Tips from the Top

Every athlete has a particular tip or trick they use while training and racing, and after 25 years of racing triathlons, I even have a few of my own. However, I thought I would ask our local elite athletes and sports scientists what they considered to be the best advice for Austin’s endurance community. What follows (in no particular order) are the top five training methods that endurance athletes should include in their training plan.

1. Consume carbohydrates with protein within 8 minutes of completing a hard training session.

This is an easy rule to follow and incorporate into your post exercise routine. For any high intensity training session or training session lasting more than two hours, you need to consume carbohydrates and protein (4:1 ratio) within 8 minutes of completion. This means as soon as you have finished the workout, your first priority is to take in fluids that meet this ratio. You can get fancy with your favorite commercial sports recovery drink or keep it simple and drink chocolate milk. Chocolate milk just happens to have the proper 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein.

Why is it so important to refuel within 8 minutes of completion? This is when your main storage tanks for carbohydrates, your muscles and liver, are most receptive to replenishing carbohydrates. This quick replenishment of your muscles and liver aids in recovery and preps you for your next training session.

2. The 80/20 Rule as it applies to endurance sports.

The 80/20 rule is comprised of two types of endurance training intensities: Low intensity training (LIT) and high intensity training (HIT). LIT, or what is commonly referred to as long slow distance, is defined as a training session that is greater than 30 minutes, below lactate threshold, and at 60-75% of your VO2max. Conversely, HIT, or interval training, is repeated bouts of exercise lasting 1-8 minutes, performed at 90-100% of VO2max, and separated by a recovery period.

The 80/20 rule states that 80% of an athlete’s training volume should be LIT while 20% of training volume should be HIT.

To simplify, consider the two intensities as very hard intervals v. very easy training. And for those who train using heart rate zones, LIT falls into Zones 1-3 and HIT falls into Zones 5+.

Elite athletes, from collegiate 200m swimmers to Olympic marathoners, adhere to this rule quite well. Studies show that 77% of training volume for swimmers and 78% for marathoners is between Zones 1-3. In contrast, age group athletes spend too much time training at lactate threshold intensities and not a proper amount of time at either HIT or LIT.

So consider the 80/20 rule when constructing your next training block, or talk to your coach for additional details. Be confident that a balanced training plan of LIT and HIT will produce long-term performance improvements. Do not think of LIT training as “junk miles”. On the contrary, LIT is instrumental in laying the fabric and infrastructure to support HIT. Without low intensity training, your high intensity training has nothing to stand on.

3. Take appropriate amounts of Rest and Recovery.

High intensity training is only one part of increasing an athlete’s fitness. The other part is taking appropriate amounts of rest between hard training sessions. Adequate recovery results in an increase in an athlete’s form, which is the ability to race and train effectively. Your weekly schedule must include low intensity training days along with entire days void of training in order to consistently increase your training load over time. Each athlete has a unique requirement for rest and recovery and, therefore, should not be lumped into a generic recovery regiem. Heart rate monitors and power meters are effective tools used by athletes and coaches to ensure rest periods are adequate and low intensity training sessions are indeed low intensity.

4. Stop using a Pull Buoy.

This tip might ruffle a few feathers. Proper swim technique consists of the following three priorities: balance, streamlining, and propulsion. Balance, the top priority, is improved the most by the use of a pull buoy, which raises the hips level with the torso. Swimmers are automatically faster in the water when the body is horizontal. This is why I often hear that a swimmer, especially triathletes, swim faster while using a pull buoy. The pull buoy has placed them in an ideal body position improving balance and establishing a horizontal body position. However, this ideal body position needs to be acquired without the aid of the pull buoy. Practicing drills specifically designed to raise your hips is required for all swimmers. Two easy and effective drills to practice are:

1. Visualize yourself swimming downhill as you lean on your sternum and armpits as you rotate through the freestyle stroke.

2. Maintain a neutral head position. Your head should hang between your shoulders and look down toward the bottom of the pool. Lifting your head at any point in your stroke will cause your hips to sink.

5. Incorporate these Eight Great Strength Movements.

The following movements will do just fine in building abundant strength for endurance sports. Practicing perfect technique while performing these moves is critical to maximizing the benefit. Be sure and ask your coach or trainer to evaluate you during each exercise.

The eight great exercises you should incorporate into your training week are: Squats, Overhead Press, Kettle Bell Swings, Pull Ups, Lunges, Push Ups, Dead Lifts, and Rows.

Incorporate these five practical tips into your training plan and you will improve your fitness and ability to train and race effectively. As always, happy training and don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a good coach.