Do I have to own
a heart rate monitor?
The specific training sessions in the SuperCoach program are defined in terms of time and intensity. The best way to measure time is with a watch; the best way to measure training intensity is with a heart rate monitor. The simple, straight-forward answer to this question is, therefore, "yes".
I incorporate other sports in my routine?
We get asked this question quite often, especially during winter ski season. Many of you enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, etc. during the winter months, and want to know how this might effect your training schedule. Here's our standard advice: Whenever possible, you should put in your triathlon-related training in the early hours of the day, while you're somewhat rested. Then you can go crazy with whatever energy you have left! Also, on a more serious note, you should definitely go lighter on the heavy leg-related activity during those days when you should be recuperating (Monday and Friday, especially).
In a set with a given number of repititions, you may be asked to "descend" the set from beginning to end. To descend the set means to get progressively faster with each repeat until you are going as fast as you can (or as fast as is required) on the final repeat of the set. Generally, the first repeat is done at a moderate speed so you don't begin too fast and run out of steam before the end of the set. Also, it is best to try to shave off the same amount of time from one repeat to the next, so that your progression throughout the set is both gradual and consistent.
"build up" mean?
Unlike descending, which involves going progressively faster as a set progresses, "build up" means to go progressively faster during each individual repeat in a set. For example, 4 x 50 Build Up means to begin each 50 at a relatively easy pace, and gradually increase the effort such that you are going fairly hard (if not all out) by the end of each 50.
does an "Intermediate Set" do for me?
Think of an intermediate set as a stepping stone to help your body make a smooth transition from the warmup to the higher intensity work in the main set. This process aids in the opening of the blood vessels and arteries, as well as the flowing of highly oxygenated blood to the muscles. By increasing your heart rate during this set, the high intensity efforts of the main set won't seem like such a shock to the body. This preparation should allow you to perform the primary work more effectively. The chance of injury is also reduced because the body is notified that it needs to prepare for a hard effort and can therefore make the necessary physiological adaptations.
While simply training day-to-day will result in some improvement, how do you measure your success? By keeping track of your times and heart rates for a set of repeats on the bike trainer, at the track, or in the pool, you can very easily monitor your progress as the season progresses. Charting your progress will also help you psychologically because you will see that you have put in all the work necessary, and performed all the times needed in order to reach your Key Race goals.
Keep a daily diary of your workouts - you can just scribble your personal notes right along side your Super Coach training schedules. Compare identical workouts over time to see if your improvements are matching your expectations. If they do, then you know you are on track. If they don't, then you at least have the capacity to pore over your training notes to understand where future improvement can be made.
An excellent way to track your progress is to use a computer-based training log. A simple, effective program that has been extremely successful for many years -- and was the first multi-sport program available, back in the late '80's -- is The Athlete's Diary. They offer a demonstration version that can be downloaded directly from their website; check there for further details, including pricing.
"One question I have is to do with the excess weight I'm carrying. Its starting to disappear slowly and I'm guessing the rate of weight-loss may increase as the training durations increase...Should I be dieting alongside the training or could this lead to extra fatigue?
Do you have an opinion on decreasing carbos in favour of protein and fat (like the PR*Bar diet thing?)"
Our Answer: Be careful on the dieting -- you want to eat properly, whichmeans a balance of carbos, proteins, and good quality fats (extra virgin olive oil, 100% natural peanut butter, broiled fish). Of course, you'll definitely watch the pounds (kg?) peel off in the early Spring, and you'll continue to trim down over the course of the summer months. But balancing the carbos/protein/fat to roughly 40%/30%/30% (without being ridiculously meticulous about it) will enable you to burn fat, rather than muscle, as the durations increase.
Let me explain the balance in very brief terms: We all require a certain amount of protein to produce/replenish muscle fibres, etc; there is a desirable amount of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores (too many carbos, however, will knock your insulin levels out of whack & you'll be ravenously hungry all evening); the high quality fat acts like "caloric ballast" to actually help you feel comfortably full after eating.
I've experienced both sides -- eating like a horse, and trying to balance my intake -- and the balanced approach has left me with more muscle mass at the same overall body weight. Clearly "less is more" when you eat properly.
Question: "During the workouts (ususally swim & bike) I notice it takes a while to increase HR intensity up to 75% or 84%. How long should this take?"
Our Answer: It will take longer at first, but as your body gets better adapted to this training your HR will be quicker to react to the increased work load. Believe it or not, higher HR's are a sign of better conditioning, since your body is responding to an increased need for oxygen by beating your heart (a muscle) faster, with more blood volume per beat. So, do the best you can with it now; your body will get better at it very shortly.
We have begun to describe interval sessions in terms of distance (both English and metric units) as well as time. This is due to the fact that many of you are using different wind trainer models, and some of you are riding outside.
The way to interpret these session instructions is to use the distance figures first, provided that you finish within 30 seconds (more or less) of the suggested interval time. If you find that covering the interval distance takes significantly less than the suggested time, keep riding/running until the time guideline is met; if covering the distance would take more time, then simply stop at the suggested time, going into the recovery phase before starting the next interval.
Question: "I wanted to ask you something about intervals. For example, in any of the three sports, say that we're supposed to do 1:30 @75%, then :30 @60%. Most often it takes longer than 30 seconds to get my HR down to 60%. Is it ok if my HR never makes it that low before I start up again on the next interval? If I wait for my HR to get down to 60%, the rest in between intervals will get to be ridiculously long! So, should the "rest" be just a time thing, or should I really wait to get the HR down to that level?"
Our Answer: Good question! First, make sure that the 75% target isn't set too high -- make sure that your Max HR is realistic (220 - age, plus about 5 beats for running / minus about 5 beats for cycling), and make sure that your resting HR is accurate. We don't want you to be getting closer to 80% when 75% is what's called for.
Second, when doing aerobic intervals it's not vital to have your HR dip all the way back down to 60% -- just don't let it get below that! The idea is to have the entire set be good quality aerobic work. That said, make sure that you're backing it down enough to reduce your HR by at least 10% within the required recovery time. Take a little more recovery time if necessary, but not more than an extra 15-30 seconds.
Rates When Racing
The optimal zone in which to race is dependent on the distance of the race. The majority of an international distance race should be done at or just below your AT (88-92%), with the final miles of the run being done slightly above AT.
For half-Ironman races, your HR should be between 75% and 85%, but mostly at around 10% (in terms of beats per minute) below AT. The hotter and hillier the course (hello, Wildflower!), the more reserved you need to be during the swim and bike legs so that you have enough energy left for the run.
Finally, the majority of an Ironman-distance race needs to be done at or below 75% for you to remain efficient and finish strong. By elevating your HR into your anaerobic zones too much -- or to "shock" your system there at all -- you run the risk of building up much lactic acid to levels that will trigger an elevated heart rate for a prolonged period. In general, it's much better to think you have too much energy left at the end of the bike. Finishing with a strong run is what will keep you coming back for more!
What if I
can't finish the swim workouts on time?
It's perfectly fine to cut off the swim workouts once you've reached the designated time -- the best way to "trim" these sessions would be to cut back the main set, keeping the warm up, cool down, and drills intact (these are too important to reduce too much).
In the future, look for two different "flavors" of the main set (labeled, "ALTERNATE SET") to help you make this minor adjustment.
Practicing Different Strokes
When a particular swimming set is supposed to be done as "Choice", this means that a stroke other than freestyle is preferred. By practicing all four strokes -- freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke -- you are essentially cross-training in the pool. You will use muscles in ways that you can't when you only swim freestyle, so you will be improving your overall muscular balance and shape.
The "IM" (Individual Medley) is an actual swimming event that combines butterfly, backstroke, breastroke, and freestyle (in that order). When this is called for in a swim workout, divide the IM distance evenly between these four strokes, in the proper order.
Swimming Kick drills involve isolating the part of the stroke involving the legs to improve efficiency and body position in the water. These drills can be done several ways: you can hold a kick board out in front of you, keeping your arms straight; you can lie flat in a freestyle position, without a board, holding your hands together out in front of you; or - our preferred method - you can lie on one side with your "bottom" arm out in front and your "top" arm down at your side, holding this position for 12 kick "beats". Then - without stopping - rotate through one arm stroke, leaving yourself lying on the other side with your arm positions reversed. Kick 12 beats on that side, and then repeat this process up and down the pool.
Unless specified otherwise, practice your freestyle kick, as this will make your swimming in races more proficient -- a strong kick helps keep your body more buoyant and, thus, allows you to spend more of your energy moving forward instead of keeping your body on the surface of the water.
A "loco" swim (short for "locomotive"), is a progression of alternating easy laps with fast laps to produce a fartlek effect. In a 1000 loco swim, you will begin with 25 easy/25 fast, then continue with 50 easy/50 fast, 75 easy/75 fast, 100 easy/100 fast, 100 easy/100 fast, 75 easy/75 fast, 50 easy/50 fast, and finally 25 easy/25 fast.
The fast laps should be done at a controlled, high intensity, while the easy laps are used for recovery. It's important to continue swimming, without stopping, throughout these swims.
Pull buoys are those white styrofoam aids that are pressed between the thighs when we want to isolate the arm strokes in the pool. Paddles can be used in conjunction with pull buoys to help heighten sensitivity to technical errors you may be making in your stroke and to overload the upper body to increase the cardiovascular/muscular aspect of the workout.
Strokes Per Length
Your stroke count (# of strokes taken per length) is an important indicator of swimming efficiency: the better swimmers take fewer strokes per length. The most efficient swimmers are able to maintain a consistent, low stroke count even when swimming at very high intensities. As a point of reference, world class distance swimmers will take between 10-15 strokes a lap during their freestyle races, and between 8-12 during moderately hard workout swims.
Using paddles is a great way to overload the upper body to gain swim-specific upper body strength. Also, paddle use will magnify whatever weaknesses you have in your stroke or muscle endurance.
However, guard against becoming dependent on paddles. Many swimmers swim faster when using paddles -- and therefore end up using them most of the time! Using paddles too much can lead to shoulder injuries and will almost certainly cause your swimming skills & general speed without paddles to deteriorate over time. We therefore instruct you to utilize them sparingly -- they can be very effective tools for improvement if they're not overused.
Kicking on your side helps you learn proper body positioning in the water. This drill involves kicking on your side for 10 kicks, then taking 3 full strokes before switching sides, and finishing with 10 kicks on the other side. Continue with this routine up and down the pool, resetting your "counter" every lap.
Concentrate on getting good rotation
through your shoulders and trunk while stretching out your arms at the
front of each pull (called the "catch" section).
for Warming Up
An easy drill to ensure that you incorporate a long, effective warmup into your workout is to use what we call a "gearing pyramid". The general idea is to continue spinning at roughly 90-95 rpm while increasing the gearing throughout the set.
Begin in a very easy gear for a specified period of time (either 4, 5, or 6:00); after this you would shift to one gear harder and spin for 1:00 less (3, 4, or 5:00). You would continue to shift gears after each interval and reduce the duration of the next interval, until you have completed spinning in the hardest gear of the set for 1:00. Then, you're ready to go!
Isolated Leg Training
Isolated Leg Training (usually abbreviated to "ILT") is done while biking on a stationary trainer. While using a relatively small gear (in your small front chain ring, such as 42 x 19) click out one foot from your pedal and rest it on the axle of your turbo trainer or a chair you have set up next to your bike. With one leg still engaged in the pedal, work on a smooth, circular pedal revolution. Try to be sensitive to - and try to correct -- jerky or dead spots in your cadence. After pedaling with one leg for the required amount of time (usually 20 seconds), you can then spend about 10 seconds in transition - switching from one isolated leg to the other. The drill continues with the newly "isolated" leg providing the power for the required amount of time; continue to switch as the drill requires.
Anything that detracts from a smooth pedal stroke will also detract from your overall speed and will waste energy. As your cadence becomes smoother, you should notice it taking less energy to go at a given speed. This will leave more energy to bike faster and leave more energy for your run!
Note: ILT sets should be done in stand-alone mode -- unplugging the
cord from the side of the handlebar unit. Make sure you follow the
instructions for calibrating the unit properly before you begin.
Then set the constant resistance to a challenging number -- but not too
tough -- to keep the resistance constant throughout each pedal stroke.
This will help you work out any "dead spots" in each leg individually.
"VG" Sets: Variable
Gearing to Mix Things Up
Varying your gearing when riding indoors on your trainer is an excellent mechanism for breaking up the monotony and recruiting different types of muscle fibres, keeping some "freshness" in the process. The idea is to choose three gears, which are one "click" apart: one gearing should be relatively easy, where you can spin close to 100 rpm withoutmuch challenge; you should be able to spin in the next hardest gearing at about 90 rpm; and you should be able to push the hardest gearing at 80 rpm without much difficulty. An example of a "VG" set of gears is 42 (small chain ring) x 13, 42 x 15, and 42 x 17.
During the "VG" Set, you will actually be called upon to spin a bit faster than these rpm figures. The set for that session should specify what these guidelines are - usually they are 110+ rpm for the easy gear, 100 rpm for the medium gear, and 90 rpm for the hardest gear. The order will always be: #1 medium, #2 easy, and #3 hard. See the actual session instructions for further details.
Note: VG sets are best done in SpinScan mode, so you can view how smooth
your pedal strokes are throughout each pedal cycle. You can easily
track your cadence as well, and work out any huge discrepencies in the
power output for each of your legs.
"Spinning" classes have become increasingly popular, and many of you who utilize a health club for your training have asked about replacing one of our sessions with a spinning class at some point during the week.
My biggest concern is that spinning classes are usually directed by someone who doesn't have a clue about triathlon training, and they generally want to insert a significant amount of anaerobic work throughout their session. For these reasons I would advise against participating in a spinning class unless:
Lots of analysis and discussion has taken place through the years in the cycling arena regarding the optimal cadence for time trialing. The most meaningful data we've seen involved determining what cadence the top time trialists used and the related power output. The ultimate conclusions tend to agree that the optimal time trialing cadence is around 85 rpms.
However, most people like to spin at between 90-100 rpms, and some pro cyclists (Indurain, in particular) go even higher to 110-120 rpms during 40K all out efforts. Spinning at 90-95 rpms will leave your legs -- and especially your knees -- feeling less stressed than they would at a lower cadence.
"Jumps" are short bursts of speed which are accomplished by increasing your cadence quickly while holding the same gear. The higher intensity level should be accompanied by a release of tension, rather than the typical teeth-gritting -- spin fast in a relaxed fashion.
"In & Out"
Running Intermediate Sets
"In & Out" sets are a running intermediate set generally done at the track, after a warm up and before beginning the main set. The idea is to run the same shorter distance (usually 100 or 200 meters), alternating high intensity (the "in" section) and low intensity (the "out" section), for a total of 5-10 minutes. If you are performing this set on the road rather than the track, then you can substitute 30 seconds for the "in" sections and 45 sections for the "out" sections - performing about 4-8 "in and out" pairs.
Your form should be loose and you should try to remain light on your feet. Allow yourself two to three of these to get rid of any tightness you may be feeling in your stride or arm swings -- this is the whole idea of the set. Afterwards, shake out your limbs, take a few drinks from your water bottle, take a few mental notes about the main set, and then get busy!
It's best to think of proper running form "from top to bottom":
Get You Ready
Run-ups are done at the end of a warmup period, right before a hard run on the road or track. Performing these short 10-15 second "bursts" will help to open up your blood vessels for better blood flow, and they naturally stretch out most muscles in the body to help prevent strains and injuries.
On a track, you will gradually increase your speed on the straighaways to about 5k pace for the first 60 meters and then hold your speed for the final 40 meters. You then ease up and jog the curves before building up your speed on the next straightaway. You should do at least 3 and no more than 6 run-ups. After finishing this, take a couple of minutes to shake out your legs, get mentally prepared for the main set and then take off!
What's a "Tempo
A tempo run is a valuable tool in teaching your body to run more efficiently at or near your race pace for a prolonged period of time. The effort can last up to 30 minutes, or be broken into two or three 8-10 minute segments with up to 2 minutes rest between tempo efforts.
The effort will be hard, but below your 10k race pace -- usually at around 85% intensity. At this speed, you will deal with discomfort yet feel like you can push harder. Don't! When done at too great an effort, tempo runs can break your body down too much and lead to overtraining and/or injury. Tempo runs enhance your ability to race at or near your AT, which is crucial in any event lasting from 30 minutes up to 2+ hours. The principles behind tempo runs will also be applied to swimming or biking.
A "Tempo Pyramid" is a structured approach to a tempo run. The intensity is increased as the duration of the interval is decreased over the course of the run. A typical 20:00 tempo pyramid would look like this:
(4:00 @70% / 1:00 @60%); (3:00 @75% / 2:00 @60%); (2:00 @80% / 3:00 @60%); (1:00 @85% / 4:00 @60%) -- notice that the intensity begins at 70% for the longest duration (4:00), and is gradually increased to the highest intensity (85%) for the shortest duration.
Per Minute (SPM)
There is one universal law of running faster that every world-class runner conforms to:
This translates to 90-95 strides per minute ("SPM"), where one "stride" is counted as two steps, or one count every time a particular foot (left or right) hits the ground. It's that simple -- All world class distance runners have a cadence that falls within this range.
When you go out for a run at HR 70% intensity or higher, it is important to work on keeping your cadence between 90-95 spm to build speed, even at an endurance pace. Even when you run at intensities below 70% (purely aerobic), the goal should be to keep your spms higher than 80.
To read more on this topic, check out the complete article.
What if I have
to WALK to keep my HR down?!
This question comes in a flurry during the early part of each season. We're all fired up, raring to get to work on improving, and the first thing we're asked to do is hold our HR intensities at or under 75%. Of course, for most of us at this point, this seems nearly impossible!
"I'm hardly moving, and my heart rate
"I'm going to have to WALK to get down to that intensity level!"
Our stock answer is, "Great!" Hey, I don't care if you have to lie down in the snow and make snow angels -- you're body needs to learn how to process energy in an aerobic state (with oxygen, as opposed to the anaerobic metabolism required for high intensity efforts), and this kind of low intensity training is the only efficient way to get this done. But don't fret too much -- year after year, the athetes are surprised and amazed at how quickly their bodies adapt to this new approach. So be confident that it's going to happen, your aerobic capacity will increase, and yes, you will be able to run at a nice clip -- even with your HR intensity stuck right on 75%!
What's a MAF test
& how are they done?
A MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) test, named and made famous by Dr. Philip Maffetone, is a controlled, timed aerobic run that is designed to help measure your aerobic-based running speed, and to measure your progress in gaining aerobic capacity over time.
Begin these days with a 20:00 jog, getting into it very gradually, bringing the intensity up to 65% by the end.
When you're ready, either perform this at a local track (preferably one you can run to), or use a familiar portion of a local course that you know to be roughly three miles in length. Begin by gradually increasing your HR up to 75% intensity -- beginning this directly after the warm up would work best -- and then, when you are at a known starting point, start your watch! Be sure to hold your HR intensity right at 75% throughout the test run -- no more! -- and stop your watch after reaching the three-mile point.
Record your time for future comparison. You should notice over a period of 12-18 weeks that you could increase your speed at 75% intensity by as much as 1:00 per mile or more...it's great to watch yourself getting in better shape!