Monday, August 6, 2012

The Benefits of Recovery Bike Rides

RECOVERY RIDES, Question: I have heard people talk about recovery rides but have never really thought about what it exactly means. Does "recovery" refer to something that actually enhances recovery or is it just an easy ride that doesn't do any damage.

In order to get faster and stronger, the endurance athlete requires a combination of work days (training) and rest days (recovery).  Training stress, which can also be described as ‘controlled injury’, as it breaks down the muscle and other tissues, must be followed by rest days and sound nutrition, allowing the body to compensate and rebuild to get stronger.   This cycle of work – rest – compensation is repeated over and over again and results in improved performance in one’s chosen sport. 

For years, coaches and athletes have incorporated ‘active recovery’ workouts into their weekly training programs.  Active recovery refers to short duration exercise days following more intense bouts of training, at roughly 60-70% of maximum heart rate, or in the case of cycling, less than 60% of one’s functional threshold power (FTP).  Active recovery days are different compared to complete or “passive” recovery days, where the athlete does practically no metabolism boosting activity beyond stretching or a light walk.  Both protocols deserve a place in a systematic training program.

Active recovery days on the bike are beneficial in that they enhance blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles broken down by an intense training session. They also serve to maintain (or enhance) body composition by burning calories as well as keep the athlete “in the groove” in terms of muscle coordination and technique.  Most endurance athletes will confirm that short ‘easy does it’ workouts help them maintain momentum and allow them to feel stronger for future intense training days.   As a case in point, it’s noted that riders in multi-day stage races, like the Tour De France, will ride easy for 1-3 hours on a rest day in order to feel strong for an ensuing mountain stage.

For the age group triathlete who typically trains on the bike 3 or 4 days per week including a long aerobic endurance day, a lactate threshold focused day and a brick workout (bike to run) day, it might be advised to add a 30-60 minute easy spin to their weekly ride after a hard day or a race day.  This ride can be done on the roads or the trainer and consist of a 60-70% effort (i.e. low intensity), with light gearing focused on a cadence range of 90-100rpms to “shake the legs out”. 

The danger in adding recovery rides is that some athletes will tend to overdo it and misuse the ride, therefore just adding ‘junk miles’.  This usually occurs when the intended low intensity recovery effort becomes a full-blown “gray zone” ride, defined as a Zone 3 or steady effort just below lactate threshold heart rate, sabotaging the benefits of the recovery ride and possibly contributing to a state of over-reaching or over-training. 

As a practical matter, when used for their intended purpose, recovery rides can benefit the age group triathlete by helping them bounce back from hard training sessions, manage body weight and maintain their training momentum.

A former pro triathlete in the 1990’s and now a Masters triathlete, Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of IRONMAN, Head Tri Coach of LIFE TIME FITNESS and the creator of the Spinervals Cycling Video series, including several recovery oriented indoor cycling workouts for download by clicking HERE.  For more information, visit

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Training Tip: New to Swimming... Help!

Coach Troy's Training Tips: New to Swimming... Help!

I'm new to triathlon and just started swimming laps.  It's by far the most difficult sport for me of the three. What are your suggestions for improving?

Welcome to your new sport! There's a ton to learn so be patient and absorb knowledge in small chunks.  You can't become an expert over'll take years and years of practice, but that's part of the fun.

Swimming is a highly technical sport and it's often difficult for adults to master.  Hours and hours of pool time are required to develop a 'feel for the water' and the conditioning necessary to swim fast.  Be prepared for that fact and don't get frustrated if things move along slowly with regard to your progress. 

The first thing I tell new swimmers to do is: focus on technique.  

Just getting in the pool, hammering out laps and improving your conditioning, is rewarding in the short term but can be devastating to your long term improvement and swimming speeds.  

The biggest culprit in holding people back is the development of an inefficient stroke...and it's hard to 'unlearn' bad bio-mechanical start off with learning good skills from the start.  

Start by reading books on proper swim technique or watching videos of champion swimmers, like Michael Phelps.  Ingrain their stroke technique into your brain, so that your stroke imitates theirs.  Become a student of swim-stroke technique and be able to explain what makes for an effective stroke.

Next: get comfortable in the water! 

Learn how to 'feel' the water and move your body through it.  Play around with it...practice sculling on your front, then on your back. Learn how to kick. Experiment with breathing on your right side, then your left.  Have some fun.

Now you're ready to do the work and to start becoming a swimmer.  

Technique drills should be a mainstay of all swim workouts, even as you become more advanced. 

I always advise new swimmers to seek the help of a coach to monitor their stroke development and make suggestions on how to improve.  Having someone on deck who can help is invaluable.  Frequent video taping helps too, allowing you to actually see what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.

Once you feel comfortable and confident in the water, consider joining a Masters Program.   

Swimming with other athletes is fun, motivating and improves your learning curve.  Jump in the slower lane and learn proper lap swimming etiquette.  Focus on your technique and your conditioning will improve simultaneously. And as you become faster, you'll be rewarded with moving up to a faster lane.

To recap... it's important for new swimmers to be patient and to start by focusing on the fundamentals. 

Don't learn bad technique; educate yourself as to what a good stroke 'looks like', and then try to develop a 'feel' for the water.  

Then—by working with a coach—learn drills that will aid in your stroke development. 

When you're ready, join a Masters swim program and be prepared to see your swimming results take off!

Good luck!

Coach Troy

Monday, June 4, 2012

Training Tip: How Do I Prioritize My Training?

Coach Troy's Training Tips: How do i prioritize my training?

I have a full time job and a family... how do I prioritize my training?

The less time you have available to train, the more focused and purposeful your training needs to be in order to be effective. 
The good news is: I've discovered that most people can see marked improvement in the Sprint-to-Olympic distances on 7-10 hours per week, and in the Half and Full Ironman distances on 12-15 hours per week.
The keys to success are:
     1. Timing of the training progression.
     2. Frequency of how often you train each sport.
     3. Intensity of how hard you do each workout. 
And while logging 20-30 hours a week of training can work too (i.e. the Volume theory), we'll reserve that training-time commitment for the pros and AG'ers with lots of free time on their hands.  
For the ultra busy person, success starts with a plan of attack. Get a training plan! 
One of mine would certainly be effective, but there are many others out there too that work just fine. You need that blueprint to follow and to help you stay on track, accountable and focused on your goals.
Next, make training an important priority and always do your key workout for the day FIRST.  
They always say that the first thing you do in the morning (after going to the bathroom!) is the most important thing for you to do that day.  When it comes to training for three sports, this makes sense.  
I like for my athletes to train their key sport first, when their energy level is high and their muscles (and nervous system) is fresh. This way, the day won't "Get away" from you and next thing you missed your key workout session due to other stuff that cluttered your day. 
Train early... get it done! 
I mentioned that frequency is important—train often, not long—when you are short on time.  If you only have 20 minutes, use it to do a run or to hit the elastic cords from some dryland work.  
Try to maintain your momentum and boost your aerobic energy systems by doing 3-5 workouts per sport, each week, even if the workouts are short in duration.
Busy people are the best at managing time and getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to training for triathlon. You don't need to train all day in order to become a stronger athlete.

I love answering your questions...if you have one, please submit it to the blog, facebook, or twitter.
Train smart,
Coach Troy