“This app will change bike training forever, it’s that good”
Here is how to train like some of the world’s best athletes, straight from the horses mouth. Want inspiration? Look no further.
Paul Manning: Beijing Olympic gold medallist and endurance coach who works with and trains the women’s GB endurance squad.
To increase your level of fitness, vary your routine
Laura Trott and her team-mates don’t train the same way all the time, says Manning. “My advice would be to change the terrain or do some hills. When training, the Olympic team do high-intensity sessions on the bike, broken up with lower intensity longer rides. The high-intensity session may be 30 minutes of going flat out, while the lower intensity ride could be a three to four-hour bike ride at 70 per cent of your maximum. It’s important to keep all your energy systems active without thrashing them all the time.” Manning says the team also increase power, speed and fitness through sprints on the bike. “Go hard for 20 seconds and off for the rest of the minute and keep doing it until you can’t do it any more. If you are just starting out do ten seconds and take the rest of the minute off.”
Pedal indoors and out
Although long bike rides outside are hugely enjoyable Manning recommends also training indoors on a Watt bike, which feels like a real bike but records a wealth of information on your ride, including how much power you are putting through your legs and whether you are placing the same amount of force through each foot.
Have some healthy competition
If possible, go biking with friends. “The team do group rides where you work hard with each other,” says Manning. “You tend to push yourself a bit harder when there are other people involved.”
Be your own strength and conditioning coach
Manning says the GB team do focused sessions in the gym with the leg press machine, and exercises like split squats. “Core work is also very important for holding your position on the bike and preventing injury,” he says, and a routine might include planks, side planks, press-ups, and using an exercise ball for strengthening abdominals.
Keri-Anne Payne is a long-distance open-water swimmer. She is a double world champion and won silver at the Beijing Olympics. She will be racing in Rio in the 10km open-water swim.
Fine-tune your breathing
Payne says the biggest mistake we make when we swim is incorrect breathing. “People tend to hyperventilate. The key is to breathe in when you turn your head to the side — and out into the water. There needs to be a flow to it.” Should we be breathing every three strokes or every two? “To be honest, it’s whatever feels right to you. Sometimes I breathe every two, sometimes every three, sometimes four or eight, but my husband [David Carry, the three-time Olympian] would always breathe every two, no matter what. Breathing bilaterally — every three or five strokes — helps me swim straight.”
Be mindful of your body position
“Don’t just get in the water and swim, be aware of how your body is lying in the water, what your head is doing and where your hips are,”says Payne. “The best position is to be as flat as possible, and to think of your spine like a pole and rotate all the way down one side as you take a stroke and then all the way back up the other side as you take the other.”
Mix it up to increase your fitness in the water
“If you want to get fitter and faster in the pool, changing things up would help and keep things interesting,” says Payne. “Start by swimming ten lengths and time it. Then do the same ten lengths doing short bursts then rests. The next session, maybe do a longer distance. Other sessions do 15m sprints then rest, then go again. Start here and build that up.”
To kick or not to kick?
Payne who, as a long distance swimmer, needs to conserve energy, kicks less than a sprint swimmer. “The glutes are such a big muscle that they fatigue your body fast. I don’t really kick at all — I hardly use my legs in fact and what that does is concentrate all my efforts on my arms.” For someone like Michael Phelps, however, it’s a different story: “Sprinters will have better leg kicks.” If you are sprinting, six kicks every three strokes is seen as good form, she says.
Target your swimming muscles out of the pool
Payne does a core weights programme in the gym each week. “I also work the little muscles between my shoulder blades,” she says. A typical gym session for her would also include press-ups, skipping, slamming a medicine ball into a wall, chest passes and Russian twists. “It’s not about how hard I can go in the gym, it’s about correct, beautiful technique to engage the right muscles.” She also includes running and yoga in her week. Does she take protein powders after a gym session? “Absolutely not,” she says. “I get all my protein through my diet. A smoothie for me would be bananas, blueberries, Greek yoghurt, milk and chia seeds.”
Craig Winrow is a former Olympic athlete and performance coach at St Mary’s University, London. He has coached many international GB athletes, including the Olympic 800m runner Andrew Osagie for London 2012.
Switch your jogging speeds
Winrow explains that a week for a top athlete consists of a long run, interval sessions, threshold running (where you push yourself harder so your heart rate is higher), steady running and hill work. Winrow advises that if you want to get faster, you should add a longer run, a threshold session and an interval session into your week. An interval session might involve repeated sprinting for three minutes and resting for two over 20 minutes. “You will find that this sort of work then makes steady running easier,” he says.
Do core work in the gym
The athletes Winrow trains benefit from doing circuits in the gym, which might include push-ups, sit-ups, glute exercises and core work. “The core is a big focus. It holds your body together, so will provide you with better running economy [how efficient you are when you run]. The more efficient you become, the easier you will find running.” He explains that a strong core will also help you to keep form when you get fatigued, so all his athletes do exercises such as sit-ups and planks regularly.
Stay on your toes
Many people focus on the body when running and neglect their feet — the area that takes most of the impact. All of Winrow’s athletes do foot drills, such as walking on tiptoe for 30m to strengthen the muscles in their feet.
Keep good form
“When my athletes are in a fatigued state, we practise keeping their form together — keeping their core tight and to keep them swinging their arms. If you stop swinging your arms your legs stop.” To reinforce this, he gets them to stand in front of the mirror holding dumbbells and swing their arms at a right angle to their body. “The more you do this sort of thing, the more second nature it becomes,” he explains.
Eat well after exercise
Winrow says a healthy diet, rest and hydration is far more important than having a recovery drink. If you are doing longer distances, “it comes down to getting food and water into you as quickly as possible post-exercise — always within half an hour of finishing,” to replenish and rejuvenate well.
Check your iron levels
Endurance athletes often draw on their iron stores during events, and this can make you deficient, Winrow says. If you think you are lacking in iron, he suggests asking your doctor for a blood test, but warns not to take iron supplements unless you are deficient.
Dan Salcedo is performance pathway manager for the British Triathlon Federation. He was the Olympic triathlon head coach at the Beijing Olympics and has worked with Vicky Holland and Will Clarke.
Focus on injury prevention in the gym
“Triathletes are not necessarily looking to gain muscle mass, but gym work is essential and is more about injury prevention,” says Salcedo. “Most athletes will be focusing on the tracking of knees, strengthening of gluteus medius and conditioning of the achilles and calves.”
Do a weekly “brick” session
A “brick” session is a triathlon training session in which you go straight from the bike into the run. Salcedo suggests doing this once a week to get used to running with weak legs. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be a hard session,” he says.
Up your swimming distances
Train way beyond your race distance-. “A standard swim session for a triathlete is 5,000m,” says Salcedo. “The swim part of the race is 1,500m.” While this is may be totally unachievable for anyone other than an elite athlete, going farther than your race distance in training will make the big day feel easier.
Swim in open water regularly
“Most elite triathletes will train in open water at least once a week, the rest they do in a pool,” says Salcedo. This method ensure that you learn proper “sighting” (where you look up briefly to see where you are going) and will also make sure that you learn to swim in a straight line.
This inspiring enough for you? Sure hope so. Get training.