Q&A: Training When Overweight, Improving at 48, Old Breaking Through Plateaus, and Optimising Recovery | EP#56
Listener questions and answers. I answer some of the triathlon questions you have been sending in over the last couple of months.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Training and running for heavy or overweight athletes
- Can you still improve at 48 years young?
- Core strength and maintenance routines - what to do when?
- How to break through a performance plateau
- How to optimise recovery by getting the fundamentals right
Training and running for heavy and overweight athletes
"As a 270 pound man who was 330 pounds nine months ago (was 150 kg, is 122 kg), the training wrecks my body, especially running. It’s getting better and easier but any general tips for large men? I’m pushing when I can and resting when I need. I’m doing my first sprint triathlon next month and I’m confident I’m going to finish. But I’d like to do better than just participate. I read a ton and I’m just looking for a piece of advice I may have missed.”
- I do have some advice that’s very simple and fundamental, but not necessarily easy. It’s to be patient. Especially with running as you have pointed out.
- I wouldn’t do any intensity at this point on the running side of things. I’d keep the runs very short. Never run 2 days in a row.
- For most runs, I would probably even insert 30-second walking breaks about every 5 minutes depending on how comfortable you are with running.
- Inserting those walk-breaks and making it run-walks as well as not doing any intensity right now will protect you from injuries, because at 270 pounds you will still be susceptible to them.
- With a very conservative and patient run training progression, you will have a great base upon which you can add more running and at a later point include some intensity.
- Your weight loss seems to be going well so far, so just keep doing what you're doing as long as it's working. If it isn’t broken then there’s no need to fix it.
- As for other training tips besides running, I would do more training volume on the swim and bike side of things because the risk of injury is so much smaller. And you’ll develop a great aerobic base that will still benefit your running.
- For somebody new to triathlon like yourself and especially given your weight loss goals, it would makes sense to focus on the volume side of things rather doing a lot of high intensity. But the swim might be an exception. At least if you have a relatively decent technique then I would start adding intensity to the swim. For an idea of how to do that, you can listen to Episode 27 of That Triathlon Show.
- Again this requires a lot of patience. It won’t make you a lot faster quickly but it will set you up for great success in the long run. And you will be able to do much better than just participate in a race with this long-term approach and not getting injured.
Improving at 48 years of age
“My problem is age. I started late with triathlon two years ago at the age of 46. My concern is, how far can I go? Am I already too old or too late to be significantly better or can I still cut 20-30 minutes from my Ironman 70.3 time? I’ve been training 10-14 hours per week last year and my time is 5:02 now. I have cut 8 minutes from last year’s best time. And before triathlon I used to train volleyball and martial arts. I guess it is a general question if older athletes age 45-50 can be significantly better in 3-5 years of intense training."
- It’s impossible to guarantee anything but I would wager with a 90% probability that you have great room for improvement, especially considering that you’ve been doing triathlon for just 2 years.
- A good rule of thumb is that your triathlon age or the time during which you can greatly improve is the first 7 years after starting training. So you have 5 years more of great development to look forward to.
- Of course, it becomes harder and more challenging with age because you are fighting a decrease in aerobic capacity and maybe reduced muscle mass. For more details about this, I recommend listening to Episode 20 of That Triathlon Show which is called Masters Athletes: How to minimize the performance decline for aging triathletes.
- It’s a fine balance between training hard and intensely in your hard workouts and being incredibly disciplined with recovery between these workouts. This is wat you need to be more diligent with and do better and better the more you age.
- To answer your question, I would say yes, it is possible and that 8 minute improvement that you’ve done in the last year is indicative that you can still improve more and more. They might not be as rapid improvements since the most rapid improvements typically come in your first years, but you can keep improving in small but steady increments.
Core strength and maintenance routines
This is related Episode 45 when I had James Dunne on to talk about running injuries and maintenance routines for triathletes. The question is about how to combine James’ routines (that you download for free here) into the core workouts that I have created (which can be found as a free downloadable routine here). Both of these routines are suggested 3-4 times a week and both of them are approximately 15 minutes. Now I feel like there should be an optimum combination. Can you please explain that?
- My routines are focused more on just core strength, but in the right core muscles and in a functional way, the way you need to use them as a triathlete.
- James’ routines are more all-encompassing.They incorporate a lot of mobility and activation exercises as well as strength.
- My routines do have activation in terms of the way that it's all functional strength training, but if you have bigger problems in your muscle activation, James' routines that focus on pure improvements of muscle activation might be what you need to overcome those issues.
- So, I would recommend doing both my routines and James’ routines. Two times per week of each, so two times more purely strength-based with my routines, and two times of James’ routines would be great. That would 4 x 15 minutes every week.
- But if you’re somebody who knows that mobility and activation is a limiter for you, then you can have a 3 to 1 ratio in favor of James’ routines and vice versa if strength is your limiter.
- My routines are very much based on James’ teachings. So there is an overlap on the strength side of things. So you can’t go much wrong either way as long as you do any of these routines regularly.
Breaking through a performance plateau
“Hi Mikael, I’ve spent five years in triathlon specifically sprint distance and have been rather successful. I’ve only done one Olympic distance ever and came third. I feel like this is now the best I’m going to be. I feel like I have now reached the point where my genetics and possibly old injuries are holding me back from progressing any further.
I’m a sports scientist lecturer and so read plenty of research and books and tailor the information accordingly to my training. I just ensure I try and use the stuff that is well-researched and stuff that I feel will work for me. I’ve spent three years on TrainingPeaks and two years using power and this helped me hugely at the beginning.
I periodise my training very well and understand the science behind various training structures. I have trained roughly twice a day and include rest days when needed. I am lucky enough to have six weeks free over summer where I use this time to follow a professional style of training program. Three sessions a day, swim, bike, run with strength and core flexibility. So it’s safe to say that I’m a seasoned triathlete. My nutrition is also pretty good and I supplement correctly and responsibly.
However, I think I reached that moment we all know is coming. That moment of I think that’s it. This is the fastest that I can be. I physically can’t try any harder and I’m not getting any faster. I would like to be faster on my run as I’m an 18-minute 5k runner off the bike, but I want to get to 17:30. So what do I do?”
Here, Grant lists 6 alternatives:
(1) Do I wipe everything I know and start from a blank page? Maybe even devise an experiment with a new revolutionary way of training.
- I don’t think that is necessary. You seem very knowledgeable. So, I’m sure that you’ve done most of the things right. The fact of the matter is that there really is no revolutionary way of training, no silver bullet.
- So, I believe that smaller tweaks and changes to an already very solid baseline and good consistency over 5 years is a better approach. Now we need to find those tweaks for you and that is the challenge of course.
(2) Do I dial my training back and go to training once per day?
- My answer to that would be, perhaps. The key for you being a very good triathlete 5 years into the sport is to really nail your hard, intense key sessions. And if your current approach doesn’t allow you to do that – and the difference here might be very subtle – then this could be a great avenue to explore to reduce the training volume to really, really nail your intensity.
(3) Do I accept the fact that this is as fast and as fit as I can be but keep going?
- Unless you’re well above 50 years of age, let’s say 55+, I wouldn’t do that, not immediately at least, not without a proper investigation in your training. And again as I have mentioned about intensity, I think that might be a key factor.
(4) Do I maybe try block training or block periodisation with one week swim focus, one week bike focus, and one week run focus.
- This could be another worthwhile avenue to explore, maybe for your base building phase in particular, when you’re farther out from your key races.
(5) Do I tone everything down and get my coaching badges?
- If you want to, sure. But not if it’s only because of giving up on improving, I do believe that there’s still a possibility that by doing the right tweaks in your training, there are still things that you can explore to see if you can break through this plateau.
(6) Do I experiment with a longer distance race for a year? This is my least favourite option.
- If you’re not into it which you don’t seem to be then I wouldn’t do it. I’m very happy to see that there are age-groupers like you out there that realise that triathlon is definitely not equal to Ironman or full distance racing.
- I want to elaborate a little bit on the intensity side of things. I really think that this might be a key thing for you given that you’re a seasoned athlete.
- Getting in not necessarily a lot of intensity, but 1 or 1.5 on average very high-stress session per discipline per week might be what's missing. And by that I don't mean that you don't do intensity, but maybe you just do these sessions at 95% of your capacity, when really maxing out on you capacity and getting 100% out of yourself might be needed to improve at this point.
- As an example, for you a track session like 16 x 400 m where each rep is 81 seconds might be a very solid and intense session. But it's not necessarily quite 100% of your capacity. You might be able to average 78 seconds. And those 3 seconds per 400 m can make a massive difference, when you get that little bit of extra effort out of yourself consistently in your key workouts.
“My issue is with recovery. When training six days per week and working full-time, I struggle to be 100% for each session. I drink protein shakes with BCAA:s manually added in twice a day. Whilst also taking supplements of multivitamins, cod liver oil, feroglobin, and milk thistle. Diet is strong with plenty of carbs, fats, and protein and I regularly foam roll and do yoga. Anything else I could be taking or doing?
- I would say immediately that sleep is by far the most important thing you can do for your recovery. Make sure that you get enough sleep and if it doesn’t feel like your sleep quality is good enough, you need to address that quality as well.
- Nutrition seems good, having a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat is great.
- I think that some of the supplemental stuff that you do may even be overkill. I'm not sure that milk thistle is necessary for you (read more about its function here). As for feroglobin, you need to really know your blood values to know whether that’s worth taking or not. That’s not something I think that you should be taking just for the sake of doing it, as that could potentially lead to excessive iron intake.
- Cod liver oil is a good supplement that any athlete could take. Multivitaminsare good as well. But of course, these are not excuses not to eat a healthy, varied diet.
- For the protein shakes and BCAAs, if you train two hard sessions per day then they will definitely be beneficial. But if it’s less than that or you don’t have the intensity, then I would scale that down a bit. Not that that’s going to harm your recovery, but it might not be necessary. It depends on what training you do. It’s really different if you do 2 hard sessions in one day compared to1 easy session. In the latter case you don’t necessarily need those protein shakes.
- The final point about recovery is to have a look at your training program. Do you have a good mix of hard and easy training sessions? Remember that there’s no single right answer to this question. We’re all individuals. So if you think that you’re not recovered enough then maybe your program is a bit too hard for you at the moment even though it might be the perfect program for somebody else. Try to assess and review your program and take a rather critical view of it.
- It might help if you get in the mindset of thinking that 3 hard sessions that you manage to execute at 100% of your planned intensity plus 3 easy sessions is better than 6 hard sessions executed at 90-95% of the planned intensity.
Read the full publication here.
- When net caloric intake and protein intake is matched between groups, there’s no impact whatsoever of the fat to carb ratios on body composition.
- Everything from high-carb low-fat diets to ketogenic diets can be equally effective in terms of body composition. No significant differences can be found or had been in any study on the topic.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
- Episode 27 - Training Zones part 1: Swimming
- Episode 20 - Masters Athletes: How to minimize the performance decline for aging triathletes
- Episode 45 - Dysfunctional movement patterns, injuries and reduced performance with James Dunne
- Episode 16 - The Great Debate: Intensity vs. Volume
- International Society of Sports Nutrition Position stand: Diets and Body Composition
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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