Podcast, Training

6 tips for improved swimming, biking and running | EP#337

 May 9, 2022

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


That Triathlon Show - 337

A solo episode where I share a couple of key tips for improving your swim, bike and run performance in a triathlon context.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Swim volume
  • Swim video analysis
  • Bike intensity on easy days
  • Specific bike training for race course demands
  • How not to get injured on the run
  • Extending rather than intensifying run training

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03:22 -

  • I will give specific tips for swimming, biking and running, all from a triathlon context.
  • It is a question I ask my guests, and this time, I will give two tips for each discipline.
  • These tips are not necessarily the first things you should do within each discipline.
  • I look at these tips as crucial points underappreciated or undervalued in the triathlon community.

Swimming tips

Swimming tip 1

04:26 -

  • Tip 1: swim more. It is simple advice, but I am only giving this advice for the swim. (not for bike or run)
  • I believe age groupers understand how little swimming they swim.
  • For example, it is common in Scientific Triathlon to receive athlete inquiries with ambitions to qualify for Ironman World Championships or 70.3 World Championships.
  • These athletes might be training 13-16 hours per week, but of those hours, only two hours focus on swim training.
  • Athletes might understand how they should improve cycling and run based on their athletic history and how many years they have been in the sport.
  • However, they do not have the same knowledge concerning their swimming. People think they are not improving their swimming because of technical issues, crucial technical points they do not have, or they do not have the talent to swim.
  • However, athletes often only need to swim more. Of course, you should not swim mindlessly up and down the pool.
  • Your fitness and technique will improve if you do it with the same intent and focus.
  • Swimming is a skill, and it takes time to master that skill.
  • It is like learning how to play an instrument, where you would need to play every day to continue improving it.
  • When we are trying to improve swimming, even 3-4 times per week is not ideal.
  • Professional athletes swim between 18 and 25 km per week to put things into perspective. They might cycle 10-15 hours per week.
  • Therefore, in insight, age groupers might do 70-80 % of the cycling volume professional athletes do, but at the same time, they are only doing 25-30 % of the swim training volume.
  • I am not saying the percentages need to be equal, but I believe this difference is too significant, something we can improve.
  • When I say you should swim more, the amount will depend on where you are in your triathlon journey and how much time you have available to train.
  • You might have to accept that you do not have the time to improve your swim without sacrificing your cycling and running for time-crunch athletes. Therefore, it makes sense to do minimal swimming to maintain your current level and improve the other disciplines.
  • However, you have to be realistic with yourself and expect to improve your swimming with such little training.
  • As long as you understand the limitations of your training, so you do not need to be frustrated with the lack of improvement, there is no way you can improve with that limited amount of swim training, given the tiny amount of swim you do.
  • It needs to be an informed decision and the realistic results of the swim training.
  • However, for many athletes, the solution for improving swimming is to swim more.
  • Moreover, swimming frequency triumphs over long sessions and the slower the swimmer you are, the more this applies.
  • Therefore, for slower/intermediate swimmers, doing four 30 minute swim sessions per week would be better than doing two 1-hour swim sessions per week.

Swimming tip 2

09:33 -

  • The second tip is to do video analysis. We cannot perceive how we swim and look in the water until we see it in a film.
  • I film many good athletes, and even they find something that surprises them about their form and technique.
  • If you want to know what you are doing, you have to film yourself. Even if you have someone describing it does not give you the same clarity as seeing it yourself.
  • Therefore, doing a video analysis with someone knowledgeable in triathlon swimming will allow you to find the most important things to work on at the moment. It is also crucial to avoid focusing on too many things, which will help you make the most of every workout you do.
  • You should continuously focus on 1-2 key points in all your swims.
  • Then, film them again and address if you can move on to other technical aspects or if you need to continue improving them.
  • There are fantastic options for people living in the UK, Finland or Australia. I have contacts that I trust in these countries for swim video analysis. So, happy to connect them to you if you email me.
  • Another option is together with a friend to buy a GoPro and then film each other in the pool. You can do it whenever you want, and when you do the filming, you should get three different angles.
  • First, you need the side view, and I recommend doing videos above and in the water.
  • Then, you need a frontal view underneath the water, and a bird's eye view (filming directly above the athlete)
  • 25-50 m of swim video analysis is enough. Once you know how to film, it only takes a few minutes, and it helps to take out conclusions about your technique.
  • It would help if you were warmed up before you do the filming, but other than that, you can do this quickly.
  • It is challenging to do the video analysis by yourself. So, suppose you do not have experience. In that case, I strongly recommend you get feedback on the video with an objective view of the topic because you might choose something to work on that will not be optimal for achieving the most significant improvements.
  • For the first analysis, a professional will help you find the weak spots in your technique and teach you how to spot problems. Therefore, then, you could do it by yourself.
  • I did a TTST episode on how to do video analysis so that you can check it out.

Cycling tips

Cycling tip 1

13:29 -

  • Go easier on your more leisurely days. I have noticed, particularly with men, that it does not matter if your threshold is 380 W or 240 W. Everyone wants to ride their easy ride at 200 W, which is an interesting pattern.
  • When your threshold is 380 W, easy rides at 200 W are fine, but if it is 240-280 W, you are pushing too hard on the easy days.
  • There are several reasons why athletes push harder on low-intensity rides. 
  • The first reason is that cycling with a power meter is highly quantifiable. For example, when we compare an easy ride with a power meter and a long run on trails, everyone knows that pace does not matter when you run on trails.
  • Therefore, it is easy and evident not to get stuck into caring what your pace is in this scenario. It might be different when running on flat roads, but it is not the same as cycling when you have a power meter that shows you how you are going.
  • Therefore, you might go faster than you should be, maybe because it is what your mates are doing when they ride at 200 W, and you want to do it yourself as well, even if they might be fitter than you are.
  • The second reason we might push harder on easy days is that when we are riding in a group, it is not so much we want to show off. Still, we forget the session's goal because it is fun to ride outside with your mates, and you might get stuck in that comfortable but slightly too hard intensity. (it feels much more manageable than when you are out by yourself, even if physiological you push a bit harder than you should be doing)
  • The third reason is that with hills and winds means, you have to go much slower than what feels natural.
  • The trend is that you tend to push up that grade or into a headwind.
  • However, I am not saying you should only ride alone, on flat roads or indoors.
  • Moreover, I think there is no magical number below you should maintain all your training sessions.
  • On the other hand, I believe many triathletes would benefit from going easier on easy days because they would have the same training effects from that day. Moreover, they will be much fresher in the long run, where they can push slightly more on the higher intensity workouts and adapt faster from those workouts.
  • This tip does not depend on your workout during the higher intensity sessions. (Short VO2 max work or extended tempo/sweet spot intervals)
  • You should manage your intensity on the endurance rides, but these should not affect recovery too much, so you can perform on high-intensity sessions.
  • We can apply this tip in swimming and running, but I feel the problem is more significant in cycling.

Cycling tip 2

18:14 -

  • Train specifically for your goal racecourse. I believe it is something that gets overlooked.
  • Preparing your bike performance in, for example, Ironman Cozumel will be different compared to preparing your bike performance in Ironman Lanzerotti.
  • For Cozumel (flat course), you need to practice staying in the time trial position without rest or soft pedalling for extended periods.
  • It is such a flat course, similar to what you will do on race day.
  • Ideally, you can have a flat road outdoors where we can simulate this kind of training. But if this is not an option, you might have to do some longer sessions with the indoor trainer to get that specific training.
  • For Lanzerotti, you will have long, steady climbs and long non-technical descends, so your power will not be constant during the race.
  • You will have higher power while going uphill, and on the descends, it will depend on the technical and gradient points where you still might push some power but below your average power.
  • Cadence will also change because where course gradients vary. Depending on the climb gradient and your fitness, you might not climb in the TT position. And this is something you should research weeks and months in advance so that you can prepare accordingly.
  • If the climbs are gentle where you climb at 25 km/h, you should be in your TT bars.
  • But if you are going slower, the aerodynamic savings could be outweighed by the higher power you can produce when sitting up.
  • Therefore, knowing the speeds, you will be climbing at is essential for knowing how to train. (should you do climb training sitting up or in the TT position)
  • If your goal race has many descents, practising them should be part of your training, crucial for your race performance.
  • Moreover, if you have strong winds, I recommend you go out on days like this to get used to that feeling.
  • In summary, a worse bike performance might not be because of a lack of fitness but because you were not prepared to apply that fitness to the specifics of the course. Maybe you are not used to the variations in power output and the stochastic effect of pushing harder on short steep climbs, or you could not stay aero during the duration of a flat course without no rest. Or maybe you climbed well, but your descending skills were not optimal.

Running tips

Running tip 1

21:55 -

  • Stay injury-free and train consistently. The majority of triathlon injuries are running injuries, and it is the primary reason triathletes stop progressing on the run because they cannot avoid injuries.
  • Most of us think we do an excellent job of staying injury-free when we are not injured until we get injured.
  • Most running injuries develop over a long period. (overuse injuries)
  • Therefore, there are some crucial things to do, and these are goals you should have to keep running consistently.
  • First, you need to avoid significant variations in your running load.
  • You can get away with some variations on the bike and the swim. But on the run, that does not happen. So, you want to keep a similar training volume each week and have a similar running frequency and similar time and frequency of fast running.
  • Avoid variations in those variables and progress things, especially the overall volume. I think the 10 % rule leads to many injuries. There is a complete difference between a runner starting and doing only 10 km per week and an elite runner doing more than 100 km per week.
  • The increase in training volume should be about time increments instead of the number of minutes. 
  • The progression should run, focusing on adding maybe 5-10 minutes every week.
  • If you are starting and running 30 minutes twice per week, you might increase it to 35 minutes per run in the other week.
  • However, take a down week at some point. If you continually increase the distance, that is a progression you do not want to do.
  • The second thing about avoiding significant ups and downs is to avoid risks with more high-intensity training or more volume.
  • If you start to feel a niggle, take a few days off and maybe do extra cycling. In this way, you will not have negative impacts on your fitness or readiness, but it could potentially save you from an injury down the line, which will have a massive impact on how you perform in the long term.

Running tip 2

25:40 -

  • Do extensive rather than intensive training, meaning extending rather than intensifying your training.
  • Running in a triathlon is different from running fresh.
  • Eliud Kipchoge would run utterly different if he had to do a 3.8 swim and 180 km of cycling before running a marathon.
  • This is the reality we need to prepare for as triathletes in our training.
  • If you are going for shorter distances, you will perform at higher intensities even if you do the swim and the cycling splits before.
  • In triathlon, we need to be resistant to fatigue. It is not as much about our maximum capacity as losing small relative percentages of our maximum capacity compared to the competition when we run tired off the bike.
  • The longer the race, the more significant the effect. You see significant differences in an Ironman between high and low fatigue resistance. In a sprint triathlon, the maximum capacity will be more important than in an Ironman, but it is still crucial in all distances.
  • With this in mind, it is more beneficial to extend rather than intensify, and this is a point that also applies to swim and bike training.
  • However, I believe it is more critical to run training, as it is the split you do more tired that requires the most robust fatigue resistance.
  • Therefore, increasing the time at a specific intensity within a given workout or interval is more critical than increasing the intensity itself.
  • To give an example, I refer back to the interview with Glenn Poleunnis, where we talked about the training of Marten leading up to the Ironman 70.3 world record. 
  • Glenn said Marten did much training at the threshold and race-specific intensity.
  • For the threshold work, they did not try to push up the pace of the threshold but rather to increase the amount of training done and the duration of the intervals.
  • One final session that resulted from that threshold progression was 3x2miles + 5x1mile at the threshold. (11 miles in total at that intensity)
  • It is proper training because it is an effective workout even when controlling intensity.
  • Most athletes would instead focus on having a fixed workout and increase the session's intensity. Over the weeks, your intervals are no longer at the threshold, but they feel good because you can progress on the workout.
  • However, it does not focus on increasing the durability of a triathlon.
  • Another point to address is our preference for workouts. Most athletes would do the traditional track workouts (600-800 m sets) instead of the 40 min tempo run.
  • When we do 20 min tempo runs, athletes execute them as efforts close to the all-out pace, not a tempo run.
  • However, I think most athletes are doing more extensive workouts or longer intervals.
  • I think we devalue these types of workouts slightly below submaximal intensity.
  • The hard workouts are fantastic for building your maximal aerobic capacity, but they are not suitable for our ability to hold a good pace.
  • Therefore, the longer workouts should be your training program's "bread and butter". There is a time and place to do faster work, but a good triathlon training program does not focus primarily on them.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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