Ok, training has begun and we are getting into the routine of our Prep season schedule. Now is the time to start to look at some of the finer points of the sessions you have been prescribed. Why can't we just jump on our bike and go for a spin, slap on the shoes for a quick jog around the block, or even just dive into the pool and splash around a bit to get up and down the lane. Well, I guess you could if your intention was just to exercise without a clearly defined reason for doing each individual workout. While there is nothing wrong with that, it probably won't do much to help you achieve your goal of completing an Ironman.
When applying training to a specific goal for triathlon training the concept of gears comes into play. The idea of gears is easy on the bike, little gear in front, big gear in back, this is easy to transfer to our workout goals. This concept of gearing becomes a little tougher when it comes to the run and seems almost impossible when we think of the swim. So why are different gears or speeds important and why do I need to start incorporating this type of training into my overall program.
First off, it has been my experience that most beginner and intermediate athletes, be it self-coached or new to coaching spend far to much time in the one gear, usually just below or at their desired race pace, when performing all their sessions. While this may bring about fitness it does not necessarily mean you are fit for racing. In doing this type of training you are putting a tremendous stress load on the body, leaving yourself prone to injury, and ignoring the other factors which could make you a better, more rounded and stronger athlete.
So why is it so important to have multiple gears. Time for a little physiology lesson. During any training session the body has 3 different energy systems it taps into at any given moment. There is the immediate energy system, the creatine phosphate system, lasting only about 10 seconds, the aerobic system, which if trained correctly, i.e. to burn fat like we talked about last week, can last days, and the anaerobic system, which falls in between the other two systems. While any given session will tap into all three systems, certain sets will focus on one system over the other. Sprints utilize the immediate creatine phosphate system, hill repeats and short intervals utilize the anaerobic, and the endurance run uses the aerobic, as examples. If all we do is train the higher end aerobic system the other 2 systems aren't challenged or developed and we become a one gear machine, not good in a racing scenario.
Additionally, we have 2 primary muscle types we use in training, type II or fast twitch muscle fiber and type I or slow twitch muscle fibers. While you can't chose which fiber type is being used at any given time the proportion of one type over the other happens independently of thought, based on the demands of the task at hand. Additionally, as we age, the number of type II fibers decreases and thus our ability to produce power unless we do sessions to specifically focus on these fibers dwindles accordingly.
Finally, by developing different gears we can begin to experience the feelings or sensations you will go through when a hard hill climb is called for or you need to sprint to the finish to get that PR. Gearing also allows for improved neuromuscular recruitment, and better motor patterning resulting in better form and technique. This means you will be able to do more, run faster, swim farther, climb better, while exerting less energy which makes for better overall results.
As you can see the reason to develop different gears goes on and on. One thing to remember when we talk gears, we are not just talking about speed, slower or faster, but also our ability to produce power. Power is something we all need, to fight a current or big waves in a swim, to climb the hill at mile 45 in Mont Tremblant or to sprint to the finish for the podium.
Next week, we will begin to dig into how to develop different gears for each discipline, and breakdown some sessions to help you develop these gears. My newsletter will give an example of a bike session which improves power and neuromuscular recruitment while continuing to build that all important aerobic base so sign up and enjoy.
Until next week, keep on moving but don't be a fixie, start to work on adding a few gears to your arsenal of training.