Training for a triathlon is very different for heavyweight competitors. This is because studies show with added weight everything changes from your biomechanics to buoyancy. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Ross Edgley.
With a few tweaks to your training, research shows last year’s PBs could become this year’s warm ups as you swim, cycle and run in harmony with your ample frame. Interested? Here are my six training tips for heavyweight triathletes.
1. Eat big and train big
It doesn’t matter if you’re swimming, running, cycling or crawling, once you add weight you burn more calories. That’s according to scientists from the Chaim Sheba Medical Center who found the additional weight alters your, “locomotion biomechanics” — basically your technique — which leads to a, “Significant increase in energy (calorie) cost over time.” So before you even lace up your trainers or tighten your goggles, make sure you’re fully fueled.
2. Bigger athletes need bigger lungs
When training with your smaller counterparts be prepared to breathe more. It’s not necessarily because you’re less fit or have a smaller lung capacity, but research published by the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology examined the impact just 1kg of extra weight had on a person’s oxygen uptake, heart rate and pulmonary ventilation. What did they find? Basically that, “Each kilogram of extra weight increases oxygen uptake with 33.5 ml/min, heart rate with 1.1 beats/min and pulmonary ventilation with 0.6 l/min.” So (again) before you even clip into your bike know that pacing and being conscious of your breathing will be key to your heavyweight triathlon success.
3. Bodyweight and buoyancy
Buoyancy varies based on someone’s biological individuality. Put simply all this means is we’re all different shapes and sizes and will all float differently. But one key factor is someone’s body composition. You might have 2 athletes who weigh the same, but one’s mass is made up of fat and the other athlete’s mass made of muscle. It’s common knowledge the first athlete will be more buoyant, but what few consider is the second athlete will be able to store more muscle glycogen and be better equipped with more “potential power” from their functional muscle mass on a steeply ascending cycle. In summary — and before you reach for the fat burners — know that both body types come with a set of benefits. But understanding which one you are will be key to your heavyweight triathlon success.
4. Foot placement
This next tip can (and should) be contested since in sports science the verdict is still out on minimalist/barefoot running. Looking through the archives of sports science, the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association states, “There is no evidence that either confirms or refutes improved performance and reduced injuries in barefoot runners.” Looking through the archives of sports history and granted Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila took Olympic gold at the 1960 games completely barefoot when he found his shoes wouldn’t fit. But never has triathlon Olympic gold been won shoeless and nor have many (if any) major running championships since.
Therefore why should heavyweight runners try it? Well, based on research from the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine it was found as soldiers carried more weight, “Stride frequency increased and stride length decreased”. Basically the weight produced a greater cadence. This higher cadence is, “Likely improving stability and reducing stress on the musculoskeletal system” as the probability of injury increases with fatigue. Which is why (and again only in theory) running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, which naturally lends itself to a quicker, “more natural” cadence, might not be a bad idea for larger athletes.
5. Turn on “bigger” biofeedback
But the potential benefits of barefoot biomechanics don’t end with higher cadence for our bigger triathletes. Consider this, your foot is one of the most nerve-rich parts of your body. Each one comes loaded with 100,000 – 200,000 receptors that collect information and provide valuable biofeedback to the brain to make sure you’re running the way you’re meant to. How fast am I running? What’s my stride length like? Is the ground stable? Your feet basically tell a story and a story that could be invaluable if carrying more weight. That’s because when you’re heavier the ability to sense movement within joints and joint position — something called ‘proprioception’ — could prove crucial to avoiding and preventing injury. (Again theory) but if you wear these huge, padded shoes you experience this kind of shoe-induced neuropathy. You turn off this all this sensory biofeedback and become numb to what’s happening beneath you.
6. Train your abs
For heavier athletes wanting to keep a good cycling position and posture you have to condition your core. This is because research from the Département de Mécanique Appliquée at the Université de Franche-Comté analysed muscular activity during two pedalling postures and found, “The change of pedalling posture in uphill cycling had a significant effect on the muscle activity.” Specifically they discovered the influence of the “lateral sways” of the bike leads to greater activation in the biceps, triceps, glutes and – most importantly – the rectus abdominis muscles of the stomach. Add weight and that muscle activation is multiplied and with it your time to fatigue.