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To Gym or Not to Gym

August 6, 2011

As my workouts start to shift towards training outdoors or at the pool, I realize I am stepping into the gym less and less (partially maybe the great summer weather too). Its all fine by me. (I would be so happy not to give any more money to the fowl gym I go to…though I won’t say its name, it does rhyme with mold’s rim.) I did head there tonight to use the studio room for a core routine and wondered whether or my membership was still worth it.

Dan, how often do you find yourself at a gym? Do you even have a membership anywhere? I do own a set of dumbbells (5, 10, 15 lbs) that maybe can provide enough resistance for workouts at home. What is your thoughts?

Dan: Julie, good question. As a triathlete your main focus is not to build bulk, but to build speed and endurance. You want to be a lean, racing machine. I am a big proponent of the “brick” workouts, short, explosive days, and endurance days. For these, the quick answer is NO I do not think triathletes “need” the gym and if you are looking to enter the sport on a relatively low budget, drop the gym. I do not lift weights during tri season (some do), but even if I am doing lighter weights and more reps, my body takes time to recover which impacts my main goals of getting faster.

Triathletes tend have a different mindset than most people at the gym. It always amazes me to see people on the treadmill talking on the phone or playing games on the screens in front of them. How hard or focused can you be at that point? I don’t fault anyone if that is what they need to get through their workouts, but racing for a triathlete is as much mental as it is physical. You are on the course with just your thoughts and your own power. You cannot listen to music, you cannot rely on others for motivation and many times it turns out to be you against the course. (I think I am off subject so getting back to your question). So being distracted by other as the gym can sometimes be a hindrance especially if people try and talk to you.

I try and swim, bike and run three times a week. It doesn’t always workout that way – but try and stay close to that. Plus managing your body is just as much of training as it is actually training. I always take one day off a week (usually Monday OR the day after a short race or a few days off after a longer race) and try to eat right.

When you are just getting started in triathlon you need to build your body for the sport. Core training is a large part of the sport as you need it for the three disciplines so work on the those abs (use weights for side to side), planks, reverse crunches, bicycle kicks etc. I also believe that you need to build some endurance before you can focus on speed (there are many different thoughts to this, but this is just my opinion). I know you have run a half marathon so your running endurance is there depending on what you have been doing since. So you can build in speed days (I do one speed workout a week, a medium distance (and try to negative split- run the last half faster than the first half) and then a longer distance day). I am sure you have a track near you, so on your speed days go out and try to do 1/4 or 1/2 mile sprints followed by 1/4 mile jog for a few miles. Example: If you typically run an 8 minute mile, try doing a 1/4 mile sprint at a 6:30 pace (1:37 around the track). Or try some cross fit techniques (box jumps for explosion, rowing exercises, push ups, speed drills etc) On your medium days try and run your miles :10-15 seconds faster than your endurance pace and on the last half build that up to :15-20 seconds. On your endurance days, run longer (say you are running 5 miles now) try and run 6 at a little slower pace (if you typically run an 8 minute mile try running this at an 8:45 pace).

Then you need to put some time on the bike. riding outside is the best way to simulate racing. You will feel the effects of the heat, hills, wind etc. Each week try and build a few additional miles into your routine. When you feel comfortable maybe look for a local bicycle group that rides- riding with people better than you will help you (even if you get dropped). I still get dropped from some rides. Of course still work in speed, do sprint work (start off with 30 sec max efforts-followed by a spin (easy gear-keep cadence high)- you can build on these eventually. The most important thing is to get comfortable on the bike, know what gear is good for you to ride (I always try and ride in a gear where I can keep an 85-100 cadence). Keep your body loose, you do not want to be tense cause that will take away from your body pedaling efficiently.

The biggest obstacle for novices is running after the bike. To combat this I tend to run after every bike workout. Doesn’t have to be far or hard, but just to get a feel for what the legs will do after pushing those pedals and large gears (I live in FL, we can push big gears).

So in short (or around and around) a triathlete can build their own workout without using the gym. Now having said all that…..

I am a member of the “Y”, but my membership is on hold until the fall. I really only use the Y for their pool and only use it during the winter months when my community pool gets too cold. Last year I think I pushed the outdoor amenities too far and went to mid November and the last time I swam laps got dizzy and almost fell over when I got out of the chilly water.

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