This topic is often the cause of much confusion and distress. For the Triathlon Training Beginner this topic can be somewhat of a nightmare. One coach says something and another coach or article says the exact opposite.
I am a firm believer of listening to your body. Of letting your body guide you with your training. You body knows what is good for you and how much it can cope with on any given day. This is super important for the Triathlete Beginner. In my opinion all triathlon training plans need to be focused more on how your feel during your training, not on a specific set of numbers that must be reached.
Training zones: effort or numbers?
Age group athletes are bombarded from all angles with tools that measure data such as power metres, heart rate monitors and portable GPS. They all provide a certain type of information that, if used in the right way, can provide you with very accurate feedback that is supposed to help improve your performance in training and racing.
But is this really the best way to measure our efforts?
Let’s start by looking at swimming, a sport in which records are being broken year in, year out. Swimmers are getting faster all the time, without a doubt. However, we don’t see them caught up in the gadget trend. Swimmers are still being coached under perceived effort, using minimalist terminologies similar to the ones ironguides use, or very basic terms such as A1, A2 and A3.
Their sessions give swimmers a lot of flexibility and freedom, since they are usually structured on fixed send-offs or rests in between sets. It is up to the swimmer to develop a feel for the session to achieve the goal and train the right system.
Another example comes from my own experience, when I was racing an Ironman in 2007. In preparation I had done heart rate zone training and my race strategy was based on either heart rate or pace (splits).
Once out of the water and onto the bike, I realized my bike computer wasn’t working. If riding 180km in itself wasn’t stressful enough, I now had the worry of not knowing if I was riding at my goal pace. I either felt too quick, or too slow.
I made the decision to just forget about my heart rate and my pace, and use perceived effort to guide me through that race instead. I tried to remember how I’d felt on my training rides and just hoped for the best since I’d so far been a slave of numbers. With a broken bike computer, I had no statistics to chase.
Little did I know that it was the perfect opportunity to learn how we can improve when we listen to ourselves and our bodies.
Until that day, my best Ironman bike split had been was 5hr 50—in this race, guided by perceived effort, I managed a 5hr 15, and an overall finish time PB to boot.
When we stick to the numbers alone, we run the risk of misreading our fitness which can result in either an underperformance race or going faster than we should be. Let’s say, you are used to running at 12km/hr in your race efforts. However, there will be days that you simply won’t achieve that speed—yet the aerobic load remains the same, regardless of your speed. On the flipside, you might not be training hard enough if you are having a great day with fresh legs—you could have been training at 13km/hr.
Heart rate is no different. If you test yourself and set your anaerobic threshold zone at about 170 beats per minute, you might be under-performing when training at that rate, since it was based on only one day. On a day that you are feeling great, you perhaps should be training at 180bpm. And when you feel tired, training at 160bpm will give you the same benefits of the original zone.
You see how we can limit ourselves by using the numbers?
Most age groupers face a lifestyle that does not allow the human body to work as a precise machine. Fatigue, lack of sleep, improper diet and, most importantly, levels of stress (including personal, financial, work) have an impact on your physiology and on your motivation. They will also impact the numbers you’ll read on the gadgets you’re using to guide your training, including heart rate and power output.
Try to do your next bike ride or run without the heart rate monitor. Stick to that for a couple weeks and you will soon understand the benefits of being able to listen to your body, to train by effort and to detach from numbers.
Enjoy your training!
Article written by: Rodrigo Tosta, Certified ironguides Method Coach Rio de Janeiro, Brazi
I totally agree with this article. One thing that Rodrigo does not mention is that by listening to your body your risk of injury is significantly reduced. As a newbie to the sport of triathlon most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to follow such specific measurements. We have multiple balls in the air at the same time that we are juggling. If we listen to our bodies we will be able to keep those balls juggling for longer.
If you do currently training under the demands of a hear rate monitor, follow the advice in the article and do not use one for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. You will be presently surprised at the result.
If you do currently train without the use of a hear rate monitor I would love to hear about you success with training this way.
Listen to your body, it will guide you…