Race like a pro: the smartest way to structure your annual triathlon training calender
Posted Dec 11 2010 10:00am
By now, most folks have heard of the term "periodization", which is the scientific term for splitting a triathlon training year into periods and focusing on a specific performance or fitness goal for each specific period. Most triathlon programs that you find in books, magazines and the internet already use some form of periodization, but there are two sorely neglected components of a periodized model that do not receive adequate attention in triathlon programs: nutrition periodization and weight training periodization.
Since this article is being released in what for most folks is the off-season, now is a perfect time to briefly put a discussion of swimming, cycling and running on the back-burner, and instead focus on understanding how to properly structure weight training (for enhancing muscle recruitment, power and injury prevention) and nutrition (for enhancing weight loss, health and adequate energy).
Although there are a multitude of variations on the concept, a triathlon season is generally split into four periods: off-season, base training, build training and race peak/taper. If you use the same weight training volume and intensity, the same weight and the same number of repetitions all year long, you¹ll experience burnout and subpar weight training benefits. So just as you should make slight alterations or major changes to your swimming, cycling, and running routine, you should also modify (or "periodize") your weight training routine as the time of year changes. If you properly decrease sets, increase power, and incorporate more explosiveness as your high priority races draw near, you can allow your weight trained muscles to achieve peak performance on race day.
The same concept holds true for nutrition. Fueling your body for triathlon is not as simple as fueling a car. With a car, you simply put fuel in the gas tank when you¹re running low or when you¹re preparing for a long trip. But your body is different, since is has several different physiological systems, or ³engines², that you¹re fueling, and also three different types of fuel: fat, protein, and carbs. The key to nutrition periodization is to match the amount and timing of these three fuel types with the volume and intensity of your training and the seasonal time of year.
If this sounds complicated, then keep reading, because you can use the rules below to help guide you in properly periodizing both weight training and nutrition.
Weight Training Periodization: If your goal is to develop muscle mass, tone muscle in a specific body area or part, or build significantly greater strength, this is the time to do it. Traditionally, the off-season is a time of year when there are few or no triathlons, and a triathlete is often engaged in other cross-training activities that go beyond swimming, cycling or running. Off-season weight training workouts should be performed in a set and repetition range designed for strength and muscular growth (hypertrophy), two crucial keys to injury prevention and foundation building. Because swimming, cycling and running are de-emphasized in the off-season, it is not as important during weight training to reduce overly fatiguing a muscle or producing soreness instead, these effects are often necessary to achieve significant growth in muscle mass or strength. In the off-season, most weight training should include 3-6 sets of 10-15 reps, with the goal of completing 2-3 weight training sessions each week.
For most athletes, the off-season takes place during the winter. Not only does total training volume and intensity typically decrease during this time, but there is also increased prevalence of fatty foods, feasts and caloric excess. For cold weather athletes, there is also a completely natural propensity to gain body fat for insulation. Finally, most athletes who stay lean year-round have increased injury propensity and lower energy levels as they move forward into more focused training later in the season. Therefore, it is acceptable for the off-season nutrition period to allow slightly higher fat and total calorie intake (preferably from healthy, plant-based or non-processed fat sources), moderate protein intake, and relatively low carbohydrate intake. During the off-season period, carbohydrate/protein/fat percentage ratio should be approximately 30-40% carbs, 30-40% protein, and 30-40% fat.
Weight Training Periodizaton: A triathlete¹s weight training goal during the base season should be to develop strength and muscular coordination, while considering the added focus that will be placed on triathlon specific training, and the need for decreased soreness. Most triathlon training programs incorporate high amounts of swimming, cycling and running volume during base training (there are some exceptions to this rule, in which case, you may need to intelligently re-arrange the order of periods in this article), so the number of weight training workouts should decrease. Plyometrics, an explosive form of weight training, should not yet be introduced, as this method of training does increase risk of injury. Most workouts should include 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, with a heaver weight than used in the off-season, and the goal of completing 1-2 weight training sessions each week.