The Training Matrix
The most commonly asked question of any triathlon coach is ‘How do I get faster?’ Pretty simple question, but there is no simple answer, unfortunately.
As I begin to work with athletes and help them move toward their goals, I ask them two basic questions:
1. How much time do you have to train?
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
In a basic sense, the answers to these two questions will determine how their training should be structured. So much play has been given to intervals, tempo workouts, using new equipment that is ‘guaranteed’ to make you faster and so on. What it really comes down to are those two basic questions: how much time you have to train, and what you do with that time. As my former coach, Rick Niles, says, “It’s not how MUCH you train, but HOW you train.” That basic philosophy is one (of many!) cornerstones for my approach to coaching, and it is one of the most important things to remember in setting up a training plan. I learned how best to apply this cornerstone while coaching 100 student athletes at the University of Colorado. From that experience, I developed a training matrix that I will share with you in this article, and you can begin to organize your training with more success.
In 2008 I took the head coaching position for the University of Colorado Triathlon Team. This is a team steeped in history and success. Ten National Titles in 12 years and then, a five year drought. They watched as other teams walked away with the national championship title. I quickly recognized that the CU team was stuck in the ‘old school’ way of training. I sought advice from the senior members of the team and tried to find out ‘how’ the team had been training for the past few seasons. Their collective answers revealed that they would take lots of long rides, lead unspecific run workouts, there were no race specific workouts, and there was very little in the way of swim training.
During my first week, I added VO2 workouts, time trials, and more swim workouts. Gone were the long rides and runs without structure. In their place were shorter, harder rides, lots of climbing on the bike, and weekly run workouts at goal race pace and running off the bike two times per week. One of the senior members of the team came up to me after the first month and said, “Mike, what you are doing is completely different than what we’ve been doing the last few years. We usually do a bunch of long slow distance, and then add in the fast stuff before Nationals”. Without trying to sound arrogant, my reply was, “I understand that. But if what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, maybe we need to flip things upside down and see if we can’t shake out a different result”. It took 18 solid months of training with this strategy, and a little psychological warfare with some of the athletes who were vetted in the old training methods before CU was able to re-capture the title of National Champions!
In addition to the strategy change, I asked each student athlete to complete an Athlete Profile. Questions included best times for 5k and 10k runs, best swim times, best bike times, what was their favorite sport to train, how many times a week did they train in each sport, etc? I wanted a profile of each athlete so I could do my best to help everyone as best I could. 60 of the student athletes completed profiles (and I genuinely enjoyed reading them!), and I began to schedule meetings with each of these athletes. Improvement was pretty quick the first few months and I could see we were on the right path. Above all else, we had consistency (i.e. frequency) and freshness to our training.
Coaching a college club team is challenging due to all the different abilities and as much as I would have loved to create a different schedule for each athlete, it’s pretty much impossible without having about 10 other coaches to help me (thank you Coach Dave and Coach Leigh, you were the best!). So, as I sat down with each athlete I drew up a little schedule based on how much time they could train and their strengths and weaknesses.
The downloadable matrix is something that came about from that initial season as I learned to manage individual efforts toward a common goal. It was something that helped me realize how easy it is to individualize training based on only a few factors. Download the matrix now (see link below).
Looking at the matrix (download here), you can see the number of training hours on the right. The strength sport is listed as well as the limiter sport and from there you’ll know how to break out the week in terms of how many times you should train in each sport (frequency) and duration (volume).
Before you use this matrix, remember to ask yourself the key questions:
1. How much time do I have to train?
2. What is my strength?
3. What is my weakness?
Don’t get too caught up in trying to hit every hour, every week. What you are striving for is consistency. If you are a weak swimmer and need to work on swimming, then get in the water 4-5 times per week. There is no shortcut for hard work. Hard work doesn’t mean you have to go ‘hard’ all the time. Hard work is defined by ‘doing the work, week in and week out’.
I’ll repeat it again – You don’t need to hammer all the time to be working hard. You just need to be consistent with getting the workouts in. The key to success in anything; be it work, training or life, is consistency.
Download the matrix here, and get your schedule on track to reach a personal best in 2015!
Michael Ricci is a USAT Level III certified coach, USAT National Coach of the Year, and proud to have coached the student athletes at CU-Boulder to 4 consecutive national championships! To schedule a FREE consultation about your training with Coach Mike, click here.