Analyze and Implement New Skills Now for Exceptional Results in 2019
It’s December, officially the off-season for most triathletes. The first goal is to recover and rejuvenate from the many months of accumulated stresses caused by training and racing. The off-season provides many opportunities to learn and prepare for the coming season. Now’s the time to look at any potential weaknesses, known or unknown, and to make improvements. Now’s the time to implement that learning, implement those new skills for enhanced performance for the 2019 season. The off-season is the best time to assess and test for hidden weaknesses. Learning and applying new skills now gives you the opportunity to practice them, to make them ingrained habits that you can easily use to have your best race. The following are some suggested areas to test; assess your current skill levels and discover where you can improve.
Swim stroke analysis: filming
Have you seen yourself on film? Filming is an exceptional tool to see how you swim, what needs to be corrected and then how to correct it. Access to an underwater camera or tester is ideal, but if you don’t have this available, above water filming can provide a great deal of information on what needs to be corrected. What to look for: kick, arm pull, body position, head position, hand entry, finish, etc. A good coach should be able to point out areas that need to be addressed, demonstrate what a good stroke looks like and give drills to improve your technique. If you’ve had this done before and have not improved, get some additional eyes on your films. Getting different perspectives or styles of explanation can be highly beneficial.
Run mechanical analysis: filming
Similar to swim filming, get a great coach to watch you run, then show the films in slow motion to point out where you need to improve. This can be done on a treadmill or outside. A few things to look for: where is your foot striking the ground? What’s your hip position in relation to that foot strike? What’s your upper body doing? Arms? Head position? You can then learn stretches, strengthening and drills to improve your run mechanics.
Cycling: bike fit and pedal mechanics
First, a great bike fit: it’s critical in order to be able to apply power to the pedals over and over and over again while in a comfortable, sustainable position. Road and TT positions are different and should be treated differently. Bike fits are especially important if you’re shorter or taller than “normal”. Being more aerodynamically positioned on your bike translates to free speed. Revisit your bike fit every 1-2 years or if you’ve had an injury or surgery. Next, pedal mechanical analysis. Are you applying power to the pedals effectively and efficiently? Is one leg stronger than the other? Smart trainers have features that measures effective pedal stroke and power balance left to right leg. Doing single leg drills on the bike will also help determine how efficiently you pedal. Make the most out of every push on the pedals.
Functional movement screens
The FMS is a series of tests designed to see how efficiently you move through a variety of functional movements: overhead squats, step over’s, etc. Working with a qualified professional, you can learn which muscles are tight or weak; then a strengthening and stretching routine is built around helping your body function correctly. I recommend going through a thorough screening with a physical therapist even if you are injury free. This will help you stay injury free and perform better over the long run.
Nutrition, RMR, bone density and blood work
A full 7-10 day nutritional analysis of what you are eating, when you’re eating it, coupled with your daily training is highly valuable. What you eat during training and throughout the day is critical to improved performance. I recently had one athlete go through such an analysis and learned he needed over 5,000 calories a day to fuel his basic needs on top of training needs. He knew he burned a lot of calories, but seeing this number gave him a good kick in the pants to realize he needed to take this more seriously. By testing your RMR (resting metabolic rate), you can then get a more accurate guide for your daily caloric needs. Bone scans: stress fractures or not, it‘s important to know your bone density; and not just women. More and more cases of low bone density in male athletes are being reported, especially cyclists. Blood work, a basic CBC and blood lipid panel should be part of your normal, yearly check up. For athletes, I would add in testing serum ferritin, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin C Vitamin D and Vitamin B. If you’re having trouble keeping up with your workouts or are injury prone, test thyroid and sex hormones. Even if all your numbers come up normal, they may not be in an athlete specific normal range. Some markers are different for athletes. Having a baseline measurement in these areas can provide an important perspective should problems arise in the future.
The mental game is often undervalued or overlooked. But the reality is that improved performance starts in the brain. Your attitude and thoughts help produce your actions in the world. Are you aware of those messages? Are your thoughts working for you or against you? Spending a few sessions with a qualified sport psychologist will reap great dividends next season. Lactate threshold, RER, steady state, VO2 max I’m a big fan of field tests because the “field” is where you train and race. But, there is a place for lab testing. Knowing how your body produces and clears lactate directs where your training needs to go. Do you know your morning blood lactate? Those athletes who can produce large amounts of lactate tend to be better sprinters. But long course triathletes who train a lot of long slow distance often produce low levels of lactate. Your respiratory exchange ratio (RER) tells you when you go from burning fat to burning carbohydrates. Although it’s not critical to know your VO2 max, you can learn a lot from the test. For example, I had this test done early in my triathlon racing career. When I got the results, it gave me the push and confidence to pursue my dream of being a pro triathlete because I knew I had physiology to make it.
How “hard” are you working at your recovery? Do you regularly get 7-8 hours of sleep? Are you measuring any recovery metrics? By taking the time to focus on a few recovery markers daily, you’ll get more out of each day’s training and hit your races fresh. What skills are you implementing right now to improve next season?