the sport of triathlon – build a better you

When we ponder the typical reasons to exercise, we usually come up with the following:

  • maintain an ideal body weight and body composition
  • instructed by our doctor
  • reduce common health risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol, stress;  obesity; metabolic disorders)

What if we engage in exercise to experience the excitement and rewards of learning a sport, enjoying its competitive nature, and building strong character traits.  All of those initial reasons to exercise would automatically be addressed simply because you are working towards something bigger and more rewarding. What sport do I have in mind…the sport of triathlon.

I.  Training

Though exercise is great for health and fitness, there is always a risk of over-training, eventual loss of interest, or simply driving your body into a “rut”.  These risks can lead to over-use injuries, boredom or noncompliance in your training plan, and asymmetries in your movement patterns.

How can triathlon training not only remedy these risks but add variation to your workouts?  Tri training obviously includes swimming, biking, and running.  Sessions can focus on speed or endurance, which target both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. But that’s not all, strength training (too often neglected) adds a fourth and crucial element to success in the sport.

II.  Remedy

Let's say you’re building up your running but need to ease up for one reason or another.  Hop in the pool and fine-tune your stroke or breathing pattern.  Jump on your bike and improve your aero position.  Or, hit the gym for strength training and mobility work.  While you actively recover from your strong running efforts, you can still improve cardiovascular fitness and strength from other areas of training.  With respect to asymmetries in human movement from falling into that "unchanged exercise routine", let’s  examine ways that tri training complements each other:

  • biking puts you in hip and spinal flexion ---> swimming opens the hip and straightens the spine
  • running places varying degrees of impact and stress on the hip and knee areas ---> biking reduces that impact
  • strength training stresses and tightens muscle tissue ---> swimming loosens up muscles, tendons, ligaments, and increases blood flow

III.  All 3 Sports – A Closer Look

Swimming

Swimming is a complete conditioning sport, as it contains elements of strength and cardio.  Swimming improves coordination and fluidity in executing the chosen stroke (i.e. freestyle) and demands a rhythmic breathing pattern that greatly conditions the lungs.

Biking

Flying down the road on a tri bike demands balance to ensure forward progress while navigating the course AND flexibility to maintain proper aero position for maximum speed.  In addition to these bio-mechanical elements, cardiovascular strength keeps the heart pumping and oxygen flowing while working the quads, hams, and glutes.

Running

Finally, we all know the cardiovascular benefits of running, but it extends beyond that.  In a tri, the mental and physical strength required to hit the ground running with a fatigued body is not an easy feat, and in these moments you build your inner strength and character.  And when you cross the finish line, the flood of emotion truly makes it all worth it.

fitness-friendly holiday tips

The holiday season takes us from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year's Day.   It’s full of fun times with family and friends.  But it doesn’t stop there, for fun food and tasty treats are usually in abundance for a five week stretch.  Now, I’ll be the first to say, “Go ahead and sensibly enjoy the holiday feasting.”  But, I’ll also be the first to suggest to make your strength and cardio training a top priority this holiday season.  You’ll feel better, manage the stresses from hectic  schedules, and prevent the common holiday weight gain that can creep up on you.

Strategies For Smart Holiday Fitness

1. Make your training routine a top priority in your schedule.   Cranking out a meaningful strength or cardio session doesn’t have to be a big ordeal.  Set out your exercise clothes and shoes and get your mp3 player ready to pump you up. You can listen to eight of your favorite songs in the time it takes to give your body a deserving workout.

2. On your cardio days, whether you swim; bike; run; or do group exercise, a 30-minute session of varying intensities can bring a higher metabolic impact versus a 60-minute session.  When time is precious, keep your cardio routine fast and effective.

3. Strength training also revs up your metabolism.   Similar to a cardio routine, 30-40 minutes of smart muscle training is more than adequate.  Perform compound (multi-joint) exercises that offer more work effort than isolated (single-joint) exercises.  If you can’t make it to your local gym, step outside for a plethora of bodyweight exercises, e.g., squats, lunges, pushups, planks.  Just about any exercise can be safely adjusted to your specific fitness level – no matter where the holidays take you.

4. Train a little harder on days of feasting.  After a challenging training session, your metabolism is revved up and your muscles are starving for nutrients to stimulate recovery.  When you have a holiday party or a family feast coming up, schedule a strong workout session in the morning to prime your body to take advantage of those extra calories coming in later that day.

Strategies For Smart Holiday Nutrition

1. Don't skip regular meals in hopes of balancing out your holiday eating.  This can negatively impact your metabolism and encourage over-eating when that holiday meal presents itself.  Stay true to your normal meals and keep them clean, and chances are that you won’t overdo it when feasting commences.

2. Include salads and cooked veggies in your holiday meals.   These low-calorie choices offer satiety while off-setting the indulgence in high-calorie foods.

3. Consume a healthy snack before heading over to an office party or family dinner.  This can help minimize the “ravenous appetite” that gets us in trouble at the serving table.  A shot of protein powder in cold water/milk or maybe some almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc. can do the trick.

4. Don’t be afraid to cut the dessert portions.  Many times the portion size of cakes, pastries, and pies are monstrous.  Take a stand and split your portion.  Sometimes we just want a taste of this or a taste of that, so take only what you want.

5. Always have a glass of water by your side in addition to your holiday beverage.  Alcohol, sodas, and punch can be high-caloric, so water can minimize the impact of high-calorie liquids.

With these friendly holiday tips, you can eat well and train hard.  And when the new year comes around, your strong fitness routine will help you take on new goals for 2013!

Stay primal!

the comfort in discomfort

You're probably wondering where I'm going with this title.  Destination... Primal!

I want you to close your eyes and think about how well you deal with pain.  I'm talking about pain in competition and sport...in pushing yourself towards unknown physical and mental territories.

While listening to a post-race interview of Ironman champion Faris-Al Sultan describe his challenging performance at the 2011 Ironman Championship in Kona, I became fascinated by his remarks.  He said that it just wasn't his day and that he didn't have the energy and fortitude to place better than 10th (which is still awesome).  Faris revealed that for the first time in 15 years, he couldn't leave the comfort zone and enter the pain zone.  He continued to say that in winning 2011 Ironman Germany, he left a part of his soul along the Frankfurt race course.  Wow!!

Isn't this what it's all about though...how far can we push ourselves?  (Not just in sport but in life as well.)  When you're hitting the pavement, what determines whether you achieve that 7 min mile vs. 9 min mile?  What pushes you to cycle 25 mph or an easier 20 mph? Outside of genetics and talents, it's experiencing discomfort while training and even more discomfort while competing.

A quick point though.  Not for a minute do I promote training through physical injury in connective tissues, joints, or muscles.  This is detrimental and unwise to future training and future wining.

Some sports involve more skill and ability, while others rely heavily on the idea of "ahhh, this hurts, and I wanna stop...OR...this hurts, but I wanna win"!  And it really does hurt too. The chest and lungs ache for more oxygen; the quads and hams burn for more blood flow.  The physical and mental fatigue can, if you allow it, take you down!

But know this, the only factor that separates you from the competitor in front or behind, is your ability to embrace the comfort in discomfort.

Stay Primal!

bringing back the competition part 4 - competition

In closing out the series on the three elements present in triathlons, let's talk about competition. 

In my youth, I loved the competition from cross-country running, road-running races, and my tennis matches.  Obviously there is enjoyment in playing sports, but beating the opponent and coming out on top is a great feeling! 

Unfortunately, other than professional sports or amateur sports clubs in some communities, adults having the opportunity to compete in competitive sport is few and far between.  Guess what...that all changes with triathlons! 

The first clue that triathlons offer the competitive spirit is the timing chip that is worn around the ankle of every triathlete.  All aspects of the triathlon is timed, from the swim, bike, and run to the time spent in Transition 1 and Transition 2.  The detailed results are later posted on web sites for all to see.  By the way, this is useful for goal-setting with future races. 

The next factor that sparks the competitive fire is the triathlete's age marked on the left calf.  Anywhere along the race, you can zero in on your age-group competitors and dominate the dojo. 

The third indicator of healthy competition is the award ceremony following the race, whereby the overall male and female finisher as well as the top 3 male and female finishers in each age group are acknowledged for their efforts.  How beautiful is that! 

It isn't only about your competitors though.  Competition with yourself in beating your previous results is just as exciting.  The push is strong to become stronger and faster.  With the various triathlon distances, the competitive spirit can last a lifetime! 

Stay Primal!

bringing back the competition part 3 - athleticism

In part 2, I discussed the various training elements and benefits rewarded by triathlons.  In today's tip, "athleticism" is on the menu.

Swimming

Swimming is an awesome and complete conditioning sport.  Elements of strength and cardio are found in swimming.  It has an amazing effect of "loosening up" the body.  Swimming requires coordination and fluidity in executing the chosen stroke (i.e. freestyle) and demands a rhythmic breathing pattern that greatly conditions the lungs.

Biking

Flying down the road on a tri bike demands balance and flexibility.  Balance is required to ensure forward progress while navigating the course.  Flexibility is required to maintain proper aero position for maximum speed.  In addition to these bio-mechanical elements, cardiovascular strength keeps the oxygen flowing and blood circulating while quad, ham, and glute strength powers you to T2.

Running

Finally, we get down to running, the last segment in a triathlon.  Most of us know the cardiovascular benefits of running, but when it's third in line of a tri, we are forced to go the distance with heightened athleticism. The mental and physical strength required to hit the ground running with a fatigued body is not an easy feat...assuming the goal is to do your best, to prevail!

You can see that the combination of all three sports creates a worthy athlete, male and female; young and old. But remember, toss in strength training, which is the foundation of Primal Gym, and the worthy athlete becomes an ELITE ATHLETE!

Stay Primal!