Have you ever wondered why triathlon training sometimes never seems to make you faster? Perhaps you’re at a plateau, or even seeing increasingly worse race times or performances. Maybe you just wrapped up the last season, and you simply feel like you didn’t perform as well as you could have.
If this describes you, then it is entirely possible that you’ve committed one of the top 11 triathlon training mistakes that the experts over at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy have identified. Here’s the list.
1. Never Throwing Curveballs
This error is committed by the triathletes who get into a “comfort rut” – simply mindlessly performing the exercises and workouts that allow them to mount a bike, strap on the running shoes, pull on the swimsuit or head to the gym and just cruise with no focus. They never throw a triathlon training curveball at their body, so their body eventually becomes incredibly efficient at these same ol’ workouts. Sure, you should occasionally perform tried and true workouts that allow you to create a benchmark to identify progress in your training, but you don’t want to do those workouts *all the time*. Here’s a simple fix: this week, pick one training session for each skill (swim/bike/run/resistance training) and throw a complete triathlon training curveball at your body by randomly choosing a workout out of a magazine, article, or website. Do it, and see how your body responds. Nine times out of ten, a random workout that keeps your body guessing will make you leaner, stronger and faster.
2. Exercising to Eat
If the goal of your triathlon training is simply to burn calories, so that you can get to your next meal or snack – then boy, are you in trouble! What happens is that this mentality creates a weekly slog of performing workouts that focus not on performance, but rather on “beating up your body”. The result is injury, overtraining, mental fatigue, and boredom, along with a continuous vicious cycle of eating too much, then over-exercising to fix your errors. Try this: eat a healthy diet, stop when you are 80% full, and then completely forget about burning calories during your workout. Instead, focus on a specific performance goal for that triathlon training session, whether it be overspeed, muscular endurance, power, or strength. Your triathlon training will instantly become more meaningful and rewarding.
3. High Carb Diet from the 80’s
Are you still eating bagels with jam for breakfast, shoveling pasta down on a Friday night to get ready for your weekend long triathlon training, or eating big bowls of cereal for breakfast? This type of high carb fueling has been heavily associated with increasing your chronic disease risk factors, causing inflammation, GI distress and poor performance. Good fats and lean proteins will serve you much better. Next time you’re at a coffee shop, grab a bag of almonds and a cup of green tea, rather than a coffee and biscotti. You’ll feel much better, and your energy and performance levels will soar.
4. No Strength Training
Sure, most of the pro triathletes you see may *look* like lean, skinny guys and girls who have never touched a weight in their life, but the reality is that strength training goes far beyond football style deadlifts, squats and benchpress, Do you do fire hydrants? How about elastic band walks? Rotator cuff rotations? Planks? All this requires no weights, but is still considered resistance training, and is incredibly beneficial for your triathlon training program. Don’t get fooled into thinking that strength training is bad for you – most of those studies were done with heavy dumbbells and barbells, not the more precise body weight and elastic type resistances you should be using.
5. Ignoring Data
Do you know the power from your last bike session? OK, so maybe you haven’t invested in a power meter, but what about your speed and distance? Heart rate? Do you know your average 100m pace in the pool for your priority race distance? Do you know your per mile pace in your long run, or do you ever take a GPS out with you? You’re living in an age where data is fairly inexpensive, easy to get, easy to interpret, and highly beneficial. Take advantage of this and at least give yourself some baseline pace and heart rate measurements so you can track your triathlon training progress.
6. Obsessing Over Data
Of course, you may also be the person who needs to cut every workout short by forty-five minutes because you know that’s how long it’s going to take to download all the data onto your computer and sit there analyzing it. There is no rule that you need to know the precise measurements for every, single workout. As a matter of fact, “unplugging” yourself and just going for a long run in nothing but your shorts and t-shirt can be incredibly gratifying. Especially when there’s no beeps, whistles, or alarms sounding. Choose the most important triathlon training workouts of the week, and simply focus on getting the data out of those sessions.
7. Not Racing Enough
This especially holds true for longer distances. Literally hundreds of rookie Ironman or Half Ironman athletes stand on the starting line of their big, prioritized race having done absolutely no racing leading up to that point. This is often due to fear of injury, not wanting to lose a “training week”, or simply not knowing how to schedule a race in. But racing is one of the most valuable triathlon training tools you have! It teaches you mental toughness, proper transitions, race day fueling, and perhaps most importantly, how to get all those butterflies in your stomach to fly in order. Try to race at least two or three times before your “big” race.
8. Racing Too Much
There are also those triathletes who drool over the race calendar and check off nearly every weekend with competition, from sprints to Olympics to 5K’s to half-marathons. Not only does this subject your body to a volume of intensity that will probably cause it to break about halfway through the year, but it also decreases your chance of ever having a really “good” race, and instead just having a large handful of mediocre performance. And those of you with families are guaranteeing that your wife or children will regret the fact that every vacation has to be a “triathlon vacation”. Choose and commit to a small number of good races, then focus on excelling at those events. You’ll have more medals, less injuries, and higher quality triathlon training at the end of the season!
9. Not Practicing Transitions
If you glance over the race results for any triathlon, you’ll notice some individuals with smoking fast swim, bike and run times who completely lost a podium spot or a personal best because they spent an extra few minutes in transition. Those minutes can really add up. An extra 60 seconds in transition at an Olympic distance race means you’ll have to run almost 10 seconds per mile faster to catch the person who was able to shave a minute. Inserting just a few “transition”practice sessions at your local beach, park, golf course, backyard or driveway will pay off. Practice both swim-to-bike and bike-to-run changes during your triathlon training. This is one area of a triathlon where you can be just as good as the pros!
10. Winging It Nutritionally
You’re asking for big trouble if you’re going into a race or race day with absolutely no plan but to eat and drink when you’re hungry or thirsty. Not only will you have no consistency with your nutrition, but you’ll have no confidence about whether you’re taking in too little or too much. Not only should you write down your pre-race meal and fueling plan, but you should also go over it again and again in your head while you’re lying in bed the night before the race (not to mention including it in your weeks of triathlon training leading up to the race). This mental preparation will stick with you on race day when you’re deciding on whether you need to eat that extra gel, or it’s just going to give you a stomach ache.
11. Nutritional Rigidity
At the same time, if you decide that you’re going to stick to your nutrition plan no matter what, then you could also be asking for trouble. What if it’s hotter than usual and you decided not to take any salt tablets out with you on the course, or an extra water bottle? What if the bike course is easier and faster than you planned, but you still decide to try to shove in six gels during the ride? What if you planned on getting a banana at the aid station turnaround, but there are no bananas? Be ready and flexible with your nutrition plan, and these type of situations won’t do as much damage to your race. Practice with differing amounts of fuel and fuel types in your triathlon training, and you’ll be ready for anything.
What do you think? Are you at fault of committing any of the top eleven triathlon training mistakes? Now, skim through that list again. What can you change? Now is the time to take action!
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