Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finding the right training plan

When I began training for triathlons in 2007, my only training aids were a bright yellow Walkman, a basic sports watch and the sometimes company of my daughters in a double jogging stroller. 

The Walkman was eventually replaced by an iPod shuffle, a Garmin GPS watch took up residence on my wrist, and the jogging stroller now collects dust in the basement. But with my favorite tunes uploaded onto a tiny, matchbox-sized device and my new watch delivering stats on pace, distance, calories and max speed, I felt like my training had been elevated to a whole new level. I didn’t feel the need to engage in heart rate training, though my Garmin is equipped for it, or hire a coach or personal trainer.

Then, in 2011, my husband and I decided to train for an Ironman—a 140.6-mile race comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run—and I knew I’d need a structured, detailed plan to help guide me through the rigors of training for an endurance event of this magnitude. So, on the recommendation of a friend who’d already completed two Ironman races, I purchased Triathlete Magazine’s Essential Week-By-Week Training Guide by Matt Fitzgerald, which includes plans, scheduling tips, and workout goals for triathletes of all levels. The book contains 12 to 24-week training plans for all four triathlon distances—sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, and Ironman—ranging from Level 1 for beginners to Level 10 for elite athletes or those hoping to be podium contenders.  

According to the book, “as you move up from Level 1, the number of weekly workouts increases, as do the average workout durations, the total weekly training volume, and the amount of high-intensity training.”

Each training plan is divided into three equal segments: Base Phase, Build Phase, and Peak Phase, and the book features detailed descriptions of every workout and training level. Off-season training plans, strength exercises and recommended stretches also are included.

Initially, I purchased the book as a resource for Ironman training but found it so beneficial for scheduling workouts and planning training sessions that I now refer to it on a regular basis for all levels of triathlon training.

There is a variety of training plans available online and in hard copy, complimentary and for purchase, for triathletes as well as for athletes with a single-sport focus. The key is to research several plans until you find the one that is right for you. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fins & Paddles in the Pool--Use 'em or lose 'em?

I, personally, am not a fan of using fins or paddles during swim workouts. Fins caused pain and tenderness in my ankles and paddles created, what I felt, was unnecessary stress on my shoulders. Plus, when it comes time to race, fins and paddles are not allowed, so I prefer to know how I’m performing and progressing in the water without the aid of swimming tools.

However, according to my husband, who was a competitive swimmer for years and who can still post world-class times in the swim leg of a triathlon, “Fins and paddles can be useful training tools early in the season to improve technique and teach your body what it feels like to move fast through the water.”

When used sparingly and correctly, fins can indeed help swimmers increase speed, build leg and kick strength, teach proper stroke technique, and improve body position, cardiovascular endurance and ankle flexibility, which, according to swimming.about.com, “will result in a more efficient flutter kick through better angles of attack on the water.” Fins also helps athletes feel the difference between kicking from the hips as opposed to kicking from the knees. But fins also increase stress on the knee joints so they should not be worn by swimmers with knee pain or while swimming breaststroke.

Since 90 percent of swim propulsion comes from the upper body, hand paddles are used to increase shoulder strength and power, and to create a better feel for the water by helping a swimmer to improve stroke technique and efficiency.

Paddles should be no more than 10 percent bigger than your hand and, as with fins, should not be used for more than 25 percent of your workout. If used incorrectly or too often, paddles can cause shoulder soreness and even lead to shoulder injuries. Swimmers with technical stroke deficiencies should not use paddles until the deficiencies are corrected.

As trainright.com notes, if you want to improve your stoke, focus on technique first and strength second. “The goal is always to do it right, and then do it powerfully.”