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Bright Spots in Triathlon From COVID Restrictions

Bright Spots in Triathlon From COVID Restrictions

I will confess that I have done my share of complaining about changes over the past year. After all, the COVID restrictions turned my triathlon schedule for 2020 upside down.

Of course, that this is one of my biggest complaints means I have nothing serious about which to grumble. This doesn’t stop me from trying, however.

Knowing that I should learn to accept what I cannot change and not complain, I started thinking of the good that has arisen from these changes.

In this post, I have listed the three I see most clearly. You probably have others. Please add them to the comments at the end.

‘Do all things without complaining or arguments.’

Philippians 2:14

Running on Different Surfaces

Running on uneven surfaces is beneficial for strengthening a wider range of muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and core. It is also good for improving balance. According to one source, off-road running lowers the risk of injury compared to road running.

Related post: Better Balance Makes for a Stronger Triathlete

During recent restrictions, some governments required a mask to be worn when within 6 feet of another person not from within your household. In these situations, I found it simpler to run on trails and grassy park areas away from the sidewalks where pedestrians and leisure walkers travel.

Training without a mask may mean avoiding people. The solution? Run where the people are not.

Training More Aerobically

If you are like most of us, you train differently when people are watching compared to when you are alone. At least one study has shown the power of training with others. Group classes and training partners tend to drive us to train harder.

This can be good.

However, if our goal is to train slowly, then training with a group can cause us to train harder than we ought.

On the other hand, when no one is watching, we are comfortable training more slowly, more aerobically. We can also train with lower weights and more repetitions when no one is watching.

Having the freedom to train aerobically and with lighter weights is good because it protects us from injury.

Shunning the Mass Swim Start

Ask most triathletes and they will tell you that one of the least pleasant parts of triathlon is the mass swim start. You can feel as if you are being attacked by other swimmers as each jockey for position. It is only in the triathlon mass start that swimming can become a contact sport.

One way race directors are creating more space between triathletes is through the time-trial swim start. With this type start, swimmers enter the water at 5 to 10-second intervals. This extends space between racers in the swim which carries over to each of the other legs.

Related post: Triathlon Across the USA: State #42 – Arkansas with time trial swim start.

What Are Positive Changes Over the Past Year?

Are there changes to triathlon from COVID restrictions over the past year that you see as positive? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Leave your comments below.

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Four Symptoms of Impatience In Triathlon Training

by Terry VanderWert 0 Comments
Four Symptoms of Impatience In Triathlon Training

Triathletes are a motivated, driven group. However, we can often be guilty of impatience when training for a triathlon as we strive to become faster or go longer distances.

Younger athletes can get by with more impatience and carelessness in their triathlon training. However, older athletes are less tolerant to training errors. Recovery from training related injuries is longer. Some injuries may even be career ending.

Patience Is A Virtue Especially in Training

When I hear of patience, I am often reminded of the phrase ‘patience is a virtue’.

There are various thoughts on the origin of this phrase. Some attribute it to the early fifth century poem by Prudentius titled Psychomachia. Others credit William Langford in his 14th century poem Piers Plowman.

Students of the Bible can also make a case for this truth being taught in the Old Testament (BC) and the first century church. Old and New Testament verses, including Proverbs 16:32, Ecclesiastes 7:8-9, Isaiah 30:18, and Galatians 5:22-23, teach that patience is not only good, but a source of blessing.

That ‘patience is a virtue’ is timeless. This idea has been passed down through the ages because it is true, including for triathlon training.

What Does Impatience In Triathlon Training Look Like?

You know the feeling during a game of Taboo when the hourglass timer is running out of sand and your partner is contemplating a clue for the challenge word?

That’s the feeling of impatience. But it has nothing to do with triathlon.

However, the following thoughts, mostly based on experience, do apply to triathlon training. They are examples of how impatience can rear its ugly head in training.

1. Going Too Hard Too Soon

My run training has suffered over the past few winter months. Gyms require masks throughout the visit, something I cannot and will not do while running. On top of this, it’s too cold for me to run outside.

So, when I traveled to a warm climate for a few weeks this winter, I was ready to run.

I have lost count of the number of times I have strained a muscle or been too sore the next day to run. On this trip, however, I pledged to exercise patience.

During the first two weeks, I resisted running too fast, instead sticking to aerobic base building described in a recent post.

Sure enough, I saw the results I had hoped for. After two weeks of aerobic training, I was ready to introduce some intervals and long runs.

Patience is important because the quickest path to injury is to do too much too quickly.

2. Buying the Latest Gadget, Supplement, Or Gear To Make You Faster

Our sport has caught the attention of some brilliant marketers. Many promise that the latest supplement, pair of shoes, bike wheels, or gadget will make us faster.

During the earlier days of my triathlon journey, I succumbed to these messages. I still have some of these items in my closet, which I no longer use.

Of course, we need some basic gear to be competitive. For example, a heart rate monitor has made my training more effective by forcing me to ‘go slow’ while I build aerobic fitness.

Also, swapping my 18-speed Giant hybrid bike, which I used in my first triathlon, for a properly fitted, entry level triathlon specific bike (tri-bike) has made a tremendous difference in my bike times. Most of the improvement from the bike came from the difference in gearing between the two bikes.

After this, I quickly experience the law of diminishing returns. Gear that will help a younger, professional athlete shave seconds from his/her time is unnecessary for me, an amateur triathlete who is solely competing in the sport for fun and as a focus for staying physically fit.

For most of beginner triathletes, spending a week’s wages to shave weight from the bike will have less impact on our bike times than strengthening the relevant muscles or losing a few pounds.

That’s not just my idea. While writing this post, I received an email with a link to a TrainingPeaks article titled You Need a Stronger Body, Not a Better Bike.

The article summed up my sentiments. Most of us will get the greatest gains in performance from increasing our strength and endurance, not from spending on the latest fad or buying more expensive equipment.

Patience in spending on supplements, sensors, and equipment is valuable. There are no shortcuts in triathlon training. Consistency and discipline win the race.

 

3. Not Resting Properly or Enough

In a post on a rest and recovery for senior triathletes, Jim Chapman shared the benefits he has seen from increasing the amount of rest he gets. The patience to listen to your body or, in Jim’s case to his coach, is rewarded in the long run.

Driving ourselves too hard without proper rest can quickly lead to injury or, at a minimum, poorer results from the training.

Rest does not have to mean sitting on the couch watching movies. Cross-training that allows hard-worked muscles to repair can provide rest without sacrificing fitness.

Patience leads to a well recovered, adaptable body.

4. Not Sticking With Your Plan

If you are self-coached, like me, you may relate to this one. There are many free (e.g. library books, blog posts) or inexpensive resources for developing a triathlon training plan.

However, when improvement is slow, there is a tendency to change the plan frequently, even in small ways.

Then, if you are training alone, without a partner or as part of a group, the pressure to tweak the plan can be overwhelming.

There can be legitimate reasons to change a plan, especially if it is not working. However, we don’t want to be the proverbial dog who jumps when he hears the word ‘squirrel’.

Patience gives a solid plan a chance to produce results.

Patience Truly Is A Virtue In Triathlon Training

If you are beginning, patience is vital to improving your performance and gaining confidence while minimizing the risk of injury.

If you are an experienced triathlete, patience is a vital ingredient to training that leads to stronger performance. Patience leads to a strong finish.

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.

Ecclesiastes 7:8

How Does Impatience Appear In Your Training?

What have you learned about patience during training?

Are there parts of your training with which you struggle in your training?

 

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Better Balance Makes A Stronger Triathlete

Better Balance Makes A Stronger Triathlete

Does better balance make for a stronger triathlete? I believe it does.

In the post titled “Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside” published last month, I wrote about my upcoming skate skiing lesson. Why skate skiing? Because it is great cross-training for the bike leg of triathlon.

I completed the lesson, finishing with a game plan from the instructor for further developing my skate skiing technique. Before the second, solo outing with the skate skis, I watched a few videos with drills for beginners.

The videos reinforced what I had learned during the lesson, that skate skiing requires much better balance than classic cross country skiing. Before moving from the practice area to the course, I must learn to balance while gliding on one ski longer than I am currently able.

How do I improve my balance? That is the question I have been trying to answer and the subject of this post.

What is Balance?

According to the non-profit VeDA, “Balance is achieved and maintained by a complex set of sensorimotor control systems that include sensory input from vision (sight), proprioception (touch), and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation); integration of that sensory input; and motor output to the eye and body muscles.”

Essentially, balance involves the following three processes:

  1. Signals from inputs (eyes, ears, touch, etc.) travel to and are processed by the brain.
  2. Signals from the brain travel to the muscles required to maintain balance.
  3. These muscles contract as needed to stabilize the body.

For good balance, these processes must occur quickly and efficiently.

Yoga is one way to develop better balance and become a stronger triathlete.
Yoga is one way to develop better balance. Practicing poses like the one shown produces better balance and makes for a stronger triathlete. Picture from Jessica Perkins.

How Does Age Affect Balance?

Balance tends to decline with age, beginning as early as age 40. According to the USA’s National Institutes of Health, a problem with balance is among the most common reasons older adults seek help from a doctor. 

Poor balance can have many causes. These include disease, loss of eyesight, reaction to medications, changes in the skeletal system, and loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility.

Muscle strength is key to balance for a healthy, active adult. Strong muscles allow the signals from the brain to produce quick response. Conversely, if muscles are weak, they may not be able to provide adequate or fast enough response to maintain balance.

The foot, which can also change with age, is critical to balance. Even a relatively minor change, such as growth of a bunion, has been shown to affect balance.

Posture, which affects one’s center of gravity, often becomes poorer with age through loss of core muscle strength. If our body’s center of gravity is not directly over the support position, we are not balanced. With poor posture, we are less stable and more likely to fall.

How Can Balance Be Improved?

Assuming no other medical conditions, balance is primarily related to the neuromuscular system. Therefore, the current training program can be modified to (1) strengthen any overlooked muscles that affect balance and (2) train the nervous system.

Sensory systems

According to an article on the NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association) website, adaptation of the nervous system occurs more quickly than does building of muscle mass. Early in a strength training program, the ability to lift greater weight is due more to adaptation of the nervous system than to increase in muscle mass.

The Law of Facilitation is in play when a signal from the brain to a muscle or set of muscles passes through a given pathway, excluding other paths. As the movement is repeated, the resistance in the ideal path becomes progressively smaller with the number of repetitions. The body continues to adapt and respond more efficiently until the movement becomes automatic.

Through this process of adaptation, we are creating what is often called ‘muscle memory‘. Through practice, even complex movements are made with little or no conscious effort.

Muscle strength

Several posts, including Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors, document that the rate of muscle loss increases with age. Our goal is to reduce the rate of muscle loss. As noted earlier, one component of a program to improve balance is to strengthen the muscles affecting balance.

While the focus of most strength training for triathlon is the larger muscles (gluteus maximus, hamstring, quadriceps), smaller muscles (gluteus medius, soleus) are often ignored and lose strength without us realizing it.

Since these smaller muscles are important for stabilizing the hip and knee when standing on one leg, they are important for balance and, therefore, skate skiing and ice skating as well as biking and running.

Posture

My wife is a stickler for good posture. After many years of ignoring her comments about my posture, I now encourage her to point out when I am slouching or not sitting tall. She relishes the assignment and is quite good at it.

Exercises To Develop Better Balance and Become a Stronger Triathlete

Through a ski instructor, physical therapist, and several websites, I have developed a routine that I expect will lead to better balance for skate skiing.

The following series of exercises is performed three days per week. They are add-ons to regular strength training, which includes a series of five core strengthening exercises and a new exercise targeting the gluteus medius.

Single leg balance

Skitrax has produced a video demonstrating three ‘dry land’ drills for improving balance. The video shows these drills; I have added the duration for each set.

  • Single leg stand – stand on one leg with the knee bent slightly and the other leg off the ground and stationary. Hold for one minute on each leg. Once this becomes too easy with your eyes fixed on a point in the distance, try it with your eyes open but looking to your right or left. Then try it with your eyes closed.
  • Single leg swing – stand on one leg with the knee bent slightly and the other leg swinging forward and backward. Move your arms in combination with your leg. Repeat one minute on each leg.
  • Single leg dip – stand on one leg with the other out to the side, then bend the knee of the leg on which you are balancing to dip down and return to standing upright with your knee bent slightly. Repeat for one minute on each leg for 10-15 repetitions.
  • Single leg hop scotch – hop on one leg, landing inside an array of five real or imaginary rings and return backward to the start. Switch legs and repeat. Maintain standing balance at the end of each repetition.

Expect these to become easier as your body adapts to the position and the stabilizing muscles become stronger.

Single leg forward jump and hold

To even more closely mimic the movements in skate skiing than those of the single leg hop scotch, Peter from McBike & Sport suggests hopping forward and out onto one foot and holding this position for one to two seconds to simulate maintaining balance during the glide. Repeat the sequence on the other foot for one repetition. I am working up to repeating this 50 times for each foot.

Check-out the video demonstration of this drill.

Better Balance Makes A Stronger, Less Injury Prone Runner

This project started out as an effort to find a better, more enjoyable way of training for the bike leg during the winter without sitting on a trainer or moving to a warmer climate or buying a fat tire bike.

What I have learned is that better balance will also help in the run leg. Running is effectively a matter of jumping onto one leg and balancing on it for a short time then repeating this on the other leg. Good balance of each leg minimizes fatigue and injury from running.

Essentially, running is a series of single leg squat jumps, occurring quickly and repetitively. 

The Importance of Single Leg Balance

What’s Next?

Over the next several weeks, I will be working to improve balance so that I can get back out on the snow with better skate skiing form. I will keep you posted on what I learn.

Meanwhile, please share your thoughts on the exercises I have added to my routine.

Also, I would love to hear what you have done or are currently doing to maintain or improve your balance.

Share your comments below.

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Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

Triathlon Bike Training When You Can’t Ride Outside

How does training for the bike leg of triathlon occur when you can’t ride outside? There are more opportunities than you might imagine.

It’s Getting Cold Outside

I woke this morning to an outside temperature of 11°F (-12°C) and new snow. On top of this, the fitness centers are closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.

I don’t have, nor do I intend to purchase, a fat tire bike for riding in the snow.

Fat tire bikes with studded tires are preferred for a winter triathlon.

So, how can I maintain fitness for the bike leg of triathlons in which I hope to compete next spring?

There are plenty of options. While these may not be as good as going to a warm climate where I can ride outside, they still take away any excuses.

In this post, I will highlight the training I intend to use over the next several months to prepare for my next races.

Bike Trainer

The most common way of developing bike fitness without riding outside is to use a trainer. In most cases, you connect your road bike or triathlon bike to one of many styles of trainer.

One benefit of using a trainer is that you develop and maintain a familiarity with the bike you will use for your next triathlon.

Trek SpeedConcept triathlon bike connected to a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer for bike training when I can't ride on roads or trails.
Trek SpeedConcept on a Saris CycleOps Fluid2 trainer.

When the fitness centers re-open, I will also use their stationary bikes both for individual sessions and classes. I prefer the latter.

My trainer session, usually one hour, is divided into a few periods. Each segment is designed to work on a different goal. Breaking up the session also helps to prevent boredom. (Trainer sessions are also a great time to catchup on one of my favorite podcasts.)

A common one hour trainer session involves:

  • Warm up – 10 minutes at a moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.
  • Single leg drill – 5 repetitions of 1 minute per leg at 80-90 rpm cadence – 10 minutes total. (NOTE: This may not be advisable for some trainers, but is for the Saris CycleOps Fluid2.)
  • Intervals – 5 repetitions of 4 minutes in the highest gear in which I can maintain 60 rpm cadence followed by 2 minutes easy at 80-90 rpm cadence – 30 minutes total.
  • Cool down – 10 minutes at moderate pace, 80-90 rpm cadence.

You can find many workouts to match your current fitness level and specific goals on-line or in books like “The Big Book of Bicycling” by Emily Furia and the Editors of Bicycling.

Advantages

  • Safer than riding in traffic or in the aero position on winding trails shared with pedestrians, especially in the winter but really any time of the year.
  • Efficient – A rule of thumb is that one hour on a trainer represents two hours riding on the road because you aren’t (or shouldn’t be) coasting on the trainer.
  • Some training, such as single leg drills, are best done on a trainer.
  • Accessible within your house or apartment.

Disadvantages

  • Static trainers don’t help to develop stability and coordination or bike handling skills.
  • Can be terribly boring. Some call these sessions the ‘purgatory’ of bike training.

Strength and Endurance Exercises

Strength training throughout the year should be a regular part of a triathlete’s training. I recommend Mark Allen’s program, especially if your fitness center is open.

However, if it isn’t or you want to give extra attention to strength training for the bike leg, look at the TrainingPeaks routine.

Except for the row, the exercises that involve weights can be done with homemade alternatives such as a weighted backpack (kettlebell) and plastic jugs filled with water (8 pounds per gallon/1 kilogram per liter) or other materials (beans, sand, coins) depending on the desired weight.

Advantages

  • Allows you to focus on strengthening the weakest areas for the greatest improvement.
  • Can be done from the convenience of home or at a fitness center.

Disadvantages

  • The only disadvantage of which I am aware is that doing exercises without the benefit of a coach or training partner can lead to less than optimal results because of poor form.

Cross-Country Skiing

cross-country skiing is effective cross training for cycling
Cross-country skiing is a great way to cross train for cycling while enjoying fresh air and sun. It also helps prepare for a winter triathlon involving running, biking, and skiing.

In the northern USA state where I live, Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, and ice skating are popular winter sports. I enjoy both skiing and skating, though have not skied for over 20 years.

Nearly every county park in our area has groomed cross-country ski trails. Larger parks also rent ski equipment (skis, boots, and poles) and offer group and personalized instruction.

Cross-country skiing produces endurance and strength for both the large muscles and the smaller muscles that support the larger muscles. Brett Sutton, coach of world champion triathletes, calls cross-country skiing “the hardest overall body workout out there”.

Downhill skiing is also good for building lower body and core muscle strength and for improving balance and coordination. However, downhill skiing does not yield the endurance benefits of cross-country skiing. Also, it much less accessible and more expensive than cross-country skiing.

“Nordic skiing, or cross-country skiing, is also great cross training for cycling. While downhill skiing brings more strength gains than endurance, Nordic skiing brings more endurance gains along with the added development of supporting muscles.”

ILoveBicycling.com

Classical vs. Skate Skiing

Today, there are two types of cross-country skiing – classical and skate-skiing.

Classical cross-country skiing involves a kick and glide motion. Skis remain parallel to each other, unless ‘snow plowing’. The classical cross-country ski courses are characterized by the parallel ruts in which the skis glide.

Cross-country skiing can also be done on fresh snow, that is, without a groomed trail. Most snow covered walking or bike paths are a candidate for classical skiing.

In contrast, the side-to-side motion in skate-skiing is like that of ice skating. Therefore, it uses muscles even more similar to those for pedaling.

One disadvantage of skate-skiing is that it requires a groomed trail. This makes it less flexible in where it can be done. Skate-skiing is also more difficult because it requires greater balance and coordination. However, it is faster than classical skiing.

Advantages

  • Provides both endurance and strength benefits.
  • Accessible – classical cross-country skiing can be done at your nearest park, golf course, or snow-covered lake. (Be sure the golf course is open for skiing and the ice on the lake is thick enough.)
  • Relatively inexpensive, especially compared to downhill skiing.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air and, hopefully, the sun. Think Vitamin D.

Disadvantages

  • While cross-country skiing uses many of the same muscle groups as cycling, you may put more strain on certain muscles and tendons than when biking. To avoid injury, start slow and increase distance gradually.
  • A beginning skier is likely to fall. Expect it and try to relax as you fall to avoid significant injury.

Note

From the reading I did in preparing this post, I have taken the first steps in scheduling cross-country ski lessons at a nearby county park. I am hoping to learn to skate-ski.

Ice Skating

Most cities in the northern climates, large or small, have an outdoor ice skating rink. Elsewhere, given the popularity of ice hockey, many of the more populated areas in the USA and Canada have indoor ice arenas.

Ice skating, like skate-skiing, is great for working smaller muscles that are often overlooked but valuable for biking performance. It is also great for improving balance, flexibility, and coordination.

Ice skating is an effective way to strengthen small muscles often overlooked in strength training yet important for cycling performance.

Advantages

  • Great for strengthening leg and abdominal muscles. Skating is also reported to increase the flexibility of more joints than cycling and running by strengthening ligaments and connective tissue around these.
  • Low impact, unless you jump or spin (or fall often).
  • Relatively inexpensive, often free (after purchasing or renting skates) if you live in a climate where outside temperatures are consistently below freezing. Even small towns typically have an outdoor ice skating rink open to the public.
  • Gets you outside, into the fresh air.

Disadvantages

  • Ice skating requires good ankle strength (which you probably have as a runner). However, you may put more strain on some muscles and tendons of the feet and ankles than when biking. As with any new sport, start slowly and increase gradually.
  • Expect to fall, especially as you begin. At least that’s my experience. However, since I am usually bundled up for the cold, I have seldom been injured and then only with a bump or bruise to my ego.

No Excuses!

None of us has an excuse related to weather for not continuing to train for the bike leg of a triathlon throughout the winter. Even if I stay in the north part of the USA, there are plenty of opportunities inside and outside my house.

Some may actually be better than riding outside.

How Do You Train for Triathlon Biking When You Can’t Ride Outside?

How do you continue training for the bike when you cannot ride outside? Share your comments below.

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