TRAINING & RECOVERY
Here are some guidelines for training and recovery aimed at those who are already consistently training at least 10 hours per week and are more experienced.
As well as advice about how to maximise performance, there's some info about overtraining.
Many triathletes will experience overtraining at some point –it’s hard to avoid! But it’s important to recover properly between sessions to maximise your performance and keep your body healthy. This guide will help you to plan your training and avoid overtraining. This is just a guide - do what's right for you and ask committee members or other experienced OUTriC athletes if unsure!
BALANCING 3 SPORTS
Step 1: Decide what your season goals are
Step 2: Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Step 3: Based on the answers to step 1 and 2, identify your “needs improvement” sport and specifically what you want to improve in that sport.
Step 4: Look at when you are available to train.
Step 5: Fill in the training times with your swim/bike/run (and ideally strength) workouts. Aim for at least two per week in each sport, with one or two extra on your “needs improvement” sport
Here is how you might break down a 10-hour per week training schedule for various sport weaknesses:
- The balanced athlete: 3 hours swimming / 5 hours biking / 2 hours running
- The bike-weak athlete: 2 hours swimming / 6 hours biking / 2 hours running
- The swim-weak athlete: 4 hours swimming / 4 hours biking / 2 hours running
- The run-weak athlete: 3 hours swimming / 5 hours biking / 2 hours running (broken up among more run sessions
Things to bear in mind
Swimming: If you are working on technique, high frequency and short duration workouts are best. Technique is particularly important for swimming and as it is low-impact, if swimming is your weakness, get in the pool as much as you can.
Cycling: Cycling is low impact and the biggest percentage of time in a triathlon is usually on the bike, so you should spend more time cycling than running or swimming –ideally try to get at least one long cycle (minimum of 2 hours, steady endurance pace) in per week. Keep in mind that intense cycling sessions can fatigue your legs, and you might notice this during some of your running workouts.
Running: Running is high-impact and hard on the body. Limit the amount of intense running sessions you do to no more than 2 per week. If you need to work on your running and/or want to increase your running volume, it is recommended to increase the frequency with which you run (still keeping to the rule of a maximum of 2 hard runs per week) by adding in more steady runs (3-10miles at a steady pace). Never do back-to-back hard running workouts.
Strength: The more you train, the more strength and conditioning (S+C) you should do to avoid injury. These sessions will also increase your power and fatigue resistance, thus boosting your performance. If you are training 10-15 hours per week, ideally include at least S+C session in your training plan. If you are training over 15 hours per week, you should be doing at least 2 S+C sessions. S+C workouts/programs can be found online (e.g. this one from British Triathlon) or you can ask a committee member for advice.
Build up volume and intensity gradually. The 10% rule is a good rule to follow for athletes who already have some triathlon training experience –avoid increasing your training volume/mileage by more than 10% per week. Ensure that you take enough recovery time between hard sessions –it’s ok to train every day but some days should be easier than others. If you are feeling tired and/or have done a particularly intense session, take a rest day. Schedule your swimming in between cycle/running sessions to avoid over-fatiguing your legs. See the How to avoid overtraining section below for more info on how to plan high-intensity and recovery workouts
Turbo sessions can be particularly intense! Make sure to plan your recovery after!
Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if a little exercise leads to small improvements, then more must lead to bigger and better improvements. And this is true but only up to a point. At this tipping point, the amount of exercise you perform can do more harm than good. Overtraining can be caused by one or both of the following:
Too much exercise with too little recovery
Overtraining syndrome (OTS) leads to a drop in fitness level and possibly injury. Recognising the early signs and combating them can prevent detrimental fitness and health outcomes.
A key sign of overtraining is a lack of improved performance, despite an increase in training intensity and/or volume. Decreased agility, strength and endurance(e.g. slower times and speeds)are all common signs of overtraining.
Increased perceived effort during workouts
Not only can overtraining decrease performance, it can also make workouts feel more difficult than usual. A clear sign of this is an abnormally elevated heart rate during exercise or throughout the day. If you are experiencing OTS, you may find that it takes longer for your heart rate to return to normal after a workout.
A couple days of fatigue or “heavy legs” after a big workout is normal. But if you don’t take enough time to recover from previous workouts, fatigue will accumulate. Further, chronic negative energy expenditure leads to “low energy availability,” which means that the body is consistently pulling from its own energy stores (carbs, protein, fat). This can be the result of too much training or too little fuelling.
Insomnia or restless sleep
Sleep provides the body time to rest and repair. But overtraining leads to an overproduction of stress hormones, which may not allow you to wind down, making sleep much less effective (which then worsens the chronic fatigue). This is particular can also lead to psychological stress.
Loss of appetite
More training should stimulate more appetite, but the physiological exhaustion of OTS can lead to appetite suppression.
Chronic or nagging injuries and illnesses
Overused muscles and joints can lead to injury. Overtraining taxes all of the body's systems and also makes it more difficult to ward off infections. So frequent illnesses and feeling run down are signs as well.
Long-term low energy availability may lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency anaemia, which can harm both health and performance. It can also lead to medical complications(e.g., one very clear sign is menstrual cycle disturbances in women).
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF OVERTRAINING
Female Athlete Triad and Osteoporosis
The Female Athlete Triad is a syndrome of three interrelated conditions can be extremely serious:
1. Energy Deficiency with or without Disordered Eating
2. Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea
3. Bone Loss/Osteoporosis
The primary cause of the Female Athlete Triad is energy deficiency due to overtraining. It also often involves a conscious restriction of food intake and a high drive for becoming lean. Sometimes, these conditions can lead to more serious eating problems, such as anorexia or bulimia.
The most serious menstrual problem associated with the Triad is amenorrhea, defined as no menstrual period for 3 months or more. This can cause fertility problems.
The Female Athlete Triad leads to a high risk for low bone mass leading to weakened bones, called osteoporosis in its severe form. This type of bone loss can cause an increased risk of fractures, including stress fractures.This can be incredibly serious and can end your athletic career.
Men can suffer from energy deficiency and osteoporosis too. While these symptoms are more common in female athletes, men can also suffer from energy deficiency and osteoporosis.
Social rides/swims/runs are a good way to recover while still having training benefit. And they're fun!
HOW TO AVOID OVERTRAINING & SPEED UP RECOVERY
There are several preventative measures you can take to avoid overtraining:
Take time to recover – including rest days
Take complete rest days every so often. If you’re used to training daily, you may only need a complete rest day every 3 weeks. However you should still schedule in days where the training volume and intensity is lighter. Avoid doing back-to-back hard sessions and rest up if you feel fatigued.
Mix up your training
Mix up your training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days. Try to schedule swimming sessions between running/cycling workouts to allow your legs to recover.
Reduce the intensity
Reducing the intensity of your training if you’re showing signs of OTS. Many triathletes do far too many hard workouts per week. It is important to also do endurance workouts at a steady pace and technique workouts. Not only will this help you avoid overtraining but it will also improve your performance. Studies have shown that athletes who do a mix of endurance and high-intensity workouts perform better than those who focus just on high-intensity (or just on endurance). You may also want to break up long workouts into more but shorter workouts (eg. 2x5mile run rather than 1x10mile run).
Reduce the volume
If you’re showing signs of OTS and you’ve already tried reducing the intensity of your training, you may want to reduce your training volume. Scale it back until you are no longer showing signs of OTS and then gradually increase the volume again using the 10% rule.
Eat properly to recover faster
Ensure calorie intake matches (or possibly exceeds) caloric expenditure. When overtraining, the body may be depleted in various nutrients. Aim to have a diet high in carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats such as omega 3 oils. Ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals too. Take nutritional supplements if needed -supplements should be taken in addition to meals and with meals for proper absorption.
Refuel soon after working out
You should already be drinking during your workout but make sure to drink after exercise too to replace any fluids lost. You should also aim to refuel with carbs and protein as soon as possible. The best recovery benefit comes when you refuel within 20mins of finishing exercise. While you can eat solid foods, often a drink/smoothie may be easier to digest and get the right ratio within the desired 20-minute window after a workout. Chocolate milk is said to be the ideal post-workout drink with the right carb:protein:fat ratios.There are also specific post-workout drinks available – check protein and carbohydrate levels of these (ideally you want a 4:1 carb:protein ratio). Always eat within 2 hours of finishing exercise.
Refuel before and during your workout
Unless you’re doing specific fasted training, eat a meal high in carbohydrates before working out. Make sure to be drinking during your workout – this could be water or a carbohydrate drink. If your workout is long, you may also need to refuel during – gels are good for an immediate energy boost. Bananas are also great!
Get your blood work checked out
If you’re training a lot, it’s important to have you blood work checked fairly regularly, particularly if you’re feeling fatigued and/or you’re a female athlete. Blood work checks highlight any nutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed and allow female athletes in particular to monitor their iron levels. Iron-deficiency anaemia is especially common in female athletes so many have to take iron supplements.
Monitor your heart rate
As mentioned above, your heart rate increases if you are developing OTS. A good way to measure fatigue is to monitor your heart rate every day just after waking. It’s normal for there to be some variance but an increase in around 5bpm from your usual heart rate is a good indicator that you should scale back your training and take a rest day.
Get massages/foam roll
Receiving regular massages may help you to prevent injuries, which might otherwise be caused by overuse. A constant build-up of tension in the muscles from regular activity may lead to stresses on joints, ligaments, tendons, as well as the muscles themselves. You can get massages from professional sports masseurs (see the Physiotherapy and Massage Guide for more information on this) or you can self-massage. Foam rollers are great tools for self-massaging. Remember to stretch too!