Thursday, January 20, 2011

Macca: Triathlon Training Mix - My Thoughts!

Macca hanging out with the one and only Juan Pelota

By Chris McCormack

I have to thank all the people on my facebook page ( who helped me come up with a couple of blogs of interest for everyone. I will get these done and nailed over the next few days. Its that time of year when everyone is starting to plan for the up coming season, so hopefully they can be of some help. I have been a little lazy these past few months and not really blogged much at all, but have to say I enjoy the process if I can nail the topics. I find it much easier knowing that people are getting from my blogs something that may be useful for them.

The key to improvement or success at any level in multi sport comes to building a foundation of knowledge that will allow you to make those incremental improvements towards your set goal. These are not always necessarily physical improvements, yet these tend to be given the most kudos. Training any athlete is not difficult. I am sure you have heard the age old saying “Practice makes perfect.” I call BS on this statement and often argue with people over the ridiculousness of such a vague call. I say, “Perfect Practice makes Perfect” and more so “Perfect practice for the individual makes a perfect performance for that individual.” Getting the mix right for any athletes in our sport is absolutely a personal thing for each individual, but if you can get a basic understanding of where to start, then you are ahead of the game. Perfect the beginning and everything will fall into place.

The entire training mix and perfecting this across the entire spectrum of the sport is key, and there are not many sports in the world that have so much complexity and difficulty in perfecting than Triathlon. It is an all body sport, two of the disciplines being non-weight bearing and the final discipline being the most damaging weight bearing exercise you can put the human body through: running! Not only this but in Triathlon we endure running in a fatigued state which magnifies any issues that an individuals body has with the movement and biomechanics of this sport. This is the most important element of planning that needs to be assessed and is so often overlooked by coaches and athletes who are obsessed with just meeting set training goals that are usually quantitative in nature. This is the biggest mistake I see in most Triathlon training plans is a total disrespect to this basic principle of our sport. Swimming and Biking are basically body easy; Running is very hard and will be the foundation for most injuries in our sport.

Cyclist and swimmers can build huge aerobic engines and massive base of fitness, with relatively small muscular skeletal damage. You just need to massage the muscles of either a swimmer or a cyclist to see the texture of these muscles compared to that of a runner. When you bring weight under load and the eccentric contractions to a muscle like you do in running and then put huge stress on your skeletal system the entire game changes. You often see this when cyclists or swimmers switch to running as a form of fitness. They often blow out knees, are prone to stress fractures or get injured very quickly. This is magnified when they take up triathlon, for the simple reason that they bring in running as a form of exercise in a muscle fatigued state. They also have a sound level of fitness, which immediately gives them the perception that they can do more than their body is ready for. Put simply, they don’t fatigue aerobically and thus do too much work that ultimately tends to break them down skeletally over time. Cyclists tend to blow knees, swimmers more than often get stress fractures (they have had planter flexion of their ankle for so long that when they hold dorsal flexion in a running state, their shins take a smashing). Its these new movements and the accumulation of fatigue in the smaller muscles because of these new demands, that see these athletes break down time and time again.

In 25 years of racing, and I don’t say this to show off or sound important, I have never had an injury. Not a knee problem, a stress fracture or a pulled muscle. Nothing. People have called this good genetics, but again I say bullshit. I think our team has really understood the basic principle in my Triathlon Training mix is perfecting my fitness from the run first and building backwards into the non weight bearing sports in my case. We have been around the sport since the 1980’s and have perfected our own system of developing fitness and efficiency in the three sports to ensure that the “BLEND” has been just right. I came from a running back ground, and I think this was a big plus. We were able to really survive the heavy run volumes as my skeletal system was strong, and by adding swimming and cycling to the mix, our only issues were increased weight (especially from development of quads and glutes from cycling and shoulders in swimming) These reduced our efficiency on the run, but saw us adopt a different approach to our run work, that was more tempo based. I could use my size to muscle a bike and then, use my tempo (as opposed to speed) to carry me through the run. Our focus in training at this time was always around brick sessions at a track with leg turnover on the run and stability in the hips. I lowered my knee lift and shortened my stride, which was effective for me and allowed me to maximize my power on the bike. It was limiting in my spring finish over short course events, but the trade off to bike power was worth while.

Anyway that’s another story, but part of our puzzle in perfecting our Mix that ultimately gave me an injury free program and a 16-year longevity as a professional racer. The game is about perfecting the mix for each individual, and it is up to individuals to be honest with themselves in ascertaining where their weaknesses lie and then be open and committed to making the changes that are needed to improve your overall performance. Remember it is not about single disciplines anymore. Improvement comes by lowering your finish time, and finishing involves completing 3 disciplines.

The great Steve Larson came from professional cycling and unlike any other single discipline athlete was able to make the transition across to some level of success very well at an older age in our sport. No other athlete has been able to do that as well. I spent a lot of time with Steve over the years prior to his death, training together in Bend Oregon and also in California. Steve was at his best in multisport when he first came across from cycling. The reason being was he built his fitness first from his bike riding and then added very sparingly the other two disciplines. He won Ironman Lake Placid on debut and ran a 2:56 marathon off 15 miles a week of running. After this he tried to address what he perceived as “weaknesses” in his swim and bike, and got his mix wrong. He lost his bike strength, and his run and swim remained un changed. He ultimately went backwards for a few seasons and drove himself crazy trying to work out how to build his run and swim mileage and hold onto his bike. I highlighted this fact to him and a light switch went off for Steve. He returned to his old foundation of fitness first – cycling - and then added softly the other two disciplines and his results improved immediately. He went on to have some incredible races with Conrad Stoltz in X Terra events and had some incredible run performances. He finally got his “Mix” right first and then perfected the “blend” and Steve had some great success before he retired in our sport.

There is a perception by many of the single sport athletes that Triathletes are simply “Jack of all trades, master of none” and this is just a complete misconception. Successful triathletes are masters of perfecting 3 disciplines in unison with the other. I have watched some of the best single discipline athletes move across to this sport with high levels of expectation only to find that being the master of a single sport, means shit in the multisport world. Perfecting three disciplines is difficult, especially when these disciplines work against each other in their development. The A frame of a swimmer, is not good for running. The short hamstrings of cycling and the inward knee action of the pedal stroke, kill running form and shorten hamstrings, the eccentric contractions of running and the muscle damage limit the efficiency in a pedal action. These three sports play against each other, so MIX is everything if you want to be as fast as you can be. Those athletes who come across to this sport and don’t respect this from the onset, always end up injured and humbled. It’s a puzzle of perfection and it takes time and commitment to master.

Ok the purpose of this blog was to give everyone a point of reference to move forward with going into 2011. I am working on a VOOK at the moment that I should have done and completed in about 8 weeks. I will post it here on facebook and on my blog, as this will be a much more in depth analysis for people to take away and more so, give everyone the written and the visual foundation of information that will be hugely handy. Check out VOOK at It is going to be seriously cool. I am really hoping they allow me to run a series of these, as they will be very handy for everyone, and give you an introduction into our training systems and perfecting your performances. It is the video component of these VOOKs that will be the best.

Ok lets cut to the chase. Here are 8 quick tips for everyone to take away from this blog. I hope they are of some help:

1: Don’t get caught up in meeting some pre-conceived idea that a certain amount of miles is what is needed to see improvement in any of the disciplines of this sport. Improvement in any of the disciplines within triathlon requires a single attention given to that discipline over time. You then need to build a foundation of work in the other two disciplines around this increase in the other. Never solely focus on one discipline without factoring the other two into your training plan. We are TRITHLETES now and you need to build a body feel around 3 sports and functionality in these three sports. It is all about functionality now in 3 sports.

2: Recovery is king! Always err on the side of recovery in your training program. Recovery takes many forms, and body maintenance (massage, Yoga etc) sleep and rest are imperative to the game and the mix.

3: Guilt attached to any missed session is more harmful than missing the session itself. Guilt is what limits most people in our sport. If you miss a session for any reason, put it behind you and move forward. Don’t play catch up and don’t worry about it. Its done, move on!

4: A great thing to remember is that training programs do not have to be built around a 7 day schedule. I see many people and coaches build their training programs in 7 day cycles. This is often good for routine, but remember it is not imperative, and mixing things up is key to improving.

5: Identify your weaknesses at the start of your season and then highlight your areas of fragility (injury proneness). When building your program a focus needs to be given to ensuring that this weakness is addressed early in the plan and then constantly addressed throughout the year. Not all weaknesses are physical, and ascertaining the attention directed at a weakness in comparison to the trade off that is given to the other two disciplines needs to be looked at here. Improvements take time. Be patient!

6: Trust the people who advise you and build your plans. You have to have faith in the people your working with, or it is just not worth it. More so, it is your responsibility to give the feedback necessary to ensure that your coaches or team can do the best for you. Don’t buy into other peoples BS. You’re the CEO of your journey in this sport. Be proactive, open and listen and put faith in the people you have brought on.

7: Brick sessions is a foundation set for every triathlon program, but huge brick sessions are over rated. Bricks are the toughest sessions you can do, and need to be recovered from and set with that in mind. Some people like to do this “head sessions” to convince themselves that they can master the triathlon they are taking part in. Doing this in a brick is not the answer. When planning your brick sessions, be sure to be aware that these are physically very demanding sessions. Ironman athletes more so tend to over do the brick session component to their training and do way to much. It is the “run” in the brick session that does the most damage so be careful with it. The faster your running the shorter the run length should be, the longer the bike, the shorter the run session should be. That is two rules I tend to adopt to some degree. Hope this makes sense.

8: Consistency is the key to any triathlon program, and consistency across three disciplines is the key. Injuries limit your ability to be consistent so listen to your body. Be flexible with your training plan. A rigid program is not the answer. A program should be built with a skeleton plan, but the fill needs to be flexible and adjusted daily if need be. Flexibility to your consistency is th key.

Man it is so difficult to write out exactly what needs to be addressed here, and I do feel that I have missed my point on many of these points. I hope they make sense. I wanted to get this blog done ASAP as a few people twittered me today asking about it, and my facebook messages were bombarded. Please stay tuned and look out for our VOOK. I will address these much better in this and you will be able to see the video to support everything. It is going to be cool. Thanks for the suggestions on facebook guys.

Hope this is some help. Will blog the other tow topics over the next few days for everyone.

Cheers and thanks for staying connected.


Ps: for those who want me to write “Tales from the Tour” again, I will start a few over the next few days. We have a new website launching here in a few weeks so I have been a little slack. Will do a series of “Tales” very soon. Glad so many people liked them.

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