Train Slow, Go Slow

I have been working with athletes in a coaching capacity since 1992 when I was studying for a degree in Sport and Exercise Science in Leeds, West Yorkshire.  I was fortunate enough to have a great pool of athletes to work with and some amazing professors who could explain and rationalize why some methodologies worked and some didn’t.  In short this foundation gave me an enquiring mind and allowed me a certain amount of freedom to ‘experiment’ with many different training protocols and a wide range of individuals.

So what did I take away from all this?  Well over the last twenty two years since I started racing and training for Triathlons I have seen and committed many training errors, although never was I guilty of the title of this article, in fact quite the opposite.

I did my first triathlon aged 16 years and 7 months.  Like many sprint triathlons in the UK it was a pool based swim (600m), followed by a short (16km) bike and run (6km).  It was approximately an hour effort and yes it was a full on effort from start to finish.  After that I continued to race sprints and the occasional longer races (yes as long as Olympic distance or ‘standard’ distance as it was known back in the day!) and never did I really even think about stepping up to middle (HIM) or long distance (IM) racing.  In essence I served my apprenticeship and mastered the skills necessary to be a successful triathlete.  Having these skills made me proficient technically, biomechanically and physiologically.  So time to cut to the chase.

I don’t recommend to athletes who are new to the sport to jump straight into long course triathlon.  Why?   They miss out on many developmental steps and run the risk (before they even know it in most cases) of training slow to go slow.  Now what does this really mean?  Well unless the athlete in question is coming from a single sport background where they excelled such as swimming or running and over years developed refined technique, good muscular co-ordination and ‘speed’ they will likely never reach their true potential.

Good form, economy and speed can be learned.  Neglecting to spend time on this will end in sub par performance and a slow road to nowhere.  If you neglect to train all your energy systems and perhaps more importantly don’t engage in training drills to promote neuromuscular adaptation and improved economy then you will hit a ceiling very quickly and likely cease to improve.

So how can you go about ensuring you don’t miss out?

Follow these simple sessions once a week in season and twice weekly out of season and you will be amazed at your new found form and speed.   Your new found ability to go fast with good form will also make you less susceptible to injury as your biomechanics and muscular co-ordination will work with you and not against you.

Swim – Perhaps the most challenging of the three disciplines to easily incorporate speed and neuromuscular training due to the huge technical component.  Before integrating the following sessions into your training I highly recommend you recruit the help of an experienced swim coach to ensure that your swim stroke is fundamentally sound and you are not going to run the risk of injury due to technical flaws such as over-reaching and/or a straight arm pull.  Once you have established solid technique then incorporate this set into your weekly program:

  • Warm Up – 200 Easy Swim, 200 Easy Pull (with buoy/band, no paddles), 4×50 Long Axis Kick Drills (6-1,6-3,6-5,6-3) with fins
  • Main Set – 12×25 as Six Strokes Max Speed, remainder relaxed and easy – rest 10s, 100 Pull Hard, 12×25 Eight Strokes Max Speed, remainder easy – rest 15s, 100 Pull Hard
  • Cool Down – 4×75 as Fist/Swim/Fast by length – rest 10s, 200 Easy Choice

Ultimately I recommend to progress to using fins on the max speed drills, the added propulsion will force a higher turnover and give your body an opportunity to experience hydrodynamics at a speed it rarely (if ever) encounters.

Bike – The same reason many cyclists spend time riding a ‘fixie’ is why all triathletes should spend time developing a smooth pedal stroke and the ability to contract and relax opposing muscles to work in harmony and not against each other.  Cycling efficiency takes many years to develop and is something we should all continually strive to achieve.  Historically cyclists have plugged away logging hundreds of hours of saddle time at low to moderate intensity in the hope that the body (and mind) learns the correct motor program for an economical and efficient pedal stroke however you can accelerate that process by incorporating the following NM (neuromuscular) sets into your program:

  • Warm Up – 10 MIns Easy Riding, 3x(2-2-1) Spin Up Drills at 100, 110, and 120 rpm (the 2-2-1 refers to minutes spent at each of the specified cadences)
  • Main Set 1 – 4x30s Single Leg Drill (30s with left,  30s with both, 30s with right, 30s with both), 4x45s Single Leg Drill, 4x60s Single Leg Drill, 10 MIns Easy Spin (*note all the single leg leg drills needs to executed at a low resistance)
  • Main Set 2 – 6x10s Max Efforts with 50s rest, 6x20s Max Efforts with 1:40 rest, 5 Mins High Cadence Riding (low resistance)
  • Cool Down – 4×30 Single Leg, 10 Mins Easy Spin

Ensure the load or resistance is kept low on both the spin up drills and single leg.  As you become more proficient you can add a little resistance but no need to exceed 60% of LT (FTP) for these drills.  If single leg drills are a breeze then try executing them in the aero bars to add more difficulty and specificity.

Run – As with cycling, muscle recruitment patterns are extremely important to running economy and injury prevention.  Few people are born with flawless run mechanics even though it is one of the most natural forms of locomotion we perform.  The key to developing good mechanics is in many respects similar to how we go about promoting a smooth pedal stroke on the bike however there are some fundamental differences.  Due to the impact forces we encounter when we run more caution needs to be employed in building our skill set.  We also need to ensure before we embark on some of the NM drills that we are healthy and injury free with a gait that is supported by the shoes we are running in.  I am in general an advocate of using lightweight shoes for all of your run training as ultimately I believe it enhances ones natural biomechanics and gives the body a better opportunity to work with its own natural style (often ones natural run gait does need to be dramatically altered just refined a little).

Working with a knowledgeable coach, biomechanist, or PT experienced at performing gait analysis is a good place to start to ensure you are fundamentally sound and running in the correct shoe given your footstrike.  Once you are happy that this is the case and you have built up to three or four short to moderate duration runs a week I would suggest starting with the following session:

  • Warm Up – At least 10 Minutes of easy and relaxed running, 4x30s gentle accelerations with a focus on cadence and form – run an easy minute between these.
  • Main Set – *Best executed on a soft, level surface like a running track, or soccer/football field.  8x20s accelerations to near top speed with a walk back recovery (focus on cadence and a soft footstrike).  Jog an easy five minutes before doing 6x20s single leg hops staying strong through the mid-section (core) and working on horizontal distance (alternate between left and right legs).
  • Cool Down – 10 Minutes of relaxed easy running and then stretch

Don’t be competitive with the above drills instead simply focus on keeping your core strong, head neutral and looking ahead.  The arms are important so working on your back swing when doing the accelerations is important to establishing good rhythm and co-ordination.  Our goal is to promote efficient movement by placing demands on the NM system to send signals at high velocity to the motor neurons.  This in turn with enhance these pathways and allow for greater run efficiency.

There are a limitless number of progressions for the above three sessions but the key with all of them is that you are focusing on executing with perfect form.  Sessions of this nature are best done in the presence of a trained eye and a coach that can give cues on correct execution and good form and posture.

Time spent working on NM training will result in more efficient movement patterns due to enhanced muscle recruitment and improved firing sequence.  This in turn helps with the development of better form and as a direct result of that you are more likely to make performance gains and remain injury free.

Vo2Multisport incorporates many of these principles into our Team Workouts. Check out the current schedule and drop by!

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