February 14, 2018 - Key tips and workouts that will boost your endurance for triathlon specific swim / bike / run.
Most triathletes are now well into a winter build phase with the goal of putting down the groundwork of base fitness. With that base fitness phase, many triathletes also are setting a foundation or improving on their weakest link. I tell athletes this all the time; your sport is to swim, bike, and run. Notice I did not say your “sports”, because we need to treat triathlon as one sport and not three. The first step to improvement is realizing that you do indeed have a weakness. Too many triathletes identify as a runner at heart / cyclist / swimmer, and devote too much time to be the fastest runner / cyclist / swimmer. By no means do you want to lose your competitive advantage, but you may need to allow your best discipline to take a backseat while you focus on the discipline that holds you back the most.
Figuring out which discipline is your weak link is the easy part. Each discipline has its own nuances and aspects you may need to work on the most. Within that discipline, what is holding you back the most? Do you lack: speed, strength, endurance, or is it biomechanical / technical? Depending on what aspect is your weakness, you will have to attack your training differently. Before we dive into some strategies for improvement, I will state that 90% of triathletes need to improve their swimming technique before anything else. ANY equipment is meant as a tool to ADD upon someone who already possesses good stroke mechanics.
· [Bike] Endurance may seem like common sense here, however we see many athletes who just do not have the durability when it comes to those longer distances. Endurance is not just the ability to ride your bike for a long time! How long can you ride at race pace is question we are asking. With that being said building up that race specific endurance is harder than people think. Long rides where a sustained aerobic effort is obviously a good foundation. However, longer efforts 10, 20, 30 minute efforts at a certain percentage of your threshold HR or power are great endurance builders. Start with 2 x 10 min efforts, then 2 x 15. Buildup to those longer sustained intervals. When you can start doing 30 minute or longer repeat intervals you know you have some serious race specific endurance. One of my personal favorites is the tried and true LONG CLIMB. We are blessed in Boulder to be able to head up into the mountains for hours.
· [Run] Endurance for running requires some planning. Hammering away countless miles may work for pure runners, not usually for triathletes. Remember that the running comes after you swim and bike leg in a race. A key workout will be a couple of brick sessions a week. If you are doing a tempo run or speed workout on the bike, add an aerobic run off the bike. This is a great way to build up the resistance to fatigue and boost your aerobic capacity without adding risk of injury. Those intense bike workouts will really stress your muscles leaving you more prone to injury if you choose to run hard afterwards. If you are doing a long ride add a short tempo or fartlek run off the bike. This type of brick is a great way to get your legs turned over off the bike. Your heart rate is typically lower on the bike leg and many have trouble getting their heart rate up during the run. Especially if you are racing Olympic or 70.3 you need to get going out T2 immediately. The long aerobic ride is plenty of long slow training. The shorter faster run is the optimal choice here as you are tapping into your glycolytic system and minimizing the pounding on your body by keeping it shorter.
· [Swim] Endurance for swimming can be damn boring, but it is vital for open water swimming. I am not telling you to go swim for 60 minutes straight. However longer sets such as broken 1500’s or 1000’s are great endurance builders. There are ways to keep yourself focused. Focus on a different technique aspect every 200 or 300. Change up your breathing pattern, or change up your stroke rate! Remember that in the open water nothing in controlled! Keep the paddles off for this and try not to use a pull buoy (hint: use your core! Drive from the hips). It is tempting to throw on all the equipment but that defeats the purpose of the endurance set. Follow up the longer set with some 75’s or 50’s on a tighter interval. This is where paddles / fins and some equipment comes in. Pick up the speed and generate some strength / power. ALWAYS FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE! Another great workout is plain old open water swimming. Not everyone has access to this in training, but nothing can replicate open water swimming like getting a group out there and going for it!
The most important thing is to have fun with it! Going fast is fun!
STAY TUNED IN NEXT WEEK AS WE COVER THE BIO-MECHANICAL / TECHNIQUE ASPECT OF TRIATHLON!
Christopher J Lee
Triathlon Coach @ AJ Baucco Coaching
Former Head Coach CU Boulder Swimming
NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist
FMS Functional Movement Systems Lvl 1
NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist
Stages Cycling Certified