Have you ever heard the saying "a goal without a plan is just a wish"? This is certainly true when it comes to triathlon. If you want to be fitter, leaner or faster you can't expect it to just happen magically. The key to success is to follow a training plan and stick to it consistently over a period of weeks, months and years. If there is a magic pill, it is consistency.
There are many benefits to following a training plan but two of the biggest are that you'll feel more accountable and you'll experience a greater sense of progress. These two things help you commit to completing your workouts on the days when you don't feel like training.
A good training plan should also address your strengths and weaknesses, fit around your lifestyle and be tailored to achieving your goals. Ideally you also want a training plan that's flexible, so that you can still benefit from training with friends or a local groups. And it should include regular recovery periods too.
It may sound like a lot to get your head around, but the truth is that a plan doesn't have to be perfect. "A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow" as another saying goes. The most important point is that you have some sort of plan and you try your best to follow it. According to TrainingPeaks.com (an online training platform) athletes who follow a training plan are twice as likely to achieve their goals.
Once you've found a suitable training plan you just need to follow it through. This is not always
as simple as it sounds though. As the days and weeks tick by you'll find you have queries and doubts along the way. Here are some of the most common...
Five Tips That Help You Follow Your Training Plan
When you follow a training plan, it is inevitable that you won't always be able to do the prescribed workout on the right day. In this situation you need to apply common sense and swap your workouts around. That's perfectly normal and acceptable. Just be careful not to stack lots of tough workouts into the space of just a few days. Doing this might leave you liable to injury and over-tiredness. Sometimes you simply have to miss a session and move on. Don't beat yourself up, it happens to everyone from time to time. At least you'll feel fresher for the next one.
A good training plan should prescribe an intensity level for each workout. Some coaches will use descriptive terms such as easy, medium and hard. Whereas most will use training zones based around heart rate, pace, power and perceived exertion (this is what I do). It's important to understand the different training intensities before you start the plan, otherwise you run the risk of over- or under-training.
It's also worth knowing that your training zones for methods such as heart rate zones, percieved exertion, pace and power won't always marry up perfectly. And it's also common that running heart rates are higher than cycling ones - often by 5-10 beats.
So just treat the training zones as an approximate guide, rather than worrying about 1 watt here or there.. The most important thing is that you train consistently.
3. Group Sessions
Don't feel you need to do all your workouts alone. If you enjoy doing club or group workouts, you can still incorporate these into your training plan. In fact, it's a good idea. Just make sure that your group workouts replace similar types of workouts from your training plan. For example, you might swap a solo run-intervals workout for a group track running session. Or a solo swim could be replaced by a tri-club coached swim workout.
Most pre-written training plans are designed to get you fit for one key race - for example, a sprint triathlon. If you decide to race in the middle of your training plan you'll have to use your own common sense again. Racing requires taper and recovery time, which can eat in your training time. So it's important to strike a good balance between training and racing. The longer the race, the more recovery time you'll need afterwards.
Before a race you should taper for a week by doing shorter sessions than you would normally, but at similar intensities to normal. Include at least one rest day. After completing an event take two days off completely. Then for the remainder of the week do short sessions at low intensities. Continue this regime until you feel relatively fresh. For Sprint-distance events allow 1-week, for Olympic distance events allow 2-weeks, for half Ironman’s allow 3-weeks and for full Ironman events you will need at least 4-weeks to recover.
5. Illness and Injury
If you get ill, for example a cold virus, do not train at all until you feel 90% better. From this point, you should only train at an easy pace until you feel 100% again. There is no real benefit to training hard when you're ill. At best it might prolong your virus and at worst it can damage your heart. Viruses are part and parcel of life, you just have to accept them and move on.
If you get an injury, stop doing the discipline that exacerbates it. Immediately see a sports injury expert who has a good understanding of triathlon. They should be able to help you tweak your training plan and tell you when you can return to full training again.