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

How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym

By

When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For my column with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 – yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

For this reason, the author Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit,” or a change in one area life that brings about positive effects in other areas. Duhigg says keystone habits are powerful because “they change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible.” This explains why the charity Back on My Feet uses running to help individuals who are experiencing homelessness improve their situations. Since launching in 2009, Back on My Feet has had over 5,500 runners, 40 percent of whom have gained employment after starting to run with the group and 25 percent of whom have found permanent housing. This is also likely why it’s so common to hear about people who started training for a marathon to help them get over a divorce or even the death of a loved one.

Another study, this one published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, evaluated how exercise changes our physiological response to stress. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, divided students into two groups at the beginning of the semester and instructed half to run twice a week for 20 weeks. At the end of the 20 weeks, which coincided with a particularly stressful time for the students — exams — the researchers had the students wear heart-rate monitors to measure their heart-rate variability, which is a common indicator of physiological stress (the more variability, the less stress). As you might guess by now, the students who were enrolled in the running program showed significantly greater heart-rate variability. Their bodies literally were not as stressed during exams: They were more comfortable during a generally uncomfortable time.

What’s remarkable and encouraging about these studies is that the subjects weren’t exercising at heroic intensities or volumes. They were simply doing something that was physically challenging for them – going from no exercise to some exercise; one need not be an elite athlete or fitness nerd to reap the bulletproofing benefits of exercise.

Why does any of this matter? For one, articles that claim prioritizing big fitness goals is a waste of time (exhibit A: “Don’t Run a Marathon) are downright wrong. But far more important than internet banter, perhaps a broader reframing of exercise is in order. Exercise isn’t just about helping out your health down the road, and it’s certainly not just about vanity. What you do in the gym (or on the roads, in the ocean, etc.) makes you a better, higher-performing person outside of it. The truth, cliché as it may sound, is this: When you develop physical fitness, you’re developing life fitness, too.

Brad Stulberg is a columnist for Outside Magazine, where he writes about health and the science of human performance. Follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.

Reward Yourself at CEO Challenges; Complex Knee Injuries in Pro Athletes; NBA vs NFL Injuries

Episode 16.34 with Hosts Steve Kashul and Dr. Brian Cole. Broadcasting on ESPN Chicago 1000 WMVP-AM Radio, Saturdays from 8:30 to 9:00 AM/c.

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Segment One:  The President of CEO Challenges, Ted Kennedy talks about the Camaraderie, Experience & Opportunity provided by CEO Challenges. Meet and compete with fellow C-suite executives that share your passion and interests. You’ll start out as strangers and finish as lifelong friends.

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Ted’s background is unique in the fitness industry and includes the following highlights:

  • 20 years in sales and marketing with packaged goods companies (Quaker Oats / Best Foods)
  • One of the original founders of IRONMAN North America (launching IRONMAN races in the USA)
  • Hosted the first ever CEO IRONMAN Challenge in Lake Placid in 2001
  • Started CEO Challenges with an exclusive license deal from IRONMAN in 2005
  • Sold his company to $1.4 billion Life Time Fitness in 2012 with the agreement to run it for five years

Ted has been interviewed by most major business news and fitness publications for hisCEO Challenges knowledge and relationship with CEOs that have a passion for endurance events. The CEO Challenge database includes 1,900 opt-in subscribers who receive monthly newsletters with race results and announcing new CEO Challenge events around the world. CEO Challenges enjoys an 83% post-event rating of ‘exceeded’ or ‘far exceeded’ expectations from some of the world’s most discerning customers.


nfl-knee-injurySegment Two: Dr. Brian Cole discusses the prevalence and his experience with
cartilage and complex knee issues in professional athletes; new techniques in dealing with the long recovery times; load related activity & pain management.


Segment Three:  Captain Matthew T. Provencher, MD MC USN with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and Head Team Physician with the New England Patriots during their 2014 Super Bowl Championship Season. Dr. Provencher talks with Steve and Dr. Cole about his work in research; NBA vs NFL injuries and experience in setting up the Navy Seal Special Forces Tactical Athlete program.

Matthew T. ProvencherDr. Provencher graduated in 1993 with highest honors from the United States Naval Academy and was the Secretary of the Navy Distinguished Graduate, where he was an all-American rower. He earned his medical degree with Honors from Dartmouth Medical School in 1998.

He has served as Chief of Sports Medicine at The Massachusetts General since April 2013 and has been with the Patriots for the last two seasons. He also serves as a Professor of Surgery and Orthopaedics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) and is a Visiting Professor at The Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Provencher completed his orthopaedic residency at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and his orthopaedic shoulder knee and sports surgery fellowship at Rush University in Chicago. A prolific researcher, he has received numerous academic and research awards including the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) Aircast Award, The International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (ISAKOS) Science Award.

He was also selected for several prestigious traveling fellowships, including the AOSSM Asia-Pacific, the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA) John Fahey North American Traveling Fellowship, and the American-British-Canadian (ABC) Fellowship. In addition, he has received multiple peer-reviewed research grants totaling over $1.5M to study topics such as shoulder instability, rotator cuff injuries, and ACL tears from funding agencies including, OREF, PRORP, and The Department of the Army and Navy.

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