Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Inside Winter Training with Pro Triathlete Jack Braconnier

Despite popular belief, triathlon is not a summer sport. You may think it is, but it’s not. That is when the races are, what the events are designed for, and all of the equipment made for, but trust me when I say that triathlon is not a summer sport.  

Everyone trains hard during the summer, clocking the miles religiously, rain or shine; never missing a workout or taking a day off because they don’t feel like it. But if you really want to up your triathlon game, you need to start thinking of triathlon as more than just a summer-time sport. Winter is where the gains are to be had.

The last race of your season is not an end to the current campaign, it is the beginning of next year.  If you have found your results plateauing after a season’s worth of dedicated training, a solid off-season training program is how you step up your game. 

Now, when I write, I want to write from a point of expertise.  I don’t want to spit some half-true inkling that I may have overheard from a guy who knows a guy who’s brother knows a guy who knows something. If I am not an expert in the field I am writing about, then I seek out an expert to give me the down and dirty, so that you can trust what you read here.  Unfortunately for my own fitness and race results, I am not an expert in training or fitness. So I called in someone who is: Pro triathlete and Walton Endurance coach, Jack Braconnier.  

Handsome, isn't he?

Jack has some seriously impressive running and triathlon palmarés, and a Kinesiology degree to boot.  I talked with Jack about what goes into the delicious soup that is a successful off-season training program.  Walton Endurance has a slew of classes this off-season that are specifically designed around launching you on your most successful campaign yet.  Jack filled me in on what exactly their training program focuses on, and what you should be thinking about to get yourself to the podium next season. 

“Basics and technique.” That’s all he had to say.  See you guys next week.  

Well, I lied.  He had more to say than that, but it is true that any great off-season plan is centered on basics and technique. “You should start with an honest assessment of your strengths and weakness, then use basic techniques to address them.” He offered this example, “If you are slow off the bike in the run, it could be because you are relying too much on your muscular strength during the bike.  This athlete should work on bringing up their leg speed on the bike to transfer that load more to their cardiovascular fitness to keep their legs fresh for the run. You could do this by incorporating fast cadence drills into an endurance ride.”  

See what he did there?  He saw a weakness and then used a basic cycling technique to correct that weakness.  So that’s the name of the game here people, the off season is all about working on what you are NOT good at, all while building towards your next campaign. 

It’s not just about leg speed though; there are so many other bicycle basics that contribute to being a good racer.  If you’re constantly crashing—work on bike handling.  If you’re new to clipless pedals and don’t have solid pedaling technique—work on one-legged drills.  If you’re constantly winning—then…well, in this case you should probably step up and do some harder races. 

The second half of any successful off-season plan is base.  Think of building your base as the fitness equivalent of laying a foundation upon which you will build a house.  Base building is all about fighting your urge to crush it.  “Low and slow” is where you will find your base.  I’ll add one to that: “Low, slow, and long.”  Base training should be focused on getting in a large volume of low intensity miles. 

“Walton Endurance’s Fall Class is designed around this” Jack says.  “We start at a low intensity and slowly build through the Winter Class.”  This building structure is what makes your fitness really come to life when you incorporate some high intensity work in the spring.  “That high intensity work that so many triathletes focus on, only truly pays off when you have built a solid base.”  

Winter group rides are a great way to build your base.  Don't worry about speed, just get the miles in your legs.
Jack wants the focus of his athlete’s off-season programs to be centered around these techniques and endurance and Sub-LT efforts.  That is how you build a great base. 

“So sell me on Walton Endurances Fall Class.  Why should a triathlete sign up for the class rather than just doing a bunch of fast cadence work on their own?”  I ask.  A few reasons:

Competition. “At the beginning of the Fall and Winter class we do a field test.  This makes it really easy for athletes to track their progress and compete—which is the main motivation for so many serious triathletes.”  The physiological numbers that you get from the field test are used to gauge all of your efforts throughout the class.  You can also use them to track your improvement over many months and workouts in a very scientific objective way. 

Structure.  Anyone who has trained for an event over a long period of time—which pretty much every triathlete has—knows that a set in stone structure is easier to abide by than a loose organization of workouts.  Walton Endurance classes give you that.  You are committed.  There is a whole group of peers who will be quick to give you a hard time when you miss out on a workout or take it easy in a class.  This type of structure ALWAYS makes for a more successful training regimen.

Customization.  “Everybody is different.” Says Jack. “Your training programs should reflect that.”  This is the biggest advantage of coming to a place like Walton Endurance for your training needs.  These are real humans who are interacting with you on a one-on-one individual basis.  They can change each workout to specifically suit your needs. You’re not simply printing out some training program that may or may not have worked for some guy on the internet—your literally getting a custom training program, based around numbers that are specific to your physiology, your strengths and weaknesses, your wants and needs.  

Fall offers some of the most scenic riding of the year, but it is also prime time to set yourself up for next year.

I hope you don’t take my word for it though.  Come in and check these guys out.  Brian Walton is a huge name in professional cycling, and he has stacked his coaching roster with Braconnier, five-time track masters World Champion Dana Walton, and former pro mountain biker Michael Gibbons.  They know what they’re doing—and more importantly, they know how to help you win.  Their Fall Class starts November 5th.  You can get all the info you need here. 

Don’t wait.  Next season started yesterday. 


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