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    Workouts That Work

    Excerpted from
    Triathlete Magazine's Essential Week-by-Week Training Guide: Plans, Scheduling Tips, and Workout Goals for Triathletes of All Levels
    By Matt Fitzgerald

    There's an amusing story about how Bruce Jenner trained to win the 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal for the United States. As you probably know, the decathlon competition comprises 10 track-and-field events ranging from the shot put to the 1,500-meter run. By way of preparing to compete against the world's top decathletes in each of these events, Jenner would show up at the track every morning and look around to see who else was working out. Spying a group of hurdlers, he would approach them and say, "What are you guys doing today?" Then he would join them for their workout. After that he'd look around and spot some javelin throwers. "What are you guys doing today?" And so on.

    The first triathletes did something similar. Instead of reinventing the proverbial wheel, they borrowed tried-and-true workout formats from swimmers, cyclists, and runners. If the workouts worked for these single-sport endurance athletes, they should work just as well for athletes dabbling in all three sports. And they did. The only workouts that triathletes had to invent for their special needs were so-called brick workouts (named after their putative creator, a triathlete named Matt Brick) and transition workouts, wherein a bike ride is followed immediately by a run.

    In this chapter I will describe each type of swim, bike, and run workout that is used in the training plans to follow. I will tell you when to do each workout type, how to do it, and the benefits of doing it. While all of these workouts represent classic workout formats with proven effectiveness, each coach has his own preferences regarding exactly how to do them, and I am no exception, but the differences between my preferences and those of most other coaches are mostly minor.

    Any given type of workout can be done at a variety of levels. For example, the duration of a long run may range from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 3 hours. The appropriate level at which to perform any given workout depends on the training plan you choose and where you are within the plan. Long runs are longer in an Ironman training plan than in a sprint plan; longer in, say, a Level 10 plan for any distance than in a Level 1 plan of the same distance; and longer toward the end of all plans than toward the beginning.

    Each level of each workout type is assigned a unique code. It is these codes (to conserve space) that will appear in the week-by-week breakdown of the training plans. This chapter provides the information you will need to decode every level of every workout. But in each of the subsequent chapters containing training plans, you will find a Quick Reference Guide that provides only the details of the workouts used in the training plans presented in that chapter. This will allow you to decode the workouts in your plan without too much page flipping. Simply read the code for tomorrow's workout in the training plan you've chosen and use the Quick Reference Guide to learn the specifics. Alternatively, you can decode your workouts a week at a time and pencil the details into your training calendar (whether you use the one at the back of this book or another). Then record what you've actually done after completing each workout.

    It's very important that you perform each workout or part thereof at the appropriate intensity (that is, the appropriate speed or pace). Intensity is the primary determinant of the training effect of any given workout. If you go too fast in a workout that is meant to be low to moderate intensity, you might not finish it. If you go too easy in a high-intensity workout, you won't get as much out of it as you should.

    There are six workout intensity levels that apply to all three triathlon disciplines: recovery, moderate aerobic, high aerobic, threshold, VO2 max, and speed. The simplest way to control the intensity of your training is by feel. The following table provides guidelines that will help you find each of the appropriate intensity levels in swimming, cycling, and running. The table uses a simple 1-10 Rating of Perceived Effort (RPE) scale, where a rating of 4 is the easiest effort that qualifies as exercise and a rating of 10 is maximal. Note that the difficulty of sustaining any given pace increases the longer you sustain it, so these ratings are specific to the initial perceived effort (i.e., how hard the effort feels after only 20-30 seconds). Also provided in the table are some pace/speed guidelines to help you "calibrate" your feel for intensity.

    If you're an experienced triathlete, you probably can find these intensity levels easily. If you're new to the sport, you may go too hard or too easy at first, but you'll get the hang of it quickly as you do the workouts repeatedly.

    Before I present the workouts themselves, I need to say a few words about terminology and the notations used in the workout tables provided with each workout type.

    "Intervals" are segments of hard work (i.e. relatively fast swimming, cycling, or running) separated by recovery periods.

    RI = Rest. This is a short, passive recovery period in a swim set. This entails simply hanging on to the wall at the end of your lane (or standing at the end of your lane, if possible). For example, the notation "0:20 RI" means you are to rest for 20 seconds after each interval in the set.

    AR = Active Recovery. This entails very easy cycling or running at recovery intensity between high-intensity intervals in a bike or run workout. For example, the notation "1:00 AR" indicates that you are to cycle or jog for one minute after each interval

    In notations such as "4 x 3:00" and "12 x 100," the number before the x equals the number of intervals prescribed in the workout and the number after the x indicates the duration or distance of each interval. All swim intervals are prescribed by distance, while all bike and run intervals are prescribed by time.

    Finally, for the sake of clarity, all durations of 1 hour or greater are presented in the following format: "1:00:00," "2:30:00," and so forth. If you sec "1:00," you know it means 1 minute, not 1 hour. If you see "2:30," you know it means 2 minutes and 30 seconds, not 2 hours and 30 minutes.

    Swim Workouts

    Swim workouts are quite different from bike and run workouts. Whereas intervals are used rather sparingly in bike and run training, they are the bread and butter of swim training. Technique drills are likewise a small part of training for the bike and the run, but should be included in almost every swim workout.

    Why are swim workouts so unique? The simple answer is that decades of collective experimentation have clearly demonstrated that emphasizing intervals and drills in swim training produces better results than any alternative.

    Because they are so unlike bike and run workouts, I prescribe swim workouts differently. Specifically, whereas I prescribe complete bike and run workouts, I prescribe swim workouts in parts. The component parts of a swim workout are the warm-up, a drill set, one to three main sets, sometimes a kick set, and a cool-down set. In the training plans, you will see the codes representing the component parts of a given swim workout (SWIJ = swim warm-up, SDS = swim drill set, SKS = swim kick set, etc.) stacked in the proper order on the day that workout is to be performed (see example). Beneath this stack of codes you will see a number in parentheses that indicates the total distance of the workout.

    Warm-Up Sets

    The purpose of the warm-up set is to gently prepare your body for the rest of the swim workout. Always perform your swim warm-up at recovery intensity (4-5 RPE). The various levels of warm-up are distinguished by distance. Some pools are measured in yards, others in meters. Because pools measured in yards are more common in the United States, all swim sets and workouts are prescribed in yards. (1 meter equals 1.1 yards, so the difference is minimal.)

    Drill Sets

    Technique drills are critical to improvement in swimming. Whether you're a beginner or a former college all-American, you need to do them. The number-one key to improvement in swimming is increasing your efficiency in the water: using less energy to make greater forward progress. Building swim-specific cardiovascular fitness, while also important, does very little to increase efficiency. Technique improvements are the best way to become more efficient, and drills are one of the most effective ways to improve technique. The majority of your swim workouts should include a drill set.

    There is a large number of swim drills to choose from. Following are descriptions of those that I deem most helpful. Practice at least two and as many as six different drills in each drill set. The table of drill sets that follows prescribes only the number and length of drills, and does not prescribe specific drill types. That part is up to you. I recommend that you do each of these drills at least occasionally and focus on those that address the biggest problem areas in your swim stroke.

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