Understandably athletes are looking for methods that will bring about an increased rate of improvement, help them achieve personal bests and achieve specific goals. If you are a regular to the online world you are no doubt accustomed to the barrage of information available on your news feeds and inboxes about the newest exercise, best run set or top swimming drill.
While the internet gives us greater access to finding people’s opinions, for the athlete attempting to navigate the landscape it can be a somewhat confusing one with seemingly endless amount of ‘new and improved’ ways to do things.
So with all this information, progress is immanent yes? Well let’s take a look at the Australian marathon record for example. It currently stands at 2hr 07min 51sec. An impressive time considering that the current world record is 2hr 02min 57sec set in 2014. The remarkable thing about the Australian record is that it was set in 1986. In 31 years with all the advances in technology and sports science information nobody has been able to lower it. The training that Robert De Castella did is for another blog but the long story short was he did the same training program 52 weeks of the year only changing things if he raced on the weekend. He was consistent.
So what is the relevance of marathon records and triathletes trying to improve? People are making things far too complicated and in doing so they forget the most basic principle. In order to learn how to do something you need to do it, then repeat it, over and over and over again.
If you are starting out learning something new having never done it before it’s even more important to keep it simple and learn the basics first. One of my first jobs was teaching kids how to swim. It’s fantastic to see a child go from scared of the water to having the ability swim, even if only a short distance for their own safety. Spending up to 30 hours a week in the water and I quickly learned that keeping things simple got remarkably quick improvements. We had ‘windmill arms’ and we had our ‘bubble arm and breathe arm’. With simple instructions and repetition I had kids as young as 2 ½ year old swimming 25m.
As the kids got older and improved did we make it more technical? Not until they mastered the basics
1) timing (bubble/breathe)
3) increase distance/duration
It is a matter of swim, swim more, swim further. Simple. It’s important for adults not take this simple approach as an insult to their swimming ability or ability to understand things. Those kids that are in the lane next to you at your local pool flying past you who are a quarter of your age would be lucky to be thinking about swimming at all while they are tearing up the lane. What they are doing is lap after lap so it becomes habit. Once they have mastered the basic motor pattern and have shown that they can repeat it for km after km, you then start to refine the stroke. So for the 14 year old who is swimming past you their biggest advantage isn’t the drills they do it’s that they have been swimming for 5 years more than you.
Running and riding are in the same boat. Where many fall victim to running injuries is from abandoning the basic principle of move, move more, move further and instead jump straight into the 12 week program they read after having spent the last 6 months not running. In answer to the high injury rates in triathlon there has been a surge in exercises, drills and techniques that will ‘fix’ your problems. While there is no doubt that strengthening of certain muscles will benefit your swimming, riding and running would it not make more sense to do it during the exercise itself rather than an extra activity in your already busy schedule? Triathlon is in itself ‘cross training’ after all.
Many athletes are looking to the drills, exercises and regimes that the top athletes of the sport may or may not perform themselves without knowing the full story. In short they are looking at someone’s Chapter 25 when they themselves are on Chapter 2 and would be best to read all the chapters between rather than skipping ahead. Athletes would find more benefit from getting regular massage either from a good massage therapist or through self massage on rollers and massage balls which will loosen off tight muscles rather than attempting to strengthen already tight muscles. Triathlon is a young sport. It has borrowed many methods from other sports to help those competing improve and get faster, as it should. The key message that all sports have in common is that the biggest percentage in improvement comes from repetition. You don’t learn to shoot an arrow better by playing the guitar, you shoot arrows. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your biggest improvements in triathlon come from consistently spending time in the water, on your bike and running.