If you’re able to do the distance, but can’t seem to bump up your miles per hour, it’s time to examine your training plan for the following components:
Bike fit (road bike or tri bike?)
First, remember that speed in triathlon begins with the power you are able to produce on the bike — power is literally the output you produce by pedaling. Hopefully most of that power goes to sending you into forward motion, though it can be impacted by the bike you are on, your bike fit, and the external conditions of the day you are training/competing on.
While you can’t control race day conditions, you can control the bike you are riding on, and how well it has been fit to you. First, as a coach, I generally like to see newer athletes begin on a road bike versus a triathlon bike, due to ease of handling and the ability to participate in a wider range of group rides. However, road bikes are designed for a specific job — to handle well in a group of riders, and to manage technical courses with ease and speed. Experienced age-group athletes desiring to increase speed and efficiency on the bike should seriously consider adding a triathlon bike to their arsenal. Regardless of your ride, make sure you have a bike that is the correct size for your body, and take time to work with a professional bike fitter (preferably one who is experienced in working with triathletes) to achieve a proper fit that allows for effective aerodynamics, as well as the comfort needed to produce optimal and sustainable power. Get your fit re-checked at least once a year to account for changes in strength and mobility.
Power creates forward motion, and strength plus speed create power — that means we need to build a foundation of strength in conjunction with any speed work that we do. Strength training can benefit you on the run and swim portions of your racing as well. Start with basic core exercises (such as planks, side planks, push-ups and superman lifts) to build stability, and progress to more complex movements with added weight. Some good bike power-building movements include weighted squats and box jumps. Not all strength training has to be done in the gym — hill climbing on the bike is another great way to build sport-specific strength. Work with a certified personal trainer or coach to develop a plan that will be safe and effective for your abilities and goals.
Sample Strength Workout:
10 minutes warm-up easy walk, jog or bike
45 seconds plank
4x5 seconds superman lift
20 glute bridges
10-20 weighted squats
5-10 box jumps
Walk 5 minutes and stretch to cool down.
You have to go fast to get fast — that’s the rule, so build on your bike fit and strength foundation with interval workouts designed to challenge your body and push different levels of power to effectively prepare your body for a variety of race day scenarios. When planning workouts, remember that building fitness is a process, so pursue a gradual increase in speed to avoid injury and achieve lasting results by starting with shorter, easier intervals, and building from there.
Sample Interval Workout:
10 minutes easy warm-up on the bike
1-2 minutes goal race power/speed
3-4 minutes easy to moderate recovery
5 minutes very easy cool down.
Group rides can also be a great opportunity to push the pace on your bike. Find a ride with a manageable distance that will force you to push outside your comfort zone. Make sure that you take your road bike, or find a group ride that welcomes triathlon bikes.
An often overlooked component of increasing fitness is recovery — this includes sleep, nutrition, hydration and anything and everything else that improves the body’s ability to recover and adapt from stress applied. Get 8 hours of sleep. Eat a healthy amount of food, and make sure it’s nutritious. Stay hydrated all day, every day. Find ways to relieve stress in your life. Believe it or not, all of these things will speed up the process of gaining speed. Make time for recovery as part of any serious training plan.
As mentioned above, remember that gaining fitness is a process, and rarely one with a straight upward trajectory. Take tough workouts and disappointing races in stride. Assess and adjust as needed, but don’t assume that one rough workout is indicative of a failed training plan. If you hit a long-term plateau, seek advice from a professional coach to take the next step toward improved performance.
About the Author
Morgan Hoffman is a USA Triathlon Level II and Youth & Junior Certified Coach and the head coach of Team Playtri Elite, a USAT High Performance Team. Coach Hoffman works at Playtri in McKinney, Texas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.