Quick question. Do you know what training you’ll be doing tomorrow?
I imagine your answer might be “yes” to this question.
But do you also know what training you’ll be doing in five months time? I imagine your answer is “no” and you’re not alone here.
While five months may seem a long way off, it’s important to ensure that every training session you do is part of a grand plan. Without planning ahead, you’re unlikely to find the right blend of intensity, volume, recovery and progression that you need to reach your peak on race day.
In coaching terms it’s called micro-planning and macro-planning. The micro bit is all about planning the next few days in detail. It’s the macro part that I'll touch upon in this blog, which involves thinking longer term and planning ahead.
The beauty of macro-planning is that you can divide your training-year into several chunks. During these chunks you can focus on improving different aspects of your fitness, rather than trying to do everything at once.
It’s known as periodisation and it applies to triathlon, duathlon, cycling, running and pretty much any sport.
Periodisation is the first thing I think about when I design a training plan for an athlete. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is built. I use the same triathlon periodisation model set out by Joe Friel in his Training Bible books. This involves breaking your season down into six distinct phases.
The purpose of this blog is to help you understand those six distinct phases so that you can successfully apply them to your own training:
1. Prep Phase
- Typically four weeks, for example from 1st January
This is where everything begins. This period is all about preparing your body and mind for regular training. It should typically last around 4-weeks. During this time your aim is to get up off the couch and start building some training momentum. You don’t need to train too hard yet, but you do need to start racking up consistent, regular workouts. It’s also a good time to try new things out, like a different pool, a new running group or a new indoor bike-trainer. I call this the “guilt free” training phase, because if you have to miss a few sessions it’s not the end of the world.
2. Base Phase
- Typically 12-weeks, for example February-April
Once you’ve done a month of prep training, it’s time to move onto the next phase. The Base period has been described as being like an Egyptian pyramid: The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher the peak that can be built on it. The focus here is on endurance training at low intensities as well as “speed skill” sessions involving just a few short high intensity efforts. After four weeks you should also include some muscular endurance workouts, consisting of long efforts (5-20 mins) at around 1-hour race pace, with relatively short recovery periods. During the base phase you can focus on increasing your general fitness, without the constant interruption of regular races.
3. Build Phase
- Typically 8-weeks, for example May and June
After 8-16 weeks of Base training, it’s time to move on to the Build Phase. During this time your workouts become more race-specific and less general. Don’t worry about your weekly volume (hours or distance per week) at this stage, focus more on what you do specifically in a few key workouts. For example, if you’re a triathlete you might start including regular “brick” bike to run workouts, or doing sessions that mimic your target race. Of course you needn’t make every single session race-specific, otherwise you’ll be permanently exhausted. It’s also a good idea to include some lower-priority races into the Build phase, to freshen up your race skills.
4. Peak Phase
Typically 4-weeks, for example July
This phase starts at around three weeks before your biggest race or races. The aim is to get the right mix of intensity and rest to produce race-readiness at the right time. It involves doing broken-up race-simulations every third or fourth day, and then taking rest or doing easy sessions in between. These workouts should gradually get shorter as you progress through the first week or two. On the days between your race-simulation sessions you should rest or train at low intensities and these workouts should also get shorter as the Peak period progresses.
5. Race Phase
- Typically 1-week, for example early August
This involves the last 6 or 7 days before your big race. The main aims are to maintain your fitness, eliminate any traces of fatigue and to prepare mentally. Every athlete has their own way of tapering for a race, but research suggests that you should reduce the training volume and frequency, but not necessarily your intensity. I usually recommend at least one day off in the Race Phase, if not two.
6. Transition Phase
Typically 2-12 weeks, half way through the race season or at the end.
This phase usually starts after your last big race of a macro-cycle.
It’s an important time to get some rest from the demands of structured training. That’s not to say you should stop altogether, but your emphasis should be on staying fit and healthy, rather than growing your fitness. That is, until you start the next macro-cycle with a Prep or Base Phase.
Having read all that, you might be wondering why not all training plans have all six phases outlined above. Well, sometimes it’s not possible to fit all six into a short space of time.
For example, if you’re following an 8-week training plan you might only have time for the Build, Prep and Race Phases. There’s nothing wrong with that, you’ll still make some great progress in that time.
However, you might get even fitter by training for a full macro cycle of around 24-weeks, which is the length of my longest training plans.
Either way, breaking your training into several phases is a great way of ensuring you peak at the right time for your target event.
Good luck with your training.
Kickstart Your Training Now...
Copyright © 2017 Philip Mosley
Swimming is a funny sport. You can thrash yourself up and down the lane for day after day, month after month but never feel like you're improving. Similarly, there are other times when you can make significant improvements in a seemingly short time-frame.
Why is that?
Well, there are two elements to swimming - fitness and technique. To improve at a rapid rate, you need to be doing workouts that are continually improving both of those aspects. If you're only working on one aspect and not the other, you'll only improve at a slow rate. Or not at all.
To improve at a rapid rate, it's important to identify which sessions give you the most benefit. To help you along, I’ve devised a swim-workout priority list which grades the usefulness of the various types of swims you might do.
Number one in the list is the most effective workout and the best use of your time. It goes all the way down to number six, which is the least effective use of your time (although it's still better than nothing). Use this list to determine how time-effectively you're currently training.
Swim Workout Usefulness Scale
(Where 1 is the most useful and 6 is the least useful)
Which one of these sessions do you do most often? The higher up the list you are, the more you'll improve in a short space of time. In fact, you'd make more progress from three coached swims per week than you would from four or five unplanned solo swims per week. It's that big a deal.
Coached group swim sessions offer several major benefits. You'll experience higher motivation to swim further and faster because of the people around you, the structure of the workout and the coach's encouragement. You'll also get technique pointers from the coach, enabling you to gradually iron out any flaws in your stroke. And last but not least, you'll enjoy the social interaction which will keep you coming back for more.
At the other end of the "usefulness scale" we have unplanned solo pool swims. These sessions aren't terrible – they can help maintain your swim fitness to a degree. But with nothing to push you and little variation in your training pace, your performances will soon plateau. Training on your own isn't great for your technique either.
There's a saying in swimming: "Perfect practice makes perfect". Meaning that swimming with bad habits won't make you a faster swimmer, it will simply serve to reinforce those bad habits. So if you want to improve your swim speed in less time, think carefully about the types of workouts you do and prioritise any coached group swims available locally.
Getting Better Organised
Let's face it, swimming involves quite a lot of messing around. There's packing your kit, defrosting your car windscreen, driving, parking, standing in a queue to pay, getting changed and showering. That's at least 25-minutes wasted and you haven't even got yourself wet yet.
Anything you can do to shave off a few minutes is worthwhile, especially when you add it up over a period of months and years. I know a professional triathlete who moved from a 5th floor apartment that was 20 minutes from his local pool, to a ground-floor flat just 5 minutes from the pool. Purely to save himself time and energy going swimming each day. It's an extreme example, but it illustrates the importance of logistics when you're already leading a busy life.
Top 3 Time Saving Tips
1. Get a dedicated swim bag.
To reduce the time you waste on packing your kit, make sure you have a separate bag always packed for swimming. It should include things like goggles, hat, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, deodorant, spare goggles, floats, swim toys, coins for a locker, gym pass, dry swimwear, spare swimwear and a towel. Don’t use this bag or the contents for other sports.
2. Eat something.
If you swim in the mornings it's important to have a little breakfast beforehand to make sure you have enough energy to swim properly. Instead of sitting down to a bowl of cereal, try munching something on your way there such as a healthy energy bar or a couple of pieces of fruit.
Afterwards you should eat within the first 30 minutes, as this is the window of optimal recovery. Aim to eat 400-600 calories. To save time you could opt for recovery bars and fruit or have cereal at work.
3. Print your plan.
If you're swimming without a coach, make sure you always have a session plan ready to follow. You can find swim plans (including some by me) on the website TriRadar.com in the training plans section. Or you can buy waterproof books on Amazon.com such as "Swim Workouts For Triathletes" by Gale Bernhardt and Nick Hansen. Even if you scribble something on the back of an envelope, it's still worthwhile. Lastly, all of my triathlon training plans come with detailed swim workouts. The link below will help you find them.
Do you swim front crawl with a crossover?
Earlier this week I was swimming at my local pool in Perth, Western Australia. There was a guy in the next lane who is one of the best 60 year old triathletes in the country.
We got talking and he told me; "swimming is my slowest discipline and no matter how hard I train I never seem to improve."
That's a shame, I thought. With such a strong bike and run, it's a pity to lose out because of a slow swim. A couple of minutes later he swam up and down the lane and I soon realised why he wasn't traveling faster.
He had a "crossover" - which is the most common front crawl swim technique flaw I see as a triathlon coach.
Before I explain more, let me show you an image to demonstrate what I mean.
In the left-side image you can see a crossover occurs when the right-arm enters the water and crosses the center line of the body.
In the right-side image the swimmer does not have a crossover and his right-arm is in perfect line with his body.
What's Bad About A Front Crawl Crossover?
Where do I start? Basically it disrupts your balance, propulsion and streamlining in the water.
A crossover changes your direction of travel, because one (or both) arms are heading off towards the side of the pool instead of straight ahead.
Once you're in that bad position at the beginning of your stroke, every other aspect is then compromised from that point forwards.
When you swim with a crossover there's a good chance you will also compensate by snaking your hips or doing a scissor kick. This is a subconscious attempt to regain your balance in the water, but in reality it's like applying a set of brakes to your stroke. As you can see in the image below (sorry it's so small).
And when your legs are scissoring or snaking it makes it harder to rotate your body to breath without losing propulsion.
It's not just your pool swimming that suffers either. Crossovers are a big problem in open water too, where there are no lane ropes or tiles to follow. Swimming straight is vital and it is not uncommon for open-water athletes with crossovers to swim diagonally, as much as ten percent further than necessary. In an Ironman triathlon this could cost you five minutes or more.
A crossover can also increase the risk of a shoulder injury, particularly if done in combination with a thumb-first hand entry.
How To Fix A Front Crawl Crossover
Before you start changing your stroke you need to ascertain if you actually have a crossover in the first place.
Ask a coach to watch you swim or ask someone to video you so you can check it yourself later on. Do you look like the left-hand image above? Once you know for sure, there are three main ways to fix it.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 1:
Middle Finger Visualisation
Simply focus on your middle finger of each hand as it enters the water and extends forward. Imagine you’re pointing it down the barrel of a gun, straight towards the wall that you’re swimming towards. Focus on the middle fingers and nothing else.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 2:
Try Swim Paddles
Swim paddles can enhance the feeling of a crossover and help you to make corrections. The Finis Freestyler paddle is actually designed to eliminate crossovers. It’s shaped like an arrow-head and it gives you immediate feedback on how straight your hands are when they enter the water.
Front Crawl Swim Tip 3:
Kick On Side Drill/Swim Posture
In order to swim straight you need to establish a good swim posture. The kick on your side drill helps you to learn what it feels like to swim straight. If you get it wrong and your lead-arm crosses the center line you’ll notice yourself heading towards one side of the pool.
Simply put on a pair of fins, push off from the end of the pool and bring yourself into a 90 degrees side-lying position. Kick at a steady pace and point your lower arm out in front of you. Rest your top arm by your side. Face downwards and exhale under water while you’re kicking - this feels like you’re looking past your armpit. To take a breath, simply turn your head, inhale and return it to the water.
Focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and together, as this encourages you to point your lead-arm straight. Focus on doing this when you return to normal front-crawl too.
Eliminating a crossover is not a cure-all solution to transform you into a top swimmer overnight. But it is a significant step towards improving your stroke. Other, smaller, technique flaws will be easier to correct once you've done this. And it also means you'll start to get the full benefit of all your hard work in training.
If you think you have a crossover, I would invest in a set of Finis Freestyler Hand Paddles if nothing else. Focus on how they feel when you swim. Then take them off and try to retain that same feeling with just your hands. Good luck.
Please share this blog if you found it useful.
Thanks, Phil Mosley.
The Serious Triathlon Blog
Train Smart. Race Fast.
Phil Mosley is the Coaching Editor of Triathlon Plus Magazine in the UK and an Ironman Certified Coach with 20 years experience.