ask yourself these questions next time you train:
» Is this session going to improve a specific weakness?
» Is this session specific to the race I am targeting?
» Is this session going to benefit me or wear me out?
» Is this training session part of a broader plan?
» Have I progressed with this training session over the weeks?
     If the answers are mostly no, then you are not making the
most of the time you have. It's a good idea to think about ways to improve the quality of your training, and remind yourself that quality training is considerably more satisfying than junk mileage. Triathletes who know the reasons and rational behind each session are going to be more motivated to complete them.

KEEP IT PERSONAL
Time-effective training does not mean that you need to do every session at maximum intensity. It means that your training should be dependent on your strengths and weaknesses, and the type of race you are targeting. Training that doesn't fulfil these criteria should be avoided, unless you have spare time and energy.  
      For example, if you are training for an Olympic-distance race you may benefit from a regular two- to three-hour steady ride at the weekends. However, three additional weekly rides of one hour at a steady pace might make you feel better, but they are probably not an effective use of time. They may just add to fatigue, waste your time and not produce any meaningful physiological benefits. You would be better served doing, for example, two back-to-back 15-minute efforts at your 25-mile time trial pace, or some other planned session that is specific to your Olympic-distance triathlon.
      It is also important to acknowledge the difference between busy, and very busy.  Some triathletes barely have any time to train and just avoiding junk miles is not enough. If this sounds like you, super-effective short sessions of less than an hour are an effective way to train.

HIGH-INTENSITY

Max Baldock, a chef and top cycle time-triallist based in Bournemouth doesn't have time for long rides but is still at the top of his game. "As a chef, I can train for less than an hour or not at all. I focus on high-intensity training sessions, often on the turbo-trainer, and race once or twice a week throughout the summer," he explains. "I am always competitive with the best cyclists in the area, some of whom ride four times my weekly mileage. By the time they come to race, rational behind each session are going to be more motivated to complete them.

KEEP IT PERSONAL
Time-effective training does not mean that you need to do every session at maximum intensity. It means that your training should be dependent on your strengths and weaknesses, and the type of race you are targeting. Training that doesn't fulfil


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