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Don’t think about it, just do it over and over and over and . . .

Don’t think about it, just do it over and over and over and . . .

It’s no coincidence that many triathletes choose Ironman Chattanooga, 70.3 Chattanooga, 70.3 Augusta, or Ironman Louisville as their initial foray into long distance racing. These events have some of the highest first-timer rates in the sport for one primary reason. The swim courses are perceived to be friendlier to weaker swimmers. Each course is either current assisted, a rolling or time trial start, more-often-than-not wetsuit legal, or a combination thereof. Although choosing to participate in races that play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses is a strategy employed by even the best in the sport, most weaker swimmers do so out of fear. They are afraid of failure that could result in physical or emotional harm. Left unchecked, this fear, or more specifically anxiety, can derail an entire performance in the first few seconds or minutes of an event scheduled to last hours. It doesn’t have to be that way. Repetition and simplicity are the keys to reducing or eliminating anxiety, and maintaining control over performance.

Anxiety is a negative physical or mental reaction to situations that an athlete perceives as being stressful. The absence, or presence of anxiety depends on the degree to which the athlete perceives the outcome of the performance to be important and uncertain. The secret to controlling anxiety is actually very simple. An athlete simply needs to reduce the importance and uncertainty involved with an event.

The importance of a performance will be primarily subjective for each athlete, with higher investment usually correlating with higher importance. Perception of importance can be influenced by internal and external forces such as family, friends, coaches, sponsors, etc., but usually boils down to the fact that we are humans who are self-conscious of what others will think of us. Have you ever wondered how young children are able to learn new skills so quickly? It’s because they just want to learn the skill, and they don’t care what else is going on around them when they are trying to learn it. Adults make things more complicated than necessary, but we’ll come back to that shortly. As adults, our level of importance needs to balance out with our level of commitment to success. When performance expectations match investment, anxiety should be low. Or to put things even simpler, don’t write a one-hundred dollar check when you only have five dollars in the bank.

Although we may never be able to attempt a performance with total certainty, we can significantly reduce uncertainty through repetition. Triathletes love their routines. Specific workouts on specific days. Running the same route every week for the long run. Performing the same pre-season conditioning routines that you have done for years simply because they have done them for years. Why? Mostly because doing something differently would require that they venture out of their perceived comfort zone, and that might entail surrendering even the slightest bit of control, and worse yet, taking risks. The routine, or repetition of the routine keeps them in their “safe place”, but more specifically it reduces anxiety. Repetition also builds confidence, and confidence tells athletes that they are in control of a situation.

In a recent Trisutto blog article, coach Brett Sutton wrote about the importance of repetition for achieving exceptional performance. When training cycles and workout plans are structured properly, repetition builds confidence if there is variability to account for adaptations to the training stresses that have been repeated.  Small variations in methodology require athletes to extend their comfort zones and accept new challenges, thereby leading to improvements in performance. When athletes are reluctant to variation, repetition will most likely build stagnation and frustration instead of confidence. Much of the blame for adult anxiety regarding learning new training methods is the insistence on “experts” to make the learning process as technical as possible. The reliance on technical jargon and training toys makes learning much more complicated than it needs to be, especially when adult brains are designed to perform, and conditioned to understand how and why things work. Child brains are designed to learn, so wouldn’t it only seem logical that adults might be more efficient learners if they just simplified things?

The major advantage that children have over adults when learning a skill is that they usually don’t have to unlearn poor habits. They get to start from scratch, whereas adults don’t have that luxury. As adults, we can’t simply forget poor habits, so we need to be able to override them and replace them with good habits. The way that we override poor habits is through conscious effort. We must create new muscle memory so that the new skill becomes automatic. The more you practice something, the more it becomes a muscle memory. Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. It is the repetition of desired behaviors that brings about desired changes. We also know that the simpler the task, the easier it is to concentrate on doing it correctly. Children focus on learning only what is required to master a skill. They aren’t afraid of making mistakes, and they learn from them. Adults make the process more difficult with our desire to know why and how we are learning the skill. We further complicate things by being afraid to make mistakes because we don’t want to look like idiots. Children will focus on a few simple cues, while adults try to focus simultaneously on any and every aspect of performing the skill correctly. Children also follow their natural instincts and rest when they struggle to maintain a conscious effort to practice the skill. Adults will continue practicing a skill once they begin to fatigue and their mental and physical performance begins to suffer, for no other reason than to complete the prescribed practice session. The key to successfully learning a new skill in the most expedient manner is not just repetition, but repetition of quality attempts. It’s better to take brief rest periods and perform more quality attempts than to perform more attempts of poor quality.

Trisutto methods are based on repeating the desired skill over and over, but not just doing repeats until you reach a prescribed total workout volume. The focus is on performing as many desired attempts in the allotted time. Working hard only makes you tired if done incorrectly. Working smart makes you better. We make things as simple as we can, so athletes can focus only on what is required to get better. It’s more difficult for adults to consciously learn skills, so we structure workouts that provide maximal opportunity for athletes to focus only on what is required to master the skills. The belief is that if you are provided with the proper training methods and environment, you’re going to learn whether you want to or not. If you have children, you know how important repetition is to their learning process, especially when they have a new favorite song. You will hear them play that song so many times that it becomes ingrained in your memory, like it or not. It’s done unconsciously, without requiring you to make any effort on your part to try to learn the new tune. As athletes, mastering new skills can be just as easy if we can simply embrace simplicity. Embrace your inner child. After all, it is still just a game.

 

Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Coach Rob at his January Training Camp in Lexington, South Carolina. and his recently announced June Great Smoky Mountains Camp.

Exceptional performance craves repetition

Exceptional performance craves repetition

In 2018 I have returned to coaching a group of age group athletes as well as a team of new pros. The last 4 years had seen me back off and run some educational camps, and a group of predominantly Swiss athletes. However now I’m immersed again in squad training, one observation intrigues me no end.  The biggest hurdle I have to deal with for new athletes, both pro and age group, is their despair of doing a similar training program for more than one week!  It is astounding that they almost demand that I change what I believe to be our programs greatest strength.

Now I know it’s the greatest differential to many other programs. We replicate, we repeat, we love the word repetition, actually I’m obsessed with repetition. Exceptional performance craves it. Yet it’s the aspect I must continually combat, explain, cajole and educate on:

Repetition of weekly cycles.
Repetition of monthly cycles.
Repetition of 3 monthly cycles.
Repetition of yearly cycles.
And last but not least repetition of workouts.

We have had athletes visit our workouts that were old squad family, and they pass on in some form of astonishment to the new family – ‘we did this same workout 20 years ago’.
To which I add ‘if it ain’t broke, we don’t fix it!’.

Look at the score board, we are producing the most amazing results year after year, and we do it not with one athlete but with nearly every one that joins our group and buys into the mantra that repetition is good, our body adapts, our body adjusts and goes to a new level.

What astonishes me is that both age group and pro athletes are debating that next week is nearly the same as last week. The next line is:
‘You don’t understand Sutto, I’m used to doing so much more than this’. Even the slowest age groupers, ‘coach, I can do more’

And there in lies the story which is some times more than I can take:
The same people improve massively, and I mean hours not minutes.
Slow age groupers become good age groupers
Good age groupers become podium pros.
Podium pros become champions.

And they all keep saying the same thing, ‘coach we can do much more. If we just trained more, like the others do?’ They don’t understand the reason they have improved, is because I stopped them killing their performance. With more is better when it’s quite clearly not!

The conclusion, repetition, a whole lot of repetition will trump junk miles done all over the place. Believe me. Hard work gets you places. Smart hard work gets you to better places! Repetition is the key to turn you on to hyper performance

Just the way I see it, Just the way we do it
I wish everyone and their family the very best for the festive season.

 

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.

Winter Training – Incorporating skiing into your training

Winter Training – Incorporating skiing into your training

What are some of the winter sports that can be used for triathlon training?

It’s a topic I’m often asked about by our Northern Hemisphere athletes at this time of year. People are usually surprised with how receptive I am to incorporating skiing into their off-season training.

I’ve been more than happy to add cross country skiing into the off season programs of many athletes. I believe cross country skiing has fantastic carry over for triathlon. Not only does it give the legs an outstanding workout, but it has great application for your arms as well.

I’m such a believer of it’s benefit that we now offer two Winter Ski Triathlon Programs. A 16 hour age group plan and a Professional plan that incorporate skiing into Triathlon training.

                             
                     Winter Ski Triathlon Plan – Age Group 16 hour                       Winter Ski Triathlon Plan – Professional

It checks all the boxes for triathlon:

The arm movement works the triceps, which are so dominant in swimming. Each movement is finished off with an acceleration that helps with biomechanics used during the swim. Swim check.

Freestyle (or skating) cross country skiing builds significant thigh power and works the flutes with every movement. Bike check.

The overall cardiovascular workout is absolutely second to none. Run check.

The session is performed with no eccentric pounding, so if it’s done correctly one can allow longer workouts for 1hr 30min without the risk of bone stress injuries. Obviously a downside is if you’re not strong in the knees then poor technique while skating will be a problem. The fix, learn to ski with a better technique or use the classic style, which is still a terrific workout.

Downhill skiing is also very underrated for building bike strength. To go out and get in three solid hours of downhill skiing can be very bike muscle fatiguing and helps to enhance overall leg strength in general.

We have used skiing a number of times as preparation and sent athletes off to races virtually off the back of a winter ski base. One of our Trisutto coaches (multiple Ironman winner Lisbeth Kristensen) has won an Ironman off the back of winter training. Andrew Johns, a long time ITU World Number 1, also came out of a winter prep that had a minimum of four days of skiing instead of biking and placed second in an Ironman that he probably would have won but for a bike puncture. Such is the effectiveness of off-season ski training.

You may ask: ‘How were you reckless enough to experiment with this kind of training in the first place?’ No experiment at all. I used to watch athletes use winter triathlons – running, mountain biking and cross country skiing – as part of their preparations. Early season off the back of the skiing they were always on fire.

Conclusion; With a good winter of skiing along with a small period of time to get used to the bike again, and that can be as little as four weeks, you are actually able to improve your triathlon by using ski preparation.

 

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.

 

Why Low Cadence for Triathlon?

Why Low Cadence for Triathlon?

Strength training – low cadence, big gear hill reps for Trisutto camp athletes in Cyprus.

Even after all these years, and all the results I’m still asked by athletes about bike cadence. How come I’m such a proponent for ‘non-biker’ trained athletes to use low cadence? Athletes sit at home and watch the cycling on TV and question why don’t I recommend such spinning.

Let me put it in perspective for you.

Many pro cyclists train from 750km to say 1200 km per week, and do so for 10+ years prior to you watching them on the TV. Many still don’t find the magical feel on the pedals that the top small percentage do. If riders who are pro and spend 6 days a week training a minimum of 4 to 5 hrs a day can’t find ‘a feel for the pedals’ then how can someone with no background, who can only put in a maximum of 200 km a week find it? Yes there will be exceptions. But how many do you think? I don’t train for the exception but instead make adjustments when they do come along every generation or so.

Many field and lab tests have been done to attempt to show spinning is more efficient to the newcomer than just pumping the big gear, or as we call it stomping. These tests results don’t get aired much because the end results nearly always bore out the different conclusion than what the cycling fraternity were looking for in the test. Confirmation could not be given. In fact, most if not all tests showed that subjects who were not trained produced more power and sustainable speed at cadences between 60 (yes you read right) between 60 and 70 cadence. Any higher and the efficiency was lost. I’ve read studies from USA, Australia , England , and even France, and all come with the same conclusion, that over 70 cadence the subjects watt to power endurance was significantly less than the under 70 cadence group. The same riders under the same conditions lost as much as 10% of their vital scores.

In all cases heart rate began to climb at the various cadence levels, and once the riding novices were asked to hold 100 cadence, not only did their performance diminish greatly, but also their heart rate rose to levels approaching 15% below max for the entire tests. Again, across all data, I saw this was universal, and I would hope to any reasonable person not a debatable point.


Low Cadence and Total Body Force riding

So keeping in line with the specific requirements of our sport, I considered that when training for Triathlon:

a) We have to train three disciplines, not one. So our hours are limited for bike training compared to cyclists.

b) Most if not all athletes that I come in contact with are not ex-professional bike riders with an already wound in innate feel of the pedals. Thus ‘spinning’ may be detrimental to them riding to the best of their ability.

c) The race is not over once we hop off the bike. So, riding with an elevated heart rate close to ones anaerobic threshold would not be advisable if one wanted to run at a reasonable pace after the bike.

Yes these were assumptions back then when I formed my opinions, and I would think based on sound principles. Over the years experience has taught me that this judgment was indeed one of my better ones as all riders in the age group classes I have helped have made rapid and sustainable gains on the bike.

I’’m about function over form. What works for the individual is what is right. Watching a 90kg or 198lb athlete spinning down the road at 100 cadence makes me depressed, as does watching a certified level coach teach a 50kg or 110lb   5′ 2″ female to swim like Michael Phelps, who is 6′ 6″ or 185cm and looks like an aircraft carrier. It makes me cry and want to have these coaches certified in another way.

If you are not exceptional or you don’t have an innate feel for the pedals, take my tip: if you want to run to the best of your ability off the bike, and get the most out of it when you are on it, then lower cadences will produce results for you.

 

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.

Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions

Coaching: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Coaching: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The holiday season is almost upon us and I’m beginning to see athletes posting on social media about the newest tri equipment or gadgets that they have received, or would like to receive as gifts. They’ve read in the tri mags, or observed the top age group or elite athletes having great success using these gadgets and are convinced that obtaining such equipment or gadgets will get them to the next level of performance. It’s a cycle that repeats itself every year. Spend lots of cash on gear in the offseason, train the same way you did last season, end up with similar results this season. Unfortunately, they have yet to figure out, or simply choose not to acknowledge the fact that quality focused training is what separates the cream from the crop, and the cream usually have prioritized the enlistment of a proven triathlon coach over spending their hard-earned money on shortcuts to speed.

Many performance records set by elite triathletes in the 1980’s and 1990’s still stand, or have been eclipsed only in recent years. How is it possible that the athletes three decades ago were able to perform at such levels when much of the equipment, technology, and information to athletes at any level wasn’t even invented yet? In fact, I would even argue that most of today’s “entry-level” tri bikes are better than the bikes ridden by the top pros during that period. The answer is training. I lived in San Diego during the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and you could find a different quality group workout almost every day of the week if you looked hard enough. You were welcome to join in the fun at most workouts, with the understanding that nobody was going to wait on you, so it was in your best interest not to get dropped if you didn’t know the route.

This was certainly quality training, but it only met the needs of the top dogs leading the workouts and left the rest of us to overextend ourselves and sabotage our recovery and ability to do quality training for the next day’s workouts. We really didn’t know what we were doing because the sport was still young, and there weren’t many triathlon specific coaches. Most of the coaches working with triathletes were swim coaches, cycling coaches, or run coaches. It was an inexact science to say the least, which led to overtraining and injuries while trying to improve through trial and error. Although many athletes were able to perform at a very high level, everyone training together at the same intensity was not conducive to everyone improving performance, and only a small percentage improved and stayed healthy enough to race regularly.

In the three decades since, the body of knowledge with regard to triathlon training has increased significantly, and today’s athletes are able to procure the services of highly qualified triathlon coaches to help them achieve their goals in the most efficient manner possible. Unfortunately, the proliferation of coaching certifications in recent years makes it difficult for athletes to make a well-informed choice if decide to secure the assistance of a professional coach.

 

How Do I Find the Right Coach for Me?

It’s important that you find the right coach for YOU. The easiest way to do so may be to simply answer the following questions:

  • What are my short term and long-term goals?
  • What do I need to do to improve so that I can reach my goals?
  • Do I personally know, or know of anyone who has made similar improvements recently with the help of a coach?
  • Does this coach have a history of successfully developing athletes to get to where they want to be?

Once you have answered the questions and decide that this coach may be a good fit for you, contact the coach. Explain your goals and what you hope to achieve by working with a coach. The coach should be able to give you a general idea of what he or she believes is required to achieve your goals, and whether or not they are realistic. If possible, try to meet in person with the coach so that he or she can assess your skills and provide immediate recommendations on a plan to meet your needs.

 

Coaching versus Planning

There is no shortage of instantly downloadable, free online coaching plans. Some are better than others, but the last time I checked, none of them provided feedback, automatically adjusted workouts regularly for athlete adaptations to training, stood on deck to teach and monitor skill development, or accommodate for individual personalities when structuring workouts or developing race plans. That’s because coaches do all of those things, plans don’t. Trisutto plans don’t come with a coach either, but each and every plan is built on the same principles and methods practiced everyday by Trisutto certified coaches worldwide. These are the same methods that have guided countless numbers of athletes to achieving success at the highest levels of triathlon, as age groupers and elite athletes. Sometimes circumstances dictate that an athlete simply may not be able to enlist the services of a qualified coach. In such cases, a downloadable training plan may have to suffice. If so, athletes should take time to do some research just as they would if they were looking for a qualified coach. For instance, if you want to train for an Ironman distance event, try and find someone who has trained for a similar event and had success with their plan and get as much first-hand information as you can. If you find that several athletes have used the same training plan, you might be on to something. Recommendations from people that you know will always be much more forthcoming and reliable than product advertisements.

Unfortunately, there are also coaches that provide standardized or “cookie-cutter” plans that are not built on proven coaching methodology, and are in many cases provided by certifying organizations for use by all who complete the certification process. Most have limited or no background in the sport other than a few years as a non-competitive age-grouper, and a coaching certification that required little more than attendance at a weekend seminar (in the best of circumstances), completion of a take-home exam, and the payment of a hefty registration fee. Some of the certifications are entirely online, and almost none of them require participants to actually demonstrate coaching abilities under the direct supervision of a mentor coach. Upon earning their certification, new coaches set up an online site, recruit athletes, collect a fee, and provide a plan. They are for all intensive purposes planners, not coaches. Sadly, the worst part isn’t that they charge a fee for their services, it’s that uninformed athletes choose to pay them for this service. In all fairness to the athletes, I imagine that they have no idea of what they should expect from a good triathlon coach, or how to select one.

So, this holiday season, instead of asking for the latest equipment or technology that you are certain will finally get you over the hump and on to the next level of performance, ask for a triathlon coach.

Happy Holiday Training!

Rob Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob at upcoming camps in Lexington, South Carolina as well as Hilton Head. Details here.

Swim Challenged

Swim Challenged

After two successful training camps where our visiting coaches were impressed with the improvement in swim strokes and times of the athletes attending, I now sit on the plane reflecting on a pertinent point that was raised at the end of our camp debrief:

How was it that improvements observed in nearly every athletes swim were achieved not from swim specific drills, but directly upon jumping in the water after the swim lecture? One coach added ‘I got in the water after the talk and have to say I had the most enjoyable swim I’ve had in ages.

At the lecture we did not discuss swim technique at all. Instead I opened the minds of athletes, that the marketing and proliferation of ‘established best techniques’ can effect everyone, including the best athletes in the world;  even after they have achieved remarkable success.

With complexity stripped away, swimming gets easier, more enjoyable and faster. However maintaining this is a struggle. In society in general, and triathlon in particular, we operate in a community where ‘Keep it Simple’ principles are viewed condescendingly. I point this out, as many of our age group athletes having made swim breakthroughs will now return home and bit by bit, under the guise of friendly advice will start the process of complicating their strokes all over again. The temptation to return to ‘proper’ swim techniques can effect even the best athletes in the world, even after they have achieved unbelievable success.

At training camp we had Barb ‘Pepper’ Riveros, who already has had podiums at ITU World Cups, and a 5th place finish at the last Olympics in Rio. I believe to be on the podium at the next Olympics she needs to improve her bike and run. To do this she needs to change her swim stroke.

We invested a month to achieve the stroke I believe is right for her. Barb then went traveling and racing, with a vacation in Hawaii where she collected a 2nd place in the XTerra World Champs, before arriving back in camp.  The difference? A return back to the old techniques, old stroke, old drills. So I thought this was a great example to share of elite level coaching.

I’m not changing her stroke to make her a faster swimmer. I’m changing her stroke to make her a more superior triathlete.

My method of trying to get her to ‘buy in’ to the new technique is to sell her the results of Nicola Spirig. I have changed Nicola’s stroke many times over the years, from the most ‘technically correct’ six beat, high elbow, bi-lateral breather which was beautiful to watch; into the straight armed, no kick whirlwind seen at the last Olympics. That stroke allowed her between two Olympics to go from 1 minute 10 seconds behind the leaders in a wetsuit swim, to being in the front swim pack in Rio, in a non wetsuit swim.  This was the key to her Rio Olympic Silver medal.

However, here is the point I want to make. Even after her success, Nicola still pines for her old swim stroke!!  As we now make another change in swim technique for the Tokyo games, which will be her fifth Olympics, I still hear on a daily basis ‘I used to swim 50m and 100m so much faster. People used to complement me on my stroke, now they laugh at it.’

I will add that Daniela Ryf, now 3x Hawaii Ironman World Champion, was also given a new swim stroke when she joined. Yet she too, despite such success wants to keep changing back from her 2 beat to her 6 beat kick, as ‘I’m so much faster swimming with 6 beat‘;  It makes me sick to my stomach when she keeps adding swim drills, and other things into her swim workouts, which only serve to hinder her progress.

I try to breakdown these protests by making 3 points:

  1. Your bike and run has been the beneficiary of these changes. You are much faster triathletes.
  2. Your distance swimming has improved greatly, and at top speed you now develop way less lactate. And finally, when I can see that the above is not convincing enough, I remind them:
  3. At least your bank manager enjoys the new stroke!

Which usually breaks the deadlock.

Here is the point for challenged swimmers – ALL three of the above athletes, if they left and were coached by someone else, they would change back to their old swim techniques in a nano second.

So I understand completely how hard it can be for age group swimmers to hold the line, and to use a technique that is not trying to copy a Michael Phelps!

To my challenged swim friends, I can only say to you that you will improve and results over thirty years have proved it. But the real challenge is in ‘hold the line’ against the opinions and instinct to complicate,  as your Triathlon will be so much better for it.

 

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at his training camps in 2018. Spots still remain for Gran Canaria in February and Cyprus in April.

Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions