It can be a challenge to get better at triathlon, especially if you’re weak in one particular discipline. But it can be done. Evie Serventi explains how
Most triathletes will tell you there’s always one section of the race they are looking forward to the most and one discipline they are not so keen on. But, once you can master each discipline and work out how to prioritise sessions, you’ll soon progress. Here are our tips to help keep your performance at its peak.
Set realistic targets
Firstly, sit down and work out how many hours you have available for training per week/month, and factor in work, family and other commitments. Then assess your ability/level regarding swimming, cycling and running, and relate this to the event you are training for. Equally, if you’re a strong swimmer and you are training for an Olympic distance triathlon, you might find you need to prioritise cycling and running, and keep swim sessions ticking over – as improvements on the bike could mean gaining minutes as opposed to seconds in the swim.
Balance technique work and fitness levels
When it comes to improving in each discipline, Level 2 triathlon coach, Kevin Draper (swimbikerungb.com), suggests balancing of technique work alongside (cardio/strength) fitness work is key: ‘I’d suggest dedicating 10 to 15 per cent of most sessions on some aspect of technique (drills, focusing on form). Getting the right balance of types of training, for example, long/easy runs, threshold, intervals, strength, mobility and so on, is also really important.’
Prioritise each discipline
It’s challenging to dedicate equal amounts of time to each discipline and, as mentioned above, you may not need to, depending on where you’re at when you start.
If you struggle to motivate yourself to get out on the bike despite needing to focus on cycling more than swimming/running, organise to ride out with a friend or club member – or group. Some triathletes use club rides or runs as a carrot. If they know they need to work harder on cycling and running, meeting up for a group session is often easier than going out alone. This can leave you with more time to choose swim times that suit you.
Chart your progress
Look at where you have the most opportunity to gain time within the race you are training for, and focus on the discipline that gives you best gains for effort put in.
‘Let’s say your swim is weak and it might take many hours of training to actually improve it. You may be better off simply maintaining it while working hard at your bike to save you several minutes over a 20k ride in a sprint tri,’ says Kevin. ‘It’s also important to factor in the difference it will make if you make a faster pack in a draft legal qualification race so, again, match your ability/level to the race you’re training for.’
As for training for a draft legal race, Kevin says, ‘It may well be worth working hard to improve your swim by 30 seconds and being able to ride in a much faster pack. Net gains would be much bigger.’
For weak swimmers, a couple of lessons can really boost both technique and confidence. In terms of running and cycling, try to increase the length of rides/runs and vary your pace.
‘Mix up a run/ride with 80% easy effort, 10 to 15% threshold, five to 10% anaerobic (fast). Most triathletes don’t do proper threshold training, usually training too much in the grey zone, where it’s challenging to build aerobic base fitness and too easy to gain speed or strength. Adding five 1 – 1.5km reps once a week at threshold with a short recovery will make a big difference to your sprint tri run time,’ suggests Kevin.
And don’t neglect strength and conditioning work – this can really deliver some great improvements in your times and help you to avoid injury.
Get the most out of each session
Focus on where you’ll make the most gains, and explore sessions that prioritise quality over quantity.
‘Experiment with HIIT style training where some short/very hard 10 to 20-minute interval sessions may give you excellent results,’ suggests Kevin. And look at other aspects of performance you can control; sleep, nutrition, stretching and mental training.
Be creative and find ways to incorporate training into everyday life, for example, commute by bike or run part of the way to work. Run with your dog instead of taking it for a walk. Get up earlier to get a 30 minute session in before you start your working day.