Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Top 10 Action Items from the USAT Level 1 Coaching Clinic

Those of you who have seen my book collection will attest to the fact that I have a voracious appetite for the acquisition of knowledge. However, as Bruce Lee once said “Knowledge is nothing without action” and so, I have made a commitment to devote this decade of my life to transforming my core paradigm from the acquisition of information to the application of information. I went into the recent USAT Level 1 Coaching Clinic in Clermont, FL with this objective in mind and came away with some key 'action items' that I plan to apply to myself and the athletes that I work with. Hopefully, you will find some value in them too.

Before I get started, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the presenters at the clinic. I was surprised and impressed by the depth of information presented at a level 1 event. The following key points represent a mix of almost direct quotes from the presenters with a sprinkling of concepts that, while inspired by the topics presented may run almost counter to the presenter’s opinions. I want to make it clear that these conclusions are my own and do not necessarily represent the intent of the presenter. Either way, I wish to thank Tim Boruff and Linda Cleveland of the USAT and all of the attending presenters for the many ‘light-bulb moments’ that I experienced over the course of the weekend. My top 10 'action from the weekend are presented below:

1. Know the price of your athletic goals and if you can afford them (Psychological Aspects of Coaching – Dara Wittenburg)

Unfortunately, we live in a country where the majority of individuals commit to having what they want before deciding whether they can truly afford it. In my experience, this mentality also runs over to triathletic goals. Typical first conversation with a new client goes something like this:

“I want to race Hawaii”
“OK, my current athletes at that level are doing……..”
“Sounds good, sign me up”

In other words, much like Maverick in Top Gun, committed age-group athletes have a tendency to ‘write checks that their bodies can’t cash’. It is a ‘cart before the horse’ mistake to commit to a race, a time goal, and a training load before looking at your current training load and rate of improvement to this point. Rather than the car sales showroom paradigm, where you sign off on a Hummer with all the options when all you can really afford is the used Dodge Aries on the other side of the street, you should approach the goal setting process more like a kid taking his pocket money into the candy store “OK, this is how much I have (time available, training volume to date etc), what can I buy with this?” A coach can help greatly with determining the price (based on previous experience with other athletes and data from your own logs) and giving you a reality check on what you can afford & the time it will take you to save for what you really want.

2. Have clear, written goals & a session plan for every key session that you do

Know the purpose of each of your key sessions and write down a simple action plan of the 3-5 things that you are going to focus on out there in order to achieve your bigger goals. Rather than labelling all of your sessions “training sessions”, it is sometimes better to take on the paradigm of teams sports and consider some “practice sessions”, i.e. sessions in which you have an opportunity to drill the psychological, technical and tactical objectives of preparation in addition to the physical. A big part of this is having a written “race plan” for each of your key sessions. Creativity is your only limit in how far you go in simulating the demands of your event.

3. Think like a Body Builder when planning your strength training (in fact, all of your training).
(Strength Training – Dara Wittenburg).

Those of you who have spent a good amount of time in a gym know that the serious lifters are intently aware of both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of their training and their rate of progress in each. Serious lifters know not only how many sets they plan on doing for the week, but also what load they are going to use for each exercise and if (heaven forbid), they only get 6 reps at 350lbs instead of their usual 7, tears may be shed, questions will be asked and changes will be made. This obsession with monitoring all of the variables of performance, while common in some endurance sports like swimming and track has escaped the easy-going world of triathlon. To describe and evaluate your training in terms of volume alone is only giving you part of the picture. In the gym and on the road, pay attention to both the quality and quantity of your training and change one or the other if an extended plateau occurs.

4. Apply a written training diet to your basic week
(Nutrition for the Multisport Athlete - Jennifer Hutchison, RD, LD, CSCS)

Some simple applications that every athlete should apply to their weekly nutrition plan:
4-6 small meals/day
20-30g/ lean protein at each meal (1.2-2.0g/kg/day)
Emphasize a VARIETY of colorful fruits and vegetables to supply adequate nutrients and phytochemicals & 30g of fiber per day.
Add beans or legumes to evening meal 3 to 4 times each week (not within 24hrs of key sessions/races).
Moderate or no alcohol consumption
Limit refined carbohydrates and sugar (save the refined carbs for training).
Ensure sufficient daily water intake to maintain day-to-day bodyweight.

5. Apply a written nutritional and recovery plan to all key sessions
(Nutrition for the Multisport Athlete - Jennifer Hutchison, RD, LD, CSCS)

A part of the written ‘race plan’ for your key sessions should be a clear and concise nutritional plan. Below are some points to consider:
2hrs before: 500-700ml of Sports Drink or water + low-fiber meal
15mins before: 150-300ml of Sports Drink
During: 150-300ml of Sports Drink every 15-20 minutes (60-85g/L CHO concentration + 400-700mg Na/L)
o Get to know your sweat rate in different conditions by weighing before and after EVERY key session greater than 1hr)
o Make sure you keep optimal CHO concentration when taking Gels or Blocks by drinking ~300-500ml of pure water for each gel packet (~27g CHO)
o Note: Some athletes may require up to 1500mg/L of Sodium
· After: 1.3-1.5kg/L of bodyweight lost + 1g/kg of CHO in first 30 minutes (liquid form) and 1g/kg of CHO + 0.3g/kg of protein in solid meal within 2hrs.

6. Incorporate walk breaks in your key running sessions.
(Running Skills and Economy Training …. Lee Zohlman, B.S.)

First, a couple of key reasons to consider incorporating walk breaks in your long training runs and races.
* Nutrition & Hydration: You will get in a greater volume of fluid by not splashing it everywhere while your run. In addition, letting your heart rate drop 5-10 beats will greatly help in processing the calories. In my experience, in long runs and races, the faster finish that comes from proper nutrition and hydration more than makes up for any time lost in walk breaks
* Planned v’s necessitated walking: In the context of an Ironman and Half-Ironman/Marathon for novices-intermediate competitors, being realistic, some walking will be involved at some point in the race. The quality and speed of the walk period will be greatly enhanced if you take a proactive approach and evenly distribute them through the race, rather than dealing with the psychological blow of having to walk at the end.
* Neuromuscular re-set: Perhaps the most important reason for walk-breaks. Quick experiment for you: At the half way point in your next moderately long run take the time to do 20 deep squats and 20 lunges. I promise you, that as smooth as you were feeling in your running gait up to that point, you will notice some level of tightening of the muscles. While this tightening may not be sufficient to affect your gait in any dramatic way, the increased resistance in your stabilizers and antagonists can have a large effect on the energy cost required to maintain your desired stride length & rate, this is to say nothing of the increased risk of injury from the diminished elasticity in your antagonists and the diminished capacity of your stabilizers. In my experience, by incorporating walk breaks & even some basic drills/alternative movements during the course of your run, you will feel a noticeable difference in the ‘spring’ left in your gait at the end of a long run.

7. Get a proper bike fit w/ someone who knows bikes AND functional anatomy (and how the two work together)
(Cycling Skills and Economy - Adam Baskin, M.A.)

We are all anatomically individual in a number of ways that have direct implication on the way we pedal a bicycle. Not only are there structural variations that span the gamut, including femur length, torso length, shoulder width etc, there are also many functional differences that (should) come into play when we are looking at bike fit. Keeping in mind that a muscle is weakest when it is excessively lengthened or shortened, it is important from an efficiency perspective to maintain optimal length-tension relationships in your cycling muscles. Taken to extremes, you will even see situations where a muscle is stretched so far beyond its functional range of motion that other muscles begin to contribute in ways that they were not designed to. A prime example of this is when an athlete goes for so much drop at the front-end that they close the hip angle up so much that the lumbar extensors, instead of the hip extensors begin initiating the pedal stroke. This has all kinds of nasty implications from back strains to degeneration of the facet joints of the spine. It is also not an efficient way to pedal a bicycle, i.e. it is slower.
When it comes to an effective bike fit, adjust the bike position to preserve:
* Optimal hip angle (greatest angle of hip flexion without lumbar compensation minus a few degrees)
* Optimal knee angle (greatest angle of knee extension w/hip flexed and no lumbar/hip compensation minus a few degrees)
* Optimal ankle angle (greatest angle of ankle dorsi-flexion with no knee compensation minus a few degrees)
* Roll this position as far forward as possible within constraints of geometry and comfort.
If you don’t know what I mean by the terms listed above, go to someone who does!!

8. Incorporate swim drills for ALL 3 R’s in your weekly program.
- Rhythm
- Range
- Relaxation
(Triathlon Swimming - Bill Kuminka, MS)

Don’t become obsessed with range drills (e.g. T.I. drills) to the exclusion of rhythm and relaxation drills. Use what you need. For example, many T.I. swimmers could benefit from periodic use of rhythm and relaxation drills such as:
- Straight arm (kayak) swimming (including drills with a broomstick)
- Freestyle & Backstroke with a butterfly kick
- Head up (polo) freestyle.
- Supra-rate swimming with stretch cordz or fins.
Also don’t become exclusively obsessed with what happens in the “front quadrant”, the other quadrants count too!!
Note: Stay tuned for an upcoming article that will further explore the 3 concepts listed above.

9. Set a training program that allows you to complete 90%+ of the workouts & monitor and modify accordingly.
(Periodization Methods for Triathlon - Lee Zohlman)
Whatever training program format you choose to follow, an important metric to track is the % completed v’s planned. It is no good putting together an elaborate, periodized model with macro-this and micro-that if your predicted training volume is merely an ambitious guess. For this reason, I find it useful to build the training program from ‘the ground up’ beginning with a basic week that reflects the athlete’s current fitness and progressively building in accordance with the athlete’s individual rate of improvement from there.

10. Test yourself regularly to see what works for you and when you need to change.
(Exercise Physiology - Adam Baskin, M.A.)

In other words, it is important to know your key limiters, key objectives for improvement and specific metrics for each objective and it is important to test regularly to see if what you are doing is working. Remember that each individual is an experiment of one and the only way that you will truly know if your current training program is appropriate is to identify valid tests and use them on a regular basis (even if it means putting off getting your new disc wheel so that you can get yourself to an exercise physiology lab and get some controlled, objective data).


KP said...

Great stuff, Alan!

Thanks for sharing.


Unknown said...

how do kayak and heads up swimming improve rhythm and relaxation?txs

Alan Couzens said...


Short answer:
* Kayak swimming eliminates the dead spot that is becoming so common with the TI drill emphasis.
* Head up swimming forces you to get a much quicker catch than normal to prevent the head from bobbing.

I will write a more detailed article on this in the coming weeks for G's blog or this one.



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