How to Spot a Good Triathlon Training Plan

Ellena Arroyo

I believe that having a plan is a good number one step in attaining your (professional, personal, triathlon) goals.

There are hundreds of triathlon plans available across the internet and in books or from different coaches, but a question was put to me the other day – how do you know that you’re looking at a good plan?

Each coach has their own ideas of what constitutes a good plan, so the first thing would be to find a coach/website that shares the same philosophies of life that you do. Mine is a holistic approach – in that an action in any aspect of your life, including your plan, impacts on other aspects – so you’d do best to approach it as an organic, living system.

I also like to see the following principles reflected in a plan:

1. Nothing new on race day

2. Form under duress

3. Keep it real.

So what would I advise you to look for in a plan?

The purpose of the plan and each session is clear – this allows you to know why you’re doing a particular session, so you focus on trying to hit that outcome – otherwise the session can become mechanical and a meaningless or empty training session.

Every session has warm up, preparation/ main set and cool down – warm up and cool down are just as important to the plan as the main set – it prepares the body to move before you start putting real stressors on it and it allows you to start the recovery process – never miss either, or you’ll increase the risk of injury and cut short your training period over the year.

Hard effort in the second half of session – this fits with principle 2 above and gets you used to pushing hard in the back end of the race, you get to know what it feels like to push through (muscle memory), which leads into principle 1 – nothing new on race day.

Time and effort vs speed/pace and distance – anybody can execute a plan based on time and effort – you don’t need fancy GPS equipment, you can do it at home or overseas (it’s portable), it applies to any ability and it’s also adaptable from day to day – so an effort of easy today might be very different to an effort of easy tomorrow for a myriad of different reasons – time and effort is what you can control – speed/pace and distance is the outcome – train on what you can control (all fits principle # 3 keeping it real).

Balance of strength and endurance through the week – beware of the ‘volume’ based program which will lead to boredom and increase the risk of injury – the balance of strength work like sprints and intervals, with the longer sessions helps keep up the interest and trains all the body systems (muscle memory) – again, this fits with principles 1 and 2 – nothing new on race day and form under duress, as well as #3 – keeping it achievable.

Repetition vs variety – many plans are based on the idea that variety stimulates your body into growth and progress – the body actually relies heavily on muscle memory – imagine having to learn to tie your shoelaces every time you need to put your runners on! Training progress works the same way – muscle memory – your muscles learn to operate in a certain way, and the body likes that – the way we grow is to tweak or stimulate with extra effort or extra intervals rather than a different training session – the repetition of similar sessions also gives us a benchmark, which is a positive training tool to encourage improvement against a previous benchmark and positive reinforcement of progress when we do improve over time. The variety comes, not from hugely different sessions, but “change ups” of a similar session.

•’Brick’ session every week – many programs introduce a ‘brick’ session (or double session, the most common is the ride-run session) in the last few weeks approaching race day – this is introducing something totally new close to the race, usually after your long ride – wouldn’t it be better to have a ‘brick’ from week 1, developing that skill right from the start, and building it up as you are doing with every other session? Let’s keep it real and achievable – nothing new (close to) race day.

Beware the ‘run’ focused program – running is the toughest of the three disciplines on our body – the run sessions need the most time for recovery. There are a few plans out there focused on helping weaker runners improve their run leg, however it is the weakest runners who fare the worst on a run focused program, as these are the poor mites who need even more time for recovery from the run sessions. In fact, the run focused program only suits about 5% of the population, so at those odds, most of us should stay well clear.

•And finally and probably most importantly, it fits your capabilities and commitments – it is no good having a plan that you can’t execute because it doesn’t fit your ability or lifestyle – you’ll get demotivated and frustrated and it will only last so long!

Once you find a plan, then there are a few tricks to getting the most value out of it.

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