Training for a triathlon requires dedication and consistency, but there is a point when the typical athlete doesn’t have any more hours in the week to train. Between work, family, and personal commitments, not to mention trying to not overtrain, most aspiring or active triathletes have a lid on their possible training time. How can you get faster or build endurance without adding more training time? One way is to add more intensity to your training time, and the other is to add more precision. I am going to provide a few ideas on how you can make your training more precise and take it to the next level.
Here are three ways to make your training more precise, and maximize your workout time.
Measure Your Power.
Understanding your power output while training is a surefire way to be more intentional about each and every workout. We have all had runs or bike rides when we go out and seem to just get in a rut. We go through the motions, but really have no idea if it was a quality workout or not.
One way to change that is by measuring power. On a bike, the most common ways to measure power output are by using a power meter, or if cycling indoors, by measuring wattage on a smart trainer or wired bike. Using either device allows you to keep yourself honest on your rides, making sure you are pushing it hard enough on the days when you want to train above your functional power threshold, but also helping you to not push too hard on the days that are meant to be more base-building and recovery-minded.
A power meter is a component that goes on your bike, and can measure your overall wattage output during a ride. There are several ways to install a power meter, but our favorites tend to be the ones that come in the form of a crank arm, a pedal, or a wheel hub. We did an entire piece on power meters here, where we go into depth on the pros and cons of various meters. Note, they are not inexpensive devices —they often cost $500 and up.
A smart trainer is like a traditional indoor bike trainer, but with more advanced technology to measure your power, speed equivalent, and simulate riding conditions like hills. For those who mainly want to measure power while riding indoors, a smart trainer can be a great way to accomplish this without modifying your bike. You usually use a smart trainer with an app like Zwift or Sufferfest. The difference between a smart trainer and the popular Peloton service that you see advertised is that you use your own bike on a smart trainer, and connect to whichever app you like best. It is a topic that can be pretty involved, so we profiled power meters and apps in depth for you, here.
You can also measure estimated power on runs, with more advanced running and multisport watches. We expect that technology to evolve rapidly in coming years.
Customize a Training Plan.
It might seem obvious, but having a plan to follow helps your training be much more intentional and precise. We still see lots of triathletes who are “winging it” when it comes to their training plan. They know which race they want to do, and give themselves a few months to train, but beyond that they just meander their way through training.
While you can pull any number of training plans off the web, we like the ones that have some level of customization for three things: Your base level of fitness, your goals, and your available time. One person may be doing their first-ever triathlon, hoping to finish, and trying to train with 4 hours per week. Another may be a seasoned athlete, looking for a podium finish, and able to devote 10–12 hours a week to training. Those two triathletes would be silly to use the same training plan.
If you have the budget for it, consulting with a local coach can be a great way to customize a training plan. The plans we like best tend to be the ones with a weekly prescribed tempo, rather than a rigid daily plan. Life happens, and you might have a kids’ activity on the day that calls for your intense brick workout, or it might be raining on the day that calls for a 2-hour bike ride. A week-by-week plan will give you the flexibility you need.
Keep a Log.
The workout log is one of the most underrated, least expensive, and simplest tools available to your training. Logging your workout, distance, speed, effort or output, and how you felt can be very powerful. It can also be a useful tool to correlate certain workouts with injuries or soreness, allowing you to adjust in the future.
You can use an online app or site to log your workouts, but you can be just as effective by simply keeping a notebook log. I use a small notebook, and on the left I have a day-by-day summary of the workout I did (and just as importantly, a big dash when I did not workout), and on the right I make notes about how I felt. Was I fast? Was my hamstring tight? Was my knee sore? Was I nursing a cold? I also note my weight about once every 2–3 weeks, so I can monitor a longer-term trend.
This type of log will not only help you spot injury trends and keep yourself honest in your training plan, but it can be very useful if you decide to consult a coach to amp up your training to the next level.
Thank you to Paul from completetri.com for helping out as a guest writer for this blog post. Complete Tri has a wealth of resources including gear reviews, tips, and advice for triathletes of all abilities. All of their information is free, and a portion of their revenues goes back to community triathlon clubs like ours.
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