Thursday, May 26, 2011

Functional Exercise for Triathletes



Traditionally triathletes have been told to go to the gym and perform exercises like leg press, leg curls, leg extensions, bench press, shoulder press and abdominal (or the ever popular word core) work. Repetitive crunches, isolation exercises and non-functional strength work compose most triathletes strength programs. The pendulum has definitely been swung to the other side and functional strength work is now the buzz word amongst amateur and professional triathletes. Spending time in the gym is crucial but what you do in the gym is even more imperative. As triathletes are spending masses amounts of time on their specific skills like swimming, biking and running, time is limited to implement specific strength work in the gym. Corrective and functional training should become the basis of your work in the gym. You should no longer go to the gym to work on specific body parts (i.e. back/biceps, shoulders/legs, etc). The sport of triathlon involves the body in one kinetic chain. Not once during a triathlon does your body or a body part work in isolation. If you train isolation in the gym you will not become a functional athlete. Before I go any further, let me give you a brief description of the word “functional”. This is a very popular word in the fitness industry. Many fitness enthusiasts believe “functional training” is circus like exercise that involves unstable surface training and/or fancy equipment.

This is not functional training. This is ignorant training! DO NOT DO THIS!




The truth is functional training is purposeful training. Will your training in the gym assist you in your domain of your sport or outside activity? Will bicep curls and triceps extensions allow you to improve your triathlon performance? These moves are probably not the best application for the sport of triathlon. Looking at the sport of triathlon we must break down each sport, look at their imbalances and construct a corrective plan that will produce body symmetry to allow for more efficient movement. If you become a more efficient mover, you will become a more efficient triathlete. Yes, you must perfect the specific skills of swimming, biking and running. You can do all the corrective and functional work but if you cannot swim, bike and run, good luck. But when you have functional strength mixed with a base of triathlon endurance and fitness, you become a less injured athlete, a stronger athlete and you will be able to have longevity in the sport.

Isolation does not improve triathlon performance!


First let’s look at swimming. Most triathletes swim freestyle. The majority of the sets in the water use the freestyle stroke. Swimming freestyle puts major stress on the shoulder girdle. If you have weak stabilizers of the upper back and shoulders you will be at a higher risk of injury. The gleno-humeral joint is a joint that is made for mobility and complete range of motion and if your lack mobility, you can improve this aspect in the gym. Inside this joint you have small stabilizer muscles that must show stability. Charlie Weingroff defines stability has “the ability to control movement in the presence of change”. When a swimmer lacks this stability you risk friction of the labrum and the gleno-humeral head, which could cause impingement, labrum tears, and rotator cuff issues. Corrective exercises that need to be implemented should incorporate movements that work the rotator cuff muscles (subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus). Going to the gym to just hit bench press and shoulder press will do nothing to strengthen the small stabilizers. If your stabilizers are weak and inactive your prime movers will be limited in their strength and movement. Along with rotator cuff work, strengthening the mid- and lower trapezius, rhomboids and scapulae is imperative for improved posture and anchoring the rotator cuff in its position. If your shoulder blade area is weak, your rotator cuff will be forced to over work, compensate and ultimately get injured.


Being in the bike position for prolonged periods of time promotes bad posture, shortened hip flexors and hamstrings, inactive glutes and a quadricep dominant repetitive movement. These dysfunctions can create debilitating pain, injury and imbalance.

To produce this symmetry we talked about above, in the gym we must focus on posture reinforcement, hip flexor and hamstring flexibility, glute activation and strength and hip dominant movements. Biking primarily works the quadriceps and if you do not concentrate on building the posterior lower body in the gym you force imbalance. Muscular imbalance is the number 2 predictor of injury according to the Functional Movement Screen. For improved functional strength as a cyclist, an athlete must implement shoulder girdle strengthening movements, glute and hamstring strength exercises and flexibility drills to reinforce length in the muscles.

Running creates the most stress to the body. When you run you put 4-6 times your bodyweight of stress every time you contact the ground. Most runners take 80-90 foot strikes per minute. If a 200 pound male runs for 60 minutes, do the math that is traumatic stress to the body. I truly believe in the quote by physical therapist Diane Lee, “You can’t run to get fit, you must be fit to run.” If this 200-pound male laces up his shoes and begins his running program without building functional strength and stability first, he is destined for injury; unfortunately a chronic injury that could take weeks and even months to heal. Let’s focus on building strength first and then start running. Corrective work to maximize your running economy is truly important. When you look at the movement of running from the ground up you need foot stability and strength, ankle mobility, knee stability, active hip mobility and stability, glute strength and power, core stiffness, proper posture and stabile shoulders. When you have these traits you run more efficiently with less stress to the body. But unfortunately most runners and triathletes lack these attributes which debilitates them and forces them to stop their activity. These hard working athletes run, run and run some more. They run through injury, run through pain and run till they get hurt. Until they put a big focus on corrective strategies to enhance their running, it will continue to be an issue.

Is all that kinesio-tape really needed? "Get fit to run, not run to get fit."



When triathletes show up to the gym, the first thing they should do is soft tissue work. Sit on a foam roll or a tennis ball and roll areas that need attention. Spend 10-15 minutes improving tissue quality and eliminating the knots and adhesions that are built up from constant training. The dynamic warm-up is next. Looking at the above imbalances that are created from swimming, biking and running, the warm-up is a perfect time to implement specific corrective work to promote balance, function, flexibility and mobility. The drills in the warm-up, when done consistently, will force this symmetry and enable the body to work as a kinetic chain. After the warm-up, spend time on corrective movements for the shoulder girdle, glute stabilizers, inner core musculature and posture enhancement. I usually design mini-circuits for this portion. For example:

1a) Y’s/T’s/W’s lying prone on bench x 6 reps (scap stability)
1b) mini-band lateral walks x 5 steps – repeat twice (glute medius activation)

1c) pallof core pressouts x 8/side (anti-lateral flexion)

1d) wall slides x 10 (shoulder mobility/posture enhancement)

*repeat this circuit 2-3 times

video

2a) Shoulder step-ups x 6/side
(scap stability, anti-rotation for core)
2b) mini-band monster walks x 10 steps – repeat twice
(glute medius activation)
2c) marching front plank 2 x 20 seconds
(anti-rotation, hip flexor activation)
2d) seated thoracic spine rotations x 20 turns (thoracic spine mobility)

*repeat this circuit 2-3 times

video

After the corrective exercise portion, I move into the functional strength. For triathletes I design movements that, just like the corrective exercises above, build balance, symmetry and function throughout the body. So the strength movements are a continuation of the corrective work but now we could add external loads to the equation to build strength. Balance is key, for every knee dominant you add a hip dominant. For every pressing movement, you add a pulling movement. Again, I use mini-circuits for this portion:

1a) 1-leg squat x 6/side - Knee dominant
1b) Farmer Walks x 20 yards and back - anti-lateral flexion
1c) Inverted Rows x technical failure - pulling

2a) stability ball leg curls x 10 - knee dominant
2b) ab wheel core rollouts x 10 - anti-flexion
2c) alternating medicine ball push-ups x 10-16 - pressing

Depending on where the athlete is in their season will depend on the volume of this workout. Usually throughout the year I have triathletes perform 2 quality sets of these mini-circuits. I am a big advocate of smart and efficient work rather than more work. I also advise triathletes to be in the gym all year long. As an athlete's "A" race approaches the volume of the workout decreases but you would still remain in the gym at least one time per week. That workout would consist of soft tissue work, movement drills to activate and prepare the body for race day and corrective work to mobilize and stabilize specific joint structures. Triathletes should not be afraid of gym work the week of a race. The application of what you are doing is what's important. Go to the gym with a motive to become a more efficient mover and in turn you will become a better endurance athlete.

Functional and corrective exercise should be used to build a balanced and symmetrical body. If you have an understanding on how the body moves and functions you will be able to implement corrective exercises into your training program to assist in creating this functional body.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lessons Learned at the California Classic Weekend

I raced in the California Classic Weekend this past weekend. On Saturday there was a Century, metric century and a short 35 miler. On Sunday, there was a half marathon. Having a big weekend of training and racing like this, it is imperative to be fueled, hydrated and nutritionally sound leading up to the event and during the event. Unfortunately I witnessed many athletes struggling with exercise related cramps, dehydration, inadequate fueling and depletion of electrolytes and energy. These issues can limit your performance and derail your weekend. Lack of proper nutrition will cause the above problems. I will discuss the various problems, why they happened, how to deal with them and how to avoid them in the future.

Muscle cramping
Muscle cramping affects 59% of all endurance athletes. To me, the majority of exercise related cramping is caused from dehydration and sodium depletion. Your body needs fluids, salts and potassium for large volume workouts. If you show up to a big training day or a race without proper fluid intake you will end up suffering. Once you get behind in your fluid intake, it is very difficult to catch back up and regain your energy and stamina. Hydration should start 3-5 days leading up to the event. Too many athletes start focusing on hydration just the day before the event. Drinking adequate fluids should be a habit for endurance athletes in their normal daily lives and training regimen, but it must be a big focus as a race or training weekend is approaching. When we exercise we sweat and release fluids. As this happens we must replenish as much as we can during the event. Again, ONCE YOU ARE BEHIND YOU WILL SUFFER. Water should be your main source of fluids during the day. But with a race or training weekend approaching it is a good idea to supplement an electrolyte drink into your daily plan. If you are a heavy water drinker you could possibly cause an electrolyte disturbance in which your sodium levels become extremely low. This is called hyponatremia, which could cause confusion, fatigue, loss of appetite and MUSCLE CRAMPING. You could be pounding high amounts of water leading up to the event, drink water during the event and you could still suffer from muscle cramping because your body is depleted of salts. Severe water intake without sodium and electrolytes can cause this issue. That is why it is crucial to add an electrolyte supplement into your regimen. I advise 8-15 ounces of liquid electrolytes like gatorade, hammer nutrition or accelerade (or your product of choice) daily, 3-5 days leading up to an event. The more training you have the more you need. If you know the weather calls for hot and humid conditions and extreme sweating I would look into supplementing electrolyte tablets the day of, and leading up to the event.

Stay away from high amounts of coffee, alcohol and soda as these liquids can dehydrate the body. A small cup of coffee or a 12 ounce beer will not hurt you, but once you start indulging in 3+ servings you can increase your chances of creating the above issues.

"Hitting the wall" or "Bonking"
This can be a debilitating issue if you allow yourself to get to this point in a race or training weekend. Hitting the wall can stem from different inadequancies like dehydration, pushing out of your element, or nutrition dysfunction. I am going to discuss nutrition dysfunction as the main reason for "hitting the wall". Food is our fuel and we need a plan so our muscles can work efficiently. Muscles need sufficient glycogen levels to continue working at high levels. As we exercise and deplete our muscle glycogen, it is imperative to replenish the calories, sugars and fuel we need to keep moving. DON'T allow youreslf to get low because just like trying to get hydrated it is very difficult to catch back up once you are down on fuel. If you are depleting your calorie consumption because of a weight loss program, not keeping a dialed in nutrition log or you just don't think it needs improvement, then you will run into problems. When you have a big event like the California Classic you must concentrate on healthy and adequate food consumption 3-5 days leading up to the weekend. What food should you eat you ask? Well I think for the most part you know the answer to that question. Healthy fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads and pastas, lean proteins and healthy fats. Endurance athletes need approximately 50% of their calories coming from healthy carbohydrates, 30% healthy proteins and 20% healthy fats. And you won't know if you don't track your foods. Practice tracking everything you eat 3-5 days leading up to training weekends. Also track the food you eat before, during and after the training day. You will start devising a nutrition plan that works exactly for you and then it will be your goal to execute this plan leading up to a race. Personally, I usually up my calorie intake 100-200 calories 4 and 5 days before, 200-350 calories 2 and 3 days before and eat to stay satisfied the day before. I DO NOT OVEREAT the day before an event. My loading of carbohydrates and liquids should have already happened. I want to eat high quality foods the day before but just enough to not be hungry anymore. The morning of, I want to eat food that is light on my stomach, quickly digestable and that will top of my glycogen tank and give me the energy for the beginning of the training. There are many options. I ask, "What works for you?" Practice with different foods and strategies and find the best one that works for you. Once the race or training begins, how and when you replenish your loss of calories will play a huge role in how the day will unfold. I usually focus on drinking my electrolyte drink every 5-15mintues. I start this right out of the gate. Do not wait because you will quickly fall behind. And sip, don't chug. If you feel you need a few sips then take them. A great strategy to keep you on target of fluid intake is to set your watch to 5-7 minute intervals. When the watch beeps you sip fluids. For workouts or races longer than 90 minutes its a must to add more than my liquid calories into the plan for proper replenishment. Liquid calories can come from gels, fluids or soda. Solid calories can come from bars, fruits, sandwiches, etc. The question I ask again, "What works for you?". That is why food logging is crucial because it can assist you construct an individualize nutrition program that works for you specifically. Once training comes to an end, quickly consume a post-workout snack. At a large event like the CA Classic there was plenty of fluids and food to consume post-training. I quickly grabbed water, drank down my gatorade and headed for the food lines. The quicker I get calories into my body, the quicker I can start the rebuilding phase. When I am in this rebuild and regeneration phase, this is when my body is at its highest response to improving and getting stronger. Take advantage of this 30-60 minute window.

Lack of performance
Training for a large event takes consistent training, proper nutrition and a disciplined lifestyle. There were many different levels at the CA Classic Weekend but everyone had their individual training and nutrition plans. Leading up to an event of this stature you wish for an ideal training schedule, unlimited recovery ammenities, and nutrition coaching to guide you to maximized performance. Unfortunately these tactics are not feasible for every athlete. Here are some strategies that can tremendously help your program:
-Be progressive but allow for recovery. If you want improvement you must create stress to the body. You must slightly increase training loads, intensities and volumes week to week. If you did 4 hill repeats last week, then do 5 this week. Don't be random. Randomness can cause overtraining, injury and lack of performance. There is nothing wrong with a random workout every once in awhile but a progressive schedule is the most efficient. As you want to produce this stress on the body you must also implement an active recovery week every 3-4 weeks. During this week you drop training volume.
-Find some training partners or a qualified coach. Training with like minded people makes for a more enjoyable experience. When you have similar skilled training partners you are likely to push yourself more than if you were alone, thus improving your fitness. Hiring a coach earlier in my career, personally, gave me the education and knowledge I needed to increase my fitness. There was no brainwork needed when you have the right coach. The workouts are written up, progressive, and on track to your A race. Make sure the coach you are looking into is ingrained into the lifestyle and staying current with the latest research and education.
-Know your limits. Do not be in a rush to do long distance events. In my opinion, Ironmans should take 3 years of solid training, Half Ironmans and Marathons need 12 months of consistent training and half-marathons, Olympic distance triathlons and century bike rides take 6 months of training. And this is the minimum time frame. Yes, you can go out and finish an Ironman with 6 months of training but you increase your chances of chronic injury and fatigue post-race. So be smart in your endurance lifestyle because that's what it is, a lifestyle. Get committed and understand that this sport is a long term project to reaching your goals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Complete Training System

Maximizing fitness, athleticism and performance in the world of endurance athletics is easier said than done. Many athletes focus too much of their effort on just the training component. To see consistent improvement, one must create an entire system to envelop a training program.

Endurance athletes are tremendously hard workers but sometimes this hard work will come back to haunt them as injury and pain tend to creep up for this specific athlete. As training is the foundation to getting results there are other components that incorporate the complete system. These "other" components need attention and when they are disregarded, an athlete does not maximize true potential.

The Complete Training System

Component #1 - Performance Nutrition

Perfecting healthy nutrition principles is imperative to staying healthy, injury free and truly maximizing one's performance. When your diet is incomplete and lacking of the nutrients and vitamins the human body needs to perform, recover and stay healthy, your training program will become stagnate. As training is crucial, the nutrition program is just as imperative to an endurance athlete. Vigorous training hours leads to fatigue, broken down muscle tissue, tired joints, a run down nervous system and an immune system fighting to stay healthy. Without a proper nutrition plan to assist recovery and replenishment, your body will spiral downward to a state of overtraining, thus causing inconsistent sleep, lack of motivation, and ultimately injury and stopping of the activity. I use this as "component #1" because there isn't enough focus on this tactic. Without changing any of the training protocols, tweaking nutrition for peak performance can give endurance athletes an edge on their competitors. An endurance athlete's diet should be full of complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and healthy whole grains, lean proteins like fresh and lean chicken, turkey, fish and occasional red meat and healthy fats like natural peanut or almond butter, avocado, raw nuts and olive oil. Keeping your food consumption to calories that are nutrient dense and limited of saturated fats, high amounts of sugars and salts and empty calories is imperative for high level performance. Food timing is another critical aspect to understand. What you eat is important but dialing in your nutrient timing can expand your performance to high levels. Understanding what specific food does for your system can assist your energy levels, increase the intensity of your workouts and allow your body to fully recover after training. Pre-workout food consumption is dependant on each individual and the needs of that person. Find what works best for your body. Do not rely on what you saw in a magazine or read in a book. What works for you? The basic nutrient breakdown before training should consist of a 3 to 1 ratio of complex carbohydrates to protein. This ratio will top off the glycogen tank to prepare for the work ahead. This pre-workout meal should not be heavy, fiber dense and packed with empty sugars and calories. Instead aim for calories that will give you the necessary energy and jumpstart you will need to begin training, without overworking the digestive system. Within thirty minutes post-workout, this is a time when the body is an anabolic state and will be at its highest response to the calories you consume. Food that is easily and quickly digestible are better choices. Whey protein, chocolate milk and/or your specific supplementation (hammer nutrition, Gatorade #3, etc) are good choices. Once you have hammered down your post-workout snack immediately after completion of your training, you now have a 1-hour window to consume natural whole food. Aim for lean protein sources like eggs, chicken, fish or legumes and complex carbohydrates like quinoa, vegetables and fruit. And don't forget your healthy fats. Post workout is a time to nourish the body with omega 3 and 6 nutrients to repair muscle damage and decrease inflammation.

Component #2 - Efficient Training

Training progressively and smart is a tactic many athletes do not follow. A randomized training schedule is the method most amateur endurance athletes’ use. They train depending on what they want to do for that particular day. There isn't a plan of action, no progressive build up, no planned rest days, and limited structured workouts. These are strategies that must change in order to fully reach an ultimate performance level. The first step is setting up a structured training program that fits your needs and goals. Write down the top three objectives that you want to accomplish over the training period. Example: 1. Get faster at 1/2 marathon distance 2. Get stronger on the bike 3. Complete 1/2 Ironman. Having goals in place before you start the training plan will give you a target to shoot at instead of just guessing. When you start constructing your game plan, you must use these simple strategies:
1. Never increase volume more than 10% each week.
2. Every 4th week decrease your highest volume week by 40%. This is a recovery week and will allow your body to fully adapt to the training block.
3. You never want to have back-to-back training days that are both high intensity workouts. Stick to the "easy/hard/easy/hard" set up for your workouts.
4. Find your "A" race and plan your training backwards from the scheduled day to the present. This will allow your peak to happen for your most important race. Trying to peak for every race of the year will lead to lack of performance and ultimately injury.
5. Listen to your body. If your body is in a fatigue state and just can’t get through a specific workout, call it a day. Know the difference of being a sissy and just having mental and physical fatigue.
6. You should implement a base phase to build your aerobic capacity, a build phase where you implement more race pace strategies, a peak phase where you are preparing for the demands of the race, a taper period where you allow for full recovery and adaptation from all of your training, and a transition period where you have time off and allow for full physical and mental regeneration. These periods will set you up for a successful training year.

Component #3 - Recovery, regeneration and rest

The human body is very resilient and can take training loads at extreme rates. But the human body does breakdown and it’s what you do during your recovery time that allows you to build and improve performance. During workouts, we breakdown muscle tissue, deplete our energy stores and we create nervous system fatigue. When our nervous system is fatigued it doesn’t matter what we do for our training, we will not get better. We will be in a constant state of overtraining, causing compensation, breakdown, and ultimately injury. It is a must to plan and schedule rest days, rest weeks and transition periods into a training program. Here are strategies that are a must for recovery:

• Foam Roll/Stretch: You need to schedule flexibility sessions into your training week. After long weekends of training our muscle tissue becomes inflamed, tight, and adhesions are formed throughout the fascia. Rolling and soft tissue therapy will help get rid of the small knots and adhesions that build up over time. Plus it will help promote blood flow, which gives you better movement and range of motion. Endurance athletes should focus on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, IT band and mid-back. Stretching also needs to be implemented into the schedule. Stretching the muscle will help lengthen the fascia to allow for proper movement and range of motion. If our muscles are tight we restrict movement, decrease our performance and eventually we will get hurt. Take time to roll and stretch.

• Ice: After long and/or hard training sessions icing the legs is a great way to get them to recover at a more rapid pace. Icing will decrease inflammation, any swelling and enhance healing. But icing is not about "more is better". You should ice your legs for no longer than 15 minutes an hour. Any longer can cause damage to the surrounding muscle tissues. If you have a direct pain site (i.e. shin splints, plantar fasciitis, etc.), then ice massage is the way to go. Simply freeze a small water bottle, cut the bottom half of plastic off the bottle to expose the ice and then massage the affected area. Do this for only 5 minutes each hour.

• Light movement: After a big weekend of training or a race the best thing for your legs is to flush them out the day after. Know the difference of a hard workout and easy moving. These lighter workouts can tremendously assist recovery as it will get your legs through a range of motion, increasing blood flow, decreasing inflammation and promote recovery. Just make sure to keep these workouts very light. Spinning on a bike or a light recovery swim on Monday, following a big training weekend or race, will assist the body to recover and allow for a better week ahead of training.

• Corrective Exercise: I wrote an article for www.trifuel.com titled, “Corrective Exercises Triathletes need to do”. Go read the article here: http://trifuel.com/training/triathlon-training/corrective-exercises-that-triathletes-need-to-do and implement these moves into your routine to create a balanced and more functional body.

• Consistent Sleep: When the body is at rest, it will be at its greatest state of recovery. If you are not getting consistent sleep throughout the week you will suffer, breakdown and it will lead to injury, fatigue and burnout. As endurance athletes we are continually breaking down the body during training and it is a must to get adequate sleep. The key is consistency. So 6 hours of sleep every night is better than 4 hours one night, 8 hours one night and 5 hours another. Aim for 6-8 hours each night. During the day, try and fit in short 15-30 minute naps to rejuvenate and recharge the body and mind.

Component #4 - Flexibility and Mobility

When you lack functional movement and range of motion of your joints and muscles you do not maximize performance. Swimming, biking and running are all repetitive sports that can create stress, imbalance and compensation to the body. It’s a must to have adequate flexibility in the muscles and mobility in the joints to decrease overuse injury in these sports. When you become tight, immobile and restrict movement your body starts to compensate, thus forcing other parts of the body to work harder than they have to, which will eventually cause pain and injury. Before every workout you must warm-up thoroughly using dynamic stretching movements to allow the joints to open up and the muscles to lengthen before the actual workout begins. You will set yourself up for a higher-level training session when you learn to warm up the entire system. During the week schedule times to foam roll, stretch and work on your mobility. Just keep in mind, when you get hurt you cannot train and if you are not training you will not get better. Implement flexibility and mobility work into your training program at least 3 times a week to see improvement and reduce injury.

Component #5 – Functional Strength and Power

If you lack specific strength and power you will not maximize your performance in your sport. Functional strength is having usable strength that will transfer to the “playing field”. Plain and simple, the stronger athletes excel. But strength and power is not lifting heavy weights with improper form. Strength and power is not about bench-pressing outrageous weight. As the bench press can be a great upper body exercise, it is just a piece of the “strength and power” puzzle. As endurance athletes are very focused on their specific training they tend to forget about their functional strength and explosiveness. These traits can lead to better performance and reduction of injury. Implement strength workouts into the training program that promotes muscle balance, stability, and explosiveness. When done incorrectly you could create imbalance, a weak muscle system and poor movement qualities. Plan and perfect your movements in the gym. For every upper pushing exercise, add an upper body pull. For every lower body “quad” dominant movement, add a “hip/glute” dominant movement. When lifting think “technical failure”. Do not let your form suffer because this can lead to injury and inadequate movement.

Component #6 - The Mindset

The first step to achieving any of your goals is the power of believing in yourself. You must create a positive mindset that consistently has you believing in your abilities. If you show up to the gym or to one of your workouts with a negative, non-believing attitude you will have a lack luster training session. Mental conditioning needs to be worked on just as much as the physical conditioning side of things. We need to teach and train our thoughts to be positive. Did you know that 80% of most humans’ thoughts are negative thoughts? The crazy thing about this issue is that we can do something about it. We can change our attitude, our thoughts and our mindset. But just like we prepare and train for a 5k or marathon to get faster, we must put in the mental training to improve our mental performance. This mind conditioning does not just happen over night. Just like training the body to get faster, stronger and more athletic, we have to train our thoughts to become more positive, energetic and confident. It takes daily work for this to happen. Here are strategies to follow to improve our mindset:

• Daily Affirmations. First, when you wake up you must create positive thoughts before you even jump out of bed. Do not wake up muttering, “ugh, another day.” Say things like: “Today I will be my best and give my best”; “I will move closer to my goals”; “Nothing will get in my way”; “I will tackle my problems with a full head of steam”; “I will drop body fat”; “I will improve my times in my workout.” These thoughts will turn into actions and you will see a tremendous change in your mindset and your life. You have to be conscious of this exercise, as it is very easy to just get out of bed and “get through another day”. Remember each day is a new beginning, a fresh start, and a brand new chance to create greatness. We cannot focus on yesterday but having a good and better yet GREAT today will make for a better tomorrow. Secondly, after a long day, when you are lying in bed about to fall asleep, finish the day with a positive thought. “I did my best today”; “I am so happy to be alive and tomorrow will be another good day”; “Good job on your effort today”; “Tomorrow will be another great day”. Starting and ending your day with positive affirmations can be a game changer.

• Believe in yourself at all Times. During the day you must create a mindset that truly believes in yourself. Do not put yourself down or have disbelief in accomplishing a certain project, or workout, or task. Think of the self-degrading comments we tell ourselves sometimes. Would we like it if someone else said bad things about us? Absolutely not. That would make us very angry. But yet too many times we are putting ourselves down and disbelieving in our abilities. No matter the task at hand, do the work necessary to kill it. If you have the action and the mindset you will accomplish. Believe in that and you will start doing Big Things.

• Try some meditation. Have you ever sat in a room or in your car with complete quietness, your eyes shut and focused on your internal thoughts and mindset? Try doing this for 3-5 minutes everyday. Do it before your workout or before you step into your office or before a big race. Meditation can relax your mind, get you centered, focused and energize your thoughts. With such busy lifestyles our mind is always racing and thinking of the next step. Focus on zoning out and direct your attention on your thoughts and your internal motivations. What drives, inspires and motivates you? This internal conditioning can be a supercharge in energy that you have been looking for.

• Positive self-talk. This one goes hand in hand with endurance performance. During workouts and training you must create a positive self-awareness that will lead to successful performance. It is easy to talk ourselves into not completing the recommended distance or the last few intervals. Continually tell yourself that you can do the mileage and you can push through the tough intervals. This will transfer over to your racing as when you are pushing and giving it your all, you will be able to push through that uncomfortable zone and have a successful race. When those negative thoughts enter the head, immediately erase them and turn them into positive thoughts. “Keep going”; “Yes, I can”; “I can hold this pace”; “I can do 1 more hill repeat”; Your performance goes in the right direction when you think positively.

• Write down all of your goals. This can be a road map to a successful training program. What do you want? Faster 5k? Run a marathon? At the end of each season, you need to assess the previous season. What were your strengths? What were your weaknesses? What will be your goals for the next season? Goals are just random ideas and thoughts until they are written down. Create a game plan that you can look at everyday. When your goals are in sight every morning when you wake up you are more likely to stay on path to accomplish those goals. The next step is showing those goals to a mentor or a coach. Now you are held accountable to achieving your goals. Meet with that person periodically throughout the year to talk about where you are at and what you need to do to stay on path.


There you go, the COMPLETE TRAINING SYSTEM. You start working to improve on all six of these points you will see a dramatic change in not only your performance but also your vitality and the way you live life.

If you have any questions, you can direct them to justinlevine03@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wildflower 2011

Going into Wildflower I was in my best form for any triathlon. My training the past 6 months has been consistent, efficient and dialed in to fit my needs. I am a true believer in creating a program that is about focused volume and training not necessarily long useless mileage. I try and cut out all junk mileage and keep my training time efficient and to the point. This aides in my performance come "game day".

I woke up Tuesday the week before Wildflower with a surprisingly weak body. I had a sore throat and had a bit of the chills. I went into work for half of the day and spent the afternoon/evening on the coach sipping hot tea in a blanket trying to fight off the chills and high fever that crept up on me. As Wednesday approached, I had much to do to get ready for the big weekend. But the sickness was still there. I decided to take work off and get some much needed extra rest. I found the energy to take care of the errands I needed to finish before I left for Lake San Antonio.

Thursday morning I awoke to a screaming sore throat, the worse it has been all week. We were planning on leaving at 7:00 am. I took an IB profen to get me through the morning and we finally left at 10:00 am (we had a small mechanical problem in our RV that needed to be fixed).

Wildflower weekend is pretty exciting. You have the best athletes in the country show up for this grueling course. And whether you are taking on the 1/2 Ironman, Olympic or Mountain bike course, there is deemed to be challenges that awaits you. Usually it is fun times by the camp fire and enjoying the company of our Visalia Triathlon Club team members but for me, it was extra rest in the RV as I was still battling a weak immune system and sore throat.

I got some much needed rest on Thursday night, woke up Friday morning and went for a 20 minute jog around the campgrounds. This was a needed workout because I had been on a coach the entire week. I needed to wake my legs and prepare them for the big race. My legs and lungs finally started to wake up after 20 minutes. I then hoped on my bike for a 20 minute easy ride. I actually added in 4 short 30 second hill repeats to really sharpen my legs. These two workouts definitely got my body rolling and ready for the next day.

Friday was full of rest, recovery and good nutrition. I stayed hydrated and took in all my vitamins to get any last minute immune system strength I could. It was time to go.

After a good night's rest on Friday, I woke up at 5:30 am on Saturday morning, feeling a little better. I went outside and did my foam roll routine, dynamic warm-up and some striders to wake up the body. I like this pre-race warm-up early in the morning to get any last minute nerves or anxiety out of my body. I felt confident going into this race and knew I was capable of hitting the 5:30ish mark.

I went down to transition area very relaxed, warmed up and fueled and ready to go. I stayed moving until about 20 minutes before my wave went into the water. That is when I put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water. Immediately when it was our turn to warm up I jumped in the lake and headed out for a quick 3 minute warm-up. It was enough to get my arms moving. Here we go, another triathlon is about to start.

The swim was very chaotic at first. I went out in the 2nd line of athletes and was mobbed by flailing arms and kicking legs. I stayed strong and kept my stroke relaxed and made my way through the bucket of athletes. Once we hit the first buoy, the water opened up and I began to get into my rhythm. Going into Wildflower I hadn't put much focus on my swim because I knew I had a good base and some decent speed so I decided to get in the water only 1-2 times a week. The swim went by fast and before you knew it the last turn to the boat dock was in site. I always kick my legs hard in the last 200 yards to wake them up before the run up the dock and get them ready for the bike leg. I was ready to go.

Training leading up to this race was about a bike focus. I had been biking quite a bit and my fitness on the bike was stronger. I was ready to take on this challenging bike course. Once I was out there, the wind was howling. It was so tough that it began to be a test just to stay on the bike. Being a light athlete, with aero wheels made for a tough ride. I never really got into a rhythm in my aero position. Anytime I tried, my bike would shake and the wind would throw me around. I clinched my handle bars and stayed safe. Once I made the turn into the campgrounds my energy was high and ready to take on the run course. I executed my nutrition plan and was ready for the 13 mile hilly run.

Right out of transition is an important time because you can assess how your body is feeling and mine was feeling strong. I had practiced some tough transitions leading up to the race so my legs were ready for these hills. My goal was to stay steady on the up hills, let it fly on the downhills and keep a good cadence on the flats. My heart rate was controlled and the miles were flying by. At mile 4, the big hills began and this year my goal was to keep jogging and I accomplished that goal. No walking for me! Once I hit mile 6, I knew I had some rollers to deal with that if you surge to the top of each one the downhills take you to the next one so I kept that mindset. At mile 7-8, you run through many of the camp sites. As I hit the Visalia Tri Club camp site, I saw the cheering squad screaming and yelling for me. It was uplifting to see my wife and my daughter Olivia JoJo supporting my efforts. Once I made it through the next 2 miles which was a mild decent, I knew all I had was a couple of hills to get through and the finish would be in site. I continued to grab water and toss it on my head and body to keep everything cool. I consumed one more gel at mile 10.5 just so I could finish strong.

As I hit Lynch hill, I began my sprint towards the finish line. I like running downhill so I tried and passed as many athletes as I could. I turned the corner, saw the finish chute and ran hard through the finish line. My time was 5 hours 36 minutes, 8 minutes faster than last year. I actually had a 14 minute faster run time this year so I was very satisfied with that effort.

All in all, it was another great event. Triathlon is not about wins or losses or even a specific time, it's about determination, desire, sacrifice and the sense of accomplishment. Finishing my 5th Half Ironman in 4 years leaves me feeling excited and ready to take on Ironman Arizona at the end of the year. 199 days and counting...

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