Training KnowledgeThe Science and Art of Triathlon Training

April 13, 20170

In recent months most of our efforts have been focussed on encouraging new people into the sport of triathlon and helping beginners. Although we do also work with more experienced triathletes on a one-to-one basis writing their training session plans for them in a software called Training Peaks, we don’t often write about some of the more complex issues around triathlon training. There’s a lots that is simple about training for a triathlon….

You need to swim  | You need to bike | You need to run

However, in order to really achieve your full potential there is both a science….and an art….to triathlon training that needs exploring.

The science of training is concerned with overloading your body.  Every time you train, you put your body under stress and break your body down.  This then stimulates an increased fitness as you repair back stronger. The goal is to keep increasing the training stimulus to keep the body adapting but it’s important to do this in a progressive nature. Not applying due care to this can result in injury, exhaustion or burnout.

The art of training is concerned with you being a totally unique individual. Everyone adapts differently and what might work for one person, might not work for another person. Remember that the stress you’re putting on your body in training also accumulates with any other stresses you may have – be it job, family, financial etc. You need to be sure to put your well-being as an overall person/athlete before any physical stresses and strains. The key to great performances lie in consistency week after week, month after month, year after year. You can’t do that if you’re constantly ill or injured so being healthy and well must come first.

Spending most of my time these days coaching rather than competing, I decided to be a guinea pig and put myself in the hands of Chris Holland of Elite Sports Therapy to have a look at both the art and science of triathlon training in a practical example. Chris completed a range of tests with me from mobility and flexibility to body fat percentage testings to a more advanced Lactate Threshold Testing.

Reading about lactate threshold in textbooks can be a minefield! But understanding it and how it applies to you can make your training so much more valuable!!! In simple terms, we all produce lactic acid (known as lactate) in our muscles after exercise. After easy exercise the amount of lactate produced is quite low and can be removed quite easily. However when we start to train harder the lactate production increases and begins to accumulate in the muscle. This can leave you feeling tired and your muscles aching. Chris and I talked through 2 important thresholds that are of interest for our training.

1) The lactate threshold – most people will have heard of this and this is the initial rise in blood lactate concentration above baseline measures

2) The onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) – this is where there is a sharp, prolonged rise in the blood lactate response due to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscle. In short, it’s a speed of an effort that is difficult to sustain.

What did this mean to me?

Quite simply, Chris got me to run to the point of exhaustion! I ran for 3 minutes at different speeds on the treadmill and at the end of each 3 minutes Chris would take a blood lactate reading from a small pinprick of blood on my finger. The taking of the blood reading took just a few seconds and then I was back on the treadmill for the next 3 minutes at a higher pace.


You can see from the chart below that my Heart Rate (the blue line), jumped up very quickly once I started exercising. This is because I have trained for so many years that as soon as I get moving my heart rate gets moving! Once in the flow of running it increases fairly steadily until I hit the red-zone, then it raises more sharply!

The red line on the chart, shows my blood lactate levels. When running at a speed of 10km per hour, or 11 kmph I am running quite relaxed and therefore producing little amounts of lactate. However, turning point 1 – my lactate threshold, occurs at 12kmph when I start producing more lactate. I am able to keep going at this pace but when hitting 14 kph you will see a really steep curve in the amount of lactate produced. This is known as my OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation) and it was shortly after this I stopped the test as I became too tired!


Using the data

Graphs and data are lovely, but what do they mean for you and your training? Well a lactate threshold test also allows you to create a series of training zones that will provide you with specific heart rate and exercise intensities that are individualised to your own physiology. This means the effectiveness of a training programme can be significantly enhanced i.e. you get more training effects and benefits for the same amount of time spent training!

Applying this to my own results Chris and I were able to work out the following;

1) For an easy run on the treadmill I should be running under 12kmph

2) For an intense aerobic or sub-threshold run I should be running between 12-14kph

3) For a lactate threshold or anaerobic capacity run I should be running faster than 14kph – these are more likely to be short bursts of running

Training in each of the training zones bring about their own training benefits and each should have a place in your training regime. A lot of our athletes, for example those who come to our RunFitter course, do this without even knowing when they follow the interval session plans we set for them.

My trip to see Chris was really interesting and well worth the visit. He provided me with a thorough report following the sessions and it’s something that I could implement with immediate effect into my training. The beauty of what Chris offers is… it’s available to you! We’re more than happy to spend money on gear and gadgets, and endless time training….but sometimes it’s the things away from the norm that can make the biggest difference. So why not invest in the science and art of your triathlon training. Contact us for an individual triathlon plan or Chris for your very own fitness testing.


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