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How much training time ideally should you divide between the three disciplines? I feel that 30% of my training time is currently swim focused but in the grand scheme of things the swim only accounts for a small proportion of the total time. If you know you're weaker with one discipline should you focus more on that in the training, or should I focus on making the biggest gains in the discipline I’m already good at?
The actual time split in nearly all triathlon is approximate to 20% swim, 50% bike and 30% run. Sometimes this should also be the same training split distribution, but it’s worth taking into account the following points:
- We generally gravitate toward the disciplines and sets that we enjoy – but staying in your comfort zone that can slow your adaptation and progress. This doesn’t always mean training harder: it may well mean slowing down or working on skill development of a weak discipline.
- Always consider your daily activity first, your physicality away from training. How many steps do you take a day? How often do you get up and mobilise during a day in the office? Do you balance the rigors of your day job with the appropriate strength and mobility? These can go a long way to making your training successful.
- Factor in strength into your training program. Your relative strength is a key limiter on your performance. At Tribal we advocate spending between 10-25% of your training time on developing healthy strength.
- Consider your ‘potential areas for greatest growth’. For example, if you feel that most inroads can be made on the bike, seeing as the bike leg is always at least 50% of the whole triathlon, choosing to increase the time you spend on this will give you a great return on investment. The same goes for the opposite too – if you’re weaker at one discipline, then up the proportion you spend on this.
- Lastly, the uniqueness of the triathlon course you’re doing should go some way to helping you decide how to spend your time. For example, Blenheim is a course suited to strong cyclists and runners – 800m running uphill from swim exit to the bike transition, and a hilly bike and run course, mean that you should focus on working on these skills during your training. Ensure you check the profile and terrain of the course you are competing on and adjust your training accordingly.
How should you structure training: is it better to focus longer periods of time (like a week or a fortnight) on one discipline or to try and balance/mix it up across the week? If it’s a mix is there a certain order? Maybe put a strength at the end of the week?
Triathlon is an aerobic dominant task , so it’s this energy system that we need to train. Here are the Tribal Training Interdependencies - Here’s a useful infographic to help understand how time should be distributed over their year.
During the event itself, what’s your advice on pacing, in the swim and cycle in particular? Do you recommend trying to keep the same pace throughout or would you recommend pushing harder at the start of each of these and then slowing slightly at the end to give yourself some recovery time before the next discipline?
Even the shortest of triathlons are an aerobic event- that means that with the help of oxygen we are utilising fats/carbohydrates and producing carbon dioxide as a by-product. There’s a small amount of anaerobic metabolism at play, say for example when you hit a climb at Blenheim, but, as its aerobic dominant you are way better maintaining a steady intensity throughout.
Consider this: if you were driving a car from London to Glasgow, would you use more fuel by surging- accelerating to 100mph and slowing to 40mph repeatedly the whole way or by maintaining an even pace? The even pace effort is way more efficient and will see you produce overall faster times.
I'm planning to build some brick sessions (swim then bike or bike then run) into my training – is there more value in trying to string all three disciplines together back to back ahead of event day?
It’s not essential to regularly sequence swim, bike, run sessions together. I’m a fan of having a simple goal for each session and I think too many bricks can decrease the quality of your sessions. But here are two techniques I use with Tribal athletes to condition the transition.
1. Incorporate very short runs after your bike sets. The focus during these sessions is very much on whatever the goal is for the bike set, but we’re also looking to condition the switch in action from bike to run, so there’s little need to run for longer than 5-10 minutes. The reason I like these short runs is that they condition the switch but don't add undue training stress in the form of very long sessions.
2. Once a month, plan to string swim to bike to run. At first make the intensity or volume of each easy and short- plan to gradually intensify to peak at your desired race intensity and elongate these monthly sets. There’s no need to actually compete the race distance- just make sure you’re maintaining form.
This is my first triathlon. I’m an experienced runner and cyclist but a novice swimmer. I’m concerned that my triathlon will be over in the first few minutes. How do I build up my stamina and go from barely reaching 100ms to reading 500/600ms in the next 4 months?
Answering questions about the skill of swim, bike and run is a tough one - I think the best tack is to explain concepts and some techniques for instilling those concepts. As we can all walk to the shops without too much exertion, we should also be able to swim 400-500m at that same intensity- the difference is that we are fairly technically proficient at walking and inefficient as swimmers!
We have a reflex that means that we hold our breath the moment we submerge our face – obviously exertion and no breathing do not go together very well! It’s essential that you learn how to relax in the water if we are going to get anywhere with our swimming. Tension makes you tight, hold your breath and ultimately sink. So the first step in improving your swimming is in relaxation and breath management.
There’s a simple drill you can do at home to work on this, to help you master relaxation and breath management. Using a sink or bowl of water, submerge your face and completely relax, then slowly and consistently start to exhale from your nose under water to produce a stream of small bubbles. When you surface to take your next breathe you should be calm and not need to be desperate for air, take a breath in through your mouth as you would in the pool and again submerge. The idea is that you become accustomed with relaxation under water and begin to learn to manage your breathe- focus fully on relaxation, a steady slow stream of bubbles and work on extending the amount of time you can stay submerged for without discomfort.
Take the same efforts to the pool for your training session too. The first drill you do at every session should be the sink down, where you sink into the water practising the same technique as above. The, when you’re moving in the water, follow the ‘bubble-breathe mantra’. Take a breath and then on each of the following two strokes say ‘bubble’ into the water – literally speak it! On the third stroke take a breath to that side whist saying ‘breathe to yourself (not out loud this time!). Swimming down the lap repeating ‘breathe-bubble-bubble- breathe-bubble-bubble-breathe’ is a great way to coordinate good exhalation with the timing needed to breathe every three strokes.