Triathlon is a sport that becomes discouragingly difficult when you try to be half in and half out. But no matter how crazy your life becomes, always remember this: Endurance sports will welcome you back from an extended hiatus. And if you never left, you always have the opportunity to get more deeply involved with training at any time.
Getting greater adaptation from fewer training hours has become a primary focus of mine. There are a few primary tenets for thriving as a time-crunched triathlete:
Focus on brick training. Instead of up to 10 workouts a week, bring that number down to five to six, and make most of them swim-bike or bike-run bricks. Swim-run bricks are good when athletes need an increased focus on running.
Cut volume and increase intensity. This means more lactate threshold efforts across all three disciplines, although not all the time. This increase in intensity should be moderate, not extreme, to avoid problems with under-recovery.
Choose races that suit your ability to train. If you have eight hours a week spread over five workouts, be realistic about the events you can be competitive for. Sprint and Olympic? Absolutely. 70.3? You’ll finish, but don’t count on being competitive. Ironman? No.
Keep the build periods short. With a busy lifestyle, eight weeks at a time is an achievable training commitment. It’s enough time to achieve competitive fitness, but it’s difficult to continue too much longer at this cumulative intensity level without taking an extended period (four weeks) of recovery and easier, endurance-paced training.
The idea of balancing training and competition with your busy lifestyle is all well and good in theory, but what does it look like in practice? One of the best ways to train in the middle of a busy workweek is to perform brick workouts on back-to-back days as a training block. When the demands of these two sessions build on each other, the result is greater than the sum of the parts. And it frees up two back-to-back weekdays for recovery.
While putting two workouts on back-to-back days increases the total impact they will have on your fitness, you still need to maximize recovery between the two sessions. If you can complete the first workout in the morning and the second workout in the afternoon or evening, you can get more than 24 hours of recovery between them. And if you’re trying to build in even more workload, don’t add a third day to one of these blocks, but rather slide the block to Thursday/Friday and incorporate one or both days of the weekend. If you do this, however, be sure to take easy or off days Monday to Wednesday preceding the block.
Jim Rutberg co-wrote this article and is a coach for Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) and co-author of The Time-Crunched Triathlete. Chris Carmichael is founder and head coach of CTS and co-author of The Time-Crunched Triathlete. For more information on coaching, camps and performance testing, visit Trainright.com.