Are you prioritising Specific Training?

Training for a triathlon can seem somewhat straightforward: swim, bike, run, eat, repeat. Race with friends and if your legs are sore, then you have had a good work out; if your arms are sore, then you have had a good workout and as long as your segments or your efforts seem to be going in a positive direction, you are fitter than you have ever been before, right? However, does all that equate to a great race result? This article explores the art of specificity and how you can ensure your training is geared to the race you have signed up for.

When training for any race, there are several important things to consider: clearly you have swim, bike and run. However, it is all too easy to get distracted and end up exercising swim, bike and run rather than specifically training for the event in question.

You need to focus on the event you want to do well at for the year - be that your first ever triathlon or qualifying for a championship event. This goes far deeper than improving your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or getting faster in test events. You need to be improving at your specific fitness for your identified event.

Let’s give an example of training your FTP. Most people use a 20 minute test as a way of calculating their functional threshold power. As an example, this gives them the guideline for their Olympic distance triathlon event (take 95% of 20 minute power output as an estimate as what they can do for the hour!). If they are targeting one hour or so in the race, this is an easy way to keep a track of how they are improving.  As they test more often, their FTP improves so they believe they can now push a higher watt for the event (~ 1 hour of effort). They aim for their target FTP and then they struggle with the run off the bike, or they aren’t quite able to hold the effort on the bike.

 The changes and importance of training specifically at distance/time stresses are shown here. A 5 second power increase, though rewarding, is not going to help the IRONMAN hopeful!

The changes and importance of training specifically at distance/time stresses are shown here. A 5 second power increase, though rewarding, is not going to help the IRONMAN hopeful!

The question that has to be answered here is why does this happen? Well, the truth is that most people will do reps at a shorter duration. They will do 5 mins hard, 2 mins easy or maybe 10 mins etc; they may do an FTP focused session as 2x20mins with some recovery inbetween. However, that is the problem. They are not training specifically to the effort that they need to race at, they are just training to a number.

For IRONMAN distance athletes, this gets more extreme. We’ve had athletes positive that they could hold a power value on the bike because that’s what 75% of their FTP says they should do. However when we look at the reality, their best four hour efforts have been below that value and they aren’t training enough at a load which resembles an IRONMAN bike. So even if they did pull that power number out of the bag on race day would they even be able to run off it that fast!?

Triathlon can be a lonely sport so training with 'buddies' or a friend or a club is a great thing to do. However, it is so important to understand where that fits in with your training schedule so you still keep your training specific to the race you want to peak at. All too often though, these sessions can be seen as mini races where it’s almost as important to taper into the sessions as it is for your main race. Training sessions with friends can help you dig a bit deeper, but if you are training for an IRONMAN 70.3, why do you need to be the fastest at the 400m repeats on the track? What about the sprint distance athlete doing 100 mile bike rides every week with the group? Or generally athletes in club swims favouriting the 50s and 100s as they can be easily done for a group with a wide range of abilities?

 Here we see Elaine Garvican's running improvements between two years – improving the key durations for her IRONMAN, and not worrying about the shorter efforts. For the full blog, click  here .

Here we see Elaine Garvican's running improvements between two years – improving the key durations for her IRONMAN, and not worrying about the shorter efforts. For the full blog, click here.

You can still make these sessions a part of your week schedule (in fact we would encourage you to use these assets to your advantage) but you have to be focussed at making the improvements in the areas that matter the most to you and keeping a perspective on them.

To succeed in this sport you need to be consistent and specific. Take some time now to consider where your training sits on the specificity scale and then how can you make some improvements? In reality, this is usually where a coach really helps keep “the main thing the main thing” and ensure you end up training for the event you want to peak at and not the next training session.