TRIATHLETE TRAINING

By Jason C. Dorman, MS, CSCS, Project Manager, Sanford Sports Science Institute

Sanford Sports Science Institute operation manager, Jason DoormanA triathlon consists of three modes of exercise: swimming, cycling and running. There is a wide variety of race distances, with the most popular being Sprint, Olympic, Half-Ironman, and Ironman. The Ironman distance involves an athlete swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and finishing with a run of 26.2 miles. If you are planning on competing in a triathlon or have participated in a triathlon event in the past, you appreciate the commitment it takes to properly condition the body in preparation for the racing season. Without the proper conditioning and training program, event performance decreases and the risk of premature fatigue and injury increases.

Resistance Training

Endurance athletes often overlook the importance and impact of resistance training on their performance. A properly planned and implemented resistance training program can prevent injuries and enhance performance. The first step when designing a resistance training program is to determine the prime movers (e.g. swimming: upper back, shoulders and chest; cycling: thighs and buttocks; running: calves, thighs and the core) that are involved in the athletic movement and then choose exercises that will develop muscular endurance, strength and power in those areas. Increasing muscular endurance is especially important for long duration type activities. Added muscle strength and power will help during the hill climbs and provide an extra boost for the final kick of the race. Things you need to remember whenever you start a resistance training program:

  1. Progression: Do not start out by doing too much too soon. Allow the muscles and joints to adapt to the resistance training and slowly progress as the exercises become easy to perform. The intensity should be just a little bit above “comfortable.”
  2. Variation: Help keep muscles “thinking” by choosing different exercises, weight loads, and number of repetitions; this will keep the body adapting to the program and may help in maintaining adherence and reducing injury risk.
  3. Muscle Balance: Exercises should be chosen to provide a proper muscular strength ratio across joints and with the opposing muscle groups (e.g. quadriceps and hamstrings).
  4. Recovery Days: Include recovery days into your program to allow muscles to recuperate and rebuild, and to help prevent overtraining.

Aerobic Conditioning

Aerobic fitness is critical for long-duration events. Long duration events rely heavily on the cardiovascular system and prompt an increase in sweat losses. An aerobic exercise program must be individualized to meet the specific needs of the triathlete. Due to differing levels of fitness, each program needs to be carefully designed to prevent overtraining or injury and to ensure the athlete is peaking at the appropriate time. A triathlete needs to identify when s/he will be competing so s/he can develop a program that breaks his/her training into the different training phases (preparatory, build, competition and recovery). Effective aerobic endurance training enhances oxygen used by the working muscles, promotes greater usage of fat as a fuel source, delays the accumulation of lactic acid and averts premature fatigue.

Cyclists riding on rural road

Exercise Testing

The Sanford Sports Science Institute currently offers testing for athletes who are trying to improve their health and performance. Two services highly recommended and beneficial for triathletes include:

Fitness Testing (Lactate Threshold): Lactate threshold (LT) reflects the exercise intensity where the production of lactate in the exercising muscles increases sharply. LT is a very good predictor of sustained endurance capacity and performance and is also helpful in determining an athlete’s appropriate training intensity zones.

Fluid and Electrolyte Losses and Physiological Strain in the Heat: This is an individual evaluation of an athlete in a specific environment using a temperature, humidity level, and exercise intensity similar to where s/ he has had performance or health problems (for example, premature fatigue, heat exhaustion, or muscle cramps) or to simulate upcoming training or competition conditions. Sweat fluid and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, and chloride) losses will be determined and cardiovascular and thermal strain (heart rate and core body temperature will be measured. Individual-specific hydration and dietary strategies are provided for the athlete, so that s/he can more optimally prepare for, manage, and recover from sweat fluid and electrolyte losses incurred during training or competition.

Fitness Testing (Lactate Threshold): Lactate threshold (LT) reflects the exercise intensity where the production of lactate in the exercising muscles increases sharply. LT is a very good predictor of sustained endurance capacity and performance and is also helpful in determining an athlete’s appropriate training intensity zones.

Fluid and Electrolyte Losses and Physiological Strain in the Heat: This is an individual evaluation of an athlete in a specific environment using a temperature, humidity level, and exercise intensity similar to where s/ he has had performance or health problems (for example, premature fatigue, heat exhaustion, or muscle cramps) or to simulate upcoming training or competition conditions. Sweat fluid and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, and chloride) losses will be determined and cardiovascular and thermal strain (heart rate and core body temperature will be measured. Individual-specific hydration and dietary strategies are provided for the athlete, so that s/he can more optimally prepare for, manage, and recover from sweat fluid and electrolyte losses incurred during training or competition.