Summer Holidays...the Achilles heel for triathletes balancing life and training?

As an athlete nears or enters race season, it also suddenly becomes the holiday season! So as to avoid becoming a total holiday bore, coach Soraya explores how to (subtly) continue with your training without letting your friends or family realise deep down the sweat isn’t pouring off your head because of the beautiful sunny location, but rather you are thinking how hard it will be to join in with swim squad again when you return!


How much fitness will an athlete lose on holiday? Does it really matter?

The first thing to remember is that training itself doesn’t make you stronger (in fact, when you train, you are causing trauma to your body, so you are effectively weakening it). You get stronger when your body repairs the damage caused by training, and this can only be achieved through recovery.

If you bear that in mind, you will realise that taking a holiday isn’t all bad. For the first few days, you might even be getting stronger whilst you lie on that beach!

What about the rest of the holiday? Well, we can break up your fitness in two main areas: aerobic fitness (how fast you can go), and structural fitness (how your body can cope with that speed). If we look at your training, aerobic fitness is achieved by swimming, cycling and running (for triathlon of course), whilst structural fitness will also require some gym work. The good news is that all those hours spent in the pool, at the track or on your turbo weren’t in vain. Studies show that you only lose about 6% of your aerobic fitness after two weeks off*. The more base fitness you have, the longer it takes for you to lose your aerobic fitness. Structural fitness, however, is easier to lose. It is therefore important to remember that when getting back into training.

There are also external factors when on holiday that affect you physically: timezones, sleeping patterns, food and drinking. Whilst it's normal to let go a little when you're on holiday, remember that if you don't go extreme on eating, drinking and sleeping, the negative impact from taking a holiday won't be as high.

Generally speaking, I think taking some time off has more benefits than downsides (as long as you're not on holiday all the time!). If you have been training and working hard, your body (and mind) needs a rest every now and then. Losing a tiny bit of fitness won’t matter and you will get it back and exceed it in no time.

Do you have any top tips to fit training in around a non-training-camp style holiday?

When on holiday, I think it’s important to let yourself completely disconnect from training, at least for the first few days. After that, I would focus on doing some strength work (just a little bit each day) to help maintain that structural fitness we were talking about.

Having said that, if you are in the middle of a training cycle and not ready for recovery yet, then my advice would be to plan it well and realistically. As much as you say you will, you're probably not going to do two training sessions a day whilst on holiday - so think about where you are going, how busy you will be and what facilities are available (gym, nice running paths, the sea…etc). If you are working with a coach, make sure you communicate this with them so that they can help you make the most out of the time and facilities you have available. For example, if you are going to the beach, then this is a good time to do some open water swimming, or if the hotel gym is the only place you can train, then it is a good opportunity to have a strength based week.

Have you got any go to exercises to ensure people are functioning properly that they can do in a hotel room

Yes, my go to “must” body weight strength exercises are:

  • Deadbugs

  • Bridge (hip raises)

  • Single leg bridge

  • Side plank

If there is time, then I also like to add in the following:

  • Tricep dips

  • Single leg squats from a chair

  • Pushups

  • Reverse lunge with knee drive

What should they do after some time away from training?

As mentioned above, when you take time off training, you lose some aerobic fitness and a bit more structural fitness. Structural fitness is really important because it is what will help you to prevent injury. When you take time off, your body feels fully rested, so chances are that you will feel fantastic in those first few training sessions. However, it is important to be careful and ensure you don’t pick up where you left off training load wise otherwise you risk injury. You need to build back into it so that your structural fitness has a chance to catch up. If you have been doing some strength exercises in your hotel room, this will take less time.

How do you manage an athlete's eagerness to train when they are on holiday?

As a coach, I try my best to give my athletes all the information that they need in order to make an informed decision. I will always try to work with them so that their holidays coincide with an appropriate time to rest on their plan - therefore, more often than not, my advice will be to take time off and disconnect for a few days, and then do the above strength exercises once a day. This way they get recovery but also feel like they are maintaining some strength, which can be reassuring psychologically.