So you’re trying to tri?
Maybe for the first time, maybe you’ve been doing it for years and you’re afraid you may have developed some habits that are increasing your injury risk or decreasing your overall bio mechanical efficiency? Well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a triathlete myself, I have some unique knowledge and understanding of the research behind triathlon training that I want to share with you!
First of all, it is important to recognize that of the three triathlon disciplines, swimming is by far the most technical. A good swimming technician will always outperform a cardiovascular specialist, so it will pay dividends to invest in some professional swimming coaching to improve your stroke and get the best performance from your swim stage. It is also important that this swim coach understands the cross training and strength required of a swimmer to perform with the most bio mechanical efficiency, and who understands the importance of shoulder strength and stability.
It is also vital that you take time to train your transitions. And I’m not talking about setting up your transition station for efficiency, although that is very important as well. I’m talking about having training sessions that specifically teach your body to cope with the demands of changing from swimming to cycling or cycling to running. These are also known as ‘brick’ sessions, where you complete two disciplines directly after each other, and taking time to practice bricks in training will make you a lot better come triathlon race day.
Once you’re at the beginning of the cycling leg, to avoid over fatigue in your legs early on the I the course, it’s best to avoid pushing too high a gear. Instead, choose a slightly lower gear and maintain a high cadence while you settle into your natural rhythm. This also allows the body to switch gears from properly oxygenating the swimming muscles to now using the cycling muscles!
From a nutrition standpoint, the cycling leg is also an ideal time to refuel and hydrate. In addition to fluid replacement, I recommend that my athletes attach easy to eat foods such as an energy bar or a banana to their top tube or handlebars, ready for instant use. I having continual access to fuel in the bloodstream is necessary to finishing strong in any endurance race.
Now if you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you know that the bike-to-run transition typically plays havoc with your legs as you adjust to the different demands on your body. To make the switch easier, in the last mile or so of the cycling course, I recommend that you select a lower gear and spin your legs at a higher cadence similar to what we did when transitioning from swimming to cycling. Lessening the load in the last stretch of the cycle section will help your legs adjust to the new demands of the running section of the triathlon with much more ease.
Lastly, at the start of the run section, your legs will often feel heavy, since you’ve just been cycling — so begin with a shorter stride than usual, then gradually adjust as your body gets used to the new discipline. And it is also known that having clip in pedals on your bike allows you to utilize the hamstring muscles more during the cycle, leaving the quadriceps less fatigued for the run portion of your race.
If you are interested in speaking to one of our clinicians who triathlon training and performance and helping triathletes create training programs to help them address their individual weaknesses, please feel free to reach out and schedule a full evaluation. We would love to provide you with an individualized plan to keep you injury free or get you back to the triathlon fitness program that you enjoy and love!