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Fine Tune Your Speed Development with Late-Season Conditioning

By Jen Mathe | Aug. 29, 2016, 12:59 p.m. (ET)


As we head into the end of the year, most athletes are getting ready for their key race(s) of the season. Volume is dropping, intensity is rising, and you are getting ready to peak at just the right moment. Most training plans will include a maintenance type of strength program (or drop it out completely) during this part of the season so you can focus on swimming, cycling and running. However, I see a strong argument for continuing more intense and specific conditioning throughout the year, even into the peak season. Incorporating plyometrics and agility work into your late-season program can give your performance a boost, especially if it is a long season and you have been in a maintenance phase for a while.

Objectives of late-season conditioning should be to improve sport-specific power and prepare the body to go fast, improve coordination and reinforce mechanics, maintain core strength and prevent injuries. These workouts can be short and easily incorporated into your swimming, cycling and running workouts. To keep the workout sport specific and functional, incorporate body weight exercises as much as possible. Finally, you should take into account the race distance and the speeds you plan to race at as well as the demands of the course. Your conditioning program should reflect your race performance needs.

Below is an example of a late-season conditioning program for an age-group short course triathlete.

Frequency: 1-2 times per week.
Intensity: Combination of very intense (plyometrics, agility drills), controlled/light resistance (form drills, core) and recovery (mobility, flexibility, yoga)
Focus: Core stability, mechanics, speed of movement and injury prevention

Warm Up/Mobility: Can be incorporated into run warm-up or dry-land warm-up before a swim session.
10 air squats
10 walking grape vine (each direction)
10 alternating lunges w/ opposite arm stretch
10 front-to-back leg swings (per leg)
10 lateral leg swings (per leg)
5 opposing arm circles (each direction)
10 front cross arm swings

Plyometrics*: Focus should be on quickness. These exercises can also be included into a run warm-up.
2-4 x through …
10-20 meters skipping
10-20m quick feet
10-20m bounding
10-20m single leg hops

Sport-Specific Power*: These exercises would be incorporated into swimming, cycling or running workouts during the week. Again, focus should be on quickness against the resistance.
Swim – 4-6 x 50 strokes sprint against a current or from a dead stop. Recovery is 2-3 minutes easy swimming between each.
Bike – 4-6 x 20-30 revolutions fast in big gear. Recovery is 2-3 minutes easy spin in a light gear with high (95+ rpm) cadence.
Run – 4-6 x 100 meter sprint uphill (grade should be challenging, but so that you can maintain a quick cadence). Recovery is 2-3 minutes easy jog or walk.

Injury Prevention/Core:
2-3 x through …
15 lateral step downs (each)
15 marching bridges (each)
15 plank hold w/ hip extension to knee pull (each)
15 side plank w/ reverse fly (each)
15 external shoulder rotation (each)

Flexibility: Hold each pose for 30-60 seconds.
Downward facing dog
Kneeling hip flexor stretch/quadriceps stretch
Figure 4 stretch/pigeon pose
Hamstring stretch
Internal/external rotation shoulder stretch
Lateral neck stretch

*Before you perform plyometric or power type exercises, be sure that you have developed some base strength. If you have not been keeping up with a strength program, you should approach these exercises cautiously. Begin with slower speeds and lighter resistance or consider a basic strength training program instead.

If your goal is to get faster and optimize your performance, embrace the power of late-season conditioning. Remember to take into account your current fitness and your goals when implementing any training program. Consult with a USA Triathlon Certified Coach if you are unsure of how to proceed.

Jen Mathe is the Head Coach/Owner of One10 Performance & Nutrition and USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach. Jen has a Master of Science in Sport Performance and is a Certified Athletic Trainer (NATA-BOC), Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA) and Certified Coach (USAT, USAC, USATF & ASCA). Jen coaches Team One10 based in Sacramento, California, with athletes all over the United States. Contact her at and

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.