Dear Coach: How do I make sure I am getting enough rest/easy recovery time while still fitting in my workouts and strength training?
A: Training for triathlon is a balancing act, so consider these key aspects when you’re planning your rest and recovery days.
Track your resting heart rate (RHR). Consistently take your resting HR upon waking up, preferably while still lying in bed, and keep a log. Track RHR daily to establish a baseline. From there you will be able to associate changes in RHR with fatigue levels and fitness gains. For some, an abnormal increase in RNR is a sign of overreaching.
Structure your schedule. The key is to create a schedule that accounts for your constraints—career, family/social commitments, family time—and overlay these against personal goals (be honest with yourself!). Break your training into smaller cycles. Examples include two days of quality followed by one active recovery day, or three to four days of quality sessions followed up with one to two days of active recovery (which could include a full rest day).
Take recovery/pre-hab seriously. Sleep is a very important factor for recovery; aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night to help your body recover and recharge for the next day. Active recovery is a great tool to help your body bounce back between workouts, and it could take the form of an easy swim or easy bike ride, or it can be literally just a walk in the park. If you need a full day off, then take it—without feeling guilty. Finally, a good post-workout stretch, foam roller session, yoga and/or compression attire can help increase your rate of recovery.
Strength train the smart way. Strength training should complement your triathlon training, not hurt it. If triathlon is a priority for you, lifting is OK until it negatively impacts your triathlon training. For example, a single strength session shouldn’t leave you sore for two to three days, because then you are essentially sacrificing two to three days of quality triathlon training. Sessions should be 15–30 minutes, two to three times per week. The primary focus should be to strengthen your weak areas (hamstrings, gluteus, hips and core) and improve your flexibility. Incorporate these types of strength sessions after a moderate-intensity day.
Consistency is key. No matter how you decide to structure your training, remember that it is better to train consistently week after week and month after month instead of pushing too hard and missing days, weeks or months due to overtraining or injury.
Andrew Shanks is a coach for Dynamo Multisport based in Atlanta. He has been coaching since 2008 and just received his master’s degree in exercise science.