Whether you are new to triathlon or experienced, we never stop learning and developing our skills in the swim, bike and run, and also in transition too. Many of you will already know what to do but if you don’t or want a refresher on what works well then read on. These are based on experiences, expert feedback and pro athletes. Remember, this is advice only and always a good idea to get yourself checked up with a medical before starting a training programme, even if you are a regular exerciser.
To begin with we have the setting up of your equipment in transition. There is no definitive way to how you want to set up but some things work well, such as having your equipment lined up ready to go, so for example, having your helmet on top of your bike, upside down, with the front of it facing you allows you to put it on first and quickly.
Some people also like to have their bike shoes on a towel, facing the direction you approach them from when you get to the bike. Some people also like to put a towel down as it helps to absorb some water still on them from your swim. Some people like to put everything in a box to keep it neat and tidy or to use the box when they come back from the bike to throw it all in to.
If you feel braver and are chasing a time then some even like to have their shoes already clipped on so that they can straddle the bike and fasten their feet into the shoes whilst in motion. This is popular with long transitions and for the more experienced. If this is something you want to try then do so but do lots of practice and break it down slowly but surely!
There are many different ways to warm up but the best are usually to mimic what you are about to do. Arm circles, shoulder shrugs and dynamic types of stretching are proven to loosen muscles. As is marching on the spot. By mobilising your joints in your hips and shoulders you will stimulate synovial fluid, which helps to lubricate your joints, your muscles also in turn warm up (when warm they perform much better), so when you have completed a thorough warm up you should be ready to go and start almost at a race pace, rather than using the swim as a warm up.
This seems to be the one that most people fear, but there is no need to. Swimming when done correctly is a great sport. If you feel you are weak at swimming or want to improve on things then read on. To start with, a good pair of goggles! There is nothing worse than having them fill up with water if too loose, do not sit right on your face or too tight so they hurt. It is also up to you if you like to wear a hat or not, for a pro they help but for us mere mortals not so much! Ear plugs are sometimes popular but again, that is down to choice. It will help to wear some swim gear that is designed for streamlined swimming too, so wearing baggy shorts will slow you down.
Ok, so equipment aside, let’s look at how to swim! There are some basics to follow, and remember, when you are in a swim and you feel out of sorts, always revert back to the basics. In water the more aquadynamic you are the easier you will go through water! Water is the resistance so the more out of form you are the more effort you use up. Learning to front crawl is the best option if you can learn it. Some people are apprehensive of this if you are new but do not be, we have all made many mistakes on the journey that is trying to perfect the swim so you are not alone. You can either choose to breath one sided or both sides. Some people will do two arm strokes then breathe on one side only, some like to breathe every 4 strokes on one side. Some like to breathe on both sides of the body after 3 strokes. Try them all, find what works for you and stick to what makes you happy.
When it comes to breathing the general rules is to leave one eye in the water so that you are not lifting your head too high and over rotate the body, making it harder to reset for the next stroke. Give it a try, practice, practice, practice!
Another thing is to face downwards in the water as looking too far forward will make your head tilt upwards and this makes your legs dip down, thus acting like an anchor! Speaking of legs, keep them mostly straight, try not to tense them up, and kick with a repeated motion, but to the point where you are trying to recreate an outboard motor on a boat!
Breathing out underwater also scares a few people as it is in our nature to breathe and not have a face full of water! When you are face down, just breathe out slowly so that by the time you are due to come up for air on the chosen stroke, your lungs are ready to suck in air. If you keep your lungs full up, not only does it take time to expel the air to take more in, you can actually build up lactic acid quicker! So, relax, practice, and don’t panic. It is in training where we make our mistakes and learn what is working. If in doubt, ask for a reputable swim coach to get a few lessons to get going and build that confidence.
For training it’s always good to swim the distance at what is an acceptable pace, you can do intervals where you do shorter distances and have a recovery in between sets, and you can practice leg kicking.
Longer swims at a lower than desired race pace help to build stamina and gets you in to good habits (hopefully!).
Race pace swims helps you to get used to the feeling of what it will be like come race day.
Doing intervals (above race pace) such as short 10 second bursts are good for practising overtaking, then doing anything from 30 seconds to 2 minutes above race pace helps to improve aerobic ability and helps to push your current abilities, allowing your muscles to adapt and grow back stronger!
On the day of the race try not to set off too fast when that adrenalin is pumping, otherwise you will hit the red zone quite quickly and then feel like your muscles are burning for a good part of the swim!
For your arm strokes and more, there are many good websites that show how to do the correct stroke, such as http://swimsmooth.com/
You can also think about joining a swim club to get the social aspect in with other likeminded people too. It’s a great way to meet others, pick up tips and keep your motivation levels high.
There are many good tips on the bike section, and this will also depend on what bike you are riding too. If you are using a tri bike or road bike then you will be keen on being aerodynamic so that wind resistance is kept to a minimum, especially if you are chasing a time.
There are tons of opinions on a bike set up. If in doubt, see a specialist to get a proper fit, but there are some good rules to follow. Depending on what bike you use, you must always feel that you are comfortable and can stay in a set position for some time. To begin with you should not have a straight leg when at full stretch when pedalling, this will pull on your joints. Try to achieve a slight bend in the leg when the pedal on that leg is at the bottom of the cycle. Also, try not to have your knee too far past the middle of the pedal when it is in the “6 or 9 o clock position” as this will over stretch your tendons around the knee joint.
On a road bike having your arms at a 90 degree angle to your body usually works nicely for comfort. On a bike with aero bars the 90 degree angle also works nicely.
You might find that when you try these positions for the first time that your lower back may ache, so try to do some strength work on it such as Pilates or dorsal/back raises to help with this.
PS never underestimate the power of stretching! By stretching you are loosening muscles so they do not stay tight and also you can increase the range of movement at those joints, so the further your limbs can move the better the motion you travel in!
Bike helmets are also an essential piece of kit. Go to a shop that sells them, try them all on and get the one that feels comfortable so you feel comfortable and confident.
When it comes to training you can do long rides at a comfortable pace to help build an aerobic base, you can do some shorter rides at race pace to get used to the feeling, or do interval training where you ride harder for short periods of time, recover a bit then go again at that higher pace, such as 2 minute bursts of speed to build up some lactic acid (where your muscles burn!), and you can also do hill reps to help build strength and leg power in and out of the saddle. Above race pace feels like your legs are burning slowly and you are breathing heavier all the time before you feel you have to slow down as you cannot sustain it. If in any doubt though it is always best to get a medical from a professional in medicine to make sure you are apparently fit enough and have no underlying issues to worry about. This advice also applies to the swim and run training.
Punctures! Practice changing them! Carry a spare inner tube as it is much quicker that locating the offending hole and patching it up! If you suffer a puncture in the race, it is bad luck and the PB attempt is most likely over, but use it as a learning curve. And don’t forget to carry a pump or air cartridge!
You could also think about joining your local bike club too. You can then train in a group of people so you get the social aspect on those lonely cold and wet days! You can pick up tips from others and help to stay motivated too.
You’ve probably read and heard a million things on how to run, what form, technique, equipment and so on. Relax! Running is one of the most natural things to do as long as you take care of yourself and train smart. To begin with, some trainers that are not too bulky and heavy work best.
Laces. Try not to overtighten as they can restrict blood flow and give you a pins and needles sensation and make you feel like you have a wooden foot! Some people like to use elastic laces that allow you to slip your feet into your shoes quickly when you are back in transition after the bike. You can buy these from almost any run shop or online. And they are cheap, come in funky colours and work really well as they allow your foot to move inside the shoe but not overtly.
When it comes to run training the same rules apply to the previously mentioned timings of the swim and bike. Doing a nice slow pace will allow your body to get used to jogging and the muscles and connective tissues will get stronger over a sensible period of time.
Running at race pace will help build your stamina up so that you can get used to the feeling of what it is going to be like. Race pace, as in the swim and on the bike, should feel like you are running as fast as possible without becoming breathless to the point that forces you to slow down. It is an art that you will get better at with practice, so patience and learning from mistakes and seeing what is good can help. Some people like to wear a satnav watch that has a pace setting on them, some go by previous experience on how it feels. Do what works best for you as both are correct, as the famous Ironmen from the 80’s did!
Heel strike or forefoot running? Evidence suggests that forefoot running is better for you as you put less pressure on the joints, but do not fret, there are many athletes that heel strike or forefoot run and it works nicely for them, do what feels comfortable for you, but the picture below might help explain it better. Also, if you are not used to forefoot striking but want to practice, do so slowly, as your connective tissues take longer than muscles to get used to a different lengthening and force against them, so proceed slowly, but surely.
THE COOL DOWN
Tips for cooling down. We know what we are all like after a race, we cross the line, high fiving the fans and friends, collapse on to the floor to rest and then trundle off to get our equipment!
But, take a few minutes to cool down as this has many benefits!
When you cool down you bring the body back down to a resting state, your heart rate drops off so it is not beating as fast, your blood flow slows down gradually so that you can help avoid blood pooling, which happens when your muscles stop helping to squeeze the blood from your veins back to the heart. This would only cause you to feel a bit dizzy and faint but is not considered life threatening, just uncomfortable. A cool down also helps to bring the muscles back to their normal pre-exercise state so that they do not remain tight, which anyone who knows tight muscles will appreciate, is rubbish for training as it stops you from performing to your potential capacity.
Another great benefit of a cool down is that it helps to flush out bodily toxins that have built up such as lactic acid that, when left in the muscles, increases their soreness and then affecting your ability to train hard or train on a more frequent basis if you are looking to do so.
And don’t forget some stretching too of the muscles, and this includes an all over body approach as muscles that you think you did not use have been used, so by making sure they are all loosened up you will ensure a better posture and ability to perform. Usually at least 15 seconds per muscle or muscle group, or for longer helps to combat some tightness. You can go online or speak to a fitness professional to find out what stretches to do. For those of you who want to take it further, you can get yourself a sports massage that can really help you out with all of the above, and it feels great!
Again, for any nutrition, training, sports massage and more, we can help put you in touch with trusted professionals who have lots of experience and specialise in these areas.