Most triathletes view their multisport endeavors as an ongoing journey of continuous self-improvement, self-fulfillment, and satisfaction. And yet, many triathletes struggle with plateauing performance, debilitating injuries, and a general feeling of stagnation in the sport.
Contrary to popular practice, training harder and more often is not always the best approach when training for a triathlon. In fact, it’s a good way to burn out or get injured. Countless endurance athletes obsess over racking up miles and earning KOMs on Strava, all the while failing to neglect the purpose, science, and biomechanics behind their training.
Instead of focusing on volume and intensity, many triathletes can benefit from taking a big step back and approaching their training with a new mindset. In doing so, consider embracing these three worthwhile practices to become better triathlete (for life.)
Train Slower, Race Faster
While it may sound completely counter-intuitive to most athletes, there is a wealth of science supporting the benefits of very slow, aerobic training, especially during the early and off-season. Aerobic training is particularly effective for Ironman distance athletes who need to build a solid base before adding intensity to their triathlon training program.
The objective behind low-intensity aerobic training is to cultivate efficiency and strength, enabling your body to adapt and prepare for the rigors of more intense training and racing later in the season. Monitoring heart rate is integral to training slower to race faster. Determining your heart rate zones is key to maintaining a comfortable heart rate zone (zone 2) that utilizes fat for fuel as opposed to relying on glycogen stores (which will only last you a couple of good hours of exertion compared to fat utilization which will never be depleted.)
While it’s best to conduct lactate testing to determine your heart rate zones, you can estimate your zones without using a CompuTrainer or power meter. In essence, you should focus on training at an easy, fat-burning pace that never exceeds your zone 2 (which is approximately 180 minus your age.) Again, this is very approximate, so get properly tested if you plan to take your training seriously.
There are a host of benefits to focusing the pre-season on aerobic training.
- Build strength and endurance in muscles, ligaments, and tendons (all try Eric Goodman’s Foundation Training for body-weight only exercises to build strength)
- Avoid overtraining and injuries, especially late in the season.
- Become more fat-adapted and fuel-efficient (less reliant on glucose and glycogen stores).
- Cultivating greater economy and better form in each discipline.
- Progress naturally from Sprint distance to Olympic distance and eventually Iron-distance events.
This is not to say speed work is irrelevant or unimportant. Rather, a more intense, anaerobic session should be incorporated mindfully and with purpose. This degree of intensity depends on what it is your training for, as well as your goals and expectations as a competitor.
Cultivate a Mobility Practice
One of the most significant barriers to realizing your true potential as a triathlete is poor mobility (or restricted range of motion.) Limited mobility hinders optimal form and mechanics, which often contributes to injuries.
As a result, cultivating a mobility practice is one of the best ways to improve your capabilities as a triathlete. This goes beyond doing a few dynamic stretches after your run or going to a Yoga class every week. Your mobility practice is an internal battle of eliminating any restrictions, clicky/thunky joints, and tender tight spots inhibiting the full range of motion. It’s also a practice of persistence and confidence that you’re going to win the war over your bodily issues.
Dedicate (at least) 10 minutes a day to working out your “hot spots,” or areas that are tight, restricted, or painful to deep pressure. There are a number of common areas that plague triathletes, including:
- Ankles & Feet
- Back, Neck, & Shoulders
- Related tip: VooDoo Floss Knee, Ankle, Calf, and Hamstring
Pinpoint areas of the body that feel very tight and restricted, and take time to stretch, smash, and mobilize those hot spots until the tissues become more flexible and soft. A couple of great resources to learn various mobility exercises include Mobility WOD and Better Triathlete.
Lastly, invest in a few tools to build your mobility arsenal. A few staples include a lacrosse ball and foam roller (for smashing and loosening tight tissues), as well as mobility bands for stretching and mobilizing. The collection of bands at Rogue Fitness is a great investment. There you can also find a number of other great tools, such as the Rumble Roller, VooDoo Floss bands, and other awesome mobility tools.
Develop a Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness and meditation may seem outside the realm of endurance training; however, any athlete can actualize a greater version of her/himself by adopting a mindfulness practice. And while it may seem trendy to jump on the meditation bandwagon, there are endless case studies of athletes and professionals alike tapping new potential by finding some headspace.
There are many ways to embrace becoming a more mindful triathlete. A powerful place to start is to dedicate time every day (ideally first thing in the morning) to sitting down and meditating. Studies have shown that even a few minutes of meditation per day can have profound benefits.
All that’s required is stillness in both mind and body. Use the breath as your tool to relax your body and free your mind of mental chatter. When you catch your thoughts drifting, take a deep exhale out to release, and fully inhale yourself back to the present moment. If you can work up to doing 10-20 minutes of meditation per day, you will surely notice changes in your life, especially in your triathlon training.
In a nutshell, meditation yields improved brain activity, which can lead to greater mental clarity, creativity, focus, concentration, sleep, mood, and general perspective on life. As a result, you will master the way of mindful triathlon training (responding to how you feel, taking time to warm up, knowing when to back off on easy days, and ramping the intensity on hard days.) Developing a mindfulness practice can also lend to greater appreciation and love of the sport.
Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler