Getting fitter is about balancing training stress with recovery. Far to many athletes believe training volume should be limited by the risk of injury and rarely consider the recovery cycles required for the body to compensate which make us stronger and fitter. The primary recovery is through sleep.
Elites and professional athletes generally have recovery nailed as training is their day job and recovery time is plentiful. Elites training for ultras, epics, 70.3 and IRONMAN often get 10 to 12 hours sleep and naps per day. Age groupers and hobbyist have day jobs generally limiting the time available for sleep. Limited recovery means keeping training volume proportionate to recovery. Cheat on recovery and the training time is wasted time.
Everyone is different but an Athlete doing 12 to 15 hours training a week at 85% aerobic intensity should be getting and average of 8+ hours per night.
Here are some rules to ensure you are getting enough recovery:
- Ban the alarm clock. If you are not waking up naturally, you are not getting sufficient quality sleep to realise the benefits of your training.
- Apply the 7 minute rule for running. If to are not feeling smooth and balanced in your running gait after your warm-up, you have not recovered, so go home and rest. 7 minutes into your warm-up running is generally a good time to check in.
- Apply the 1 hour rule for cycling. As with cycling, a good time to check-in with your cycling readiness to absorb a long ride is the 1 hour mark. Again here if you are not feeling smooth, strong and keen to continue, go home and rest.
- The Snap rule. If you find you are beginning to snap at your family or work peers for little reason, your are surely not recovering sufficiently to compensate and improve and your training is again wasted time. Reduce training for a couple of days or until you mood improves.
- Alternative stress rule. Psychological and illness stress also require recovery diminishing our ability to recover from training stress. If you are ill (including flu) or you are carrying psychological stress such as work, relationship or financial, back off on the training a resolve the root cause. This stress will hinder sleep, suppress recovery and hinder training effectiveness.
We can still train hard, putting together big multi-session days, weekends, big weeks or camps where we do intentionally overload, but the key is to take the recovery to allow the body to compensate and get stronger and fitter.
There are a number causes of cramping while swimming, and basically they are the same ones that cause cramping with most other sports and forms of exercise: electrolyte loss, conditioning and unnecessary tension. The most common of these when it comes to swimming is unnecessary tension. Unnecessary tension, like plantar flexing, is an involuntary action that is unnatural. The body will attempt to correct this unnatural position, causing a cramp.
Another contributor is a reduced blood flow in the legs. The horizontal position, a lack of engagement of the primary muscles and cold can reduce flow leading to cramp. Cold will cause blood to flow to the skin surface for heating, away from the leg muscles.
There is generally not one solution to swim cramping and a holistic approach needs to be taken.
Three preventative actions:
- Ensure good nutrition, everyday nutrients and pre-swim hydration
- Always kick, using at least a two beat flutter kick, even in a wetsuit.
- Although plantar flexing maximises propulsion, holding this position is un-natural for extended periods. This is not familiar if all training is in the pool as it is relieved every turn. More open water swims would help conditioning, alternatively flex the ankle every few minutes, even if it does slow you a little.
Efficiency and technique are the most under rated aspects of triathlon by most age group triathletes.
When working with athletes on technique change I sometimes get the immediate feedback that what I am proposing does not feel right, it feels awkward, odd. Quite often I find the athlete dropping back to the “comfortable” technique believing good technique should feel right immediately.
SURPRISE, change is never comfortable, it is always awkward. Top athletes get this, absorb and embrace the change, strive to achieve conscious competence as quickly as possible, then practice until it becomes unconscious competence. It isn’t easy, it takes focus beyond being strong and courageous, it takes dedication.
Efficiency is paramount in endurance sport. A lack of focus on efficient biomechanics to overcome resistance and optimise propulsion is a huge opportunity lost.
For swimming, stopping a cross over stoke, keeping the head down, keeping the wrist below elbow are adjustments that will feel unnatural at first attempt, it will not feel good. If it doesn’t feel awkward then you probably aren’t correcting enough. EXPECT AWKWARD!
Likewise for running, landing over the feet, landing with bended knee, leaning forward from the ankles will take getting used too. With running change needs to managed and progressive. Gait change needs to be gradual due to the impact nature of running. Fast change can lead to injury. It is recommended that new techniques and gait change is done at low volume while the muscular strength to support the landing stress is developed.
Video is a great tool for improving technique. The athlete can clearly see the faults, see evidence of adjustments, fulfilling the journey from unconscious incompetence through to conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. It is a journey of change.
When training for endurance sport we expect discomfort, we expect to be pushed, we expect a little pain. Let me add to that!
Expect to feel awkward!
Training is the investment of time to improve results.
There are four basic components in endurance training:
- Aerobic training – 80% to 85% of training time in Zone 1 and lower Zone 2 (MAF)
- Force Development – 5% of training time (Maximal Strength – Zone 5+)
- Durability training – 10% to 15% of training time (Zone 3 – 4)
- Technique – Integrated into training and active recovery
- Recovery – Active recovery + 7.5 hours+ sleep average per night.
Any training session should be targeting these adaptations. The only session that have benefits if you have muscular fatigue are durability and active recovery.
Know what your session is targeting and stick to the plan. If you can’t nail it, go home and use the recovery time, don’t dig a hole!
I put this pdf together to assist self coached athletes in building structure into their programs. It assumes some basic knowledge of periodisation and experience in balancing training and recovery.
Many athletes see learning to tumble turn in the pool as a waste of time as there are no turns in an open water swim. The reason to tumble turn is not about speed, pace or achieving a better pool swim time. It is about developing good breath techniques necessary for a sustained open water swim. My view is that the shorter the pool the more reason to tumble. Read More
Recently I did some analysis on an athlete’s sodium loss and cramping issue reminding me of an issue I had a couple of years back.
I had a sodium test done out of interest, even though I did not have a cramping issue. The recommendation suggested I take significantly more sodium than the norm due to my high sodium loss. I implemented this in my next race experienced severe cramping. In review we established my sodium intake was too high slowing my water absorption and causing bloating.
The issue was that the sodium test report did not show a relationship between exercise intensity and loss rate. My test was done at threshold pace, however my race was a 70.3 performed at close to aerobic intensity (Zone 2). Read More