HOW COACHES HAVE BEEN GETTING YOUR TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN AROUND THE HOLIDAYS WRONG
Starting a week before Christmas’s 2018 I started getting messages from triathletes concerned about their triathlon training plans around the holidays. Athletes would ask “How am I going to fit in the training?,” or “I’m afraid I’m going to gain weight during the holidays.,” or even, “Should I do the big swim camp my local masters swimming club is doing between Christmas and New Years.”
Coaches on the other hand will give such diverging advice as, “Take the week off, we’ll make that a rest week.,” while at the same time offering up option “fun” New Year’s Day swims as 100×100.
With such conflicting advice mixed with our nervous emotions it’s no wonder triathletes start getting anxious about how to deal with their triathlon training around the holidays.
Let’s start narrowing down how to approach the holidays with some of the things that we know will happen for certain. The holidays, for most people, involve later evenings and unhealthy food while attending company get together or family visits (if your holidays schedule features nothing of this sort and your schedule stays entirely the same I’ll save you some reading and tell you to just train as usual. Knowing these events and a changed diet are a near certainty for most of us we can start making some assumptions about what our body will be going through. Lack of sleep and an altered, and likely unhealthy, diet will lead to:
- Elevated resting heart rates
- Higher fasting blood glucose levels
- Decreased time spent in restorative deep sleep
- Decreased time spent in REM sleep necessary for mental focus required to push hard in workouts
- Decreased heart rate variability
Generally, the lack of sleep and poor diet puts our body in a state that is less able to perform key workouts, less able to repair itself from hard workouts, and if key hard workouts are performed there’s a high likelihood that the triathlete could dig themselves a hole leading to increased likelihood of sickness and injury. For reference below are screenshots of my heart rate variability and fasting blood glucose during the 2018 holidays (note: during this time I was even trying to be conscious of not indulging too much and working hard to maintain my sleep schedule but as you can see my numbers still suffered).
So if we know that our bodies are not going to be in a state conducive to hard workouts we can say that those epic holidays workouts prescribed by our overzealous coaches and triathlon clubs to “burn off those holidays feasts” are probably not a great idea.
So if epic workouts aren’t in the cards should we just totally back off of all training? Of course not, you can still train and maintain fitness but there are some guidelines we’ll give that are easy to fit in while balancing all the demands placed on you during the holidays.
TRACK YOUR HRV AND TRAIN ACCORDINGLY
Heart rate variability tracking is a way to monitor your readiness to train. By using an app like HRV4Training, Elite HRV, or even an OURA Ring (my personal choice) combined with a daily tracking spreadsheet like I’ve got here at you can get a daily reading letting you know if your body is ready for a key workout or not.
Use these tools to monitor your rolling heart rate variability (HRV) and perform harder training sessions on days when your body can handle it, and perform easy workouts when your body is not well prepared.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR BODY ISN’T READY TO TRAIN?
What should you do when your body feels awful, you didn’t get a good sleep, you’re tremendously busy, or your heart rate variability from the above process indicates a poor readiness to train? Perform one of the below easier workouts that place less stress on your body:
- Easy swim: cut your normal swim workout distance to just 50-60% of your typical normal swims, use fins for at least half of the swim (we recommend the TYR Crossblade fins), use a snorkel, band, and pull buoy for maybe a total of 1/3 of the workout, and keep maximum efforts to just 80% output.
- Easy bike: ride whatever bike you want (I like doing these on mountain bikes, fat tire bikes, or cyclocross bikes so you can work on some technical riding skills) but keep your heart rate in Zones 1 and 2 (you can learn about heart rate zone training here)
- Fasted morning walk: go for a long 45-60min walk first thing in the morning after a glass of water with lemon and some salt to hydrate your muscles and top up any electrolytes you sweat out overnight. Go in this walk before eating anything but keep intensity extremely low, this will promote fat oxidation while not placing stress on your body while it’s in an unprepared state
WHAT DO I DO WHEN MY BODY IS READY FOR A TRAINING SESSION?
So let’s say you feel great, got a good sleep, or your heart rate variability numbers are on point and you’re ready to train but you’re lacking time. How do you get the most out of the triathlon training sessions you can get in?
During the time crunches holidays it’s important to get the most out of the time you can fit in, so for these sessions we recommend having a bike set up on a trainer during the holidays so that you can quickly hop on and get in a 25-35 minute HIT training bike session.
For a huge number of HIT training bike trainer sessions, and a good understanding of the benefits of HIT training, I recommend picking up the book The One Minute Workout
WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE SURE I DON’T GAIN WEIGHT DURING THE HOLIDAYS?
For starters, I think this is the wrong question to ask. I think that being 100% compliant with a diet 100% of the time is no fun, and we need to be having fun with triathlon and our diets.
I think the right question to ask is: how should I approach weight gain during the holidays? This Is easier to answer: you didn’t lose it all in a week, so you’re not going to gain it all back in a week. Relax and indulge a little, but here are a couple rules to help you minimize the weight gain:
- Rule #1: go for a walk immediately after indulgent dinners to speed up metabolism and lower blood glucose so your ability to train the next day is more likely.
- Rule #2: Don’t miss those fasted morning walks when you aren’t able to perform key workouts, they’re great for fat oxidation.
- Rule #3: When you can workout make the workouts you perform REALLY intense. HIT workouts can burn fat for up to 48 hours after the workout is complete through a process called post exercise oxygen consumption.
MOVING FORWARD WITH TRIATHLON TRAINING DURING THE HOLIDAYS
This should give you some context and a little flexibility for how to fit in some triathlon training around the holidays. The big takeaways should be this:
- You’re likely not able to perform key training or absorb key training day after day so don’t even try to get in epic workouts
- Track your readiness to train through an objective measure like heart rate variability
- Burn fat by performing fasted easy walks on days when your objective measurements indicate poor preparedness to train
- Perform high ROT (return on time) HIT bike trainer workouts on days where your objective measurements indicate you are able to train
- Relax and enjoy the holidays, we’re humans that are supposed to enjoy the holidays not militant triathletes that put training over enjoying life.