Triathlete’s Beginner’s Guide: Single-Sport Focus Periods

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Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

In the second article of Triathlete’s beginner series, senior editor Matt Fitzgerald explains how to successfuly use single-sport focus periods to make yourself a better overall triathlete.

The best time to commit to a single-sport focus period is during the off-season or early base-building period. Anytime you’re within roughly 10 weeks of an upcoming race, your training should be balanced, but over the winter, balance doesn’t matter as much. At this time you can sharply reduce or even briefly cease your training in one or both of your stronger disciplines to free up time and energy to work on your weakness without jeopardizing your summer race performances. As long as you restore balance to your training by March or April, you won’t be in a hole you can’t climb out of by May or June.

For example, if you normally swim, bike and run three times each per week during the racing season, you might block out eight weeks in December and January for a single-sport focus period during which you train five times per week in your weak discipline and just twice a week in each of the other two. In this case, you’re simply redistributing your nine weekly workouts. If you wanted the off-season to provide a break from heavy training along with an opportunity to strengthen your weakness, you might instead do five workouts per week in your weak discipline and only one in each of the other two. Because one’s weakest discipline is typically also one’s least favorite, maintaining motivation through a single-sport focus period can be challenging. For some, selecting a single-sport race as the culminating point of a single-sport focus period is an effective way to overcome this motivational challenge.

The most popular goal of this type among triathletes is a fall or winter marathon, such as P. F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon held in Phoenix on the third Sunday in January. But there are equivalent goals you can set in swimming and cycling. If swimming is your weakness, you could train for the Nike Swim Miami, an open-water swim competition held in mid-April. Take your choice of three distances: one mile, 5K or 10K. If it’s cycling that holds you back, train for a spring century ride such as the Wine Country Century, which takes place in California’s Napa Valley in early May.

A single-sport focus period is not the only path to improving a weak triathlon discipline. You can also attack your weakness within a balanced training regimen by focusing on the individual key to improvement in each of the three triathlon disciplines.

Next up, Fitzgerald breaks down the best way to focus on the individual areas of swimming, cycling and running during your focus period.

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