8 triathlon training myths busted

The line between triathlon training fact and triathlon training fiction is often a blurred one. Here to put things in black and white is the man in the know, Joe Beer...


Myth 1


Keeping up with the group makes you faster

Reality: Trying to hang onto faster athletes doesn’t mean you will also get faster. Because we’re all unique in our physiology, we can’t all train and race at the same speeds. Easy training pace for a talented elite or age-group podium contender is zone two ( zone two (about 80-85% of maximum heart rate) * or three for less-talented athletes (about * >87% * max HR).

  Remedy: Use accurately calculated zones to assess how hard you’re really going, and choose training sessions and partners that best match your ability.

Myth 2

Being wasted is the best way to finish sessions

Reality There are times when this is actually true, such as in high-intensity interval sessions, time-trials in an individual sport or a group session ‘blow-out’ that pushes you into zone three and towards more speed.

So the eight-hour-per-week age-grouper needs no more than about two hours of really hard training a week. Many find that 10% very hard training and 90% steady endurance/technique work brings great dividends.

Remedy You dictate the hard sessions where you really go for it and then enjoy the majority of training thinking about technique, relaxation or simply just smiling!

Myth 3
It’s best to focus on volume or mileage and not key sessions or outcomes

Reality It’s certainly no myth that elite athletes and good age-groupers tend to train more than the slower end of the field. However, you can’t just train obsessively with no objective for your sessions other than to keep doing as much as your nemesis in your club or age group. Whatever you do, you must marry the stress of training with the ability to recover. Logging 15 hours every week with no focus on what you’re trying to achieve is exercise addiction not triathlon training.

Remedy Think about your goal races, what you need to be doing to build towards success and your current relative strengths and weaknesses, and then incorporate a series of different sessions into your training that will have positive performance outcomes. But the best guess from elite data and retrospective training diaries is that no more than 20-25% of training volume, including strength work, should be high-intensity work.

    Myth 4
It’s okay to adopt the same feeding regime as your training partners

Reality Just because a friend can ride three hours on water alone does not mean this is the right way for you to train. Some will need more fuel than others, especially those prone to drops in blood sugar at rest and those who easily lose weight. The aim in training is to test strategies, to maximise training gains and test things for subsequent races.

Remedy In short you need to hydrate to fend off thirst and use carbs to maximise training and recovery. For example, take on 40-60g carbs per hour, drink based on thirst and don’t over supplement with antioxidants.

Myth 5
It’s best to adopt new training trends straight away

Reality How many times have you heard of flashy bike frames on recall, new software going belly up and unheard of equipment failing? Yes, we’ve all bought something only to discover its flaws; it’s sometimes hard to avoid with manufactured goods. But where you can, use tried, tested, proven and reliable equipment and nutrition routines. The ‘too-good-to-be-true’ mantra is often 100% correct. Be a cynic once in a while!

Remedy Don’t just follow trends; be sure products and techniques have a proven logic and background. If it can’t be explained or someone won’t give you a guarantee then leave it be. If it really is ‘the next big thing’ then further research will prove it.

Myth 6
Adding 10% to weekly volume staves off injury

Reality People can still get injured with no increase in volume, while some can overload in a big way and get away with it. What you have to be aware of at all times is that the body is a living, adaptable organism that has strengths and weaknesses.   It’s not a question of adding on the most volume, but rather seeing a progression in what you’re capable of doing. Your sweet spot to stay injury-free could well be 50% less than the next person.

Remedy Keep a diary to see how you adapt or breakdown and what factors appear to be causing injury problems. You may well find that the remedy lies in your lifestyle and not in your training.

Myth 7
Dehydration of 2% means a 10% performance drop


Many instances of athletes being weighed after events show that we can function with 2% dehydration or even a bit more. World marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie is reported to have been 4% dehydrated at the end of his 2:03hr Berlin dash.   This doesn’t mean that you should aim to be dehydrated, of course, but rather that you can’t stay fully hydrated in endurance events. Drinking too much water without electrolytes or hydrating too much so you have to make more toilet stops is worse for your overall race times.

Remedy Aim to drink as per your thirst and experience, what race conditions are like and how well your body is dealing with the absorption of fluid and calories. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How much dehydration can you tolerate during an Ironman?

Myth 8
Ice baths are a great recovery tool

Reality This is possible, although the practicality of having an ice bath on hand means it’s probably more realistic to cool the legs with a dip in a water butt or spray them with a cold shower.   You will still get some muscle damage, but you’ll cool off faster, which will help with recovery from hard sessions/races on hot days. It’s actually more important to feed tired muscles, stop the body getting too hot (or cold) and relax after a hard effort.

Remedy Think about recovery from hard sessions (especially hard or long runs), which may include cooling, compression clothing and feeding the muscles with carbohydrates and protein.


Ice baths: do they help athletes after intense exercise?

    Joe Beer’s second training manual *Time-Crunched Triathlon* now out. He coaches triathletes of all levels, from beginners to pros through Joe Beer Smart Training Ltd.