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

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll!

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll!

Ridin’ down the highway
Goin’ to a show
Stop in all the by-ways
Playin’ rock ‘n’ roll
Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Broken boned
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

– AC/DC

I sent the video of AC/DC playing this to one of my pros last week. Why?

So many triathletes are in such a hurry, self sabotage through exuberance is in abundance in our sport that is so attractive to A type personalities. Drawn to quick results at the expense of long term success.

 


Under the eye of the coach…

Being an expert in one specialist domain does not automatically make someone the best decision maker in other areas of their life, sporting or otherwise. So many athletes are also drawn to the metaphorical pot holes in the road, and can’t help but rush straight towards them. If you want to be the best you can be in any activity, sporting or non sporting, consistency over time is key. For our pros it’s a minimum 3 year process. The same window of time applies to highly driven age group athletes, and those who just want to improve and have fun. Hurry slowly for the best long term outcomes!

Similarly a focus on all the things that have zero relevance to performance. Pressing a button on a stop watch every lap of the pool – what does one do with that? Then chopping and changing training programs every two weeks based on self analysis of meaningless data from workouts.

I’m often asked ‘what’s the Trisutto secret?’. If there is one this is it.

Consistency
Consistency
Consistency

We have a phrase ‘chop wood, carry water’.

To quote the well known Australian coach Percy Cerutty – ‘hard work does things. Intelligent hard work does things better’.

At the pointy end of elite sport another fundamental of successful coaching is mentoring / life coaching, making decisions for the athlete. Whether simply avoiding injury, or avoiding self destruction like so many prominent professional sports persons over the years.

In competition poor decision making and insecurity go hand in hand, and are magnified by self imposed expectations. At the 2015 Australian Open tennis I had the opportunity to observe Venus Williams and her coach pre match practice. Not a single word was spoken in 40 minutes. Later sitting only a few seats away during her match, there was constant non verbal communication and reassurance from coach to athlete, of their pre planned strategy. Observing one of the greatest tennis players of her era about to throw this away after just one bad shot was educational. Without her coach to encourage, and be strong, the outcome may have been very different.

Superstars of sport are often fragile individuals, and winning is not normal for most people.

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll…..for athletes, and coaches

 

Robbie Haywood is Director of Coaching at Trisutto, with over 16 years experience. He spreads his time between his home on the Sunshine Coast, Australia, the Trisutto Headquarters in St Moritz and Trisutto Training Camps worldwide.

* Feature Photo Credit: Mokapot Productions

The Explosion Of Testing!

The Explosion Of Testing!

Athletes training at St Moritz this summer.

With many athletes resuming training after a deserved end of season break, we at Trisutto have been taken aback with the amount of new age group athletes inquiring about which ‘performance’ tests they need to complete before they get started for the new season.

It coincides with a much longer (but equally dubious) trend of national federations scheduling tests – strength, individual time trial, flexibility etc. for professional athletes, who should be resting or focusing improvements on their weakest disciplines after a brutal race season.

Pro Athlete Testing

Out of season time trialling of an individual’s 400m swim, or 800m run, are tests with no point aside from administrative box ticking. They produce numbers that have no bearing on positive performance in an actual triathlon, nor do the battery of insignificant flexibility measurements and other strength protocols that athletes are asked to do in the off season.

Yet every year we suffer through the farce of athletes recovering from a successful race season, coming under pressure to maintain their spots against athletes ‘peaking’ in time for the test period.

It’s pseudoscience. Athletes that test well and race poorly are so common as to nearly be the norm and not the exception. Similarly, the numbers thrown up each year under the guise of being ‘impartial’ can be completely misleading based on any number of factors. Imagine two tests taken 6 months apart at the same venue, with the same equipment:

  • Was the test performed at the same time of day?
  • Were the weather / temperature conditions identical?
  • What was the time since the athlete’s last meal?
  • Was it the same meal?
  • Were all the meals during the previous 48 hours the same?
  • Did the athlete do the same training on day of test?
  • Did the athlete do the same training the last 72 hours before ?
  • What was the tiredness level of athlete?
  • Did they taper for the test?
  • What were their hydration levels?
  • How did they sleep the night before?
  • Was the athlete experiencing any family or relationship issues?
  • How has the equipment been maintained / calibrated?

There are no impartial numbers.

And it’s why for over 30 years at Trisutto our athletes take their tests and have their performance judged at the only place they count – Championship Events.

Age Group Testing

So let’s move on to the proliferation of tests done at the start of the season for age group athletes and used as an indicator for development of your training program. I know it all sounds scientific and cutting edge, and I also know how many of you enjoy looking at graphs and measurements.

Unfortunately, the reality is such data will also have absolutely no bearing on what you will need to improve your swim, bike and run capacities. If you decide to do Ironman what is needed for your training is very black and white – no matter what the test says:

Performing 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run is an an inflexible and herculean task regardless of the starting test point or your numbers. Whether your goal is 8 hours or 18, what one needs to focus on are the individual swim, bike and run techniques to cover such a distance, and then a training regimen that is adapted to compliment these techniques and goals.

It is simple, but honest. Across sports race day performance has nothing to do with the testing lab. And just because there is a proliferation of new businesses built around such testing it is not a testament to their legitimacy, but of the gullibility of cashed up triathletes looking for easy speed.

I will give you the best piece of research information that you will receive and we hand it out for free here at Trisutto:

Performance under pressure comes from mental self discipline that needs to be learned through training and awareness of what it takes on race day.

No testing protocol is going to help you when you’re under pressure and need to find a way to overcome. My tip is find a coaching solution that can provide help with developing those race skills. That is far superior and cost efficient than the expense of trying to buy performance with testing and equipment.

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at his remaining training camps in 2017 in Gran Canaria.

Nature or nurture?

Nature or nurture?

Have you ever considered why you may not reach the same levels of performance as say Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf? You may put it down to not training hard enough or not having the time to put in that much effort. In fact. It may not be your fault.

In general, there are two categories of triathletes that perform at the highest level: the genetically talented or gifted athlete and the athlete with a highly developed capacity to train and a specific training program guiding them.

When athletes perform at the top level they often attribute their success to superior coaching, access to a great training environment or beginning training at a young age. Could their success be attributed to underlying biological predispositions? Genetic traits are thought to account for up to half the variation in performance and the other half in the athletes response to training.

These genetic qualities are not only the inherited characteristics of their parents such as height and arm length, leg length etc, but also muscle fibre type (fast and slow twitch muscle fibres) and the capacity to attain high levels of fitness (maximal oxygen uptake) or inherited cardiovascular traits.

From this perspective, whether you will make a champion or not, is governed by:
a) The type of mix in your anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics that you were born with;
b) Proper training, rest and nutrition, and
c) The ability of those inherited characteristics to adapt to the training, rest and nutrition.

Other factors that may affect performance include the trainability of the athlete. There are some people who are what we call “non responders”, who have great difficulty to improve in sport and of course never attain any high performance levels but still find it enjoyable to train and compete. Neuromuscular activity and biomechanics (skill) plays a part in the sport of triathlon but not to the same extent as in single sports. The nature of triathlon does not require perfect skill development. The swim, being in open water and in a group situation does not require a perfect swim stroke to perform well. The bike can be in draft legal or illegal format and does not require the same level of skill as an Olympic cyclist. The run is decided by who is the fastest after the swim and bike, not necessarily the runner with the fastest run time trial. It is often determined by the strongest, fittest runner.

 

Probably one of the most important factors in producing a high performing athlete is to find individuals who are highly motivated and are likely to persist over the long duration required to produce a champion.

Training over a long period can vary between individuals but could span between 10-15 years. This could be the initial learning of fundamentals of the sport; the building of performance power and capacity; and the reaching of an international level. Once the athlete has reached this level of performance, it is not uncommon that another 6-8 years of competitive experience may be needed to achieve consistent world class rankings.

So taking into account all of the above, there are also the psychological factors. This includes the ability to tolerate pain and fatigue and also dedication and diligence to train and race at such a high level. Other psychological factors that are important include motivation, aggression, focus, the ability to sustain effort, attitudes toward winning and losing, the ability to cope with anxiety and stress, management of distractions, capacity to relax and of course, coach-ability.

Coach-ability encompasses not only following a specific training program but also being tenacious, conscientious, and demonstrating a perseverance and readiness to perform. That is what you need to bring to the table if you wish to improve and succeed in this sport.

Unfortunately there is little that can be done about changing your genetic make up, you will have to live with that, but those people with a highly developed work ethic and a successful system of coaching that is guiding their efforts have a better chance of reaching your true potential.

 

Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia. Rob is mentor for coaches studying at our Trisutto Coaching Academy

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.