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I'm just an average age-grouper / weekend warrior blogging about Ironman Triathlon Training and this complex puzzle of juggling life, having fun and reporting on my various feats of strength and endurance adventures!

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GTN Presents: The Ideal Weight For Training and Racing

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As part of an exciting new partnership between the Global Triathlon Network (GTN) and TrainingPeaks, we’ll be bringing you twice-monthly episodes of the new “Triathlon Training Explained” show, where hosts and former pro triathletes Mark Threlfall and Heather Fell answer your triathlon training questions with the help of TrainingPeaks and industry experts from around the world.

In the latest episode, Threlfall and Fell dive into all things “weight” related. For triathletes of all levels, weight is a complicated topic. Too little weight on your frame can derail you swimming and biking, but too much can keep you from reaching your optimal performance on the run. Truthfully, it’s a balance that requires a good deal of monitoring, self-experimentation and, above all, good nutrition practices.

From competing as a larger athlete, the ins and outs of your power-to-weight ratio on the bike, the pros and cons of seeking a perfect “race weight,” and even how to gain weight safely—Threlfall and Fell tackle everything you need to know to stay healthy or even slim down in time for that “A” race.

Triathletes in the know like GTN’s Mark Threlfall and Heather Fell use TrainingPeaks to help plan, track and analyze their training. Dial-in your triathlon training with a free 7-day Premium Trial today!  

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The Importance of Post-Workout Comments

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Isn’t technology great? We walk in the door at our home or office and our devices simultaneously sync to all our training and social platforms like magic across wifi. By the time we’ve showered, kudos and comments have amassed. It’s honestly amazing!

But let’s face it, this instantaneous ease that was previously a solution to the problem of troubled downloads and data not being reported, has created another problem. The process is so automated, that it’s created a form-dependency that the data exclusively paints the entire picture for the workout. Thus athletes are becoming less in tune with subjective information and there is little to no impetus to report post-workout feedback.

Luckily, one of my favorite and least techy pieces of coaching and self-reporting with the TrainingPeaks platform are the post-activity comments. Sure there are tons of bells and whistles with the techy bits, but the simple act of reporting “how it went” is invaluable in my eyes as a coach and an athlete. It may seem like trivial information, but whether working with a coach or self-coaching, this is an often overlooked and undervalued step from both aspects.

I hesitate reflecting back when I started training at the expense of sounding old, but making the point that devices were often only valuable for real-time reporting is key. Whether due to limited download options, errors in the download process, or if you were able to get it from device to desktop, the post-analysis platforms were clunky and limited.

Therefore, it didn’t make much sense to expend that time. But with the lack of data reporting workouts for individuals, those who excelled still logged their workouts, whether in a simple spiral notebook or an Excel file.

The point I’m making is that since athletes didn’t depend on the data being there or when post-workout data wasn’t a guarantee, they reported with a much better sense of their subjective effort.

I still have hand-written workout journals tracking sets, reps and weights as a teen or even day-to-day logs when I got my pro card. There were notes on weather, the food I ate, who I rode with and how I felt. Even reflections on things like, “overdid it today on the ride and felt tired while at work. Snacked too much on bar stash in desk trying to make up,” or “completely full sets; move up weight next week.”

There was nothing to fall back on like the power or pace files, so words and reflections had to speak louder about how the workout felt and how I was progressing in my training.

This may sound so foreign to some, or you may scoff at the idea of taking time to make workout notes, but the similar research that supports the benefits of taking time out to relax and shut down your “monkey” brain with meditation, breathing, or journaling for example, correlates to this.Taking the few moments to reflect on your training session gets you in-tune with yourself and hopefully develops an honest inward truth.

Luckily TrainingPeaks has a robust pre- and post-activity Comment system that I think is one of the most overlooked yet effective tools I use. Like Einstein said, “Genius exists in simplicity.”

Sure I’ve created a library with loads of workouts containing detailed information that I can use across many athletes, however, I customize the pre-activity comments heavily to individualize the training prescription.

I put in the work up from to convey my intent for the workout and on the backend I encourage all my athletes to reflect providing as much information in their comments as they are comfortable sharing.

I hold myself to this expectation as well since historical information is invaluable as you can always reflect back on certain good and bad days or periods and with detailed notes have a game plan of why or why not to repeat certain aspects of training or life. I’m developing intuitive athletes who can think for themselves versus just follow a workout prescription like a hamster on wheel.

These post-activity comments are an amazing way to self-reflect and/or engage an athlete to better understand the process and make real-time decisions with educated forward-thought.

And if used with a coach/athlete interface, a comment thread is created right there that both the coach or athlete can look back upon to gain insight like why it was a peak performance or equally valuable in my eyes of how to improve (and not repeat) upon mistakes.

And the process of reporting comments is easier than ever with the mobile app. Since often the data is all synced up immediately, the athlete simply needs to bring up the days training, tap the “Add comment” button and input comments (maybe while rehydrating or whipping up some recovery food) to coincide with the day’s workout.

“Oh I’ll do it later,” you say. Not likely. If you’ve ever heard one of the sayings of actions to create momentum of getting things done, “if it takes less than a minute, then do it now.” then this falls in the same boat as making the bed or putting something away to reduce clutter.

The longterm successful athletes I coach stay on top of the process. You may think you’ll remember the intricacies, but honestly this rarely happens. Days or weeks of uploads go by and the workouts get jumbled in your mind and you forget the “acute” of how you felt that day, was it nice and sunny or wind that caused slower pace or higher HR in one direction or even if you’d fueled well.

I’ve worked in a physiology testing lab and I’ve always had people finish a VO2max test collapsing over the bars or off the treadmill, ripping the mask off gasping for air and barely able to gain composure. But then later that day reviewing the test results, the athlete would often respond, “I think I could do better if I had another chance.” Really!? The acute pain seems to pass, so it’s important to note it while it’s fresh on your mind.

So you may wonder what should I report as post-activity comments? Here are some ideas, but by no ways meant to serve as a restraint:

What you ate and drank pre-, during, and post workout.
What was your perception of first to middle to last repetition of an interval workout.
What was your self-talk like at different points.
What was the weather like (headwind, change in temperature, sunny, rainy, etc.)?
Was there anything you did differently that would lead to this performance or the feeling that you reported on this day?
Any life stressors occurring?
Your motivation starting or lack thereof.
How your energy was once you started or post-exercise.

I hope this helps reinforce that we are truly in an age of data and unlimited connection at our fingertips, but often we get disconnected in other ways.

That’s why my coaching philosophy heavily relies on building relationships, defining the “why” behind workouts and goals, and developing intuition so the athlete knows how to approach future days of training or competing based on their own historical trends and self-reflection.

Keep logging the work and, if you haven’t been, I encourage you to reflect on your workouts by logging post-activity comments for two to three weeks and see if it makes a difference with how you approach future sessions and better understand yourself. Try to be brutally honest and I bet it will be hard not to grow as an athlete from the process.

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The 3 Stages of Proper Swim Development

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At a recent workshop at Speedo HQ looking at some product development, the conversation turned to the subject of good swim technique.

Amongst the assembled group of designers, scientists and coaches it was not easy fully describing good technique. Each person had a view as to which component was more important.

It was actually easier to describe bad technique and how if you slowly eliminated it one aspect at a time you would be left with something that could be described as good swim technique. The key words such as rhythm, graceful, relaxed, a lack of splash, a lack of effort, symmetry, propulsion and low levels of drag cropped up— but these are all are quite vague descriptions.

The truth about good swim technique is: we know it when we see it. It is highly individual, and we all have an idea as to how we define it. A level of skill is needed to take away the thought process and allow the sequence of swimming actions to unfold naturally without hesitation.

For example, the coordination of the arms and legs, the timing of the breathing, applying just enough force to pull you through the water without slipping in the water.

When a swimmer starts out improving their stroke what I see is a sequence of swimming movements slowly being constructed and processed, hence the hesitations, the slow rigid movements of the body and the mechanical edge to their movements that seem to hold them back.

Disparity

The big problem for those who are not natural swimmers is the concept of the disparity between what they feel they are doing and what they are actually doing.

For many swimmers, once they see a video of themselves swimming, will still need further convincing that it is actually them up on the screen.

At our weekend workshops where the filming is displayed in a classroom setting shortly after the first swim, often swimmers wait to claim their piece of footage ( i.e. they wait to see if they like what they see).

If it’s wrong and they have identified the wrong person up on the screen, it’s usually an example of somebody swimming better than they do. At this point I diplomatically point out, “Unfortunately sir you are the only gent in today’s group so that has to be you.”

If you come from a sporting background (from any other sport either in or out of the water) and have good hand-eye coordination and good proprioception skills, then the new movements often come easier.

The disparity is narrowed, as people seem to have a more accurate method of allowing them to visualize the movements they are making. I liken this to the idea of the “unconscious incompetence,” which is the first of the Four Stages of Competence, a well-known psychology model that describes how we learn a new skill.

Unawareness

For a swimmer learning proper swim technique, it is not so much that they are unaware of how some of their movements are being performed poorly, it is more that they cannot perceive their own movements as good or bad.

The journey to unconscious competence where it all seems so easy is—not so easy. I feel there are three key stages for an adult swimmer attempting to swim well and most triathletes plateau in the second area not realizing how much time in the water is needed to attain the third (I am trying hard to resist not using the expression enlightenment here!)

The workshop at Speedo HQ touched on why swimming can be so challenging and when I thought about how many repetitions of a certain movement were needed for it to become automatic—for it to become unconscious and competent—I had to agree.

When I thought back to how much repitition must have taken place during my own development years between 1987 and 1994 in order for it to look relaxed and as if I wasn’t trying—it could have easily been in the millions!

How many hours at the steering wheel did you spend driving before you started to not notice the mechanics of the process of driving? I bet it took a while for some to be comfortable enough on the bike to stop looking for the gear and brake levers.

The moment they become an extension of the hands and arms you can then focus on the road around you, the surroundings and traffic, and suddenly you are a much safer cyclist.

Three Key Stages of Swim Development
1. Feeling fast but swimming slow.

Initially, when people start out improving their swim technique, it is exhausting due to making use of the incorrect muscles (usually the larger ones of the legs) to perform incorrect movements.

Getting tired more quickly than is necessary while directing yourself in a direction you don’t want to go is a double whammy of a problem. Unfortunately, the sensation of speed is apparent since it all feels so strong and fast—the bubbles, the splashing and the getting out of breath.

The sensations that can deliver such speed on the bike and the run will do nothing but fatigue you in the water due to a lack of streamline, using the wrong muscles to channel water in the wrong directions and not allowing you a healthy window of opportunity to get your air in when breathing.

Fortunately, it does not take too long to move on from this position. Four or five lessons can do it for many people; acquiring the correct movements driven by many of the smaller muscles will soon have you moving into stage two.

2. Feeling slow but getting faster. The swim plateau.

Getting faster as the effort levels come down and streamline starts to kick in can happen quite quickly. At this stage, you are unlikely to be purely swimming faster but for longer distances you should be setting improved times as you fatigue less.

Often the big issue at this time is convincing swimmers that they are indeed getting faster. Due to the counterintuitive nature of faster swimming becoming possible with less effort—many people refuse to buy into it.

Constant measuring will help reassure you, whether it is time taken for a distance, strokes taken per length, or distance swum in a certain time. Be fair and time yourself over at least 400m, as a 25m sprint will unlikely to be quicker as you will not be swimming faster in terms of pure swim velocity.

You will still be processing a sequence of swimming movements to create the freestyle stroke, but the direction you channel water will be positive in terms of you moving forward.

You will generally be taught to use the smaller muscle groups to control smaller movements. The energy and oxygen cost per stroke will reduce massively. Linked to the counterintuitive feel, unfortunately, is that these new muscles are not yet familiar with the new movements. So, for six to eight weeks even smaller muscles (now moving correctly) will be more tiring until they adapt to the new overload.

Most will now be in that tricky, in-between stage where you are not reaping the benefits of being faster just yet (more on this later) but since your movements are now contributing to going forward rather then up and down or sideways, faster times are inevitable if you believe and persevere.

3. Swimming fast and feeling fast.

Finally, we come to the moment of enlightenment (sorry!) when you feel fast in the water and you are actually moving fast in the water.

Swimming fast with the sensation of speed is a combination of a well streamlined body position, a rhythmical leg kick to hold you in the water and assist your body position, constant rotation to the degree you are streamlined (but not overdoing it so you waste time gliding).

Probably the key benefit is acquiring the feel for the water, at this point you make the water feel more solid around the hand. You can feel the body moving over a stationary hand rather than it slipping under the body.

A secondary part of the feel for the water is how you can sense just how much effort to put into each pulling movement. Too much strength and it is wasted as the fluid water slips around the hand, not enough and you just move slowly.

A strong pull is a combined balance of strength and finesse, allowing the maximum amount of effort to be deployed. The faster you move through the water will add additional benefits, such as the trough of air deepening around the head, meaning you can turn the head less when breathing. Sitting higher in the water carries benefits to the sighting process, and so on.

At this point you will automatically process the freestyle movements without the thought process, meaning you can focus more on pacing and race tactics but it is going to take quite some time to acquire that degree of unconscious competency.

For some this may take a while longer than they hoped, but it is possible. You may need to think in terms of sessions per month rather then sessions per week. What I mean by this is that aiming for four sessions per week is a noble ambition but you are more likely to be content with three. If you aim for between 13 and 16 sessions per month—you will be getting more achieved and hopefully be inspired to achieve more.

Set realistic goals and think about it being a two-year process if you are starting out from a novice level. Acquiring a technically proficient stroke will enable you to be faster, swim easier, be prone to fewer injuries and eventually allow you to enjoy the swim aspect of your race (the pacing, the tactics and the actual racing rather than just mechanically processing the swim movements to help you survive from start to T1). It’s a process, to be sure, but a worthwhile one in the long-term scope of your endurance performance.

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Hal Higdon’s Top 10 Running Tips

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How marvelous is social media? Runners can share views and opinions as well as training tips. Data abounds, questions get answered rapidly, and communities of new and experienced runners can be formed almost immediately.

On my Twitter account, @HigdonMarathon, I regularly tweet about the sport of running. Recently, I discovered that Twitter had ranked my most popular tweets. The most popular post was about longevity and received 53,942 impressions over a period of 28 days. Want to know more of my “top running tips” explained on social. Well, here are my all-time top 10 tweets, with plenty of insight into run training, racing and healthy living. Enjoy!

“To become a good runner, you need to: 1) eat right, 2) lose extra body fat, (3) not smoke and avoid heavy drinking, (4) get adequate sleep, and (5) exercise often. The proper combo of diet and exercise plus preventative health maintenance can extend life by as much as 6 to 9 years!”
“Once you reach 16 miles, you are in long-run territory. That is the point where the psychological and physiological changes kick in.”
“In any long distance race, except at the elite level, you do not beat others, as you might in a mile or a 100-meter dash. Instead, you achieve a personal victory. If others finish in front of or behind you, it is only that their personal victories are more or less than yours.”
“Encourage people to run. Most important, encourage them to start.”
“As your mileage climbs, you need to eat more and more food, not less. In truth, this is why some runners run, and train for marathons. To eat.”
“For first-time marathoners, the goal is to finish—regardless of time. But for vets, it’s not merely the race, but also the preparation that goes into the race: the steady buildup of miles, long runs on Sundays, the inevitable taper, the ceremonial aspects of doing 26.2.”
“Cancel junk from your diet. Get rid of soft drinks and sugar sweets. Rely on complex carbohydrates: potatoes, apples, pasta, bread, et al.”
“The key to improvement is consistency. Just run day after day, week after week, year after year at a level where you do not become injured.”
“If you train properly leading up to your marathon and pick a reasonable pace while running it, there should be no wall.”
“For long runs I recommend you run 30 to 90 OR MORE seconds a mile slower than race pace. The ‘or more’ is meant to emphasize that it is the distance not the speed that counts the most.”

I continue to tweet @HigdonMarathon, several times a day, offering tips to make you a better runner or sometimes stating whatever thoughts enter my mind. It’s fun. Come join me in cyberspace.

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The Triathlete’s 15-Minute Anywhere Strength Routine

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Swim—bike—run—injury? Many triathletes are happy to hammer out their swim, bike and run sessions, but completely neglecting strength and conditioning work drastically increases their risk of injury.

Therefore, even the time-constrained-triathlete cannot afford to exclude strength training, with a specific focus on core movements.

The following exercises below can be incorporated effectively around your other training sessions and can be done pretty much anywhere. Strength designed with the sport-specific movements of triathlon should focus on is stabilization.

Stabilization is the body’s ability to control movement efficiently and provide a stable foundation the limbs can move and perform from. For triathletes, this means training the stability of the lower limbs, torso and shoulders.

It is also worth contemplating what it means to engage your core. When engaging the core muscles during exercising, perform the talk test. Engage your core, and then talk. If you cannot talk and keep the muscles engaged, you were merely increasing the abdominal cavity pressure. If you can talk and maintain that pressure, your core is engaged.

Beneficial results will be seen when the core is engaged during all activity. Biomechanical transfer of momentum through the joints for most gross motor skills (big, powerful movements) tend to initiate from the core. This is true whether throwing a ball, swinging a golf club or pulling a strong swim stroke. It is important to train these muscles through a variety of movements and range of motion.

Strength is important for all athletes, but increasingly so as athletes move into their mid 40s and 50s and beyond.

Exercise
Description
Reps / Sets
Notes

Single-Leg Squat
Begin in a standing position and stay tall as you shift your weight to your left foot. Engage your core to keep your hips level. Keep your eye gaze forward at shoulder height. Shift your weight to the back of your foot and slowly lower down as far as you can and then push back up to the start position. Perform all reps on one leg before switching to the other leg.
6-10 reps / 2-3 sets
Stand in front of a chair or stool that you can use as a consistent depth measurement.

Push-ups
Get into a plank position with your hands under, but slightly wider than your shoulders. Slowly lower to the ground by tucking your elbows close to your body, pause at the bottom and then push back up to the starting position. Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise.
6-10 reps / 2-3 sets
This can be done on your toes or knees.

Glute Bridge
Lie flat on your back, bend your knees and place feet on the floor shoulder width apart. Feet should be just close enough to your buttocks that your fingertips can graze the back of your heels. Drive your hips up as high as possible, squeezing your glutes hard and keeping your belly button drawn in. Take 3 seconds to rise, hold at the top to feel your glutes activate and 3 seconds to lower.
6-10 reps / 2-3 sets
You can increase the level of difficulty of this exercise by performing single-leg glute bridges or you can place your feet up on a bench or box step.

Dead Bug
Lie flat on your back with arms straight up towards on the ceiling and legs bent at 90-degrees. Maintain a flat back against the ground as you exhale and slowly lower you right arm and left leg toward the floor (as far as you can without compromising your back and core position), inhale to return to center and switch sides.
8-12 alternating reps / 2-3 sets
You can increase the challenge of this exercise by lowering your arm and leg all the way to the floor or adding weight.

Single-leg 4 Corner Hops
Stand on one leg with a soft bend in both knees. Create an imaginary square as you hop to each corner. Stick each landing with a running ‘A’ position: opposite knee up, toe dorsi flexed and heel underneath buttocks.
8-12 hops in each direction on each foot / 2-4 sets total (1-2 sets on each side)
Perform this in front of a mirror so you can monitor your form.

I-Y-T Kneeling Front Plank
Start in a kneeling plank position (modified push up position), with hands on the floor under your shoulders, with knees and feet shoulder width apart. Keep your torso solid and your hips square to the ground as you raise your right arm forward and up into the “I” position – perform 8 small lifts and then move your arm down to approximately a 45-degree angle to the “Y” position – perform 8 small lifts, and then move your arm down to 90-degree angle to the “T” position – perform 8 small lifts. Switch sides.
8 reps in each position / 4 sets total (2 sets on each side)
Take a break between the I’s, Y’s and T’s of this exercise if your core position becomes compromised (belly sags, hips hinge).

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article.

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