How to deal with heavy legs on the bike

Feeling lethargic on the bike leg of a triathlon race is not uncommon, and there are several ways to ensure you're still bursting with energy post-swim. Coach Joel Enoch provides the advice…

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Can’t get going on the bike leg post-swim? It’s not unusual, and there are several factors and scenarios that could contribute to this frustrating situation mid-race.


Here are some considerations and tips to prevent and treat the feeling should it affect you.

Can the swim affect my bike leg performance?

If you’ve had a stressful swim – say you’ve been hit repeatedly by other swimmers you’ve had your googles knock off and/or you’ve encountered a water full of jellyfish – this may increase the stress response of your body.

During stress, blood vessels can narrow reduce blood flow to certain areas of the body. So for example, blood flow could be directed away from your less-active muscles – i.e. your legs.

This may leave them in a semi ‘dead’ or numb state and could then take a few miles for the blood flow to be redistributed and wake them up.

Reducing stress is a good way to perform better, so make sure to build this into you pre-race routine in a way that works for you.

Another consideration is that your perception in water is very difficult and because of that we tend to swim slightly harder than we realise.

This can have a similar affect as stress, as detailed above, drawing blood towards the working muscles and again leaving the leg feeling sluggish.

It’s for this reason that us coaches will recommend that you kick harder in the final 200m or so of a swim. This redirects the blood to the legs ahead of time and prepares them to work though T1 and onto the bike.

Does the timing of the event have an impact on bike performance? 

The body is highly adaptable so, depending when your race is in the calendar – say it’s at the start of the season and you haven’t raced for several months a few months – then it might be that your body is simply not used to the transition from one sport to another.

How brick sessions help you bike leg performance 

You can prepare your body for switching between two sports by planning in some swim-bike brick training efforts to better prepare for the demands of the race.

The benefits of a swim warm-up on your bike performance 

Lastly, it’s key to switch on your muscles through a vigorous warm-up before the race. It’s not uncommon for triathletes to skip a warm-up altogether and many will only perform a basic swim warm-up, leaving the legs unengaged and muscle fibres simply not ready to work.

A good warm-up should include leg activation exercise before moving onto more of an upper body focus.


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