In our last blog we discussed how using the treadmill and turbo could enhance your triathlon. Within our own coaching group we have extended that to commercial swim benches, home made remedies, and swim stretch cords. However, in a lot of European communities since the blog, home detention has now become the norm in controlling this particular virus. One area I didn’t touch on, but I know through personal experimentation and use over many years and that might not be highlighted by the mainstream tri world, is the value in skipping.
Over the years, I have tried to introduce the teaching of skipping to my athletes. The goal to become competent at it, so if they did acquire a certain type of injury, such as hamstring strain, or a bike induced hip flexor strain, then skipping could be an outstanding alternative to still keep the feel of running. It might also enhance ones motor neuron facilitation ability because of the coordination it teaches between arms and legs.
I was not very successful in encouraging athletes to master this skill, as it was viewed as not necessary to have a skipping rope in their kit bag. However when that type of injury arose, I would see athletes run to by a skipping rope, which then wasn’t as effective because their skipping ability was near zero. Hence none of my ‘new’ athletes have experienced skipping programs.
It was my podcast interview with Greg Bennett this week that brought back memories of all the 1990s athletes, who saw me do extraordinary amounts of skipping at every squad turbo session. Being an ex-professional boxer, I can handle a rope, and was encouraged to skip the same amount of time they did on the turbo.
Back in those days turbo was something athletes outside of my group did not do as part of regular training. Yet in the early days we would do group turbo workouts a minimum of 4 times a week, and be on the turbo for a minimum of 1 hour 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours 30 minutes. Seeing me suffer along with the athletes seemed to quell the mutiny of ‘coach why can’t we ride on the road like the others’ debate.
Why I mention this, is because at that time I would run squad athletes only 3 times a week – and I would join them. The run program was 2 x 7km runs a week where we would run easy to 3.5km then turn around and bolt for home. They would also do a 10km run one day a week before swim squad, while we waited for our 1 hour pool lane allocation.
I mention this as full disclosure for all that say you were running a lot more. I’m pointing it out as if I said I only skipped, and did no running, no one would believe me, except for those in the squad that knew that’s all I did. Yet I would beat the majority of them in the twice weekly training runs, and as a non runner do rather decent times when the squad would do a local run race.
The point I’m making is this – I did at times do running only blocks for experimental purposes, even up to 160km a week. But in all cases never ran as fast as when I skipped as the base training.
While this may be anecdotal evidence (n=1), I can say the one or two cases where athletes did skip, it improved their running. The more skill you have the more you can get out of it. However I can assure people that have yet to try the rope, that if you are only half competent, then 1 minute of skipping with varying rests done for 15 to 30 reps, will test the fittest of triathletes! Doing 15 x 3 minutes with a 1 minute break is a workout that will have the fittest, after getting up off the floor, say ‘that’s one hell of a workout!’.
If as a kid you skipped, it will take about 3 sessions to come back to you. So this tool can be an exceptional advantage if you by force of your government are locked up indoors. All you need is a rope (I suggest the plastic variety as then the cadence can be a lot faster), a space as little as 1 square metre, or a hall you can go up and back, and a wooden floor or a rubber mat. This is most important, as skipping on cement or a hard surface can induce shin splints. Done with music, it can be a very enjoyable workout.
Now before you say I can’t skip, I’m hopeless, there is a second possibility, which I can again put a personal stamp of approval. That is running on the spot or pretensions to skip without a rope! Two of my boxing pre-fight training camps were done in a certain gym, where everybody in there was an expert skipper. The boss was insistent, even if you were being trained by another coach, we all did the gym warm up together. The boss was the ‘boss’ in his house and he had about 170 fights himself. So respect was always given to such old warriors in these gyms. If you didn’t show respect…then you got hammered.
So we would do 5 x 3 minutes with 1 min rest running on the spot; in the warm up! What was different than normal running on the spot was the goal had to be 300 steps in the 3 minutes. That was the lowest acceptable amount, and he would walk around with a stick, and actually counted if he thought you were under his lowest acceptable level. The best at it would pump out 400, coincidently or not, these were usually the quickest punchers in the gym without exception.
I remember I could hardly walk for three days when I first entered that gym. I was fit but the tendons behind the knees would just seize up. There was no weight bearing, but the speed of these little 4 cm steps would exert such force on you, if you weren’t used to it just flat out killed the tendons. Now, I say this to warn people that these two innocuous exercises are tough if approached with no respect.
However, the moral of the story is you don’t need to have a track, or a trail to keep your running in good stead. Even without a treadmill in your home, if you go to the skipping or spot running, I can assure you with just a couple of runs outside when the menace has passed, you’re going to be very very surprised by how well you can run after being indoors for a month. I’ll bet on it!
The off-season can mean different things for different athletes.
It can be used as a complete mental and physical break for those athletes recovering after a long season. It can also be an opportunity to hone in and improve a single discipline, or the chance to build on fitness for the next year.
Coaches need to recognise how best to plan the off-season for their athletes on an individual basis, taking into account their individual mental and physical abilities and make up. They must also remember that the off-season should also allow renewed vigour to be taken into the following race season.
Coach Brett gives his thoughts on off-season training options:
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.
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
The month of May I headed home to Australia to see family, friends and to do a memorial camp for one of my old coaches who was struck down by stomach cancer. We paid tribute to one of triathlon’s real supporters at every level – Scott ‘Aardvark’ Penny. Scott was old school. Scott helped people. Scott got involved. Some would say he was a Triathlon Coach, but that was a cover, the reality is he wanted to help people lead better lives. Money, position, fancy facilities was not his motivation. He ran a local bike shop, he took bike tours of Aussies to Europe. All small scale, but he had one thing he did huge – his effort to help people.
Great to be back in Australia; bike action from Caloundra.
This was brought home to me further when I was looking for gyms for my daughter to train in. Zali is a skier, so nothing to do with triathlons, however I’ve worked in a lot of gyms, and thought no problem, we will find something everywhere we go. I expected to pay for a workout, and to get on with it. We visited many gyms, we looked inside, all shiny equipment, a couple even had an air freshener smell, but they could not give my girl a one day entry. The buff trainers walking around simply said ‘Impossible. She has to buy a membership’. Not helpful when we were only in town for two days.
This was not a one off. The Gold Coast, Sydney then on to Melbourne. I must have ventured into 12 gyms and got knock backs. So disappointing, so I stopped taking her, as it made me sad to see my girl with a dream, and a sparkle in her eye, get told ‘impossible, this is a private gym’. It also had me pondering, and I said to her let’s look for a real gym, with real people.
When we arrived in Sydney, I wanted to give the family the Bondi Beach experience of where I spent a lot of time when I was younger. Again I must have visited five gyms in a 2km radius and were knocked back by all, or except two that were 50 dollars and 30 dollars! So when we saw the new building at the Bondi Icebergs we assumed the gym there would be now the same. However old habits die hard and I said Bondi Icebergs is a traditional place with a wealth of history, let’s at least take a look. We were amazed to walk in and it hadn’t changed in 30 years. The same barbells were there, a bit rusted, and the kettle bell had my name on it, as it had come back into fashion now. Old school alive and well on Bondi Beach.
Of course, the pool in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, ‘Aardvarks’ club had a real functional gym in a shed. They nearly broke their arm on the door opening it for us – ‘there you go missy knock your self out the place is yours’. We were joined for a couple of days by my nephew Dale, who we called ‘White Lightning’ as a kid. As he was always so passionate, he followed the Camps. Even after 8 years of running Ripple Fitness in Brisbane, his motivation, the care he took for his athletes ‘You don’t mind uncle Brett if I come to Sydney too. But my motto is I do everything to help my clients have a better experience with their training, I won’t get in your way’.
Then at our camp in Melbourne with coach Michael Harvey who is so passionate about how he can do a better job for his Victorian athletes, that he has travelled to Asia and then all the way to Europe to learn from us, and be better for his athletes. The camp wasn’t about promotion but about my sadness of how poor the performance levels have been out of the State Of Victoria since the 90s. I thought that some would like to know how the most successful group on the planet trained during that period of time? To my astonishment the one person who didn’t need my advice, the great Stephen Foster made his way from the Mornington Peninsula to attend.
‘What are you doing here Stephen?’
‘Sutto I want to learn. I’m missing something and I want to be a better coach.’
Can you can see a theme here yet!
Swimming in Melbourne with Abi, Stephen and Jo.
Then i walked the streets in Melbourne there was no shortage of swish gyms. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment. Sparkly buildings, sparkly equipment and buff attendants who proceeded to say no, we are sorry, but it is not our business model.
Just when we were about to give up we saw a little gem. No not a spelling mistake, it was a gym, but it had heart. No real flash equipment, Muhammad Ali poster on the painted walls to try and lift it. I said to my daughter, that I bet the guy running this place will be happy to let you train here. ‘Why Papa?’ – because when you see a place with a heart and a soul, you can bet those in it are just the same. Sure enough in we went, and were meet by Dave. Older guy, not buff, just fit, hard as a rock with track suit on and peak cap, with a group of women in there working out like real athletes. No tinsel togs here.
Dave was so attentive to his clients my daughter got impatient. Just watch and learn from a real coach. His clients are his fixation, look at him, this bloke is our man. You watch when I tell him what you do he will say yes. When Dave had finished the circuit training, he came over. He said what they did a monthly fee here. I said we down for all of two sessions, and he said the gym is yours enjoy it. I asked about money. Dave said ‘no charge. Why don’t you get to work Zali, we will worry about that later.’
I watched Dave take 6 lessons. And they were lessons. His motivation was only matched by the skill set he was showing in his workouts. This guy knew his stuff. His clients are very lucky, to be in such good hands; and hats off to the ladies who were there, as they were working like real athletes, and they had good shapes that only come from consistent and well trained work. Well done ladies’. I’m happy to say if you in the area from St Kilda to Elwood or Elsternwick, take my tip and do yourself a favour and drive past the fancy Dan soulless gyms and walk into a real gym at For Fits Sake and say hi to Dave and his team . If your serious about your work this is the place.
Which brings me to my point. Facilities mean nothing! One day when we couldn’t get into a gym or an oval as the football was on it we did our work in the cricket nets and boy was it a great session. We improvised, we over came. What really matters is what you do, and who you do it with. Dale, Dave, Caloundra pool. Their place did stink – it stunk of motivation, passion and care. A place where success is nurtured in an environment that can’t be matched by shiny pieces of metal .
They all reminded me of my friend ‘Aardvark’. When I first meet him, ‘Hi Sutto. My names Scott, but call me Aardvark. I’m just here to help!’. The world is worse off for the loss of Scott Penny, but there are still some pockets of places where Scotts favourite saying is still in play.
The ‘no dick heads allowed’ camp was a great success, and the trip made me realise more than ever, that we must keep spreading the word where ever there is one person there to listen.
After a recent article on hidden performance killers I received multiple emails from followers asking about travel, some inquisitive and some informing me that I place too much importance on it.
As I return home on the 24 hour trip from Australia and as we start the race season in earnest, I thought I would make it clear again how much emphasis travel deserves in season planning. As we’ve seen athletes making two intercontinental trips before June, who by August will be asking themselves (again) ‘where did my form go?’.
At Trisutto for our professional athletes we place a limit on how many trips across the date line we make per season. It puts so much pressure on the immune system – one should be viewing the flights as equally stressful as a race. Indeed as a rule of thumb we count a long distance flight + race as the equivalent of 3 races.
Nearly all that train with us and listen to the advice seem to notice how in the later months of the season their form doesn’t fall away like in previous years.
It’s not a coincidence. This was a lesson we learned in the early 90s of Aus triathlon. Australian athletes notoriously struggled bringing good form from Australia to the US / European World Cups. Many were on fire in Australia only to consistently flop overseas. Others the opposite.
Pioneers like Greg Welch and Michelle Jones were a couple of the first to overcome these problems by staying in two ‘Home’ bases for both seasons and avoiding the long haul traveling back and forwards. At Trisutto we’ve never forgotten it.
The Pros and WTS Circuit
The crushing effects of long haul flights are exhibited perfectly in the situation we see at the professional short course level. Where we now have deep performance lulls after Olympic cycles with the heavy hitters either ignoring the WTS series, or others being so destroyed from the travel schedule they need two years recovery.
The 2016 WTS Series. Completely disastrous for long term performance.
For those asking for opinions on ‘form’ and medal prospects ahead of 2020 Tokyo based off the WTS series in 2018. Never in the history of ITU racing has an athlete won the ITU World Championship and the Olympics in the same year. There’s a reason for that and it won’t be different in 2020 either.
You cannot prepare properly for a major event with an official schedule that looks like it was put together by Carmen Sandiego. If the Brownlees, Spirig’s and Jorgensen’s of the sport recognise that, then it shouldn’t be too much to explain to age group athletes either.
In terms of practical advice for our athletes and how one can avoid the pitfalls:
Firstly, we don’t do long, stressful races like an Ironman out of season if they include a big travel component. We do these at the end of our season only when we have had a minimum of 20 weeks of consistent work.
We also try to avoid backing up races early in the season even if no travel on planes is involved. We do this at the end of season also. Why? Because the mixture of travel, race and recovery when one doesn’t have a full base is a huge stress. If you are not fully recovered you might still get through these races ‘OK’, but after two the body starts to flatten and never gets back to peak.
It is often misdiagnosed as ‘over training’ when the real culprit is racing when not ready combined with too much travel. The outcome is the same – poor end of season performance.
I will finish by reiterating the same points I’ve made multiple times in person and print! If you can drive to a race within 5 hours DO NOT get on the plane.The amount of times I’ve heard “Sutto, it’s only a 45 min flight” really does depress me.
Pulling the bike apart, packing it, towing it around the airport, getting on a 30,000 ft compression chamber to sit next to people who may be ill – to then putting the bike back together if it arrives and not broken is a stress even if a ’45 minute’ flight.