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Triathlete Training: An introduction
The triathlon, like running, seems to be enjoying a second boom. And no wonder. It was practically the poster-child event of the Sydney Olympics, with its start and finish at the Opera House. It has an annual world-famous event, the Hawaii Ironman. And thousands of runners and other everyday athletes are recognizing the benefits of the total-body fitness program that triathlon training involves.
But even if you don't want to do an Ironman-and most of us don't-you simply can't argue with the wisdom of a training program that combines running, bicycling, and swimming. This plan emphasizes cardiovascular conditioning, works all the major muscle groups (with appropriate rest days for each group), builds the kind of full-body strength that many runners lack, and adds tons of variety to a training program that might otherwise slip into yawndom.
In other words, it keeps you motivated, which is always job one of any training plan.
Here we provide a simple-but-complete package to ease you into triathlon training. After just a few weeks, you'll feel fitter and stronger. And you just might find yourself running faster as well.
Six tips to keep in mind, plus some workouts
1 Learn skills. Swimming is a skill sport-like tennis or golf, says triathlon coach Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete's Training Bible. Which makes it different from running, where success comes mostly from staying with it and putting in the time. You'll need to learn proper breathing, arm position, body alignment, and kick. This takes time and patience.
2 Take lessons. You can take swimming lessons at the YMCA, but a better bet might be connecting with a coach through a "masters" swim group, or by attending a swim clinic. (The term "masters" refers to swimmers 30 and older). In a swim clinic, you'll get drillwork, stroke assessment, sometimes even video analysis. It might seem like a lot to absorb at first, but at a certain point, if you stay with it, everything clicks and you become a much better swimmer.
3 Avoid the slow stuff. Triathlon coaches warn against simply logging laps at a slow pace. "The problem with this," says Troy Jacobson, head of the Baltimore-based National Triathlon Academy, which certifies coaches and works with some 500 triathletes nationwide, "is that before long your form deteriorates and you adopt poor habits." Go with interval training instead, such as 5 x 25 meters with rests between repeats.
4 Increase overall strength. With swimming, you increase muscle mass in the upper body while giving your legs a break. Renowned Ball State University exercise physiologist Dave Costill, Ph.D., believes this may ultimately improve your running. "A lot of runners in our area who switched to swimming ended up running better," says Costill.
5 Improve fitness without the injury risk. You should never run hard two days in a row, but you can swim hard the day after a hard run, because you're working completely different muscles. Therefore, you'll be boosting fitness capacity without increasing your injury risk.
6 Get the gear. For swimming, you'll need a suit, goggles, swim cap, and ear plugs. "The suit should be tight enough so there's no 'drag,' " says triathlete and swim coach Lee DiPietro of Ruxton, Md.
Don't let swimming scare you
Suggested Swim Workouts
At the beginning of each of your swimming sessions, practice the drills listed in "Essential Swim Tips" below. Then try one of the following workouts:
1. Swim 4 to 6 x 25 meters hard, with 30 seconds of complete rest between repeats. Build up to 6 x 50 meters. Always finish with several minutes of easy swimming.
2. Swim 2 x 100 meters hard, with a 2-minute rest between repeats. Eventually work up to 2 to 4 x 200 meters.
Essential Swim Tips
Worried about the swim part of triathlon training? Don't be.
With these simple drills, you'll be fine
Most runners who are considering their first triathlon are fine with the cycling aspect of the event. It's the swimming that scares them. But it shouldn't, as long as they know the basics. For advice, we consulted Terry Laughlin, head coach of Total Immersion Swimming, who has been teaching swim techniques for 10 years.
"Gifted swimmers simply have a better intuitive understanding of the most fluent way to move through the water," says Laughlin. "But anyone can learn this fluency with a few simple drills."
Laughlin suggests the four below. With each, swim short repeats (25 meters or so) slowly and easily, and try to feel what's described in each drill. Between repeats, take three to five deep, slow breaths until you feel ready to swim again without fatigue.
Drill 1: Hide Your Head
Why: Good head-spine alignment is essential to smooth swimming.
How: Lead with the top of your head, not your forehead. Feel water flowing over the back of your head. Look at the pool bottom directly under you, not in front of you.
Drill 2: Swim Downhill
Why: Balance-feeling completely supported by the water-is the essential skill of efficient swimming.
How: "Lean" on your chest until your hips and legs feel light. Your hips
and legs should actually be slightly higher in the water than your head and torso.
Drill 3: Lengthen Your Body
Why: A longer body line reduces drag, allowing you to swim easier.
How: Extend a "weightless" arm slowly. Slip your arm into the water as if sliding it into a jacket sleeve. Keep extending until you feel your shoulder touch your jaw.
Drill 4: Flow Like Water
Why: Making waves or creating turbulence takes energy, all of it supplied by you.
How: Pierce the water; slip through the smallest possible hole. Swim as quietly as possible. Try not to make waves or disturb the water.
For more of Laughlin's swim tips, or to inquire about swim-training camp, visit http://www.totalimmersion.net/ or call 800-609-7946.
Bicycle races are coming your way
Six strategies you should know, plus workouts
1 Learn something new. Though bicycling is a close cousin to running, don't take it for granted. Cycling requires different muscles than running, and a fair amount of skill in terms of pedal stroke, use of gears, climbing, riding in groups, taking corners, and navigating safely in traffic. And you need to learn how to fix a flat (it's easy with a few inexpensive tools).
2 Consider the bike. Actually, there are a couple of ways to go here. Some triathlon coaches suggest you fork out at least $500 for a lightweight, multi-geared road bike. A second camp says go for the so-called "hybrid" bikes that offer the smooth ride of a road bike with the comfort and versatility of a mountain bike. You can find a decent model for around $300. One big benefit of choosing a hybrid bike is you'll be able to train on trails, thus avoiding car traffic.
Whichever bike option you select, buy a helmet, a pair of bike gloves to protect your hands, and a cyclometer to keep track of speed and distance. And remember, if the weather's bad or you live in a high-traffic area, you can do some of your cycling on a stationary bike.
3 Train accordingly. In terms of training effect, 1 running mile equals around 3 cycling miles, but cycling can take considerably more time. For example, a 5-mile run may take you 45 minutes. An equivalent bike ride of 15 miles will take you at least an hour.
4 Spin your wheels. "The most common cycling mistake that novice triathletes make is mashing big gears," says Troy Jacobson. That is, using higher gears hoping that it will get you in cycling shape faster. But this can lead to knee injuries-and stalled progress. Instead, do what cyclists call "spinning": stay in the lower gears at a cadence of at least 90 revolutions per minute.
5 "Pull" on the pedals. When pedaling, don't press down with the balls of your feet, because that's also tough on your knees. Rather, press with your heel, then pull back and up with your calves in a circular motion, says Ironman triathlete Steve Zambito, 48, of Greenwich, Conn. This generates power and speed, but it can take time to master the motion.
6 Beware the saddle. Just as you need to gradually increase your running mileage, you need to gradually increase your time on the bike. Otherwise you risk painful saddle sores, knee injury, and other setbacks. And, as Friel says, don't think you need to trash yourself to get a decent workout. Because cycling is non-impact, it may feel "too easy" at times. That's fine. It's doing the job.
Suggested cycling Workouts
1. Once a week, go for distance. Work up to 2 hours or more, depending on the length of the triathlon you're training for.
2. Every other week, do 20 to 30 minutes of "tempo riding" at an equivalent effort to tempo running. Begin and end these sessions with at least 10 minutes of easy riding.
3. Every other week, or even every third week, do some speed. After 15 minutes of easy cycling, push hard for a minute, then go easy for a minute. Repeat 10 to 20 times, finishing with 15 minutes of easy riding.
Running with purpose
Here's how to fine-tune your running during triathlon training
To keep your schedule as simple as possible, figure to do two runs, two swims, and two bike sessions each week, with 1 day of rest, suggests triathlon coach Joe Friel. Yes, you'll be doing more cycling and swimming combined than running, but that's as it should be, because they are your weak links. This is how your week might look:
To maintain your running speed and endurance, concentrate on these three running workouts:
1. Every Sunday, do a long run at an easy training pace. If you're training for an Ironman, work up to 20 miles for your long run.
2. Every other Wednesday, do a 15- to 20-minute tempo run slightly slower than 10-K race pace.
3. On the Wednesdays you're not doing tempo, do 800- to 1600-meter repeats at about 5-K race pace, with plenty of rest between the repeats.
Where to Find a Triathlon
If you're new to triathloning, you should probably look for short-distance "sprint" triathlons, especially those with pool swims as opposed to the open-water swims. Sprint triathlons usually include a 1/4-mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride, and a 5-K run. For a large listing of triathlons, go to http://www.usatriathlon.org/, or check Triathlete magazine's Web site at http://www.triathletemag.com/. Both sites have national race calendars. Danskin sponsors a seven-event national triathlon series for women.
Check http://www.danskin.com/ or call (800) 452-9526.
Courtesy of Men's Health