5 Ways to Maximize Triathlon Performance

5 ways to maximize triathlon performance

By Ryan Domeyer PT, DPT, CMPT for Athletico Physical Therapy

Participation in triathlons in the United States is at an all-time high according to USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in the United States. The group’s membership has swelled from around 100,000 in 1998 to 550,446 in 2013.1 What’s more, estimates from the Sports and Fitness Industry Associated show there were 2,498,000 road triathletes  in the United States in 2016.2

With the number of participants in triathlon races increasing, it is important to have a training plan in order to prevent injury and maximize performance on race day. There are numerous training plans and philosophies available to follow, but many are missing valuable components that can improve performance and decrease the risk of injury. Read below for five things to include in your training program in order to maximize triathlon performance.

1. Bicycle Fitting

Bicycles should be comfortable and fitted into a position that maximizes force output. There are multiple variables including saddle height, stem height and handlebar height that should be taken into consideration. Small changes in position on the bicycle can lead to large changes in muscle efficiency, which can help athletes maximize speed with less energy. For help with bike set up, athletes can seek out assistance from a local bicycle store or certified triathlon coach.

2. Running Form

Although most triathlon plans will include weekly running, few address proper form and how to run more efficiently to decrease force applied to the joints. Research shows that increasing cadence, or the number of steps taken, can decrease loading on the foot, knee and hip – which may lead to less overuse injuries.3  An easy way to track cadence is by using a metronome smartphone app. These apps can help to determine current steps per minute, and athletes can use this as a benchmark to start increasing their steps in 5 percent increments up to 170-190 steps per minute.

Another way to improve running form is by using Video Gait Analysis (VGA). This service can be used to analyze running under slow motion in order to identify areas of improvement that can help to prevent injuries and maximize performance. Physical therapists at Athletico Physical therapy are qualified to perform VGA and work with athletes to create plans for more efficient running through training and on race day.

3. Joint Mobility

Swimming, bicycling and running all utilize joints differently. Most training plans will outline the importance of stretching, but few people follow those recommendations. An easy way to prepare your joints for training is by utilizing a dynamic warm up to prepare the body for training. Learn more about the difference between stretching and a dynamic warm up by reading Athletico’s “Stretching Vs. Warming Up: What’s the Difference?

4. Strength Training

A  deficit in many triathlon training programs is the absence of strength training. Most programs include swimming, biking and running, but end up omitting ways to maintain or improve strength. The goal should not be to increase muscle size but rather to maintain strength to allow for maximum performance while training. Including bodyweight squats, lunges, planks and gluteal muscle strength is a great way to build a resilient body to prevent injuries while training.

5. Body Awareness

Triathlon training requires a large commitment in time and physical capacity. Being aware of when aches and pains are becoming injuries is vital to maximizing performance. Understanding of when to recover and when to push through aches is important to maximizing performance on race day. Physical therapists at Athletico are experts in musculoskeletal injuries and are available for complimentary injury screens to determine the best plan to prevent/treat injuries and maximize overall performance.

Schedule a Complimentary Injury Screen

Unwrapping the physiology of a Tour de France champion

Image result for tour de france champions born or made where do we take the genetics of performance

Given the current spotlight on sport concerning the use and abuse of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), there is a public interest in athletes providing greater transparency with regard to what makes them elite. In this study, the investigators conducted a thorough examination into the physiological characteristics of a two-time Tour de France champion cyclist.

Several interesting results were found including: 1) some of the highest aerobic capacity values in a cyclist on record; 2) high cycling efficiency; and 3) a higher than anticipated body fat percentage. Collectively, the data demonstrated what may be the required physiological characteristics to be a Tour de France champion. While the data can neither confirm nor deny the use of PEDs, it is perhaps a step in the right direction to publicly demonstrate the type of physiology required to be one of the greatest endurance athletes in the world.

For more information, view the abstract

Why Spring Is the Perfect Time to Take Your Workout Outdoors

forest bike

When the weather thaws, the plants bloom and the days get longer, it’s spring—and the best time of the year to take your fitness regimen outside. Here are six research-backed perks of al fresco exercise.

You work harder

When people exercise outside, they tend to spend more time doing it. One study found that older people who were active outdoors did at least 30 minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week than those who only did it inside. It also made them feel healthier. “Nothing makes you feel more childlike than being outdoors,” says Dr. Pamela Peeke, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and author of Fit to Live. “You’re modulating stress hormones, increasing endorphins and increasing the secretion of serotonin,” she says, so your mood brightens.

Being in nature lowers blood pressure

Spending time outside is also good for the heart. A recent study estimated that nearly 10% of people with high blood pressure could get their levels under control if they spent at least 30 minutes in a park each week, partly because of the heart-related benefits of getting fresh air and lowering stress. In Japan, public health experts recommend people spend time walking outdoors, a practice called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Researchers in Japan have linked forest bathing with lower levels of the blood pressure-raising stress hormone, cortisol.

It spurs cancer-fighting cells

Some research suggests that when people are in nature, they inhale aromatic compounds from plants called phytoncides. These can increase their number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease.

In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following those walks.

It can feel more fun

When people exercise outside, they feel better and enjoy the exercise more, studies suggest. “Enjoyment is an important pathway to the mental health impacts of physical activity,” says Rebecca Lovell, a research fellow at the University of Exeter in the UK. Exercising outside is also a great alternative for those who don’t want to go to the gym.

A review of research found that people who exercised outside reported feeling more revitalized, engaged and energized than those who did it indoors. The researchers also found that people who exercised outside felt less tension, anger and depression.

Your mental health may improve improve

Nature has a way of making people feel calm, and exercising outside can strengthen that effect. A small 2015 study found that people who walked for 90 minutes outside were less likely to ruminate on their problems and had less activity in the brain area linked to depression, compared to people who took similar walks but in urban areas. “Nature becomes a major distraction from all the stresses of life,” says Peeke.

You save money

Exercising outdoors is not only convenient, but it’s less expensive than a gym membership. It also cuts costs for the community. A recent study in England of “green exercises”—those done outside, including dog walking, running, horseback riding and mountain biking—estimated that the health benefits of doing physical activity in nature can save around $2.7 billion a year. “All you need is the right pair of shoes, and you can exercise on your own time,” says Peeke.

By Alexandra Sifferlin for Time Health

Lessons on Aging Well, From a 105-Year-Old Cyclist

robert-marchant

Robert Marchand, age 105, in Paris on Jan. 5, 2017, a day after setting a new one-hour cycling record.

At the age of 105, the French amateur cyclist and world-record holder Robert Marchand is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds — and appears to be getting even fitter as he ages, according to a revelatory new study of his physiology. The study, which appeared in December in the Journal of Applied Physiology, may help to rewrite scientific expectations of how our bodies age and what is possible for any of us athletically, no matter how old we are.

Many people first heard of Mr. Marchand last month, when he set a world record in one-hour cycling, an event in which someone rides as many miles as possible on an indoor track in 60 minutes. Mr. Marchand pedaled more than 14 miles, setting a global benchmark for cyclists age 105 and older. That classification had to be created specifically to accommodate him. No one his age previously had attempted the record.

Mr. Marchand, who was born in 1911, already owned the one-hour record for riders age 100 and older, which he had set in 2012. It was as he prepared for that ride that he came to the attention of Veronique Billat, a professor of exercise science at the University of Evry-Val d’Essonne in France. At her lab, Dr. Billat and her colleagues study and train many professional and recreational athletes.

She was particularly interested in Mr. Marchand’s workout program and whether altering it might augment his endurance and increase his speed. Conventional wisdom in exercise science suggests that it is very difficult to significantly add to aerobic fitness after middle age. In general, VO2max, a measure of how well our bodies can use oxygen and the most widely accepted scientific indicator of fitness, begins to decline after about age 50, even if we frequently exercise.

But Dr. Billat had found that if older athletes exercised intensely, they could increase their VO2 max. She had never tested this method on a centenarian, however. But Mr. Marchand was amenable. A diminutive 5 feet in height and weighing about 115 pounds, he said he had not exercised regularly during most of his working life as a truck driver, gardener, firefighter and lumberjack. But since his retirement, he had begun cycling most days of the week, either on an indoor trainer or the roads near his home in suburban Paris.

Almost all of this mileage was completed at a relatively leisurely pace. Dr. Billat upended that routine. But first, she and her colleagues brought Mr. Marchand into the university’s human performance lab. They tested his VO2 max, heart rate and other aspects of cardiorespiratory fitness. All were healthy and well above average for someone of his age. He also required no medications.

He then went out and set the one-hour world record for people 100 years and older, covering about 14 miles. Afterward, Dr. Billat had him begin a new training regimen. Under this program, about 80 percent of his weekly workouts were performed at an easy intensity, the equivalent of a 12 or less on a scale of 1 to 20, with 20 being almost unbearably strenuous according to Mr. Marchand’s judgment. He did not use a heart rate monitor.

The other 20 percent of his workouts were performed at a difficult intensity of 15 or above on the same scale. For these, he was instructed to increase his pedaling frequency to between 70 and 90 revolutions per minute, compared to about 60 r.p.m. during the easy rides. (A cycling computer supplied this information.) The rides rarely lasted more than an hour. Mr. Marchand followed this program for two years. Then he attempted to best his own one-hour track world record.

First, however, Dr. Billat and her colleagues remeasured all of the physiological markers they had tested two years before. Mr. Marchand’s VO2 max was now about 13 percent higher than it had been before, she found, and comparable to the aerobic capacity of a healthy, average 50-year-old. He also had added to his pedaling power, increasing that measure by nearly 40 percent.

Unsurprisingly, his cycling performance subsequently also improved considerably. During his ensuing world record attempt, he pedaled for almost 17 miles, about three miles farther than he had covered during his first, record-setting ride. He was 103 years old.

These data strongly suggest that “we can improve VO2 max and performance at every age,” Dr. Billat says. There are caveats, though. Mr. Marchand may be sui generis, with some lucky constellation of genes that have allowed him to live past 100 without debilities and to respond to training as robustly he does.

So his anecdotal success cannot tell us whether an 80/20 mix of easy and intense workouts is necessarily ideal or even advisable for the rest of us as we age. (Please consult your doctor before beginning or changing an exercise routine.) Lifestyle may also matter. Mr. Marchand is “very optimistic and sociable,” Dr. Billat says, “with many friends,” and numerous studies suggest that strong social ties are linked to a longer life.

His diet is also simple, focusing on yogurt, soup, cheese, chicken and a glass of red wine at dinner. But for those of us who hope to age well, his example is inspiring and, Dr. Billat says, still incomplete. Disappointed with last month’s record-setting ride, he believes that he can improve his mileage, she says, and may try again, perhaps when he is 106.

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