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BritSwim Tri Tips #2

Triathlon training with BritSwim Coach Karl Muscat Oman
Welcome back! If you haven’t checked out the first installment of Coach Karl’s triathlon tips, go have a read and come back here for more awesome advice on how to get the most out of your tri training.

The 10% rule
The training principles of overload and progression are key to developing in triathlon. But what’s often overlooked, says Coach Karl, is that fact that “this must be achieved within the timeframe the body will allow, to adapt to these changes safely.” Too many people increase their volume of training a little, and see great results instantly. The thought process is then to increase massively, to achieve a massive amount of improvement.  “It seems like a logical leap, but unfortunately, the body can only do this for a very short time before it will break down and suffer injuries and illness.  A good rule is to increase your total volume of training for a week by 10% at a time. Additionally, every third or fourth week should be an adaptive week, where you reduce the training to allow your body to adapt to the training load. You can return to overloading the following week, and the week when you return to your hard training should be roughly that of what you did prior to the adaptation week.”

Go long when you need to go long; go easy when you need to go easy. Too many people work in the 'grey zone' when training: you’re working hard, getting out of breath, and giving yourself a good workout, but you know you couldn't manage it for more than an hour or 90 mins. That’s not necessarily going to help you improve, advises Karl. “Yes, there are times for this zone of training, particularly leading into racing. But the effort is too low to provide the necessary adaptations for your high end top speed, and too high to be able to sustain long enough to provide any major endurance gains.” You’re giving yourself fatigue, which will have a negative effect on the effectiveness of the next day’s training. And that’s going to lead to frustration.

Karl recommends sticking to the 80/20 rule. “80% of your training should be done in Zones 1 and 2, which are characterized by an easy recovery pace and aerobic base building. You’ll know you’re in these zones when you can keep a conversation going when training, and feel you can keep it going for hours.  20% should be in the form of higher-end work, where you are pushing yourself superhard and to the point of exhaustion at times. Given the high levels of effort, only short repetitions are needed for this kind of work, with appropriate recovery time.”

Technique is key in the swim
No matter how fit an athlete you are, if you do not have good technique in the water then you will not move efficiently through it – you’ll just tire yourself out quickly.  Coach Karl says, “Once you can complete your race distance comfortably, then place more emphasis on the training nature of the swim. But until then, really concentrate on improving your technique.” A good initial aim is to try and swim 25m taking 10-12 stroke cycles each time.  Using drills and focusing on key areas with a swim coach, you can then try and increase the distance for which you can hold the stroke count. “The speed will come automatically as your stroke specific fitness and efficiency improve,” add Karl.

Running isn't just putting one foot in front of the other and repeat
Of the three triathlon sports, swimming is the most technically orientated. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be focusing on your running technique and cadence. Paying attention to these, says Karl, “will help you improve your efficiency, enabling you to run faster for longer and with less effort. It can also play a dramatic part in reducing injuries caused by improper technique.” It makes sense that there’s a misconception about running – surely everyone can do it, surely it comes naturally? Not so, says Coach Karl. Running needs learning, like any sporting endeavor. “The two most common faults I identify are athletes landing with their weight behind the landing leg causing a braking effect, and having too long a stride, which slows cadence and leaves the runner stuck on the ground rather than floating over it.” 

Good news, though; there are many drills and techniques to help these faults. Karl recommends a simple one you can try. “Find a song of around 85-90 bpm and listen to it as you run, trying to co-ordinate your feet hitting the ground with the beat of the music. You will almost certainly have to initially shorten your stride to do so, but this will make a more efficient action without you even realising it. And joining the weekly BritSwim running sessions will give you a supportive, driven group to practice and swap tips with.”

You can't out-train a bad diet
No matter how great your training, if your diet isn't adequate, then your body won't perform at its best and will likely result in injury or illness.  “There is a reason Formula One cars don’t get fueled by the cheapest petrol from your local petrol station. Your body is an engine and needs the correct fuel to work optimally”.

There is immeasurable research (and a whole internet full of opinions) on which diet is best.  What does Coach Karl recommend? “I’m going to keep off contentious ground, but will say that I have switched to a certain type of diet and found the results were almost instantaneous. Whichever way you go - LCHF, vegan, vegetarian, high carb - make sure it covers all essential nutrients and energy requirements. Your diet should give your body the best chance to perform at its optimal level, and provide what’s needed for recovery and rebuilding energy levels and tissue damage from training.”

Stay safe, keep active, and join us soon for more triathlon training tips from BritSwim's Coach Karl.

Muscat, Oman