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Welcome to my blog

 

The blog is here to proviide general advice and guidance regarding various topics relating to triathlon training and racing.

By Andy Gardner, Oct 29 2017 12:00PM

In this blog I discuss how training works and aim to help you understand how to avoid overtraining. Training causes stress on the body and a subsequent process of adaptation. The adaptation does not occur immediately, since the body takes time to adapt to the training stress. Generally the adaptation takes place during a period of recovery following the training and is referred to as overcompensation. As the term overcompensation suggests, the body produces a positive response, becoming more efficient at the task it was asked to do.

Therefore, the key components to effective and successful training plans are loading (training), recovery (rest) and overcompensation (desired end result). The training load produces fatigue and is accompanied by a temporary reduction in performance. Improvement follows later in the recovery phase when overcompensation takes place. Following compensation it is possible to train at a higher level than previously possible. The body has successfully adapted to the training stimulus and has in time become more efficient and/or stronger.

As an example - imagine you go for a run longer or faster than normal and crawl back home totally wasted out. At this point the thought of repeating the training session is very unappealing. This is the period of temporary fatigue. However, as a sensible triathlete, you train carefully the following week and allow yourself to recover from that hard run. During this period adaptation is taking place. In a couple of weeks time, you have another go at the same hard run, you will probably find that you feel in better shape, able to go faster than the previous run. By repeating this process you produce step changes in your performance.

This sounds simple, but getting the balance and timing between loading and recovery to produce the desired over compensation effect is very tricky. By gradually increasing workload a state of fatigue and reduced performance is reached. If the signs of fatigue are ignored and the training load is reduced, then a state of further fatigue will be reached from which it will take much longer to recover. If the training load has been correctly adjusted to promote recovery it is still possible to increase the training load too soon before fully recovered. If this happened then the level of performance from which you start (point A on the diagram) will be less than the original level of performance. This is commonly the way in which over training occurs. The big problem with over training is that the level of performance gradually decreases as a downward spiral of fatigue and partial recovery is repeated. The triathlete then falls in to the trap of thinking that their poor performance is due to insufficient training and therefore generates even further fatigue by attempting to train even harder. At this stage usually an injury will halt the impending doom or the triathlete will be so fatigued that they cannot continue training and have to take a break for the body to recover.

It is worth noting that it is also possible to have a reduced training workload which lasts for too long such that the benefits from the previous high workload have passed and the starting point has returned to the original level of performance (point B in diagram).

However, it is very much more common that insufficient recovery is the reason for a failure to improve performance.


Here are a few pointers to prevent you falling into the over training trap:-

* Always include one rest/recovery day a week. This need not necessarily be completely passive rest but may be a very light cycle or cross training session.

* Every fourth week of training should be of reduced volume and intensity.

* Have a definite aim or objective for each training session and include easy recovery sessions between hard sessions. In this way it is possible to avoid placing two hard training sessions back to back.

* During the race season allow extra recovery sessions between races, since these will take much more out of you than even the hardest training session.

* If you feel tired and lethargic and don’t fancy training then have an extra rest day and come back stronger the next day. Alternatively, start the session and if after 5-10 minutes you still feel the same then stop the session have a good cool down and stretch and go home.

* Over training is much more common than under training. It is better to be slightly under than over trained before a race. The extra freshness and enthusiasm you possess will be mean you will be quicker than if you were still not fully recovered and tired from your training load.


By Andy Gardner, Oct 14 2017 01:13PM

Running is something we all do naturally, right, but is our running natural?


Take a look a very young child running in the park or in a garden. They will typically be landing on their mid-foot and will be taking lots of fast, short strides, their feet will be landing under their centre of mass and it will almost look as though there are toppling forwards. Their running hasn’t been coached into them; this is how they run naturally. Compare this to a typical grown up running through the park. What are the key differences?

• Heel striking

• Foot landing in front of centre of mass?

• Longer stride?

• Slower leg speed?


The points called out are typically things that change over time primarily as a result of culture and footwear choice and will impact on the efficiency of your running. The young child knows nothing about running theory nor have they been subject to footwear fashion trends etc.


Heel striking is very inefficient as you typically land with your foot in front of your centre of mass and this introduces a braking effect. You need to use energy to overcome this braking and get your centre of mass in front of the foot before the energy you are using starts to push you forwards. The main consideration with regards to heel striking is that you tend to land on the heel with a straight leg, this results in all the shock of landing going through your skeletal system (ankles, knees, hips and into your back) and introduces the risk of injury. If you land more on you mid-foot you tend to land with your feet under your centre of mass – no braking effect – and with a slightly bent knee – introducing natural shock absorption. Think about hopping – do you land on your heel with a straight leg?


Many people think that a long stride is good for running speed and efficiency and to a degree it is, but you shouldn’t be extending the stride by reaching out in front. As mentioned earlier, if your foot lands in front of your centre of mass it will have a braking effect. You should be trying to trying to land your foot under your centre of mass, this way all your energy is used to make you move forwards. Think about your foot pawing back slightly as it lands, this will stop any braking effect. Imagine pedalling action on your bike and your foot hitting the ground just before the bottom of the pedal stoke. You can also help your foot land under your centre of mass by thinking about your posture as you run. Run tall, head up, with your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles in line. If you lean forward – lean forwards from the ankle not the waist – this moves your centre of mass forwards and is akin to the young child looking like they are toppling forwards.


We have three gaits: walking; running; sprinting. The main difference between walking and the running/sprinting gaits is the flight phase – this is where the speed comes from - think about race walking vs. running! If we use a longer stride we are typically on the ground longer and therefore slower. There is a natural balance to be struck here as a very short stride will obviously be inefficient also. A longer stride also uses more muscular energy so is inefficient in that respect. Think about how you run up a hill, you take shorter strides and adopt a slightly faster leg speed; this is because it’s more efficient. If you do look to extend your stride do so by pushing/kicking out the back of stride. Watch Mo Farah and look at his kick out the back!


Slightly faster strides are more efficient as you can start to use the stretch reflexes in the muscles to help move you forwards. If we go back to hopping – do one hop and stop when your foot hits the ground then hop again and stop when your foot hits the ground. How does this feel? Now hop naturally, you get a natural rhythm that feels much easier than the first approach. This is because you are using the stretch reflexes in your muscular system to help you. This stretch reflex energy is maintained for approximately 1/3rd of a second, so when running each foot strike should take about that time. If we run for a minute we will end up with about 180 foot strikes per minute – this leg speed is known as the natural running cadence. This may sound fast but try it, when running with this cadence you will find you naturally adopt a slightly shorter stride.


For triathletes it may useful to note the natural running cadence of 180 foot strikes per minute. If we take just the left foot – that is 90 left foot strikes per minute. If we then assimilate that to revolutions per minute we get 90rpm. When we talk about an efficient triathlon pedalling cadence being 90rpm it is heavily based upon the natural running cadence and attempting to minimise the physiological differences between the bike and run disciplines in a triathlon. This last point is only relevant to triathlon, not pure cycling, as the cycle part of a triathlon is about going at a speed that enables you to run fast afterwards, pure cycling you don’t have to worry about the run!


I hope you have found the discussion useful, you will have noticed that all these elements are interrelated so working on one aspect will help with other aspects of your running efficiency.


By Andy Gardner, Dec 15 2016 09:53PM

This is a great time of the year to sit down and plan your season. This first weekly blog post covers some thoughts and ideas on planning your tri season.


First of all think about what your goals are for the next season. Make sure you set goals that stretch you, but are achievable. Your goals should also be ones that you can control – e.g. don’t set a goal of winning the national championships – you can’t control who enters that race nor how well they race.


Look at what went well last season and identify why – keep on doing those things! Also, examine what didn’t go so well - what can you do differently this year to improve on those things? These changes should start to form your training objectives for the coming season. Remember – you will race how you train, and if you keep training the same you will keep racing the same.


Prioritize the races you will do. Your “A” Priority races are the ones that you are really aiming to achieve your goals in. These are the races that all your training is leading towards and are the races that you will aim to peak for. Ideally you should only have 2 or possibly 3 “A” Priority races a season, this is due to the time it takes to recover from and then re-build for an “A” race. Your “B” Priority races will be those that are important to you and that you want to do well in and that you may do a small taper for. You may aim for up to six “B” Priority races a year. Your “C” priority races will be used as training races, gaining experience etc. You wouldn’t typically look to peak (or taper) for these races, nor expect stunning performances.


Try to phase your training as described below, working back from your first “A” priority race. Typically the Base1, Base 2.... Build 1 etc. training cycles are 4 weeks in duration with the last week being a recovery week. The base or general preparation period is where intensity is (comparatively) low and volume increases to be highest during the Base 3 period. The whole Base phase is approximately 12 weeks, made up of three 4 week blocks. Next comes Build phase, two 4 week blocks - 8 weeks in total. Following the Build phase is the Peak Phase of about 2 weeks and then the Race or Competition phase which can last up to 3 weeks. As you work through the training plan after the base period, the volume of training decreases but intensity increases. As you progress your training it gets more and more specific to the race you are targeting, typically including brick and race pace specific sessions.


Group sessions are great for motivation and camaraderie so plan your training to include club and/or group sessions. As you get towards more specific training make sure you are doing the training you need to do and not somebody else’s – don’t get sucked into a testosterone packed effort if you are supposed to going long and steady!


Finally, plan your training around what you enjoy – it makes things seem so much easier!

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