Archive for October, 2018

Fitness Testing for Triathletes—How Do You Measure Up?

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There is an old adage in business that goes: “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” I believe that applies to triathlon too, where people are often guilty of training for months on end without ever really knowing if they’re improving. This is where fitness testing comes in. Unless you measure something, you don’t know if it is getting better or worse. You can’t manage for improvement if you don’t measure to see what is getting better and what isn’t.

Fitness testing identifies your strengths and weaknesses.

By comparing yourself to the test results or to successful athletes in your sport, you can see which areas need improvement and therefore aid in the formulation of the optimal training program for success.

Fitness testing Monitors and assesses your progress over time.

Whether you’ve trained hard or not, there is no hiding from fitness testing. Initial testing will give you some idea of your capabilities at the start of any program. As you progress, any retesting will help determine the effectiveness of the training program.

Fitness testing can provide motivation and direction.

The incentive to improve brings pride and satisfaction. It’s motivating to find out you are improving relative to you own past performance. Conversely, it can provide both motivation and direction if results weren’t as expected.

So what are some tests to evaluate your current performance level? As a multisport athlete it’s important to consider testing each specific discipline – a swimming, cycling and running test.

Swimming
The 1,000-meter/yard Time Trial

After a thorough warm-up, swim as hard as possible for 1,000 meters, doing your best to even pace it. Use the time it takes to complete the test to determine a swim pace per 100 meters. For example, if you swim 1K in 18:30, your pace per 100 meters is 1:51. You can use this data to create workouts.

The 100-Meter Time Trial

After a thorough warm-up, perform 3 x 100 meter intervals as fast as possible, but with an emphasis on consistency from one hard effort to the next. Recover for 20 seconds between intervals. Your 100-meter training pace is the average of the three hard efforts. For example, three efforts of 1:30, 1:32 and 1:34 would yield a training pace of 1:32. This is a great indicator for anaerobic capacity.

Cycling
The 20-Minute Time Trial

Before you perform this test, you should always be well rested. After a thorough warm-up, the goal is to ride at your best possible effort for 20 minutes. You should walk away from this test feeling like there is no way that you could have gone any harder. Your average power for this ride is slightly higher than your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
0.95 x your average power for the 20-minute test = FTP

For example, if your observed average power is 250 watts, your estimated FTP is 228 watts. This number represents the maximum power an athlete can sustain for a 45minute to one hour time trial effort. Use this number and compare it to future tests. Check out these alternate testing methods if 20 minutes seems like too much or you’re limited on time.

Running
The 20-Minute Time Trial

This is identical to the cycling test except you don’t ride a bike! After a thorough warm-up, run as hard and as far as possible for 20 minutes. This is a brutal, but precise method to establish your threshold pace. Be careful to avoid starting at a pace that’s too fast to sustain and thus slowing down involuntarily near the end. Calculating 95% of your average pace for that 20 minutes is your threshold pace. Your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes of the time trial will be a close estimate of lactate threshold heart rate.

1 Mile

Run 1600m at a hard, controlled effort that you can maintain with good form. Keep each lap consistent and don’t go out too hard! The mile is still a good enough fitness indicator, even for Ironman. Take your 1-mile test pace and add 30 seconds to get your predicted 5K pace per mile. Add 2-3 minutes to determine your long run or easy pace.

When to Test?

How often and when to assess your fitness depend on your training and competition schedule. Ideally, it’s a good idea to do some fitness tests at the start of your winter training to set your training intensities and targets, and then again mid-way through winter training to assess progress and make any changes necessary. Races also are great fitness tests.

An assessment 8 to 12 weeks out from your main race will help you to make any final adjustments to training or simply provide a fitness benchmark for you during racing season. However, a further test when you’re at your racing peak can also be interesting to see what your values are when you’re at your best.

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article

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CoachCast: Coaching Conviction with Ben Day

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Do you lead with confidence when you coach?

Ask anyone involved in endurance sports what the most important attribute in a coach is, and you will receive a different answer every time. Is it the ability to coach with conviction? Is it incorporating your experience into your coaching? Is it motivating your athletes to simply adhere to their training plan? According to Coach Ben Day, it’s a mix of all of these and more.

Dave Schell sits down with Coach Ben Day to discuss how his experience as a professional cyclist has influenced the way he now leads other athletes. Day has worked professionally in cycling since 2002 and began coaching full-time in 2014 after retiring as an athlete. Since then, Day has coached many successful cyclists and triathletes and influenced countless coaches along the way.

   

Resources:

Day By Day Coaching
Day By Day Coaching Twitter
Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

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Where to Start with Triathlon Strength Training

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Why strength train at all?

With the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona come and gone, it’s time for nearly every triathlete to set their training plan for the upcoming season. As is commonly known, in order to see results from our training we must set out a plan to stress the body in targeted ways throughout the coming months in order to see increases in fitness and abilities.

But, what if I told you that many athletes and coaches only account for three of the four pillars of athletic progression in their training programs? When it comes to performing athletically, we have to think about all four of the pillars responsible for athletic success in any and every sport:

Hormonal system adaptations
Neuromuscular adaptation
Metabolic adaptations
Cardiorespiratory adaptations

These four pillars form the basis for the body’s adaptations to training. In order for our athletes to progress block to block and season to season, we must ensure that we are hitting all of the pillars in a way that the athlete can recover from.

Many coaches and athletes don’t address the neuromuscular adaptations needed to see performance increases. Yes, they focus on technique in sport; yes, they focus on bike fitting. But, they don’t utilize strength training to the degree necessary to influence neuromuscular adaptations. Without addressing all four of the pillars to balance the body, athletes encounter scenarios where they become riddled with overuse injuries, overreach too often, and train at intensities for periods of time that push beyond their abilities to recover.

Oh, wait. I just described a lot of triathletes. Sorry (not sorry). So why do triathletes suffer from the above-mentioned afflictions?

Well, if you believe what people say online, “it’s a part of the sport” and “athletes just need to harden up and keep pushing,” but that just doesn’t seem to be that intelligent or correct at all.

Why do injuries and issues happen?

While there may be a number of reasons for the prevalence of these injuries and issues depending on the case, many can be traced back to two problems:

Your joint balance or posture is off. Muscles are imbalanced at a joint, forcing the body to “figure out” how to deal with forces in ways it’s not designed to due to structural integrity and positioning issues.
You are neglecting neuromuscular adaptations. This leaves your muscles too weak to deal with the forces you’re placing on them.

The great news is that through a carefully planned and proper strength training program, risk of injury will not only decrease, but athletes will also see significant gains in performance.

Two easy opportunities to fix (and prevent) problems through strength training

Proper strength training will almost certainly help an athlete improve performance, but in order to help our athletes the most we must take advantage of two often overlooked areas in our programming that can have massive positive effects:

The dynamic warm-up
Corrective and balancing exercises

To be clear here “balancing exercises” does not mean using a bosu ball or balance pad training. Rather, it means working on movements that allow the athlete to retain and regain balance at the joint through movements that counter those we experience in our sport. This helps ensure healthy and proper joint positioning and strength balance.

Start with a better dynamic warm-up

Building a purposeful dynamic warm-up can help account for both opportunities outlined above. The dynamic warm-up should start with working on breathing patterns, moving to a global movements, and then getting into specific target exercises to help the athlete prepare for the day’s session and rebalance the athlete’s individual movement deficiencies.

TrainingPeaks University

Get more info about dynamic warm-ups and more!

Sign up for a free trial or take the entire Strength Training for Triathlon Success course by Coach Menachem Brodie.

Triathletes commonly struggle with these movements:

Rotary stability
Thoracic extension
Thoracic rotation
Hip extension (true hip extension from the glutes, not the spine)
Scapulohumeral movement patterns

Building a more thoughtful strength-based warm-up is a great first step to improving an athlete’s strength program and to set them up for success. For a deep dive into strength training for triathlon and more information about building effective warm-ups, check out my new course, Strength Training for Triathlon Success.

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Why, When, and How to Use A Foam Roller

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In recent years, foam rolling has gone mainstream. Once a self-massage technique used only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists; foam rolling is now an everyday practice for people at all levels of fitness. There’s a reason for the popularity of this self-massage technique: it’s simple and it works!

With the (usually foam-based) cylindrical muscle rollers now widely available in a variety of designs and firmness levels, there’s never been a better time to start. Here’s what you stand to gain if you haven’t tried foam rolling, and how to do it better if you’ve already started.

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is also called myofascial release. But what is fascia? And why do you want to “release” it? Fascia is the thin tissue that connects our muscles. Think of it as your body’s internal packaging—it helps muscle groups cooperate as integrated units. When it’s healthy, fascia is flexible, supple and glides smoothly over your muscles. But binding in your fascia can form for a variety of reasons, such as muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation, or trauma. Even just sitting at a desk all day can get your fascia “gummed up” and stiff.

A foam roller is a simple cylinder (usually made of foam or flexible plastic) which you can lay on in a variety of positions, allowing your body weight to put focused pressure on affected muscle groups. One of the most popular areas to foam roll is the iliotibial (IT) band, but you can also use it on your back, hips and shoulders. Rolling over problem areas can help release that built-up tension in your fascia and re-establish the integrity (and optimal performance) of muscle tissue.

Why is foam rolling so beneficial for endurance athletes?

When you are doing a highly repetitive movement such as running, swimming, or biking, you’re typically overusing some muscles and underusing others—especially if things aren’t in perfect balance. The muscles that get overused tend to get tight, and a tight muscle doesn’t function properly. When you foam roll, you can help improve symmetrical (ideal) muscle function by ‘resetting’ tight areas. By taking a few minutes around each workout (and each day if necessary), you can help prevent imbalances and overuse injuries.

How to Foam Roll

It is better to be too soft than too hard. It might feel tender as you roll through the tissue but it should not be agonizing. To keep it simple and systematic, I like to divide the muscle that you’re rolling into three segments—bottom, middle, and top. Give each section a few passes up and down, move onto the next one, and then finish off by giving the entire length of your muscle a pass over.

With each pass through the muscle group, you can then work deeper into the tissue for more release. It is very possible to find several trigger points throughout your body. When you hit a spot that’s especially painful or tight, pause here and try to relax. Give it time and the muscle should release—anywhere from 5-30 seconds. For more precise areas, try something like a lacrosse ball or tennis ball. As you get to know your body and how it responds to foam rolling, you may go shorter or longer as needed.

When to Foam Roll

Foam rolling can be performed prior to and after your workouts. Before exercise, rolling will increase tissue elasticity, range of motion and circulation (blood flow). This can help you move better during your workout and protect you from injury.

Foam rolling post-workout is a great way to enhance recovery. Focus on all of the major muscles you just worked, with an extra emphasis on the areas that feel problematic. By stimulating blood flow in affected areas, you’ll dramatically increase oxygen to your sore muscle fibers and reduce recovery time. In fact, most elite athletes get massages regularly for this reason. While nothing can quite replicate a good sports massage, you can enjoy many of the same benefits at home (or between massages) with a foam roller.

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article

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Data Analysis: Shaving 30 Minutes Off A Marathon PR

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Scott Burns is a 42-year-old amateur marathon runner from the UK, who has been training seriously for the last five years. Until this season he had been using an online algorithm to define and manage his training—but was growing frustrated with seeing minimal improvements in his fitness and race results.

We connected via CoachMatch, and began to work through applying my Zone 2 methodology to his training through TrainingPeaks. Scott ran a 3:33 in October 2017 at the Reykjavik Marathon, and ultimately blew past his goal of breaking 3:30 with a 3:08 just 13 months later in Berlin. Here are some of the major factors in his success.

Zone 2 Methodology

Zone 2 Training is focused on the idea that your zone 2 days are just as important as your hard Zone 4 and Zone 5 workouts. Running in Zone 2 facilitates active recovery, and allows you to build your base. Metabolically it also teaches your body burn primarily Fatty Acids, helping you maintain a steady effort for a long time (unlike the surge-crash cycle of carbohydrate fuelling). This sort of fat-adaptation is popular and effective among the marathon and ultra-endurance crowd.

In action, Zone 2 training consists of two workouts a week, with the addition of a specific endurance session as part of long runs in the final 6-8 weeks. Endurance work consists of marathon and half-marathon intervals to replicate race day feelings of fatigue. It also allows athletes to test fuel sources and hydration strategies to dial in their race day plan. (Link to article on specific endurance)

By the Numbers: (HR) and Intensity Factor (IF)

Once we got started, Scott was able to steadily increase his chronic training load (CTL) and began having breakthrough after breakthrough. As you’ll see in the 13-month progression below, Scott was able to steadily turn up the intensity at each race while maintaining the same average HR, ultimately dropping over 1min/mile off his pace (and an average of two minutes per month off his marathon time).

Peak Week

Scott’s peak ultimately consisted of a 110 km (66 mile) week, three weeks out from race day. This pushed his CTL to 76, and an eventual 81 the following week, with a total accumulated TSS of 730 (of a planned 765).

Broken down, this week was comprised of three aerobic days, two workouts and a special block on Saturday with a full rest day on Sunday. Workouts were 6x 1km @ 3:53-3:44 min/km (6:14-6:00 min/mi) and a 10km progression from 4:27-4:02/km (7:10-6:30 min/mi). Scott also followed a consistent strength maintenance program twice a week, for a total of around nine hours total of training that week.

Tune-Up Races

Using Half Marathons late fall and early spring allowed us to test fitness without going through the extensive recovery required of a marathon. These shorter races allowed us to continue building a base and working through a series of hills, intervals, and extension workouts. London Marathon was quite hot and the plan for a 3:10 race was out the window by 30km—but Scott adjusted his race plan and managed a 3:14.

Berlin – Hitting a Home Run

Scott peaked just in time for Berlin, allowing for a perfect 10-day taper. Take note of the steady increase from London (CTL: 72) at far left to the peak at Berlin (CTL: 80). This time frame includes time off for medical procedures, a seasonal break and a full build to a peak and taper.

Race Day Stats

One of the biggest factors in Scott’s success was his extensive use of tempo efforts of 10-12km, progressing from goal marathon pace to goal half marathon pace. Starting below his fastest pace allowed him to settle in on a sustainable pace very early in the race; his legs were locked in.

Take note of the .42% pa:hr. his heart rate stayed impressively consistent over the course, and remained closely aligned with his pace. As pace is broken down, we can see that consistently hitting his marathon pace in training allowed for flawless execution on race day.

A 151 HR average allowed Scott to stay just outside of Zone 2, progressing slightly into Zone 3. By using disparity training we were able to execute a comfortable and intentional effort in Zone 3. Dive into his splits and we can see how well the Zone 2 methodology pays off on race day!

The over/under on his 5k splits was ~:20. This shows that Scott knew exactly how the race should feel at goal pace. That sensation was ingrained early on in his training and repeated weekly or biweekly with specific endurance or extensive tempo workouts.

In his build up Scott only ran 3 workouts of 10km at race pace, with 2 workouts of 10km on back-to-back days during his peak week.

Consistency is Key

Scott’s improvement is a direct factor of his hard work and diligence in training; he only missed a total of 7 workouts in 13 months. For his effort, Scott earned a 25 minute PR. Scott now has his sights set on taking his marathon time into the sub-3-hour realm in 2019.

Congratulations to all Berlin Marathon runners on a successful and record-setting day!
Ed. note: athlete’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.

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