Here's an article I wrote for TrainingPeaks, which discusses some great routines I use with my athletes.
7 Pre-Workout Routines for Better Performance
Have you ever stumbled out of bed and wondered why it takes so long for you to gain your balance or be able to walk straight? Or have you ever sat for so long in a car or at a desk that the first few steps you wonder if your legs are listening to what your brain is telling them to do?
These are just a couple examples of how the connections between our brains and our muscles are sometimes not functioning properly due to periods of non-use. In the world of physical therapy, it is called neuromuscular activation. “Neuro” comes from the nervous system, which sends the signals from the brain to the “muscular” system, to activate the muscles.
Many physical therapists work with individuals just trying to get them to utilize muscles which aren’t firing or being used in common movements which would greatly enhance the strength and stability of the person during the movements. Most athletes scoff at this idea, but the research shows significant performance differences with neuromuscular activation improvements and some simple routines prior to bouts of exercise can be very effective at improving activation. For example, most athletes have seen dramatic neuromuscular improvements in the weight room, just in the first few weeks of lifting weights. It takes six weeks for athletes to show muscle growth from strength training, so those first six weeks of strength gains from those routines is almost entirely neuromuscular adaptation and improvements in activation.
I had an email discussion today with an athlete who uses power, but told me they weren't sure of their FTP. Though it is great this athlete made the leap to use power and the data to help their training, but without a baseline point to use from which to judge the numbers, they really don't mean much.
The athlete stated to me they guessed their power was somewhere around 250-275 watts. This sounds fine, but the problem is this 25 watt range represents a difference of about 10%! That is huge when talking about FTP! An athlete who can even raise their FTP 10% in one season has either stated from a point of low fitness, or done a phenomenal job of training.
Every session being off by as much as 10% in the estimate of IF and TSS changes the entire load on the athlete, and what trends can be learned, strategies for pacing can be made, and more.
It is important to know you FTP, so don't waste time with it. Here's a simple test:
Warm-up easy for 10 mins, then do 5 mins of 15 secs fast, 45 seconds easy, then 5 mins build each minute individually, easy to fast, and the fast gets faster each minute. Then take a 2 min easy spin, and start a 20 minute time-trial, of the best power you can average for the whole 20 mins. Take 95% of the average power, and that is your estimated FTP. Cool down an easy 10-15 mins of spinning.
Do this, and the numbers you use will actually begin to make sense. Without knowing your FTP, they don't mean much.
Some athletes have an unrealistic expectation that every session should be a great one. That every training run should be faster than the one before it. That every day you should feel fresh and strong. That if you're tired, you should just quit the session and do nothing.
Every training day, just like every day in life, isn't a sun-shinny day. You've just got to put the work in, and stay the course. Yes, if you're constantly tired and not giving yourself the right recovery, you're doing something wrong. But just because you're tired, or not setting a new PR in a session, doesn't mean you're doing things wrong. If you don't have fatigue, you can't get fitter, it's a basic premise of training and performance.
So stop beating yourself if your session isn't a "home run," or if you feel like it needs to be perfect. There were many poor training days in the past, and there will likely be more in the future. If you know the goals of the session, and have a more marco/global plan, you will be fine.
Pretty impressive to see a major D1 progam from the PAC-12 make the investment in a triathlon program. Excellent that other schools involved too, but when a big player in the sports world jumps in, that says a lot.
One of the biggest reasons I use data with athletes isn't to simply stare at numbers and restrict athletes with the numbers. It's actually to help the athlete see their improvement, raising their confidence as the key events near, so they are on the start line, prepared and believing they can perform well. Yesterday, an athlete logged this in TrainingPeaks, which shows the value of the data from test workouts, and how it affects the athlete's confidence, excitement, and even sense of fulfillment from the work they are doing...
Monster day on the bike. I noticed last year I did this exact same workout 17 days out from Nationals also. Check out the comparison: Today's Wattage by 5 min: 415, 395, 404, 403, 400, 393, 395, 398 Last year wattage by 5 min: 348, 370, 347, 345, 349, 334, 325, 333
The workout was 8x5 mins, with 2 min recovery. And he was the one who went back and looked up the workout from the prior year, and listed the numbers from the session, not me. The data was so clear to him and his improvement, he was excited to look back and see how it compared.
This athlete is preparing for USAT Collegiate Triathlon Nationals in a few weeks. Last year he set the bike course record at Nationals, so seeing this big of improvement in his numbers, he knows he is capable of even better this year, and excited about it. That success in training is the basis for his mental preparation and focus on the startline, able to focus on himself, not worrying about the competition, or other things out of his control.
If you don't have data to compare your workouts, and track how your training is going, you're missing an opportunity to be truly confident and mentally ready to race.
To address all the things you've been ignoring. Things in training you've not been doing over the past year, like types of workouts, different warm-ups, testing new products, different bike position, new strength routine, your diet, new training group, new coach, or whatever else you think might need to be changed.
You can't wait until the middle of the season, it will be too late or too risky to see the benefit. If you're really interested in seeing what works, just change one thing. Pick the biggest need or what you're most motivated to change, and go with that. If you change too much, you risk injury, or not really knowing which one affected you the most, (positive or negative).
Make the commitment now, before it's too late to reap the rewards this season.
Trainingpeaks asked me to write an article on things to do before a workout, and I thought it was a great topic. I think a lot of athletes just jump into a workout, without proper preparation to maximize the time and investment. Here's what I wrote....
5 Things to Do Before Every Workout
Many athletes start their workout by lacing up their shoes or throwing on a helmet, and getting right into their session. Of course just getting started can be a difficult step at times, but paying attention to a few specific preparation keys before you start a workout can mean the difference between getting the training response you want and possibly taking steps backwards.
Here are five things every athlete should do in this order, before they workout, to maximize the training session.
1. Clear Your Mind
All athletes have stresses in their daily lives that have nothing to do with workouts, training, or racing. Instead, they have life, work, family and other stresses, all which can take away from the quality of a session. If an athlete comes into a session with a focus on the negatives, it can be hard to accomplish positive things.
I have seen a number of athletes quit a session that was going well, change a session entirely simply because of attitude, or fail to execute a session effectively, because they are too distracted with the other aspects of their life. Sometimes athletes want to take their aggression out in a session, which may be the exact opposite of the purpose of the session, such as a recovery spin or technical development session.
A little bit of pause to relax, clear the mind and put 100 percent mental focus into the session will get higher quality and better training response from the session.
has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth.”
Tyson was one of the most feared fighters in the history of boxing. Yet, there
were plenty of experts in the sport who spoke of his weaknesses and how to beat
him, as though it were not that hard. Many of his opponents trained and planned to beat him according to his
weaknesses. And much like the quote above from Tyson, those plans may have been
very well devised, but once the match started and they took those first few
punches, dealing with the adversity of the match, it became a challenge to stick
to the plan.
triathlon and racing. No matter how well you plan, when you get into the big
races, against the toughest competition, your resolve and steadfastness to that
plan will be tested greatly.
Your plan better not be good, it must be great. And it should have contingencies if the punch to mouth was more than you expected.
I said something the other day to one of my athletes....
"It's hard to accomplish positive things if you are constantly focused on negatives."
So often, athletes ruin any sense of confidence in themselves, by focusing on the negatives of their performances, training, lifestyle or injuries. Many miss the enjoyment of training and improving, and most certainly the rewards of it, when they focus on all the things they can't do, or why they can't win, or do well, or stay healthy.
What is your focus on? The negatives, weaknesses and challenges? Or your approach to getting better, and excitement about improving?
I hear a lot of athletes and coaches spouting out their knowledge about training, using complex terms, or creating complicated workouts. It really doesn't need to be complicated to be successful though. If I put a list of the most important things, complicated or super-scientific training isn't listed anywhere near the top.
Things that are near the top? Consistency first, then injury prevention, recovery, diet, sleep, and progression of training load are just a few I would rank near the top, or at least well ahead of the complexity of training. I have seen plenty of athletes train in ways which go against common exercise science, but because they are consistent, and do many of these other things, are still able to do fairly well and improve.
If you're going for an Ironman World Championship, Olympic Gold Medal, or ITU WTS Championship, you need to really look at the science behind every decision you make in training and recovery. But that's a very limited group of athletes and coaches, who can control many other variables in their lives, (not having to balance a job, full-time focus on training and recovery), so it doesn't apply to most athletes.
Keep the training simple, and be consistent. Stop making it complicated, and you'll likely be successful if you are consistent in executing it.