This blog is in response to enquiries from our readers. They see differing rest periods given to different athletes for their ‘time off’ out of race season. After reading that Daniela was given an extended long rest of three months it has thrown confusion into what is necessary for them. So let’s get into it by first putting the Angry Birds break into perspective.
This was a much needed complete ‘spell in the paddocks’ for Danni. She has raced brilliantly for 4 straight seasons with me, without a big rest. Not only is this physically exhausting but mentally draining as well. So we decided it was time for a career reset. A large break away from swim, bike, and run training; plus all the media pressure that builds with a career like hers.
So I’m asked did she do absolutely nothing? If I had my way then yes! However the bird kept in partial shape by gym visits and doing stuff that she can’t afford to do when in full Triathlon mode. What stuff? I have no idea! I made her realise that I wanted her to have a break from me telling her what to do. So we call this type of break a ‘career reset’. However at Trisutto we usually have much smaller breaks. Up to 21 days / 3 weeks for athletes who have all the skill sets in swim, bike and run. This is a very important point, because if one has a big weakness, then after a small break we go into specific stimulus programs.
So let’s break it into two:
If you are extremely good in all three (swim, bike and run), our pros do something every second day. It always revolves around swim today, then nothing tomorrow. Bike the next day, then a run the day after. They are all as short as possible for the individual. These short workouts are very important, so when one returns, we don’t waste a month just getting rhythm back to old levels and getting used to all three disciplines. But the point is we do take time off from any organised sessions.
Now the complicated! If one has a perceived weakness in one discipline we will take a little rest, then go straight into a very specific stimulus program which targets that problem. When we do this we minimise the other two disciplines to a more maintainable level. This is expected to be embraced by our athletes, be categorised as ‘I want to improve’ in their own minds, and they willingly buy into doing it.
Breaks vary because of the individual needs of the athlete. Some with great skills are afforded the opportunity to run their own breaks. Before you say the old cliches again, we have already dealt with ‘No pain, no gain‘ in the last blog!
Now here is another Cliche – ‘We should always be trying to improve as to stand still is to go backwards’. Again this is a lot of nonsense. Daniela Ryf needs to improve nothing at the present.
Nicola Spirig is similar except for her swim. So in her ‘break’ we worked on the swim stroke again. As she steps out for her first ITU World Series race in her quest for a 5th Olympics, she will be sporting her fifth ‘new’ swim stroke. This was dialed in over the winter, and was the only focus. I’m sure the critics will like this one a little better. ‘Little Pistol’ Julie Derron had a break that was about improving her run, to give her the outside chance of muscling in on the Olympics one 4 year cycle earlier than I predicted. We are proud she did so and now has a couple of ITU pro wins in the lesser divisions.
Triathlon Breaks are very important to the program. Watching both Danni and Nicola at training over the last days, neither are in their 100% best race shape, however I commented to coach Robbie these girls are ‘blooming’. The rest has done them a world of good. And that is what you are looking for in your break.
You want it to be beneficial so you can get back into training healthy with a few extra kilos to work with, and feel good about it.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz and Sursee July/August, 2018.
Over the years I have been very misunderstood by many pundits who have not even taken the time to visit our coaching camps to see what we actually do. However I have talked with and visited many great coaches who have that most important feature that makes them superior coaches – and that is curiosity.
They look at my results and ask why?
So when I say to you the most important principle of my success in Triathlon is my true understanding of recovery, it is ridiculed by the mass of naivety that passes for Triathlon experts.
So let us begin with the founding statements I had drilled into me by my farther some 45+ years ago. The statements that kept me at the top of international level coaching of any sport I took on
STRESS + RECOVERY = ADAPTION = HIGH PERFORMANCE
STRESS + STRESS = DETRAINING = POOR PERFORMANCE
Which one do you want for your athletes? That my friends is profound “science”!
So let’s be very clear. I believe that if there is no recovery, then there can be no progress.
In this sport of 3 elements (and 5 for Ironman), recovery is a very complicated undertaking. So one needs to know the sport. Can recovery happen in one facet, while working hard on another? My thoughts are a very definite YES! Can recovery happen when one is tired? YES!
The puzzle for the individual to work out is how much stress is enough to stimulate performance, and the amount of rest needed for that to occur. Here is where it is complicated, as it changes with three things:
- fitness of the athlete
- age of the athlete
- mental capacity of the athlete
Get one of them wrong and you hinder your ability to perform at your highest level.
A coach needs to adjust for each individual, and also over the course of their career. Adaptions made over time can mean that an athlete who worked best on a lighter load, will after 3 years cope with and require additional work to perform at a higher level. If the athlete is with you long enough, you will then see that as they get older they may do better and keep improving by adjusting their work load to once again do less.
When one reads this, you may think I’m trying to confuse, however it is this complicated. Thus why there are only a few master coaches in a sea of mediocrity. It is a fact that every athlete has a different stress level, and this fluctuates. A great coach finds this, and then manipulates it. Recovery is his/her tool to control it.
The next job for the coach is once finding the level is to persuade the athlete that this is best for them. What is best physically might not match up at all with the psychological abilities / requirements some athletes have. I have witnessed many athletes who did great things only because they were dragged kicking and screaming to their results. Not by pushing them harder, but by using recovery they don’t want, to save them from themselves.
As noted in my previous blog, my biggest problem, is athletes not knowing their threshold levels to stress even after showing them with great performances. Their paranoia is such that the more is better syndrome lives extremely close to their pillows, and it takes only one word or performance from a competitor, to start their alarm bells ringing, “i gotta do so much more “. We use some recovery every day in our work outs.
Here are three examples of programs I just sent to serial winners only 5 minutes before I sat down to write this
- I want you to go to the pool. Run 20 minutes from there, then swim 200m and 15 minute spa.
- I want you to ride your city bike to the pool. If you are bored do an extra 20 minutes on the city bike, then swim 400m easy. Have a spa and ride home.
- Coach I can’t do nothing. It drives me crazy! One workout a day doesn’t do it for me. Then ok, ‘What about a run day. 3 runs what do you think?’ Coach that sounds fantastic, how do they look? ‘20 minutes before brekky. 20 minutes max before lunch. If you still feel the need then 20 minutes max before dinner.’
These are actual workouts, and will help all three be better athletes.
Recovery is everything. Your job as an athlete is to embrace it. The Coaches job is to work out how much. If you give some too much recovery they become bored; and as such I’m a master of camouflage, to give athletes recovery while they think they training.
When discussing ‘stress’, people tend to look for the red line. We don’t. The red line is for anaerobic events. Triathlon (excluding the new team format) is aerobic after the start. Thus we look to find the white line. And that to me is B.A.P. – Best Aerobic Pace. With stress that’s what I’m looking for. We do a lot of B.A.P. when our body is ready. Our recovery we have done previously allows for this.
Ironman is a different set of operational tools. The pain is not pain, it is lingering discomfort. There is plenty of gain to be had, if training is done right, without pain. The key is consistency. Not how hard you go. In fact i think going too hard actually limits Ironman performance.
I’ll finish just as I started
Stress + recovery = adaption
Stress + stress = DETRAINING and thus poor performance
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz and Sursee July/August, 2018.
Feature Photo: Tahni Brown
Our personal Trisutto camp is in full swing in St Moritz. We have my coaching nirvana, athletes from very beginners, to Olympic and Kona champions all side by side in our pool, and the coach is loving it. Ability and speed is no barrier to being in our camp. We have two full time coaches in Susie and Robbie, plus myself, all trying our best to help people live their sporting dream in the most beautiful surroundings in the world.
However we also have other Trisutto coaches visiting too, to take advantage of the facilities, but also the sharing of coaching information. So camp to me looks more like “Tri-fest 2018” as coaches meet and talk about their specific problems in getting the message across. This message is that 90% of all triathlon information disseminated is not best practice for Triathlon. One theme that all coaches seem to struggle to get across to their athletes is recovery and rest needs to be built in to the program on a daily basis.
It’s not just my group that has been totally brainwashed that I must work hard every day. To the astonishment of all who visit, they see the best in the world doing 800m swim sessions. They see 20 minute runs implemented regularly. They are often gob smacked when they are told 45 minutes ride. As they watch the best do that, they also see my dismay with athletes arguing and debating for more work. They see the strong discussions I have with the best athletes in the world, who after they have had brilliant success, are still opposing my advice nearly every day, about what has made them great!
Our coaches see it, and they say ‘that’s our biggest problem too’. Athletes just can’t believe they don’t have to go longer, faster, harder every day to be better. Being in this group environment of over achievers just escalates the obvious misunderstanding of how performance is achieved. Not only built but maintained for a full season. Just as the misunderstanding of breaks from training. How different they are, and why some athletes get them, and some don’t! One of our long time supporters wrote in with a very respectful e-mail about what is a real break. He asked ‘When we read your blogs, they can mean so many different things, but giving Daniela Ryf a 3 month break has me totally confused.’
So to add to those things, many including the coaches find it difficult to understand. I preach that doubt is the poison of performance, and that as coaches they must work with athletes that buy in 100% to what we are trying to achieve and why. Without finding the harmony between coach and athlete success is nearly impossible to find. When the athlete mind is turned by other coaching thoughts, or doesn’t believe what they are doing is right for them, then the coaches need to understand that their best outcome is for the athletes to find another coach that espouses the philosophy that the athlete believes in.
So I am going to write a blog as a 3 part series. So everyone understands that I believe one of the stupidest cliches that doesn’t work in our sport is – ‘No pain. No gain’. This is firmly etched in my mind every time I set a task. Just as one of the most important cliches that works great for Triathlon – ‘If you don’t use it, you will lose it!’.
With those two thoughts I hope ringing in your mind, here are the three headings for our 3 part series to be published over the next month –
- The importance of recovery
- Breaks from training, and why you must have them
- Harmony of coach athlete relations
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in St.Moritz and Sursee July/August, 2018.
Triathlon is a draining sport and too often I see professional and age group athletes racing and training at a high level year-round, day in and day out, year after year. This is not healthy or sustainable.
Humans have since the dawn of time advocated a Sabbath or time of rest. Religion has always seen a benefit in integrating mindful rest into our lives. In addition, our earliest industry, agriculture, saw the benefit of taking a break to allow for rebalancing and rejuvenation. Allowing the land to go fallow lowered yield in the short term in exchange for keeping the land vital for years to come.
In today’s fast paced world, whether in triathlon or in our outside life, we are unwilling to rest and only do so as a last resort once we are sick, injured, or burnt-out. Instead of preserving our long-term health, we chase the short-term performance.
Stuck in a vicious cycle, the modern athlete refuses to take the time to recover that both our body and mind require. Constantly in a state of exhaustion, it is not possible to rebuild without taking time away. The toughest challenge in the world may be to take the step back and rest taking a Sabbatical from the constant stress of the chase.
I would advocate every seventh year a break from high-level long course triathlon racing or at the very least an offseason every year. The professional athletes with highest career longevity take the time each year to rest their mind and body. Likewise, as you see the current crop of women triathletes taking a sabbatical to expand or start a family, I would venture to guess you will see many of these top performers come back stronger in the next five years as the time of unstructured training has allowed both their mind and body to rebalance.
Trying something different over the off-season, means you stay fit and continue to have fun.
We can all learn from our ancestors that rest is a vital part of long term development. Rest doesn’t need to mean sitting on the couch, it can mean enjoying some shorter races or doing an xterra or trying a new sport rather than chasing a Kona qualifier that year. But do give your mind and body a break from the constant struggle of long course racing. Taking a step away to restore your body and your passion for the sport whether for a month or a year will allow you to return in a healthier happier state ready to attack the next season.
Mary Beth Ellis is one of the USA’s most decorated long distance triathletes. A member of the US National Team for 4 years, during her career she was an elite ITU racer as well as Top 5 Ironman World Championship finisher. Mary Beth Ellis runs her Trisutto.com coaching program in Andover Massachusetts in the USA and speaks English.
Join Mary-Beth at her triathlon training camps on the Ironman Mont Tremblant course in July http://trisutto.com/camps/#tremblant
At January’s 70.3 Dubai (also the opening race of this years Triple Crown), the Angry Bird, Daniela Ryf flew just high enough to win. Many picked up on a pre-race piece I had written that she was quite ill leading into this race. The question some were asking is ‘If she was sick, why would she start?’
Rather than defend our decision to start, let’s discuss how it may be possible to salvage a race and the loss of possibly quite expensive entry fees, while being advised by others to ‘not risk our health’.
There are several levels and types of sickness that are usually all labelled with the same tag – ‘you are sick so you will not be able to compete‘. However, I have witnessed some of sports great performances produced from athletes who have been deemed sick.
Let’s look a little deeper…
If an athlete is in the middle of a viral infection, or is in need of antibiotics the day before a race, we do not, I repeat DO NOT Start! You will not overcome that infection in a sport that lasts any length of time over 20 seconds and more importantly you will hurt your recovery in doing so. Racing in this condition can have an adverse effect on your race performance later on in the season, and possibly your health, this I’m sure of.
However, it is important to distinguish this from a bout of sickness that can be caused by food poisoning, or cold without a virus. This can be managed in such away that will not hinder performance. At Trisutto if the sickness happens between 2 weeks and 3 days before race day, we assess with medical help if the illness is viral. If it is not, we stop training there and then, and go into race preparation mode.
Depending on the severity of the illness and it’s ability to incapacitate, we can have between 3 and 7 days of absolutely no training at all. None. The key is not to panic, but to mentally believe in the work we have done. As the race draws closer and as we feel better, we gradually build steady work into each day right up to and including the day before the race – but all completed at a low heart rate.
In Daniela’s case, the 4 days before race day we did no training longer than 45 minutes. Before this virtually nothing as we also had to fly in to Dubai and the added stress of this travel.
A champion athlete I trained in the 90s / 2000s Loretta Harrop suffered from asthma her whole life, which would occasionally lead to hospitalisation if she had a serious asthma attack. During her recovery from this she would train one aerobic training session every 3 days. To keep her bike power this would be one short bike, big gear reps for a workout of no longer than 45 minutes. Her heart rate kept 50 beats below her maximum, with rest between reps to allow her heart rate to drop to 100.
During this period in the pool she would use large paddles and pull bouy, no swimming without, for the purpose of keeping heart rate down and muscle strength up. Many thought she would be out of competition for 6 weeks, yet only 6 days later she had won a World Cup (the equivalent of todays World Triathlon Series), and had lead the race from the start to the finish line.
The Drop Dead Taper
While these cases are rare, age group athletes can also assess the type of illness through their doctor. If it’s not a virus, the key to giving yourself a real chance is to then have the courage to stop what work you are doing. Stop it completely. I see many who keep training for fear they will lose all fitness in this period. By continuing to train, even if slower than normal, they are in the grey zone, they are not allowing their body the chance to fight and get on top of the illness.
We call this the drop dead taper. Initially do no training. Then gradually build into the race, with low heart rate training, producing zero lactate. This will give your body the best chance to fight off your sickness, while also preserving race day power, which is also essential for any sort of performance.
Racing with control and patience after a bout of sickness, Daniela was able to achieve a great result in Dubai.
Very importantly, once in the race, we take great care to build into it. No tearing it up early if we are not 100%, otherwise we have just sabotaged our race right there! If you are able to look back at the Angry Birds race and the race commentary, it was ‘She is not as dominant on the bike as we had thought she would be‘ then on the run, “this is not the Angry Bird we know tearing it up”.
Daniela’s race tactics were developed because of, and for her sickness.
The objectives planned before the race were to complete the swim as easy as possible. On the bike to keep it very very easy and heart rate low, and if at 70km into the bike if traveling ok to apply pressure to break up the competition. On the run to simply negative split if she had anything left to run with.
The Angry Bird followed the game plan like the champion she is, and was repaid with a result!
It doesn’t always workout like this, and also requires great self discipline. However, you too may have an excellent race with the above approach.
You’ve got to be in it to win it!
I recently received the following question on overtraining:
Would you consider publishing an article about recovering from overtraining/chronic fatigue/energy deficit type problems? There is so much conflicting info on the internet and not much about what to do if it is serious (i.e a month or more and still not better yet).
This is an excellent point as while there is a lot of information about avoiding it in the first place, there is very little on the best way to return to training after a bout of chronic fatigue.
To give you our take on how we work with athletes at Trisutto.com:
The first thing we do is advise athletes to seek and follow medical advice.
Then, once you have been given the green light to start training from your doctor, we begin with very light once-a-day work outs. Keep these very short and most importantly at a very low heart rate.
Let me clarify what we mean by ‘very light heart rate’.
I personally don’t care what the maximum HR is. We stick to 100. That’s our deal for athletes on the way back. Yes, I have athletes saying ‘but my heart rate goes above that even if I go up a slight incline’. Good. The advice is then ‘No problem. Walk up it.’
I think this is critical for rehabilitation.
Once we are feeling better we don’t immediately lift the heart rate, but instead add another session. Again very short, very low intensity.
30 minute swim. 30 minute run. Maximum 1hr bike ride. Yes, that short.
When we are capable of doing the two short workouts at 100 heart rate with no ill effects, we don’t start to go longer, but rather up the heart rate up to a whopping 120.
I cannot stress how important it is not to push through the rehab period.
Our next step after we complete short sessions at 120 with ease is to add strength work – or more to the point specific strength work to the program.
Not more volume.
We may take the swim to 45 min and run also in this period, but until we cope with the strength work we do not lift volume.
It’s my belief that volume, even at a low heart rate, creates stress on the immune system. And it is a big reason a lot of coaches fall flat with athletes on the comeback from serious illness or overtraining.
When we can handle two sessions with power at low heart rate – then only then do we revert to a normal work out.
We do not do return to the high heart rate stuff until we can do our previous volume. I’m pleased to report that in my squad we have had very little of this type of sickness. I believe it’s large part because of a factor that I use when planning my workouts.
Coach Cam with camp athletes at the Sunshine Coast.
We do not do back to back long work outs.
Just don’t do that. If you are going on a 3 hour or longer work out make sure that the previous work out is no longer than 1 hour 30 or the following work out is also no longer than 1 hour 30. In most cases at Trisutto.com out of those three workouts one of them will be very small. Only up to 1 hour max.
We believe this helps combat the onset of overtraining.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.