80/20 Triathlon

Matt Fitzger­ald and David War­den

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Finish Line Reads -

Da Capo Press

TRAIN­ING WITH LESS in­ten­sity isn’t some­thing that most triath­letes as­pire to, but there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing that you should. Spend­ing too much train­ing time at mod­er­ate or high in­ten­sity might give you brag­ging rights, how­ever, there’s a good chance it will harm your race per­for­mance.

Amer­i­can ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist Stephen Seiler an­a­lyzed the train­ing meth­ods of elite en­durance ath­letes back in the early 2000s and found that 80 per cent of their train­ing was done at low in­ten­sity and just 20 per cent was per­formed at medium and high in­ten­sity. Test­ing this rule on av­er­age ath­letes showed im­prove­ment, even for those who worked out as lit­tle as 45 min­utes a day.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thors Fitzger­ald and War­den, this ap­proach will trans­form your triathlon ex­pe­ri­ence, make your work­outs more com­fort­able and en­joy­able, en­hance post-work­out re­cov­ery, re­duce injury risk, ac­cel­er­ate fit­ness de­vel­op­ment and take your race per­for­mances to a whole new level.

“Ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gists place the bor­der be­tween low and mod­er­ate in­ten­sity at the ven­ti­la­tory thresh­old, which is the level of ex­er­tion at which the breath­ing rate spikes,” write Fitzger­ald and War­den. If you are a typ­i­cal trained triath­lete, this point will be around 78 per cent of your max­i­mum heart rate so any­thing be­low that is a low in­ten­sity work out.

There are eight com­mon bar­ri­ers that keep triath­letes stuck in a rut of mod­er­ate work­outs. One of these, in­ten­sity blind­ness, is the ten­dency to per­form at a “pre­ferred pace” rather than at a low in­ten­sity. An in­di­vid­ual’s pre­ferred pace is usu­ally slightly above the ven­ti­la­tory thresh­old and, there­fore, not truly in the low range. Over­com­ing this bar­rier re­quires ob­jec­tive mea­sures for ac­cu­rate mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol.

Ev­ery triath­lete that Fitzger­ald and War­den coach is put on the 80/20 pro­gram and ev­ery ath­lete has pos­i­tive results when they fol­low the plan, like Billy Haf­ferty. He was hav­ing trou­ble qual­i­fy­ing for a world championship by train­ing hard, but was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­cline in per­for­mance. De­scrib­ing his pre­vi­ous low-in­ten­sity train­ing as “be­fore, my easy days were just kind of what­ever,” his per­cep­tion of low in­ten­sity was off tar­get.

Pre­vi­ously, Haf­ferty’s cy­cling was at low in­ten­sity just 50 per cent of the time, then it in­creased to 61 per cent and then rose to 78 per cent in the lead up to his break­through race. “He had no idea that he was do­ing so much of his train­ing at mod­er­ate in­ten­sity and no clue how much it was hold­ing him back be­fore he came to us,” write Fitzger­ald and War­den.

To get com­fort­able with the dif­fer­ence, the au­thors sug­gest a “week of slow” to ex­pe­ri­ence swim­ming, cy­cling and run­ning be­low your ven­ti­la­tory thresh­old. This helps to re­cal­i­brate your per­cep­tion of ef­fort, break the habits sur­round­ing mod­er­ate in­ten­sity and ex­pe­ri­ence a taste of the ben­e­fits.

An in­ter­est­ing his­tory sec­tion chal­lenges the long-held per­cep­tions that triathlon is only de­fined by in­tense ef­fort. Im­ped­ing the evo­lu­tion of bet­ter train­ing meth­ods were those triathlon pi­o­neers whose mind­set was more ad­ven­ture-seek­ing than com­pet­i­tive. In 1983, a new­comer, Mark Allen, found the pu­n­ish­ing com­bi­na­tion of high vol­ume and in­ten­sity wasn’t tol­er­a­ble.

Af­ter a series of in­juries, a chi­ro­prac­tor guided Allen into a mostly low-in­ten­sity train­ing ap­proach. “For the next 14 years,” write Fitzger­ald and War­den, “Allen was the best triath­lete on the planet, and by the time he re­tired in 1997, his way of train­ing was ev­ery­one’s way of train­ing – that is, ev­ery elite triath­lete’s way of train­ing.”

With a classic “less is more” phi­los­o­phy, the book pro­vides many op­tions for work out plans that slow you down in or­der to achieve your great­est per­for­mance in triathlon.—HE­LEN POW­ERS

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