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

Mental Preparation for Competition

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While race day or game day itself is often exciting, unpredictable and public, the training that prepares us for the big day can be anything but. The grueling, tedious and monotonous nature of preparation, typically done away from public view, can make sticking with a training program difficult. In this article, we consider the mental challenges of adherence and tips to get through training as well as the big race or game.

What hinders lots of athletes, whether recreational or highly competitive as they prepare for competition is the repetitiveness of training. Running the same routes and performing the same drills every day, after a while, can strip us of our motivation to continue. While repetition is key to mastery of a skill, new trails, new routes, or new routines can be the ticket when the excitement of training begins to dwindle. An older man approaching the 50th wedding anniversary with his wife recently shared to me his secret to marital success: “Keep her guessing. Keep her on her toes.

One day, return home from work with a rose, or a nice shirt, or a piece of jewelry or a loving embrace. Never fall into a long-term routine. The possibility of surprise fortifies the relationship and keeps it lasting.” The human body and mind both respond favorably to variation; life requires some change to keep someone alert, fresh and interested. Surprising your muscles and your mind with change prevents you from simply going through the motions and brings more mindfulness to the movements of the training. Examples include:

– running stairs instead of hills
– playing pick-up basketball instead of your regular agility training
– working on less familiar or less practiced parts of your game
– testing out kettlebells rather than the usual dumbbells at the gym

Mixing it up can be in response to a lull in motivation (“I’m getting bored, it’s time for a change”) or as a way to eliminate the possibility of the lull setting in. Find what works for you.

We tend to forget that there is a way to enhance training for competition without having to physically move our bodies. When a scene is imagined vividly and accurately, our brains essentially get tricked into believing we’re doing it for real, since physical and mental rehearsal alike activate very similar parts of the brain. Not only is it helpful to create pictures of success in our mind (i.e., watching ourselves kicking the game-winning field goal, or crossing the finish line in record time), but it’s just as important to picture overcoming the obstacles that may get in the way of success. Examples include:

– imagining how you will adjust your race strategy to torrential rain on the big day
– seeing yourself letting go of a poor golf hole and sticking with your normal routines on the next hole, rather than rushing and making impulsive decisions as you may usually do
– picturing playing intense and focused defense after missing a clutch free throw on offense

Remember, you never want to arrive anywhere on the course or field where you haven’t already been for at least a few moments in your mind.

How to Not Hate Running on the Treadmill

Four ways to make the most out of your indoor workouts.

treadmillWhen the weather outside is frightful, the treadmill inside – is boring and monotonous. Sure, you can make basic adjustments like boosting the incline, varying the pace or distracting yourself with a TV series, but you can also take those strategies a step further if you want to emerge from winter an even better runner. Here are four methods that will build strength and help you get more out of your treadmill workouts before the spring thaw:

1. Warm up properly.

Maximizing your workouts starts by prepping your body to run at a more intense pace. Simply jumping on the treadmill and beginning your run won’t get that engine running effectively enough to achieve faster paces and survive rolling hills.

To properly warm up, start walking briskly for four to six minutes. During this time, focus on loosening up your legs, back and arms. You’ll start to feel your body warm up, but you shouldn’t be breathing hard yet. Next, pick up to the pace to a light jog and run for at least two to four minutes. Only now should you start breathing more heavily and sweating lightly. After your easy jog, increase the pace to your typical running workout pace and hold it for two minutes. Finally, do two or three very short intervals – about 30 seconds – at a pace quicker than your running pace. Return back to your typical pace and hold it for one to two minutes. This entire process takes only 10 to 15 minutes, but it primes your muscles for running hard.

2. Raise the incline liberally.

After you’re primed, use the treadmill’s incline feature to simulate hills, which can build a great deal of strength and power. While you should always avoid running on a treadmill at a less than 1.5 or 2 percent grade, which simulates a flat road, if you want to really run hills, you’re going to need to dial it up to 4 to 10 percent.

On a 4 percent grade, which is similar to a gentle hill outside, try to keep running your typical pace for four to six minutes. As you increase the grade to 6 or 7 percent, you’ll start to feel like you’re climbing outside and may need to back off your pace slightly (perhaps 0.5 miles per hour), especially as you start climbing these hills. Hold on to these hills for two to four minutes. Finally, crank up the incline to 10 percent or more for some steep climbs, but stop after about 30 seconds to one minute and back off the pace more if needed.

Mixing and matching the steepness of the inclines and the length of the hills is a recipe for a great hill workout similar to what you’d experience outside. As an added bonus, you probably won’t feel bored as your push through these hills.

3. Train yourself to run faster.

The treadmill is also a handy tool for learning to run faster because you have tight control over the speed and can adjust your pace in very fine increments. At first, you’ll only be able to run fast for short periods of time, but as you build the proper form and strength, you can continue to increase the pace.

After warming up properly, start by increasing your pace in 0.2 mile-per-hour increments and hold the faster speed for one minute. Once you have a feel for how fast you can safely run, run through sets of high-speed intervals that range from 30 seconds to two minutes with a break of one to two minutes in between. The faster the pace, the shorter the interval should be. Start by doing two to four intervals and, over time, try to get up to as high as 12 to 16 minutes of higher-speed running. Once you’re able to hit, say, 15 minutes of high-speed intervals, drop the number of intervals and increase the pace again.

4. Use long intervals and recovery times to build endurance.

The treadmill can also build endurance if you perform a series of long intervals with lengthy recovery times. Start by warming up, and then increase your pace by 0.2 to 0.5 miles per hour more than your typical running pace, and hold that pace for 10 minutes. Back off to 0.2 to 0.5 miles per hour below your typical pace and recover for 10 minutes. For a second interval, increase the pace again, hold it for 15 minutes and recover for 10 minutes. Finally, try to run 20 minutes and recover for 10 minutes.

If you’re training for a marathon, you can add additional 15- to 20-minute blocks to lengthen the workout. These runs take more time and can last one and a half to two hours, so you’ll want to have something to distract you. I binge-watch shows or movies on my laptop during these workouts. The most important aspects of these longer intervals are holding on through them and giving yourself a good, long recovery before doing another.

By Joe English for US News

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