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Work your weakness now and long term



— By Lance Watson

I regularly incorporate single sport focus or emphasis phases in my athletes’ training, to hone an individual event or a specific aspect of that sport. Phases of 12 to 16 weeks have the most impact on your long term development, but you can also increase emphasis in one sport for 10 to 14 days and get a “boost” in that sport, and push a neglected are to higher fitness.

For a three month emphasis, pick a meaningful event to end the phase with, such as a bike race, an open water swim competition, masters swim meet, or a half marathon. Try and plan a couple more “building block” events along the way to work towards the goal event, and to keep you excited. You will learn some tricks of the trade from single sport athletes by participating in individual sport competitions that might not be apparent in triathlon competition.


For a two week boost phase, increase frequency, volume or intensity sessions in your area of need. Your training program should be built around the area you are emphasizing, whether it’s your swim, bike, or run. You goal is to hit your “boost” sport fresh, and consider the rest of your activities in the other two sports as fitness maintenance rather than fitness building.

Keys for progressing in your three month sport emphasis phase for long term development:

  • Pick a meaningful goal event for the end of the focus phase.
  • Incorporate three to four weeks of base work (i.e. long endurance sessions in heart rate zone 1 and zone 2) in the focus sport. Add one extra base session than you normally would in that sport during regular triathlon training
  • Do the first “building block” competition at the end of the three week phase
  • Move into four to six weeks of threshold emphasis (i.e. short-rest intervals, heart rate zone 3 and 4). Still do base once a week. Do one more threshold session per week than you would normally do in your triathlon training for that sport
  • Do one to two more “building block” races in the threshold emphasis phase.
  • Move into two to three weeks of speed emphasis (i.e. high speed, long-rest intervals, heart rate zone 4 and zone 5). Reduce base, maintain 60-75 per cent of your threshold work, and do 1 more speed session per week than you would normally do in regular triathlon training
  • Taper for seven to 10 days and your goal competition.

Keys for progressing in your 10 to 14 day “Boost Sport” phase to super charge a single sport:

  • Increase frequency in the boost sport by one to two sessions per week.
  • Decrease frequency in the non-boost sports by one to two sessions a week.
  • Assess more specific areas of need in your boost sport—is it run threshold, bike hill climbing strength, open water stamina, etc.?
  • Build your program around the boost sport to ensure you are better prepared for your key sessions. Make sure and have rest days between your higher intensity boost sport sessions.

Other thoughts to help you along the way:

  • Seek someone with technical expertise in the focus sport during this phase, and put more energy into improving your form and biomechanics.
  • Think like an elite single sport athlete. “I am a distance runner…”
  • Learn everything you can about your focus sport during the phase while you are immersed in it.
  • Enjoy meeting new people at different sporting events!
  • Finally, when you are in race season, stay true to your planned-out, balanced triathlon training plan, but still be in tune with how you are doing in all three individual events.
  • If you have been struggling in an area for a couple years, incorporate a three month emphasis phase into your annual plan. If you work with your coach to carefully dissect the individual components of your training, come race day you should be ready to put it all together for a great result.

LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 28 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to tackle your first triathlon or to perform at a higher level. Find more tips on Twitter @LifeSportCoach