Humans did not evolve in the aero position. As such, the long periods triathletes spend on their bikes can cause myriad of muscular problems. Here are some of the stretches that should be employed to stay supple and injury-free on the bike.
It comes as no surprise that as triathletes the majority of our training time is spent on the bike chewing up kilometre after kilometre. Sure, the impact of riding is less than that of running, but due to the sheer amount of time that triathletes spend on the bike, this is often the biggest cause of muscular tightness.
What makes the issue worse is the time spent trying to hold an aerodynamic position while riding. This immediately places huge stress on the lower back, ITBs and hamstrings, which are all areas that require attention in your pre- and post-ride stretching routine. Here are a few stretches I employ to alleviate tightness.
ITB foam roller trigger
Most athletes have a foam roller, however, a rolled up towel can also be used. ITB injuries are very common in triathletes and cyclists, so this simple trigger release can do wonders pre and post ride. Roll up and down along the side of each leg to help release tightness and be sure to spend some extra time with any particularly sore spots. Feel free to spend as much or as little time repeating on each side both pre and post ride.
The quad stretch is another simple yet effective stretch that can be done post ride to release tension and muscular tightness. Place a towel under your knee and one foot out in front with the other foot behind you. Use two hands to bring your back foot to your bum and you should get a great quad stretch. For an even greater stretch, move your hips forward.
Foam roller back stretch and release
Just like with the ITB trigger, a tightly rolled-up towel can also be used instead of a foam roller. Place your arms across your chest and slowly roll back and forth along the roller. Once you feel comfortable, raise your arms behind you to increase the stretch. It is common to hear a few pops or cracking from your back as it releases under the pressure of the foam roller. This stretch is a must for those with a tight back from spending time in the aero position.
Glute stretch and release
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your buttocks and becomes very tight under load when you are riding. The glutes, as they are otherwise known, are responsible for a lot of our stability and posture while riding and therefore become tight after hours spent in the saddle. Many people do this stretch lying on their backs; however, I find a seated version is more effective as it is easier to maintain your posture. While seated, lift one leg up and place your ankle on the opposite knee. Slowly push downwards on the knee and you should feel the glute muscle slowly release. Make sure to repeat on both legs.
How Should Triathletes Approach Repairing the Body and Mind
There are only 24 hours in a day, and for many age group athletes, each hour of the day is crammed until overflowing. They typically juggle a full-time job, a demanding training schedule and family commitments, and then find time to pay their bills, buy groceries, pick up dry cleaning, run to the bank and then, hopefully, grab a few hours of sleep.
Often the combination of these day-to-day activities in conjunction with training can become too much. The triathlete starts to complain of feeling overwhelmed, tired and burnt out.
But there is good news – it’s common for athletes to feel this way during the competitive season as workload and intensity is far greater. And you will be pleased to read that your triathlon season is not doomed. Outlined below are several techniques pro-cyclists use to get out of that fatigued state and feel ready to successfully complete the remaining season. You can apply them to your triathlon activities too.
Complete days off
The simplest and easiest solution to repair the body and mind is to rest. Taking complete days off and not doing any strenuous activity may be the solution for many of you. In addition to forgoing your training schedule, try and clear your mind by going to a movie or heading to a local café for brunch. Getting out of your routine will help to relax your body and mind.
The contrast of soaking in hot water immediately followed by very cold water quickens and then slows the flow of blood throughout the body, thus aiding muscle recovery. This can be done at home by standing under a hot shower for two minutes and then standing under a cold shower for 30-to-45 seconds and repeating this process three-to-four times. If you have a shower and a bath, you could fill the bath with cold water and a few bags of ice and transfer back and forth between a hot shower and a cold bath.
Hydrotherapy such as walking, kicking and swimming in water is recommended by many coaches, masseurs and physiotherapists as a method of rehabilitation and recovery. Many studies suggest that the feel of the water on the body relaxes the athlete and puts them in a better frame of mind, while also making the muscles feel better. Walking in the shallows at the beach really helps – just ask the many football teams who regularly do this.
Elevate your legs
Propping your legs above your head helps the blood flow back towards your heart. Many professional cyclists, after hard training, lie on the floor and prop their legs up against the wall to help the blood flow and speed up recovery.
Yoga and stretching
Yoga is an activity used by many athletes. Learning to control your breathing, while stretching and often using imagery are powerful relaxing techniques. Many of the low-impact yoga exercises can be used daily to cope with stress management.
Getting a regular massage will not only assist muscle recovery but may also help prevent injuries.
Routine health check
In more serious cases, the athlete may not feel any better after a period of rest and it’s worth considering a visit to your doctor. It could be poor nutrition combined with heavy training and long hours at work that has led to a decrease in iron and/or other minerals and vitamins. Low iron is more frequently experienced by female athletes, but once diagnosed, can be treated quickly.
Watch for warning signs
It’s important to listen to your body and recognise when you are pushing the limit too far. Try not to ignore the warning signs so your body doesn’t go into the red zone. When I was competing in national-level triathlons, I had built regular rest weeks (light swimming only, no running or cycling) into my season to ensure I didn’t drop into a fatigued state. Sometimes it’s good to take a day off, and rest your way into faster times for the remainder of the triathlon season.
The table below shows a typical working athlete’s week in detail.
|Travel to work/training||10|
|Family & friends||14|
|Total time in week for living||148|
|Time for training||20|
|Total hours in a week||168|
How to Make the a Great Swim to Bike Transition
Triathletes are quick to complete training sessions that require them to run off the bike, and rightly so. The neophytes out there will likely experience a sensation, unlike anything they’ve come across when undertaking their first run off the bike. You will your legs to run but they’re still thinking pedal circles and your quads are pumped full of blood and you feel as though you’re running on stumps.
There’s no real reason to question the merit of training your body to shunt blood from cycling muscles to running muscles, ASAP. This both alleviates the sensation described above and improves performance. The human body is a very adaptive mechanism – ask it to do something over and over again and apply a training stimulus slowly and progressively over time and it will adapt.
How else do the likes of Alistair Brownlee and Javier Gomez manage to run 10 kilometres off the bike in fewer than 30 minutes? How do the best ultra distance triathletes get into running stride quickly and post 2:40 marathons or better? One word: Practice.
However, the bike to run transition is just one instance where triathletes must switch between muscle groups. What about the transition from the swim to bike? This is often neglected in transition and brick training with people devoting more time to the transition from bike to run.
In the water
Think about it; depending on the length of the event and your ability in the water, you’ve been laid prone for somewhere between 10-to-70 minutes. The vast majority of the work you’ve done is with your upper body as your legs trail along behind, generally with a two-beat kick and often buoyed by a wetsuit. In fact, during longer swims, it isn’t uncommon for triathletes to experience cramping in the calves and hamstrings due to a lack of blood supply. I suggest intermittently kicking a little harder to those I coach to avoid this. Flexing and extending the ankles as you swim to maintain some blood supply to the calves can also help.
However, the vast majority of the blood volume dedicated to the work you’re performing is being directed to your upper body. Then wham, you stand up, try to run to your bike, get onto it and pedal away at a rate of knots.
Is it any wonder your heart rate rockets, you immediately go into oxygen debt and the effort becomes anaerobic? It takes time to recover from this as you try to settle into a rhythm on the bike and regain your composure.
Think it through. You’ve largely robbed your legs of blood, which transports the oxygen critical for aerobic metabolism. You’ve then asked them to spring to life. The only option is anaerobic (which literally means without oxygen) metabolism. This can only be performed using muscle glycogen – which is a highly prized, limited and valuable asset – particularly in longer-distance events in which you’re trying to conserve it as best you can. In this scenario, straight out of the blocks you’re burning it like there’s no tomorrow; a folly that later in the bike, and potentially on the run, could come back to haunt you.
So, what to do?
As we approach the end of the season and plunge into the winter months, after the requisite break from formal swim, bike and run training, the winter is an ideal time to base-build. Part of this building process should also entail the building of the aerobic infrastructure necessary to facilitate swift and efficient changes from swimming to cycling, as well as riding to running.
During the off-season this can be as simple as a once-a-week casual changeover from an aerobic swim session into your bike gear before heading out for an aerobic intensity ride of a moderate duration.
Your body will soon adapt to the fact that the quicker it learns to shunt blood from the upper body to the lower body, the more comfortable and easier such sessions will become.
As the season looms closer, the training starts to change. Lower intensity aerobic sessions are traded for more and more tempo or race-pace sessions, which, through being more intense, have a greater reliability on anaerobic metabolism. Provided you’ve laid your base with the appropriate lower intensity aerobic work, your body will quickly adapt to the demands of higher intensity training and your enhanced aerobic infrastructure will be able to dissipate accumulating lactic acid.
This is where transition sessions come into play.
Following a comprehensive warm-up, focus on completing multiple, shorter, race-pace tempo or anaerobic threshold or greater intensity lactate tolerance transitions, depending on how close you are to competition and the duration of the event you’re preparing for. When warming up, it is good to do so in a reverse order, that is, run to bike to swim. This will mean you are in the water and ready to go hard while having at least opened up the blood vessels to your cycling and running muscles.
So how can you most effectively achieve this?
- If allowed, bring your bike and stationary trainer to the pool.
- Warm up with 10 minutes on the bike and five minutes in the pool. Then repeat the main set two-to-five times.
- Swim 600 metres as 200 fast and 400 at mid-race pace
- Bike 15 minutes in five-minute blocks. Four minutes at race pace with one minute of recovery.
- Pedal or swim five minutes easy between sets.
This is a simple workout that can be varied in duration and intensity depending on your level of conditioning and goals for the approaching event. What’s important here is to prepare the body for the demands of changing muscle group usage and shunting blood between the upper and lower body quickly and more efficiently to optimise race-day performance.
Beginner’s Guide to the Bike Leg
New to triathlon? Check out the beginner’s guide to the bike leg.
If you’re thinking about getting into triathlon, then you need to get on your bike. For most of us, that’s not a problem since bike-training sessions are generally deemed the most enjoyable, and often the most sociable, sessions to undertake.
A few hours on the weekend winding through the hills on your bike with your mates can be great fun. So, the problem with bike training usually isn’t getting it done, it’s more likely that it’s a disproportional amount of time spent completing kilometres that are not as effective as they could be, in terms of the training effect.
Like any other aspect of preparing for your first triathlon, training for the bike leg involves training effectively and recognising that the bike leg involves a special set of considerations that are unique to the sport – and involve more than just knocking out kilometres. An essential part of performing well on the bike leg, and ultimately on the run, is to incorporate the interrelated aspects of the race into your training.
The basic skill set
Before we go further, there is an essential set of riding competency skills that you need to progress safely in your training. For example, you are going to need to be confident at riding in a bunch – and that means knowing how to ride straight, signal hazards, corner, brake, descend and understand a group’s rules. These skills are best taught and explained by a coach, or the head of your riding group. Once you have mastered the basic skill set, it’s time to progress your performance.
Develop the engine first and then work on the chassis
I have seen a lot of age group athletes on bikes geared up with the works – deep dish carbon wheels, aero helmets, power meters, aero bottle cages, electronic shifters, complex hydration systems and the like. The allure of the bike leg can be to invest in equipment – to effectively ‘buy’ speed – and there’s plenty of equipment to think about. For me, though, it comes down to this: invest in developing the engine (you) first then invest in the chassis (the other bits) later. For new triathletes, this means investing in the essential minimum set of training tools; a road bike (alloy is fine) that fits you, clip-in pedals, an indoor trainer, and a GPS bike computer. Aside from the gear you’ll train in, that’s all you’ll need. This set of training tools, with the correct training structure, will be enough for you to prepare for and race well at your next event. There will be plenty of time to invest in fast gear when you’re up to speed. To set a correct structure we need to have a closer look at the demands of the bike leg.
Understanding the demands of the bike leg
When training for the bike leg, athletes often forgo the structured training they employ in their run and swim training and instead focus on parameters like average speed, distance covered (irrespective of how), and duration (again, irrespective of how). I have heard plenty of talented triathletes explain how they have a solid 120 kilometres to knock out, with no other objective, and then complete that in two or three segments with coffee stops between. In other words, they’re counting the kilometres between coffee stops.
The bike leg doesn’t involve coffee stops.
The bike leg starts on the mount line and ends on the dismount line. Between those lines there is at least one acceleration component, a straight-line constant speed component, one or more cornering/turning components and a deceleration component. In addition to these, there are also external factors such as road surface and weather considerations, all of which need to be prepared for. Some races also involve additional considerations such as hill elements, traffic issues, and congestion/drafting issues.
The four ‘als’
Just like training for every other leg, structured, objective-orientated training on the bike is more likely to deliver increased performance gains. As a starting point, adopt a training approach that exceeds the demands you are likely to encounter on race day. These demands will vary according to the type of event (sprint distance, Olympic distance, etc), the course, and the conditions. Each of these demands are key input considerations and ultimately the four ‘als’ that will govern your race day performance – technical, physiological, nutritional and mental.
There are a number of technical aspects that can provide significant performance improvements, and shave time off our race result, with little training investment. Most notably these are: mastering mounting the bike, pedalling efficiency, acceleration skills, and cornering skills. Surprisingly, in a sprint distance event at an average speed of 35km p/h, taking 30 seconds to mount your bike means a loss of about 200 metres over an athlete who takes 10 seconds. This equates to an average speed differential of about 0.5kmph that you’ll need to make up on your quick-mounting mate. Improving mounting skills so that the transition onto the bike is seamless and does not involve stopping is the easiest way to gain an immediate front-end performance improvement. Have a coach show you how to mount on the bike or head down to your local footy oval and practise jumping on your bike on a grass surface.
Keep going round in circles
In terms of pedalling efficiency, the principle underlying straight-line speed on a bike is pretty straightforward. It involves the simultaneous and continuous application of opposing forces to each pedal spindle throughout the entire pedal cycle. The mechanism for applying these opposing forces is your legs and your core, via the linkages provided by your shoes, cleats and pedals.
Working on improving pedalling efficiency and other technical aspects (such as cornering, accelerating) is often overlooked, even though time savings are there for the taking. Single-leg drills on an indoor trainer are a great way to develop an improved pedalling action. As a starting point, try incorporating up and down reps of 30 seconds left leg only, 30 seconds both legs, 30 seconds right leg after an eight-minute warm-up holding a cadence in the range of 90rpm to 100rpm. Start with three x four-minute single leg drills with each rep followed by two minutes with both legs best work. Focus on commencing the up cycle by pulling your knee towards your chest, pushing the toes forward across the top of the cycle, commencing the downstroke with the ankle, and pulling your heel towards the rear wheel across the bottom of the stroke.
Firing up the engine
I like to keep things pretty simple when it comes to preparing an athlete for the physiological demands of a race. A typical preparatory phase would involve six-to-seven week blocks of hill riding incorporating gradual progression in total elevation and/or duration (for strength development), a speed endurance development block including rides that combine hill work, and faster rides on the flats (say, 50 percent hills and 50 percent fast flats), and a block of pure speed work. This might involve criterium/velodrome-type sets and race simulation sets. So, preparing for a sprint or Olympic-distance event might involve a structure of about 22-to-24 weeks. To give you an idea, a general framework for a 22-week preparatory phase for an Olympic distance event might look like this:
Weeks 1-to-4: Transition to training
- Two rides per week, incorporating a long ride building to 70 kilometres per week
- One skills session per week (e.g. mounting bike, cornering and turning skills, bunch riding skills)
Weeks 5-to-8: Hill progression
- Two rides per week in the hills building to 70-to-80 kilometres per ride, adding 10 percent total elevation per week
- One indoor interval set per week
Weeks 9-to-12: Speed, endurance and mental toughness
- One ride per week in the hills – 50 kilometres plus per ride
- One ride per week ‘50:50’ starting with 50 percent hard hills and 50 percent time trial type effort in weeks 9 and 10 building to race distance, then reverse in weeks 16-to-18
- One combined ergo and track run per fortnight (e.g. 3 x 6m00 on the ergo with 1200m to 1600m runoffs)
Weeks 13-to-16: Speed
- One 50-kilometre tempo ride per week
- One speed set per week
- One race simulation set with a run off the bike
Race preparation sets – mental toughness and confidence
Race preparation sets are an essential part of preparing for your event. They allow you to rehearse a nutrition strategy, devise a pacing strategy, develop an understanding of the interrelationship between bike effort and run performance and develop confidence in your skill execution. With my squad, I like to conduct race simulation sessions about five weeks out from the event on a course that replicates aspects of the racecourse. This includes a run off the bike element. These sets give us the opportunity to experiment with nutrition and pacing strategies, introduce a competitive element through the use of handicap starts, and experiment with different pacing strategies for run off the bike. We do this in full race set-up, on a course that replicates the characteristics of the one we will race on. The great thing about some of the online mapping tools is that we can easily analyse the characteristics of any course anywhere in the world, and then plan routes that replicate it to the maximum extent possible.
Adopting a training approach that involves training for, and rehearsing, all aspects of bike performance will mean that, come race day, there should be no surprises. Not only that, your investment in building your engine and skill development means you won’t have a lot of time to admire some very flash looking bikes as you rip past them – but you’re entitled to have a chuckle to yourself.
Managing Cycling Injuries
Cycling can be a major factor in triathlete injury, and though many athletes attribute their muscle soreness and injuries to their running or swimming, it’s important to understand that poor cycling technique or bike set-up is often a key contributing factor in triathlete injuries. Cycling is a relatively unnatural position and action. While it’s true that cycling is low impact when compared to running, it’s also safe to say that the human body did not evolve to allow us to ride bikes.
Cycling places the muscles of the trunk, neck and hips in positions that are generally considered suboptimal for maintaining good musculoskeletal health for sustained periods of time. Even small imperfections in cycling technique and positioning can become exaggerated over the thousands of pedal strokes taken while riding. Fortunately, correct cycling technique should work basically every muscle in the lower body, which limits the chances of muscle imbalances developing. Combined with effective body management practices, it is possible to virtually eliminate the risk of cycling injuries – well, those that don’t involve hitting the tarmac at speed, at least.
The keys to injury prevention and management
Cycling is naturally low impact, so assuming that set-up is done correctly, your body is generally able to deal with the loads that cycling generates. Additionally, the cycling action is extremely effective at strengthening all of the muscles of the lower body, and avoiding muscle imbalances. Nonetheless, there are a couple of great ways to minimise the risk of injury and manage muscle soreness related to cycling:
- Core strength to minimise unwanted movement of the trunk and pelvis and provide a stable platform for efficient pedal stroke.
- Stretching and flexibility training to counteract the repetitive and sustained use of muscles in suboptimal position during cycling.
Surprisingly, many amateur athletes often overlook the contribution that core strength makes to the cycling motion. A bike is inherently unstable, so naturally it takes a degree of trunk strength to simply maintain your balance on the bike. On top of this, for the human body to exert any force through an object (for example, the pedals and bars), we always require a stable platform to drive off.
A simple example of this might be to think of your rectus femoris (rec fem), the long muscle in your quadriceps that attaches at the front of the pelvis and inserts into the shinbone (tibia). When the rec fem pulls on one side of your body, it exerts a force that flexes the hip and extends the knee. Due to its unilateral action during cycling, the rec fem is also exerting a downward pull on one side of the pelvis at a time. If the pelvis is not stabilised by other muscles around the trunk, we could expect that the force generated by the rec fem would result not only in extension of the knee (which we do want), but also in a forward tilt and sideways drop on that side of the pelvis (which is definitely not what we want). The fact that this doesn’t happen for most cyclists is a great example of your core in action, stabilising the pelvis so that the force of the rec fem muscle can be translated entirely through extension of your knee and into the pedal stroke. Now consider the fact that just about every muscle in your legs, and many in your arms, are working during the pedal stroke, exerting force around your spine and pelvis. This explains why we need a strong core to not only ride efficiently, but also prevent unwanted movement that can result in injury.
As previously mentioned, cycling places the body in a sustained forward position and requires a number of muscles to change their resting length while riding. When done effectively, the cycling motion is also highly repetitive, which is often a recipe for tight muscles. To counteract this, start with a stretching program focusing on the following key areas:
Neck – the lower your body position, the more your neck is required to extend to allow you to see in front. This results in tightness of the neck extensor muscles. Neck position also tends to be very static, so it’s important to maintain range of motion to avoid stiffness in the neck. Some easy neck stretches include using your hands to pull the head to the side and front, and slowly rolling and turning the head from side to side. Spend a few minutes after each ride performing these actions, and remember to always move gently when stretching the neck.
Lower back – due to the sustained flexed position of the lower back, it’s important to maintain range of motion in the spine before and after cycling. Start with a basic cobra stretch to improve extension, and a lumbar rotation stretch or rolling your legs side to side to improve rotation. A common source of lower back pain in cycling is the quadratus lumborum (QL). To stretch the QL, sit with your legs outstretched and apart, and reach toward one foot with your hand. Once your body is stretched down as far as possible, hold your toes with your hand on the same side and start to rotate your body in the opposite direction, reaching your arm back behind your head. You should feel a stretch down the side of your lower back. This stretch is best performed with a partner.
Legs – for triathletes, probably the most important muscles to stretch are the psoas or hip flexors, which can easily become shortened when cycling. Starting in a lunge position, lower your back knee to the floor, then push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in front of the hip on your back leg. It also helps to stretch any muscles that cross two joints, as these tend to require greater extensibility. This includes the hamstrings, quadriceps (rectus femoris) and gastrocnemius. Depending on the amount of ankling utilised in the pedal stroke, you may also need to stretch the muscle on the front of your shin (tibialis anterior), which can easily be done by kneeling with your toes pointed, then sitting on your heels.
How to Build Strength on the Bike
Taking a break from triathlon over the winter months? Put this time to good use and learn how to build strength and power on the bike.
How do I build strength on the bike? This is probably the question I get asked the most as a coach, and it’s the toughest to answer – especially when dealing with time-poor athletes, as biking is so time-consuming and few of us have the time to tap out two-to-three hour rides in the hills each day to gain the necessary strength needed to improve our ironman or half-ironman bike time.
As a pro athlete, it’s quite easy to lay down a strength-specific bike block to top things up if needed, which generally takes four-to-five weeks of specific work, provided the athlete has a good five-year base behind them. As an age grouper though, a 600-kilometre strength-focused week is not realistic. So, how do you build strength from a 200-kilometre bike week?
This is a tough proposition, but here are a few tips to increase your strength and hopefully improve your bike time. I am not saying that you will be pushing a 58-tooth chainring and riding at 45km/ph, but even if we’re just squeezing a small amount of juice from the orange, we are still getting somewhere.
This is probably the best way to increase strength. It is the most used and the most uncomfortable – but generally, the sessions that you find the most uncomfortable are the most beneficial. I see hill reps as the paddles/band session you do in swimming converted to cycling. Both sessions add specific stress on certain muscle groups of the body that are critical to the areas that need to be worked.
Much like this swim session will add stress to the shoulders/back/core, strength sessions on the bike will increase the work on the glutes and hamstrings, which is where the main power on the bike comes from. In saying this, when doing strength efforts it’s important to stay seated and place the chain ring in a large gear (one that is hard to pedal). If you have a cadence meter on your bike computer you will want to see around 60-to-70 RPMs on it while you are in the saddle. A gradual climb of around two-to-three kilometres is perfect for this session and should be completed two-to-three times with a submaximal heart rate of around 70 percent of your maximum. This effort should not be a lung-busting torture test, as it’s not designed to stress the cardio system but to build the muscular and central nervous system.
Hit the gym for an extended period of time during a break in racing and focus on specific muscle groups like the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Not only will this assist with the increase in power development but also, perhaps, more importantly, it will help in the prevention of injury through strengthening the associated tendons and connective tissue around the muscle groups. This type of program should only be attempted after a consultation with a qualified coach or PT who can guide you through these exercises and ensure they are done correctly. I am a big believer in the benefits of a well-constructed and consistent weights program periodised with a structured program within the training phases.
Most people refer to these as the Devil. They are widely detested, particularly by athletes with sadistic coaches who program two-to-three hour solo sessions on the machine. As for strength benefit, these sessions are great as strength endurance sessions and can be added in if you find it hard to get to the hills. Just drop the gear down, stay in the saddle, and get the heart rate into the zone that you need.
Generally, trainer sets are a strength session in and of themselves as there is no freewheeling, no traffic lights and no downhills so you are constantly placing power down in a consistent manner. So, if you are time poor, increase your trainer sets during the week for a short block of time to increase strength. Double bike days are a good way of increasing your kilometres without having to utilise a three-to-four hour block of time. If you are crazy enough to double down and do two sessions in a day, then go for it as the benefits will show in your riding.
Block it up
Talk to your coach if you have one, or if not, plan a bike-specific block into your schedule. The only downside to this is that you might have to drop a few swim and run sessions. This is fine as long as they don’t drop off completely as the fitness will still be there from the increased bike mileage. This type of block should be done in the offseason for a few months. Don’t go overboard as a small increase in training of a particular discipline will have other effects on the other two disciplines – so plan it well and do it smart.
Use a power meter
This relatively new tool is great for monitoring power in training and providing a realistic target to attain and race to in a long-distance competition. It can be used in training for gradual goal setting and to set targets that are attainable and realistic for the athlete. By setting incremental power targets over a longer period of time, you should be able to hit an increased and ‘visible’ goal.
How to Improve Your Running Drills
Want to improve your run drills? The real benefits of drills are a result of how they are applied to training, writes Graeme Turner.
Coaches love drills. The Internet, magazines and books are all full of drills and every coach has their favourites. Drills are an important way for people who are learning how to run properly to develop the correct skills to run efficiently and avoid injury. As a coach, I use drills as part of the warm-up for my track sessions. I’ll share two of my favourites later.
Practising a skill develops the muscle memory to execute the technique. In the case of football, repeatedly passing the ball develops the correct technique to accurately deliver the ball to a teammate. In the case of running, drills develop correct run technique; for example, lifting the knee rather than pushing through the calves.
However, what football coaches ascertained is that a player doesn’t just stand there and pass the ball. They may be doing that while running at full speed. And they may be passing the ball running at full speed with a 100-kilogram opponent running at them at full speed.
3 stages of acquiring a skill
- Learn the core skill.
- Learn the core skill at speed.
- Learn the core skill at speed under game (or race) conditions.
You may notice now that if you watch a football practice session the drills are performed not standing in a line but with trainers running at them with padding trying to knock them over.
Most football players at the top level typically already have the core skill – they need to hone that skill under the intense pace and pressure of top-grade football. This is something that has changed over the last decade as coaches have learnt the criticality of developing skills under game pressure; however, in many ways running is still at stage 1 – Learn the core skill.
Incorporate the drill into a run
Running drills are typically practised during a session and then the run component of the session is executed. The assumption is that the skill will develop the muscle memory and this will then, via some form of osmosis, translate into actual running. However, the drills, like the old football sessions, are performed statically (in place) and not under pressure. Over time this skill may translate to the athlete’s run but, at best, this will take a great deal of time.
By adopting a football-style approach, the outcome of the drill can be reached more quickly and the skill becomes more resilient to the pressures of a race. Rather than practising a drill and then running, try incorporating the drill into a run.
Here’s what I do during running sessions
Run 100 metres starting at an easy pace. Once you reach the 50-metre mark, build up pace so that by the end of the run you are at about 85 percent of full pace. Note, for sprinters, the end pace may be closer to 100 per cent.
Now, do the same build but at the 50-metre mark start focusing on a key skill. For example, focus on lifting the knee rather than pushing off the ground. Keep this focus while building up the pace to the end of the interval. Performed statically, this is the traditional ‘marching drill’; however, we are focusing on the skill while running and progressively adding more pressure (pace).
Don’t expect to ‘get’ this straight away. It may take a few run-throughs to develop the skill. I actually do this when racing – focus on a drill for a while in a run as a way of not only ensuring good technique but also as a means of distraction.
Many other drills, such as ‘tunnels’ (keeping the head level), can also be practised this way, even the traditional ‘butt kick’ drill – probably the most commonly incorrectly performed drill – can be performed this way. Curiously, performing butt kicks while running typically means the runner performs this drill correctly with their knee pointed forward rather than straight down.
Two of my favourite drills
Hot Tin Roof
Ground contact represents deceleration. The greater the ground contact time, the greater the loss of momentum and energy. Picture the running track as a hot tin roof. As your foot is about to hit the hot tin roof, focus on pulling the foot up so that it spends the minimum amount of time being ‘burnt’.
A common mistake runners (and coaches) make is focusing on the drill and not the outcome. Butt kicks are a great example of how focusing on the drill itself can create the wrong outcome. ‘Ninjas’ is an example of a drill where the focus is on the outcome, which ultimately is what every runner seeks. At the 50-metre point, focus on running silently – like a ninja trying to sneak up on somebody. This is a great drill to do with a partner as you can compete to see who can make the least noise. Like the hot tin roof drill, this facilitates a much shorter and lighter ground contact time and also tends to mean the runner becomes less flat footed. I could call this running quietly, but ninjas sounds much cooler.
Rather than make drills a separate part of your session, incorporate them into the run itself. Not only will you learn the skill faster but the skill becomes less likely to break down under race conditions.