The need for speed! Are you fast enough?

 

The quest for speed should be the pinnacle for any athlete who’s trying to improve and advance. A good, well designed training plan should take into consideration the timing of when to introduce speed training into it’s phases. It is imperative for an athlete to lay down the ground work upon which speed is developed. How many athletes out there who find themselves in a stagnant, repetitive cycles of training, year in and year out, without seeing much gains in speed? Let me be more specific: How long have you been training without seeing much improvement in your PR? Are you stronger and faster than the previous year? If not, could it be because your training plan does not include a jolt of speed at the appropriate time? What is speed training? How is it done? And when should it be introduced into your training phases?

It is imperative that before the training plan begins, one should prepare a strong foundation for the impending onslaught on the body. This Foundational Phase (commonly known as off-season) is usually peppered with strength, cardiovascular and muscular strength and fun activities of your choice, as long as your body is moving and you are sweating. Skiing, hiking, mountain biking, even roller-blading can be great samples of fun activities that are juxtaposed with strength training. A great idea to build aerobic and anaerobic strength is trail running especially ones that are hilly and challenging. This phase is also great for working on swim technique without the high intensity swims so when the season starts, the focus would be more on speed adaptations. Another good idea is doing spin classes at your local gym. These can get your bike juices going but also they are great to build legs power, however, the occasions, bike rides here and there can be really fun.

Training during the Foundational Phase is not strict! You can miss a hike or a spin class or a trail run. You can always do it the following day or the third day without feeling too guilty or recking your training plan (since there in no training plan, really) The idea is to keep your body moving and also to give it a good amount of rest and healing from the previous year’s training and racing.
This approach is a wise and a revolutionary one because it replaces the traditional “Base” phase on a traditional training plan. You can jump right off the Foundational Phase into your 12/16 or even a 24 week training plan without having to spend a longer period on a “Base” phase.

Once your training plan begins, the first (one third) period of your training plan should be allocated for adaptations of power and cadence on the bike, strokes per minute in the pool and stride per minute on the run, etc. During this first phase of the plan, you are building swim, bike and run neuromuscular and musculoskeletal adaptations but you are not at your fastest. The second period of your training plan is to get you to a higher fitness level where intensity and volume picks up. Speed training with specificity is “flirted with” since trainings during this second (second third block) is for getting you to a pre-speed training phase.

One must emphasize that it’s counter- intuitive to start the year by getting immediately into fast paced training, because there are physiological factors which goes to the deepest cellular level a coach should consider before introducing high intensity or speed training very early into a training plan. Our bodies simply are not designed to sustain prolonged training blocks of speed.
Speed intervals should be introduced in shorter doses and in a very measured method. For example we can introduce dosages of speed to all three disciplines That’s when your body is receptive to newer neuromuscular adaptations and your endocrine and central nervous system are primed for a newer proprioceptive levels for these adaptations to take place.
Additionally, a coach should be very mindful on the progression of introducing these doses of speed trainings, since too much dosage of high intensity will induce early fatigue which may reck the entire training for the race or even worse; it may induce endocrinal fatigue which is very hard to overcome during a season, or too little speed dosages may not have the needed effect on improving your overall speed and performance. That’s one of the reasons why a training plan should be replete with embedded dosages of recovery in order to balance out these periods of high stress and also to induce super-compensation, which is the holy grail of advancement in speed.

The truth is, many self-coached athletes think they possess the knowledge and the wisdom to modify and introduce training segments, such as speed, into their training regimen, but they are far from correct. In fact, one of the principal reasons for lack of advancement in many self-coached athletes’ performance is the lack of guidance from an experienced coach, but that’s another topic. However, a good coaching plan should include speed as an element to be introduced at the right time. That’s how you will get faster!

 

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Food for thought!

One of the most important reasons I would strongly recommend following a whole food based nutritional plan is:

  • Maximize your nutrient intake from natural sources which optimizes the potential benefit of the macro (carbohydrates, protein and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in it’s most potent form.
  •  Avoid Processed foods entirely. Processed foods, canned foods, and even the ready to eat meals are packed with the most unhealthy chemicals, preservatives, colorings, and carcinogenics that can only put our health at a huge risk and has clearly shown in our western culture to contribute to many diseases starting with cancer, diabetes, heart ailments, not to mention obesity.

Portion control: Just because you are eating a healthy whole food-based diet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise portion control. Your portions should be based on your level of RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate- which is to say the amount of calories burned while your body is in a state of complete inactivity (such as sleep) and the rate of activity ( exercise, work, etc). We can get into more details about these intricate subjects at a later time, however, the focus should be on lesser-sized meals but with more frequency (5 small meals a day).

Whole foods mainly include plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits and nuts, and animal foods such as eggs, meat, fish and poultry. You can always fit a hole food diet into your approved list of foods you like (preferences). For example, if you are allergic to fish or just plain don’t like it, you can simply substitute with other protein-packed meats like chicken, turkey, or stake.

Here’s a sampler for your whole day, with options and substitutions for items you may have been eating:

Breakfast :

Instead of boxed breakfast cereals or commercially prepared muffins, bread toasts packed with fruit jelly or even the occasional doughnuts or bagels, start your day with an omelet made with free-range eggs, spinach, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms. Add your favorite herbs and a pinch of sea salt. Or you can get a Greek yogurt with blueberries and you can have your cup of coffee provided that it’s not packed with sugars and whip cream or any commercial toppings. These foods can provide you with satiating fats that will help you more fully absorb the fat-soluble nutrients found in the vegetables, fruits and yogurt. Avoid almond milk or almond butter that contains extra sugar or other ingredients and stick to natural almond milk or butter if you want to add that to your meal. There are tons of healthy,delicious breakfast options to keep you satiated, healthy, and to jump start your day and boost your metabolism.

Lunch & Dinner:

Lunches and dinners should both include vegetables, protein and a healthy fat. An example, have a serving of grilled meat of your choice. You can grill (or bake) peppers, onions, cauliflower to go with the meat and enjoy a perfect meal. For dinner, you can grill or barbecue a steak and have a big salad including lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, avocado slices and olive oil and your selection of herbs or home made dressing. Use extra virgin olive oils only. Other oils that are sold as “healthy” such as canola oil and soybean oil, and even most vegetable oils, require complex processes and the use of chemical solvents, which does not fit the definition of whole foods. You can be creative and combine different vegetables, proteins and fats with various seasonings, such as basil, parsley, turmeric, cumin and many fun, tasty herbs to make your meals edible and tasty.

Snacks:

That’s the most dangerous category😊

Most people who try to eat healthy get trapped into eating the same old “munchies” and bad junk-food choices since these are available at their finger tips in all snack machines at the work place, etc. Many others choose processed snack foods like granola bars and the so-called “protein bars” that are nothing less than a candy bar with a phony wrapping paper promoting it as the next best bar. Did I mention the energy drinks? How about potato chips,the star-bucks mochas and chocolate yogurts brimming with sugars? I can go on and on, but suffice it to say that these foods are practically devoid of nutrients and can make you feel more hungry and gain weight, not to mention since they are packed with particular sugars, scents,and tastes. Instead, snack on a handful of nuts and dried fruits, hard-boiled eggs, actual fruits such as an apple or a banana, cherries or any berries, or a Greek yogurt. You can try vegetables dipped in guacamole, or make your own hummus dipping. Avoid store-bought guacamole or hummus, since it often includes processed ingredients.

Desserts:

You have a sweet tooth? I understand. I myself cannot resist the sight of creme brûlée! Oftentimes I just give in and eat it. I can relate. However, my better judgement says you can still enjoy occasional treats if you like. Try a healthy fruit salad with berries or melons or cherries. Or, you can bake a half apple and sprinkle it with dark chocolate or honey! There are tons of fun dessert options you can come up with while keeping your diet from processed foods and still feel satiated, happy, healthy and lose tons of unwanted accumulated body fat.

Thirds! Breaking your triathlon run into three uneven blocks!

One of the major mistakes many triathletes make is adopting or copying a running program based on long distance runners or even track athletes without implementing a solid running off the bike (OTB) program.  This is similar to taking Michael Phelps routine and applying it in open water in order to become a faster swimmer! In reality, I have actually encountered triathletes who do this. It’s always good to remember that you are a triathlete, an athlete who swims in open water, and runs off the bike on very fatigued legs. The training regiment for such athlete should mimic the actual race conditions. Our approach to OTB is based primarily on cardio and neuromuscular adaptations that takes consideration of how fatigued the legs and the body as a whole after the bike leg. While doing non OTB running is great for building a cardiovascular base, it is imperative to involve the neuromuscular aspect for the body to adapt to the onslaught brought on by the bike.

Since the repetitive movement of cycling for great distances (let’s say 20 mile ride) creates a certain level of hypertophy in the muscular system, specifically the legs and a considerable amount of lactic acid builds up in the blood stream, creating a  sensation in the legs as if they are bricks (hence the name derived from running  off the bike) it’s extremely challenging for a runner to efficiently copy all that track or road running training on these lugging bricks! A sensible training approach is needed to be able not just to run, but to excel and compete at a very high level coming off the bike on race day. Enter thirds! 

Thirds is one of many approaches we employ to help improve and get stronger and faster. We apply thirds to our beginner to intermediate triathletes since it’s a progressive system that doesn’t require the athlete to run for long distances or durations. For example, a beginner triathlet can have a very productive 15 minute OTB. We simply break the 15 minutes into three parts. The first 5 min is an easy run (let’s say a bit over a jog pace (depending on the athlete’s running shape). Then the second part of the run is a more brisk run, perhaps upper zone 3, lower zone 4. The final 5 minutes we increase the tempo and try to sustain this to close the session. It sounds simple and uncomplicated but it is challenging!

Thirds is exhilarating and euphoric if done carefully and progressively. One must stress on the progression approach by incrementally increasing the pace, duration and distance in order to build the OTB strength needed to be able to compete at a decent level and improve your PR everytime you compete!

Performance nutrition

Ask the best athletes of any sport about what keeps their engine running for prolonged periods of time and you would unanimously  get the same answer: conditioning and nutrition. These two go hand in hand in making or breaking your race. 

I dare say that conditioning itself relies on nutrition for it to become a factor in your advancement. Without sound  nutrition for life and fueling for performance you cannot build that strong athletic machine that keeps ticking away.

I tell my athletes that in my humble opinion, nutrition and fueling is 60% of training and racing. You can be an elite endurance athlete, with exceptional conditioning and a remarkable talent, but if your pre race nutrition and race-day fueling is off, chances are you are not going to have a good race.

I always give the brand-new-car analogy: if you have a brand new convertible Ferrari with all the bells and whistles (a conditioned athlete with exceptional prowess), but that car lacks the correct fuel (it would need a high-test super unleaded fuel), would you expect that car to drive fast? Chances are it may even choke or bonk!

An athlete’s nutrition should always be for life. That is the foundation of a strong, healthy, and prepared body to take on the onslaught of rigorous training. The reliance should always be on whole foods, non-processes foods that nourishes the body with essential amino acids, protein such as lean meats, eggs, legumes and nuts.  Complex carbohydrates such as veggies, potatoes, yam, brown rice, quinoa and Oates are a great clean source of energy. Avoid eating empty carbs in cakes, pizza, bread, cookies and starchy foods. These processed foods will make you sluggish, bloated and will slow down your long-term progress, not to mention how many athletes I have seen with a tiny gut! Clean up your nutrition by removing junk from your trunk ASAP! 

In addition to life nutrition, pre-during-and post training and racing nutrition is the foundation of high level performance. Furling prior to a key training session is vital to performance and execution of the high demands of rigorous bouts of training. Fueling with amino acids, electrolytes and proper hydration is vital to finishing in a strong fashion. Then when the training session is done, it is vital to replenish your body with the proper macronutrients, protein shakes are great for post workout and recovery fueling, then a good meal with all the needed building blocks of life can really hit the spot. 

Is your goal to become a strong, fast, and healthy athlete with an exceptional longevity? Then that’s your road map. Walk the talk! 

Sport specific strength training 

One common theme I have encountered as an athlete, coach and a trainer is how common it is for athletes, especially runners, to develope a series of injuries, like tendinitis, runner’s knee, hip and Achilles’ tendon ruptures or pain. Even more common is the recurrence of such injuries and the catastrophic consequences they carry , in many instances ending an athlete’s passion for the sport or any activity having to do with running at all.

Throughout my career as a fitness specislist and coach, I have encountered tons of such “former runners” and the common denominator is a bum knee, a torn hip, or a ruptured Achilles’ tendon that ended the athlete’s love and passion for running, tennis, or even basketball . If I do sound like an alarmist, I am indeed. I preach day in and day out to all whom I encounter to incorporate a strength training regimen before taking up running or any endurance sport. In my humble view,  sport specific strength training can be a formidable buffer between an athlete and recurring injuries. In the very least, sport specific strength training  may lessens the chances of acute and most likely prevents chronic pain and injuries as a whole. The idea is to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and joints to lessen the chances of  injury in the face of the onslaught of repetitive stress placed on said joints by running, for example.

One must distinguish  between “tripping” or “falling” or being hit with an object types of injuries. These are going to happen to all of us, and the chances of healing from these are far greater than the injuries in question.

I still believe that it’s never too late to start a strength training program with a certified trainer or a strength coach to establish a strong foundation so you can go out and enjoy the amazing outdoors and all the endurance sports, whether you are running, cycling, skiing, or a triathlete. There’s no excuse and no substitute to strength training that precedes your actual running or endurance program.

Why Strong to the Finishline?

In my humble opinion, triathlon is the toughest, hardest, and most traumatic sport compared to any other activity. Imagine swimming for 1.2 miles in the harshest circumstances and sometimes in angry, unfriendly water with high waves and a strong current, and you are being mobbed on your right, left, on top of your head and behind you by throngs of swimmers who are trying to move infront of you without any regard to accidentally hitting your jaw or kicking your limbs if it impeded their progress. And, in fact, if I may have given the hyperbolic appearance to that description, it is absolutely true in many races. Not to mention that you are supposed swim at your fastest! After all, this is a race to the finish line, isn’t it? And oh, if you are not completely exhausted by the time that gargantuan distance is completed, you still have to exit the water running to your transition area, so you can quickly mount your bike and cycle at your fastest for 56 miles up steep hills and down speedy, dangerous downhill turns, not to mention having to run a half marathon after that!

If you are not convinced by now this is a brutal, hard, and challenging sport, try doing double that (full Ironman swim for 2.4 miles, bike for 112 miles, and run a full marathon) all done in your best (fastest?) speed, and sometimes in the most blistering heat like in Kona, Hawaii foe example, where the annual Ironman World Championship is held every year. The heat during which can sometimes reach 115 degrees and yet it remains the most prestigious event in the world. To qualify for Kona, you have to go through the most rigorous trials by placing high on ironman sanctioned races during the year. Some triathletes spend years trying to qualify, others who are well coached, train smarter and dedicate time for training, nutrition and recovery get there faster compared to the self-coached athletes

The question is: If you chose to do any triathlon distance, how do you want to do it? Or rather, when you cross that Finishline , would you rather cross it after running a strong race, or would you rather run a race in a ragtag, hotchpotch fashion? We all know the answer to that question. No one wants to finish last or finish injured or endure more suffering than one should. Instead, how about hiring a good triathlon coach who would help guide, teach, and plan your training and nutrition.

As a triathlon coach and a trainer, my approach to prepare and guide my athlete is based on sport’s science and common sense. It’s built on three fundamental steps:Sport specific strength training, Endurance fitness, and Nutrition. I will elaborate more on my next blog about these fundamental steps.

Before I close, it’s recommended for any beginner to start by doing a shorter distance (Sprint) triathlon then to the more challenging Olympic distance, or if you want to step into a bigger league and can allocate some serious time for training and nutrition, then you may consider 70.3 which is the most popular distance of the Ironman series. I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to do the full Ironman distance is to go through the distance progression mentioned above before diving into that the biggest and most challenging distance.

The importance of a bike trainer

Many successful cyclists and triathletes can attest to the fact that adding a bike trainer is an indispensable tool, especially during the winter season when riding outside is impossible and unsafe.

Many world class triathletes even  use the bike trainer during the season to dial in those indispensable bike drills that are hard to replicate during riding outside in real world terrain. Some of these drills involve varying cadence, lacttate intensity (highest intensity) drills, one leg pull/push drills, and many more.

If you have the financial ability to purchase a good bike trainer, do not hesitate in getting one. You will thank yourself on race day! The best triathletes and age groupers all do.

MultiSport Coach