All too often, triathletes stress out about their hardest and longest workouts then overlook the other workouts that happen in between. Those easy/recovery workouts however are ‘make or break’ in terms of how quickly and effectively training adaptations can occur.
Neglecting to train easy enough or not allowing enough time in between can jeopardize improvement as well as increase risk of injury or burnout. While the heart, lungs and cardiovascular system are generally quick to bounce back, the muscles, tendons and bones all need sufficient time to recover, adapt and become stronger. Hormones and proteins essential for recovery also need time to return to normal levels. Mentally and emotionally, you also need time to rest, relax and refresh.
The most common mistakes triathletes routinely make are on the run, but riding hard too often can also take its toll. While it is possible to overtrain on the swim, it is much harder to do for most triathletes. Watch for the following:
- Running or riding too fast on easy days. In general, aim to run at least one minute per kilometre slower than 5 km pace and as slow as one minute per km slower than marathon pace (or slower). A recovery ride means riding at 60 to 70 per cent of perceived effort.
- Running (hard) too soon. The body needs between one and three days to fully recover from a harder effort. Take care running in the days after any hard session and keep it very easy. Avoid running hard on back-to-back days.
- Running too much. Adding mileage on easy days is not a bad idea and in fact can and should be done… however running too much, too soon can also be risky. Especially in the days immediately following a long or hard run, listen to the body and don’t force yourself to run further than you need to. Take an extra day off if need be or scale back the mileage.
- Fixating too much on metrics. While riding indoors, it can be really hard not to fixate on your numbers, but it is important to read your body’s signals. Some days you may find you can’t hit the power numbers you did the day before. This could be a sign your body is not recovered. In those situations, you may be better served calling it a day and trying the workout later in the week.
Luckily for triathletes, the solution (to these common mistakes) is relatively simple: In the days before and after any hard or long workouts, commit to running or riding extremely slow and easy. Not so slow as to change your running gait/form but easy enough to carry on a conversation. At no point should you feel as if you’d need to stop. While going slower might take a bit more time, consider that time well spent.
It’s also wise to incorporate an easy/recovery week every three to four weeks to allow the body to fully recover from the accumulation of training and also provide a mental break from the grind of training.
If done right, you should feel rested, recovered and ready to train hard on hard days, so much so that you have no choice but to go slow and easy on the recovery days. And while you’re at it, consider getting some extra sleep, staying well hydrated and also eating wholesome and nutritious meals, which will also go far in helping you achieve your training goals.