Why am I not getting faster? As a professional triathlon coach, this is a question I am often asked.
Athletes usually see serious performance gains the first one to three years in triathlon. The constant improvement makes racing a ton of fun. Then their performance plateaus.
Here are six reasons why you may not be getting faster and how you can break through and continue improving.
1. You lack consistency.
When training for triathlon, consistency is key. Having a regular training schedule and sticking to it is paramount if you want to improve.
Training for several days in a row, then taking two to seven days off (or more), will inhibit progress toward the greater goal.
Breaks in consistency can be a result of several things. The most common reasons include a busy work/life schedule, lack of accountability and injury or sickness.
All of these can usually be avoided by hiring an experienced coach. Training plans are helpful, but fall short on addressing the individual athlete's needs. Your coach should work with you to create a realistic weekly training schedule, hold you accountable on the days you 'just don't feel like swimming' and organize workouts to keep you healthy and injury free.
Fitness is earned by consistently doing what you're suppose to do day in and day out. Ultimately, all of the little things add up and yield the race results you're working toward.
2. You’re ignoring your limiter(s).
It's always more enjoyable to do the things we are good at. However, in a sport that is actually a combination of three sports, there are usually one or two disciplines that need improvement.
For example, if you're a great runner but new to swimming, then dial back your run training and embrace the pool. Often, technical improvements will come quicker when working one-on-one with a coach or experienced friend.
Embracing your weakness(es) and committing to improving may require a focused block of training. A focused block is best done in the pre-season or immediately following a race (assuming you have a little time before your next big race). This focused block will last between four to six weeks. During this time, you will focus on one discipline while maintaining fitness in the other two.
3. You’re not going easy enough.
One of the biggest mistakes age-group athletes make is not going easy enough when they're suppose to go easy.
Offenders usually think they're going easy, but in reality, they are training in the grey zone. Meaning, they aren't going easy enough to enable active recovery or to keep their heart rate in the correct zone to elicit the desired physiological affect.
This problem compounds because if you don't do your easy workout easy enough, then you won't be able to do your hard session hard enough.
How easy should you be going? It's different for each athlete and the distance they're training for, but when it comes to running, your easy runs should be done at a pace of 2-4 minutes per mile slower then your race pace. Yes, it's that dramatic.
For the most part, your training should be black or white. Avoid that grey zone.
4. Your workouts aren’t purposeful and timely.
Exercising is different then training. Both are great, but training properly is what's going to get you faster. To train properly each workout should be purposeful and timely.
If you are going for a run just to run or you're hopping in the pool and swimming for 30 minutes straight and don't have a specific purpose for that workout, then you're simply exercising. Simply "getting in shape" in not the kind of purpose I'm referring to.
The purpose of your workout may be "active recovery," "strength," "strength endurance," "aerobic," a combination of 2 things or something else.
Specific kinds of workouts are best done at a certain time in relation to the date of your goal race. This is where periodization comes in. An athlete's annual training plan (ATP) typically consists of four periods (or blocks) and each one has a specific focus. It may be aerobic, strength, speed, race preparation or taper.
If you find yourself doing the same kind of workouts for the entire season, you won't get the desired stress to elicit the desired gains.
5. You’re overlooking rest and recovery.
Training is all about stress and recovery. You get stronger and fitter in periods of recovery.
Proper recovery is often overlooked by type-A triathletes. This is a huge mistake.
It's important to recover equally as hard as you kicked your butt in your last workout. Otherwise, you risk becoming sick, injured and ultimately not reaping the boost in fitness you are after.
Recovery includes a combination of the follow: sleep, recovery days (days off), active recovery days, foam rolling, massage and daily nutrition. This list is not exhausting and it is in no particular order.
It is also important to understand you cannot and should not expect to be in peak shape year-round. Your body requires time off from training. This is a good time to stay active by doing other things you love.
6. You’re not executing properly on race day.
You can have all the fitness in the world, but if you cannot execute on race day, your results will not reflect all your hard work.
Proper execution includes (but is not limited to) a combination of proper pacing, transition and race fueling. The longer the distance of the race, the more important each of these become.
Remember: It doesn't matter how fast you bike if you don't have a good run. Transition is free time and you don't have to be the fittest athlete to have the fastest time. You won't perform at your best if you aren't properly fueled and hydrated.
I encourage you to take an honest and objective look at what you are doing. Hopefully some of the items above will strike a chord and you can take the necessary steps toward improving your current situation.
If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you always got.
Chris Kaplanis is the co-founder and assistant head coach at RTA Triathlon. RTA works with athletes from across the country, offering a variety of services to get you faster, fitter and on track to successfully accomplish your goals. He is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach.
Kaplanis is a five-times IRONMAN finisher, IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship & USA Triathlon National Championship finisher. He is a USA Triathlon All-American. Visit ridgewoodtriathlete.com.
The views expressed in this article are recommended for athletes who are familiar with metabolic efficiency principles. As always, only introduce new fueling strategies in training and adopt only what works for you. The views 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.