Rest and Recovery: Why It’s Important for Senior Triathletes

How do senior triathletes rest while working to become more competitive? Or show our kids that we really are not old? How do we train efficiently when we have a much lower tolerance for training errors?

“Successful runners are those who have recovered the best.”1

Rest A Main Pillar of Senior Triathlete Training

The advice I repeatedly hear from senior triathletes and those who coach them is that we need to make rest an important part of our training plan. A podcast on training for endurance sports for those over age 50 listed ‘Rest’ as one of four major elements in training for those over 50.

Those committed to improving their performance ‘at all cost’ will ignore this advice or interpret it to fit their plan. Those less committed or motivated can use this advice to hit the snooze button a few more times or to take a few more days away from training.

Meanwhile, those of us somewhere in between can be left scratching our heads, wondering how to apply this all-important advice.

Where Does Rest Fit Into Training for the Senior Triathlete?

According to the Furman Institute1, “train hard and become fatigued, then rest and recover while your body adapts to an increased workload. Repeating this cycle of overload, fatigue, recovery, and adaptation makes you fitter and faster. However, there is a limit to one’s capacity to endure and adapt. The progressive overload must be done gradually.”

We can picture this process through a circular flow diagram (below).

picture of the circular relationship between overload, refueling, and rest in an effective triathlon training program
Circular relationship between training overload, refueling, and rest

Overload includes the effects of training exercise. However, overload has other sources, including those that come with living, such as our physical environment (for example, altitude, humidity, temperature extremes), colds and allergies, dietary choices, travel, stress at work, and personal relationships).

As illustrated in the above flow diagram, the combined overload influences our nutrition (refueling) needs and needs for rest and recovery. Balancing the three components of the flow diagram while progressively increasing overload will lead to continuous improvement in fitness and performance.

What Is the Correct Way for the Masters Triathlete to Rest?

Triathlon coaches repeatedly write that rest should be scheduled and structured just as are the workouts. Rest and recovery must be considered part of the overall plan and treated in a disciplined way.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the initial phase of ‘falling to sleep’ is followed by a state in which our muscles relax. During this phase, blood supply to the muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, and hormones, such as growth hormone, are released. The growth hormone contributes to building muscles stressed by hard workouts.

To achieve quality sleep, these processes must occur uninterrupted. If interrupted, muscle repair, tissue repair, and the release of growth hormones is incomplete.

One way to achieve consistency is to schedule sleep. By ‘schedule’, we mean providing the time and environment for both the optimum quantity of sleep and uninterrupted, quality sleep.

Rest is Sleep and Much More

Sleep is an essential component of rest.

However, rest doesn’t have to mean retiring to the sofa. It can also involve exercising the recovered muscles used in one sport, while giving time for repair and development of specific muscles and joints used in another sport.

“Active, yet low-intensity, exercise such as non-weight-bearing swimming, kayaking, and cycling allows muscles stressed from running to recover. It is during the recovery that the adaptation from the training stimulus (the hard run) occurs. That adaptation, or improvement, helps you run faster.”1

swimming is a favorite form of rest and recovery for senior triathletes
Cross-training is an important component of rest. By definition, cross-training involves primarily muscles other than those needing rest. Swimming is one of the favorite forms of cross-training used by triathlon coaches.

Proper fueling is important. There are many who report that post-exercise fueling requires protein. However, this is not necessarily true, especially for our day-in, day-out workouts. High quality carbohydrates will also be effective in replacing our glycogen stores. The human body is capable of providing the amino acids for repair of the limited muscle damage.

Advice from Dr. Jeff Sankoff is to avoid alcohol during the recovery phase of exercise. During his December 9, 2019 podcast, Dr. Sankoff reported that “the synthesis of new glycogen is often impaired in the presence of alcohol”.

How Do I Know If I Am Getting Enough Rest?

Rest must be proportional to the amount of overload. An imbalance in either direction (too much or too little rest) will lead to less than optimum results.

The major factors affecting the rate of recovery from training overload are:

  • Age
  • Fitness level
  • Exercise background and experience
  • Stress from life (work, family)
  • Health level
  • Diet – nutrition with respect to the body’s requirements during rest and exercise
  • Sleep – quantity and quality

Imbalance in the amount of rest will be indicated by:

  • mood disturbance,
  • irritability,
  • sleep disturbance,
  • increased susceptibility to colds,
  • appetite changes, and
  • a struggle to maintain athletic performance.

If an imbalance of rest symptoms persists even if you have taken steps to try to get a good amount of rest, you may have an underlying condition, such as stress or anxiety. You may wish to talk to your doctor about it and they can recommend a treatment such as therapy or CBD oil. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

According to Joe Friel in ‘The Triathlete’s Training Bible’2, the importance of a correct balance of training, nutrition, and rest becomes increasingly important with age. Younger people can get away with more impatience or carelessness in training.

However, seniors have a much lower tolerance for training errors. The price of mistakes in rest and recovery among seniors can be much greater than for the younger competitors.

Seniors have a much lower tolerance for training errors.

A Testimonial for Rest

In 2013, I met Jim Chapman at the Rocky Gap Triathon in Maryland.

After the race, Jim described how important rest had become to his training.

“One of the hardest things to learn while training for this sport is knowing when to rest. I was self coached for many years and often found myself going two or more weeks without a day off and then I would collapse.

Since I had a goal last year to compete at the National Championship race in Vermont, I hired a coach, a nationally ranked professional triathlete who lives in the area. She has been adamant in making me take more rest days. It is not uncommon for me to take two rest days in a week now. And as you can see, I am racing better and faster.”

For this 70+ year triathlete, more frequent rest had become part of a strategy for improving his race performance.

Rest for the Senior Triathlete

Senior Triathletes should take advantage of the wisdom that comes with age in their training.

Increase overload slowly. Remember that overload is the sum of training and other stresses. Refuel properly. Rest through sleep and cross-training.

Remember, life is more like a marathon than a sprint. Plan to finish strong.


  1. Pierce, Bill, et al., “Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program”, 2007.
  2. Friel, Joel, “The Triathlete’s Training Bible, 3rd Edition”, 2009.

This post was first published on April 19, 2016 and last updated on July 26, 2023.

Five Factors For Selecting a Bike For Triathlon

Selecting a bike for triathlon, especially for the beginner triathlete, can feel overwhelming. However, considering a few factors will make the process simpler and less stressful.

In this post, I will summarize the factors I used to choose the bikes for my first sprint triathlons.

Factors in Choosing a Bike

If you have visited a bike shop recently, you will find a mind-boggling number of bike styles. The many options target a range of budgets for different riders, terrains, and activities.

Selecting the bike you will you use for your triathlons is an individual decision. The following five factors can be useful for making this selection.

  • Cost
  • Comfort
  • Construction
  • Course
  • Commitment

Why Ride in the Aero Position?

Compared to other activities involving bike riding, the conventional (swim/bike/run) triathlon involves the triathlete completing the bike leg, getting off the bike, taking off their helmet, putting on running shoes, and setting off for a run of at least several miles (kilometers).

The amount of work done by the running muscles, primarily the quadriceps and hamstrings, during the bike leg and the time that it takes for the running muscles to adjust to running is key to the run speed and one’s overall performance (time) in the race.

For this reason, the triathlon specific bike, or tri-bike, is designed to be ridden in an aerodynamic (also known as “aero”) position as pictured below. 

The aero position is one which the rider is in a forward position with forearms resting on pads mounted to the handlebars. Riding in the aero position minimizes the work required of the main running muscles during the bike leg.

Ironman-Wisconsin-bike for selecting a triathlon bike post
The design of the triathlon-specific bike places the rider in a forward, aerodynamic (“aero”) position to reduce the work required of the muscles most required in the run leg.

Despite this, one will see many types of bikes in a triathlon, especially for shorter races. After all, most of us take part in triathlon to remain active and fit, not necessarily to set race records.

So, with that background, let’s review the factors in selecting the bike.


The good news is that you probably have access to a bike for your next triathlon. If you do not already have a bike, you may borrow one from a friend or family member.  

For my first triathlon, I used an existing hybrid bike. Truth-be-told, I had never seen a tri-bike before this race. I had also never ridden a road bike.

Giant hybrid bicycle
A hybrid bike is a suitable alternative to a triathlon-specific or road bike for triathlon, especially for shorter distances. However, expect to be passed by many racers.

If you decide you want to compete seriously to win a race or place within your age group, then you will want a triathlon bike or at least a well-outfitted road bike with aerobars.

In this case, the bike will easily become the most expensive piece of race gear. Price tags for new triathlon specific bikes generally start at four figures. In fact, it is easy to find bikes with five-figure prices.


In my experience, riding a triathlon bike is not nearly as comfortable as riding a hybrid bike. I can say the same for the road bike compared to the hybrid.

I have changed the seat on my triathlon bike from the one with which it was first fitted. This has made the ride more comfortable (less numbness in the seated area).  However, it is still not as comfortable as the seat on my hybrid bike. I often joke that riding the hybrid is like biking while sitting on the couch.

Getting comfortable riding in the aero position can be a challenge. For a triathlon bike, riding in the aero position is, for practical purposes, required since the shift levers are at the far ends of the aero bars. For this reason, I rarely ride my triathlon bike on winding trails and never on trails with pedestrian traffic.

On the other hand, the triathlon bike is much faster than a hybrid bike and saves the legs for running.


As summarized in the table below, factors such as distance of the bike leg or ride, rider weight, and riding frequency can influence the optimum material for construction of the bike frame.

Aluminum or aluminium1 Light and stiff—ideal for shorter distances and hill climbingLighter weight riders and anyone with aches and pains, such as a sore back, will feel roughness in the road.
SteelStrong and elastic (flexible) – good shock absorbency, ideal for long rides.Relatively heavy, though in the context of the weight of the rider plus bike, this is a minor weakness.
Carbon fiberBest shock absorbency – good for long distance rides and riders with sore backs.Flexibility can result in loss of power being transferred to the bike, a more important factor for hilly rides.
Expensive to repair.
TitaniumGood shock absorbency for rough roads and stiffness for efficient transfer of power to the bike.Expensive.

1 This is the spelling most non-American English speakers will recognize.

The construction of the wheels and drivetrain and brake components can also affect the performance of the bike through their weight and reliability.


The previous section highlighted how the smoothness (or roughness) of the race course affects the optimum material. For a typical spring/summer/fall triathlon with the bike course on roads, the next variable in selecting a road or tri bike for triathlon is the size of hills included in the course.

The ideal bike for hilly courses is low weight and has gearing ratios consistent with the grade of hills. Without the correct gear ratios, one can quickly ‘run out of gas’ when climbing steep hills. (In my experience, this also occurs even sooner at a higher elevation.)

For races with off-road courses, a mountain bike or fat tire bike (‘fat bike’, for short) are best. If the bike course is on sand or snow, the ‘fat bike’ is the best option.

You can see fat bikes in action at the 2016 USAT National Winter Triathlon Championship. While fat bikes were best for this course, some racers still used road bikes.

Fat bikes have grown in popularity for their comfort and all-terrain, all-weather use. At an open house of my favorite Minnesota bike shop, I was told that nearly everyone working in the store now rides a fat bike year round.


Buying a triathlon bike represents a commitment to the sport.

After my first triathlon, I decided to get a different, faster bike. During a training ride before shopping for the bike, I spoke with a person from my local bike shop. His advice – which I am convinced is correct – is that if you are looking for a general purpose bike (triathlon plus rides with the family), get a road bike. If however, you want to get the best performance in the bike leg of a triathlon, get a triathlon bike.

Make Sure Your Bike Fits

Selecting a bike for triathlon that fits properly is critical. Having an expensive triathlon bike without the seat, aerobar rests, or other main components adjusted for your specific body proportions will be frustrating.   Riding a bike that does not properly fit the rider can even be painful.

As I have gained experience and flexibility, I have also had the bike fit checked and adjusted.

What Questions Do You Have About Selecting A Bike For Triathlon?

If you are considering a new bike, what questions do you have?

If you are an experienced triathlete, what bike do you use for triathlons? What do you recommend for those starting the sport?

Leave your comments below.

Originally published on March 19, 2016 and updated on March 17, 2021.

Advice on Swim Training for Senior Triathletes

For seniors, swim training is a tremendous way to build endurance while reducing the potential for overuse injuries.  While many of us are getting back into the water as pools and beaches reopen, it can feel like relearning to swim.   On the other hand, since we are more or less starting over, we might as well do so with attention to the basics.  For swimming, this includes our stroke, kick, and breathing.

With this in mind, it seemed an excellent time to update a post about swim training for seniors from the earliest days of

If you have questions about swim training as you start or restart swimming, please share these in the Comments section below.  I will get you an answer – guaranteed.


Introducing Swim Coach, Bob Jennings

During each visit to The Villages, Florida, I am reminded how active its residents are.  According to its official website, The Villages is “America’s Healthiest Hometown”.  It’s difficult to argue with this, given the number of fitness facilities, athletic activities, and clubs including those for swimming, biking, running, and triathlon.

During one visit to The Villages, I came across an article in The Villages Daily Sun (picture above) describing a resident’s return to swimming after quadruple-bypass surgery.   In attempting to track down the gentleman profiled in the article, the article’s author introduced me to Bob Jennings.

Bob has been a lifelong swimmer, even swimming in college.  He began to coach swimming in 1973 and has continued to this day, currently serving as coach of The Villages Aquatic Swim (VAST) team.  In mid-2020, the VAST team has 80 members covering ages from the 50s to 90s.  The roster contains two members in their 90s, three in the 85 to 89 age group, and four in the 80 to 84 age group.

In addition to being a swimmer, Bob has been a longtime runner and has competed in triathlon since its earliest days.

Open water swim

The Villages Triathlon Club organizes group swims and practice triathlons, complete with an open water swim kayak for safety purposes.


Bob’s Thoughts on Swim Training for Seniors

I spoke with Bob Jennings to get his views on questions that many senior triathletes have about swim training.  Below, I summarize our conversation.

Senior Triathletes: From your experience as a masters swim coach, what are the differences between training for younger and older (50+) swimmers?

Bob Jennings: Younger swimmers tend to have better breath control, are stronger, and heal more quickly. They also have less time given family and career obligations. On the other hand, older swimmers tend to be better at listening to their bodies. They also have more time for rest, more flexible schedules to ensure they complete their training sessions, and are more eager to learn and to perfect their strokes.


Restarting Swimming After a Long Break

Senior Triathletes: If someone has not been swimming for a while, where do they start?

Bob Jennings: Get into the pool. It is best to join a group such as Masters Swimming, an adult ‘learn to swim’ program, or another workout group for the benefits of a ‘hands-on’ coach who can view your stroke and define a customized training plan. The work-out group will provide camaraderie and support to encourage you as you progress and for those times you may not feel like training.

Plan to start small and gradually build up, remembering to listen to your body.  Initially, a new swimmer will swim for a short amount of time to avoid injury.   The distance swam will gradually increase in later sessions.

“I don’t want my swimmers to be sore.” Bob Jennings, VAST Swim Coach


Senior Triathletes: As one progresses from a beginner, what are the main goals of swim training for a senior triathlete?

Bob Jennings: The goals are to improve the efficiency of your stroke and build endurance. Swim practices include a mix of long swims for endurance and shorter sprint sets for speed. When not in the pool, we attend swim meets with college and professional swimmers and talk to the swimmers about their strokes. I also recommend weightlifting three times per week. Use low weight with high repetitions to avoid shoulder injury.

Related Post: See Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes for swimming-specific exercises.

We also encourage our triathletes to learn strokes other than just freestyle. In triathlon, you can use other strokes like backstroke and breaststroke if you become tired or are ‘getting beat up’.


A Resource for Swim Gear

A swim coach will also provide guidance on swim gear for swimmers and triathletes.  For example, here is a more recent exchange between Bob and me.

Senior Triathletes: What can I do to ensure my swim cap stays on during a swim? Today, my cap came off after about 900 yards.  Some swim caps provided by race organizers have come off within even shorter distances.

Bob Jennings: Try a different size cap to keep it on your head.


It’s Never Too Late for Seniors to Begin Swim Training

Senior Triathletes: Any final comments?

Bob Jennings: It is never too late to start swimming and you are never too old to start.


What If There is Not a Swim Club Near Me?

What if you don’t have access to a swim coach like Bob Jennings? There are other options, with varying degrees of the personal touch given by Bob.

First, many community centers and fitness centers offer individual and group swim training classes.  For example, in a post titled Making Fitness a Lifestyle – Jeanne Minder’s Story, Jeanne talks about swim training classes she leads at her local community center.

A second option is Tri Swim Coach.  Coach Kevin Koskella provides video training tools, video analysis of your swim stroke, and customized training for swimmers and triathletes.


What Swimming-Related Questions Do You Have?

Do you have a question about swimming for Bob Jennings or one of our other Senior Triathletes?

Add it to the Comments below and I will get you an answer..


This post was originally published on March 13, 2016.  It was edited on July 16, 2020 to include current information about The Villages Aquatic Swim Team and Bob Jennings’s latest advice on a personal swimming question.



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