On this special edition of The Kona Edge, we share part of one of the sessions from our recent IM Summit. It features the high performance coach for Triathlon South Africa, Lindsey Parry and during the IM Summit session he shared with Brad Brown the three things anyone can do right now that will give them the biggest Ironman gains. This is one of them.
BRAD BROWN: What a great pleasure to welcome onto the Summit today, Lindsey Parry, Lindsey, thanks for joining us.
LINDSEY PARRY: Absolutely great being here, always so amazing chatting to you Brad and I’m looking forward to seeing what some of the other speakers have also got to contribute on this very exciting platform that you’ve put together.
BRAD BROWN: Lindsey, I’m pretty stoked to have you on and we’ve chatted to some incredible athletes, also some great professionals, you’re a bit of a mix of both because you’re a great coach in your own right, but you’re a pretty decent runner as well. You’ve got a marathon PB of just over 2:40, so there’s no dust on you!
LINDSEY PARRY: Look, I’ve done okay, I guess for a recreational, maybe not recreational athlete, but a fairly social athlete and I think I probably could have done a whole lot better and that’s sort of what’s driven me to be a coach is that I recognize the areas where I went wrong and some of the mistakes I made and how easy it is to become distracted because training hard and performing is not an easy task, it requires a lot of discipline and it requires you to say no to some things that you maybe would like to say yes to, but that’s really been part of what’s driven me on this journey to be a coach and the more I work with athletes and in particular, the more I work with talented athletes, obviously the more exciting and interested I become. It’s been a really great decade for me and in the last three years in particular have been unbelievable. I’m hoping to get better, help my athletes get better and these kind of platforms also allow me to share what I’m learning and picking up as I go along. I just thoroughly enjoy getting these opportunities.
BRAD BROWN: You come from pretty decent stock too, your dad’s a pretty decent runner, he’s got a couple of Comrades Marathon Top Ten’s back in the day, in the late 70’s, so no pressure on you to perform as a runner!
LINDSEY PARRY: Fortunately there’s never been that kind of pressure, running has always been part of the family, so we’ve just enjoyed doing it as a family. It’s always been great having a dad who was that good to bounce ideas off. He doesn’t back himself as much as a coach, but obviously in the hours we’ve spent running on the road together, and we still run together, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from him. He’s obviously a great inspiration and in my early career, you know, in your early 20’s no one wants to listen to your new ideas because people have ways of doing things and there are other people with experience and they’re successful, so having him as my dad has opened a couple of doors early on, that I think would have taken a lot longer to open. Three times Gold Medalist in South Africa, at Comrades in SA means something, so it’s been cool having him as a dad, not just because he’s a fast runner, but because he’s a cool dad! It certainly opened some doors for me and I like to think that I made the most of them.
BRAD BROWN: From a professional perspective as well, you also do a lot of work out of the High Performance Centre, which is at the University of Pretoria here in SA and a lot of our Olympic athletes, not just from a triathlon perspective, but from an athlete perspective in general, I think of our rowing team, the lightweight fours who won Gold in London, they’re based at the HPC, the entire rowing team that’s heading over to Rio this year was based there and we should get a few medals out of there. I think Caster Semenya also trains out of the HPC, the 800m runner for SA who is fantastic and if all goes according to play, that should be a Gold for us, but you’ve done tons of work out there, you work with Katie Roberts, I know she works closely with you there as well, with the junior athletes in South Africa, so from a professional point of view, you work at a couple of really big institutions, but you wanted to chat and we wanted to get you on this Summit to chat a bit about the role of recovery in triathlon.
It’s something that I think triathletes really grapple with and struggle with, but also chatting about training intensity and how we should be training and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. I’m going to throw the ball into your court, I know you’ve got a bit of a presentation that you want to run through. We’ll whack the slides up as we go through it and then afterwards, if I’ve got any questions, I’ll shoot them off to you, but I’m going to hand the ball to you now Lindsey.
The single most important factor to improve as a triathlete
LINDSEY PARRY: Cool thanks Brad, so, it’ll be a bit of a lecture-style format. Unfortunately people won’t be able to interrupt and ask questions, but I’m sure you’ll think of a couple to ask me at the end and I’m sure you’ll forward some onto me once these presentations go live. Look, for me, the most important aspect in any training program is the consistency of that training program. When you’re setting yourself a goal, at the end of the day you’ve got to plan your life in such a way that you can get the most out of your training and that doesn’t always mean doing the biggest possible volume of training. You need to plan it so that you don’t get injured, you don’t get sick and you can put together day after day, week after week, month after month. The more consistent you are, the better your outcome is going to be at the end of the day.
Today that’s really where I’m going to focus on, is why is consistency important and the crucial role that both recovery and setting your correct training intensities will play in you being able to maintain that consistency, cause that’s really the crucial area.
Ensuring you’re healthy and injury-free really is 90% of the work and you’re better off, if I had to use a running example, you’re training for a marathon, you’re better off running 90km a week for your 6-7-8-9 peak weeks of training that you’ve got planned, than you are running 100-110km a week for two weeks and then breaking down for 5/6 days, then coming back and breaking down for another 5/6 days. You train a little bit less, maintain an uninjured status and that is going to produce better results and me, personally, I rate consistency as the single most important aspect in performance. There’s a couple of ways that we can go about maintaining or ensuring that consistency and I’m going to share some of those ideas today. Monitoring your physiological response to the training is one of those ways, as well as resting, or knowing how much to rest and we’ll get into that a little bit as we go through the talk.
Setting appropriate training intensities using tools like heart rate monitors, Power meters, GPS technology, those are the sort of things that you would use and then, I know it’s pretty busy and especially for triathlon, trying to squeeze in three disciplines, but certainly strength and conditioning, or even Pilates or that kind of thing, but that sort of thing really helps to fortify your body, it makes it withstand the training better. If you withstand the training better, chances are you’re also going to recover better. Always a little bit more difficult with multi-sports to squeeze in that extra session, but that’s what we want to do.
There’s some really basic ways of monitoring our physiological status. Obviously we’ve got training tools like heart rate monitors, which make it easy to analyze our resting status and it also allows us to analyze what is happening during racing and also to control what we’re doing during racing and in training. There’s some very simple things that we can also use that I would like to share. I know triathletes in particular are always up to speed and enjoy their gadgets, but it is an expensive sport and there are some really good alternatives to look at how you are handling that physiological stress. How tired are you? If you ask yourself on a daily basis: How tired am I? Some degree of fatigue is obviously normal. You can’t train for an Ironman or hope to get an event like the Ironman World Championships in Kona if you aren’t putting yourself under fairly significant physiological stress, but there’s a limit to your fatigue. You shouldn’t be feeling like it’s difficult to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning. You shouldn’t be waking up every single morning feeling like you’ve just gone to bed. If you’re in a constant state of fatigue, tired all the time, if you’re making lots of mistakes, when we start to get really tired, you get super-forgetful, you start doing things like open your fridge with your car key button. If you find yourself standing in front of your fridge, those are little signs that you are actually too tired and backing off is a good idea. To be honest, if you don’t back off, you’re probably going to get sick.
When is the right time to back off?
Then how sore are you? Some discomfort, some stiffness in the muscles, that is okay and again, it’s probably inevitable when you’re juggling three sports and training quite hard and getting into peak training, some stiffness is to be expected but if a particular muscle group, your glutes or your quads or your hammies are stiff for a number of days, in 48 hours your body should be able to recover from any session where you slightly over-reached and caused some stiffness. If you’re still stiff and sore 72 hours later, 4 days later, then some sort of intervention needs to take place. Also, you need to learn to differentiate between that discomfort and muscle stiffness and actual pain, like an early strain or pain in a ligament, tendon or joint. Those type of pains are not normal and if you persist on training through them, you’re going to turn it into something more serious, which is going to compromise your consistency at the end of the day.
My advice there always is to cease activity when there’s pain or abnormal pain and most of those little niggles will clear up in a day or two and this is one of the areas where triathletes are at such an advantage because you genuinely get an opportunity to then work on one of the other disciplines. If running is compromised, you can do more cycling and swimming. If the cycling is compromised, you can swim and run and so on and so forth. You’re able to balance, or that might be your opportunity to bring in that strength training, but the point I’m making here is that you’ve got options. You’re not doing a single sport where when that sport gets removed, you are now compromised and have a problem.
Are you sleeping well? Chances are you sleep time is compromised because you’re needing to create time for yourself to train and that generally is going to be early in the mornings and there’s a limit to how early we can go to sleep, but when you are going to sleep, are you falling asleep easily and is the quality of that sleep good? If you’re struggling to fall asleep, even though you’re tired and you’re also having fairly bad quality sleep, that is a fairly good sign that your physiological stress is too high, your cortisol levels are too high, your body is starting to effectively keep itself going on adrenalin and that lack of sleep is also going to compromise your ability to recover going forward and you’re going to get yourself into a deeper and deeper hole.
Are you hungry? What is your appetite like? If you’re not hungry, that is also a warning sign. If you’re spending north of 14 hours a week training, then you probably should be hungry all the time. even if you’re putting yourself on a high fat diet which may help to improve your satiety, you are still going to have energy demands and when you have those energy demands, your body lets you know about them by asking for food, by telling you you’re hungry. If you’re not getting hungry at all, that is a warning sign and particularly if you are having to force yourself.
For me those two things together, poor sleeping patterns and a lack of appetite, those are, for me, a very loud warning system from your body to say: Please help me and to help you, you may need to figure out how to get more sleep. You certainly, in the immediate short term, you’re probably going to have to release some pressure on the training front, you’re going to have to reduce your intensity and/or training volume, just to alleviate some immediate pressure so that you can start sleeping better first, secondly, your appetite returns. Depending on how long you ignore this for, it’s again a two to three day process or it can land up in a two to three week process, depending.
Then obviously the most subjective of them all is do I feel good? Most of the time when we feel good, it’s exactly that, because we’re fine and we’re ready to rumble. These are just some examples of little questions you can ask yourself on a daily basis and it’s quite important to keep a little diary because when you look back, when you’ve done your race and you now want to analyze, how could I have done better, what can I change going forward, it is good to have a diary that actually keeps a record of how you were feeling day to day through the entire process because then it starts to pain its own story. When we’re in each day in isolation, it doesn’t really mean that much. Yes, we can make the odd change here and there, if we listen to these things, but when we go back and we actually look at them and make ourselves a little graph of how we felt, how hungry we were and you overlay them on top of each other, patterns start to come out and then you can look at what the training looked like in that period and you can see through your program where there are areas where maybe you could have added a bit more training, but what you’ll very clearly see is areas where you probably should have reduced your training because you can see soon afterwards you either got injured or sick and that compromised your consistency.
Those are really simple, cheap ways of doing it, it’s a little bit time intensive, of course, but most things that will benefit you are going to be a little bit time intensive.
That takes me to my next point in terms of the consistency which is to ensure that we are training in the correct way, at the correct intensity, most of the time. Outside of recovery, this for me is the single most important way to maintain that consistency and also ensure that you achieve the goal outcome that you want. There was some great research that was done by Professor [Stephen Sila?], he’s a Canadian who relocated to Norway and has been there for the last 15 years doing incredible research into training modalities, the effects of different types of intensities and ratios in training. Where he started off was simply observing across all sports. They used the Olympic skier’s, they used rowing, they used marathon running, they used triathletes and swimmers, canoeing, so they used a variety of endurance sports and they just interviewed. They went to people who were successful in sport and they just did interviews, interview after interview, after interview.
What they were looking at was how much volume do elite performers and successful people in each sport, what volumes are they doing and what types of training do they do in terms of intervals and that sort of work. When they set out for it, they weren’t really looking for any earth-shattering results, it was more driven out of interest and what do those who are successful do in their training. The thing that came out, the thing that spoke the loudest was that the most successful athletes over the years, and there are obviously always one or two exceptions to this rule, but throughout history, the most successful performers, all settle on a ratio of approximately 80% of their training being below the ventilatory threshold, which is roughly 75% of your anaerobic threshold or around 70% of your heart rate max, just to give you some ideas of where that sits.
The 80/20 Principle in your training
80% of the training was below that, not at it, not just over it, but below that and 20% of that training was at varying intensities above that line. Again, there’s been some more recent research done at various universities and a lot of them have shown really good benefits of what we now term ‘polarized training’ which is to then train at very low intensity, but then when you go hard, you go really, really hard. You see it all over the place, in the literature and you see it with guys that are racing the Tour de France and in South Africa, locally, we see a lot of our cyclists that train and are performing very successfully, the late Burry Stander being a prime example of that, but what Prof [Sila?] has been doing, particularly over the last decade is actually to try and answer that question which is, what is the best mix of that 20%. Where should we be, should we be at the very high side, should we be down on the threshold side.
Look, there’s 10 years of research, so there is a lot to go through. What has come through quite recently though and that’s actually what I want to focus on for the purpose of today’s talk and how we set those intensities is that that 20% is not the total volume of the hard work that is done. When they work out, when they’ve gone through these programs and in particular when they’ve applied some research to it and actually set up some experimental designs around it, what has come out is that the 20% is actually a total of that day’s session. For example, if you are going to be doing 10 x 2 min hill repeats or 10 x 400 hill repeats, the 4km of hard running up the hill, that does not constitute the percentage, the 20%. It’s actually the entire session. The warm up, the rest intervals in between and the cool down, that total session will probably be closer, if it’s a running session, will probably be closer to 12-13km or an hour to 1:15 and that hour to 1:15 needs to make up part of that 20%.
In other words, the session itself gets assigned a physiological load, which is at high intensity and whether that’s at threshold or very high interval type of intensities, that’s what you need to take into account. Don’t include your recoveries between your hard works and your warm up and your cool down as part of your easy 80%. Again, let’s go back to how do we set these training intensities, how do we make decisions about whether we are going easy or going hard enough, because when they then analyzed your recreational athlete, your serious age group level, your serious club level athletes that would compete at National Championships, but not necessarily go on to represent the country at international games, they discovered that the biggest mistake and the biggest difference between the elite performers and these guys was that this group of athletes trains too hard on the easy days. They do too much work at or close to or just above that ventilatory threshold.
So, we need to know how do we measure our intensity. Well, if we’ve got access to the gadgets, if you’ve got Power meters, if you’ve got a heart rate monitor, it becomes quite easy because then there’s some simple, or more comprehensive testing protocols that we can do. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area where you’ve got access to an exercise physiologist or a university that does testing, then really the best way is to go and get yourself, have some kind of physiological test done to yourself. If you don’t have access to that, but you’ve got the equipment, you’ve got heart rate monitors, you’ve got Power tools, you’ve got GPS, then it’s as simple as setting yourself up some kind of time trail over a measured course that you run or cycle to the best of your ability and then we take the data out of that.
The easiest test to do is to set up an approximately 30 minute protocol, because what we know from our anaerobic threshold is that that threshold is roughly the intensity that we can hold for half an hour. If you go all out for half an hour, your average heart rate, your average Power, your average speed, that will give you a pretty good idea of what your speed and heart rate and Powers are at threshold. That’s a very simple way of doing it, obviously you want to try and measure that at similar times of day on similar equipment, indoor might be better although when you’re running, doing that, the treadmill is a little bit harder, but it’s still effective. You literally want to try and keep those conditions as standard as you can, every time you repeat that test. In fact, when it comes to both running – let me talk about that test a little bit later.
For this purpose, that’s a really good way to do your test. Once you’ve got that line, then you now, I’ve given you a number already and it’ll obviously appear up on the slide again and you can write it down, then that line is about 75% of your anaerobic threshold. It’s quite easy, it’s very easy, it’s quite a difficult thing for most people to wrap their mind around because if you’re at 75% of your anaerobic threshold, that then means, that is very easy and often it’s easy enough that people don’t feel the sweat and the heart beating and they just don’t feel like they’re getting enough out of their training session. By training and doing 80% of your training down there, you are developing a very highly developed aerobic system, which you need for endurance sports, particularly in triathlon.
Protecting yourself from illness
You’re protecting yourself against illness because exercising at that intensity, even at fairly large volumes, actually helps to improve your immune system and not to break it down and when it gets time for you to do that 20% of hard work, be it in a polarized format or some threshold work and some very high intensity training, you will be much more ready to tackle that session and be able to get the most out of that session. On the bike, you will start to see really big benefits of getting Power increases in your Power output, in running terms you start to see some really good improvement in your running speeds and the pool is a little bit different because it depends on a high level of technical proficiency.
What I want to then just add in, before I wrap up this slide, is that the more inexperienced you are, in other words, the more of a newbie you are into the sport, and the more stressful your life is outside of your exercise, the bigger family you’re juggling or the more stressful your work is, the more time you spend actually doing physical labor in your job, the more stressful your non-training activities are, the smaller that percentage should be of high intensity training. You should then consider looking at 10-15% and if you have a highly, highly labor intensive job, you should consider scrapping intensity altogether because the volume of your training and the consistency of your training will become more important. Those are the sort of things you need to discuss with a coach and you’ll be able to figure out better as you’re going along and again, by keeping a record of what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. That will give you a clue if you can up that percentage slightly or whether you need to drop that percentage slightly.
Just to round off this slide, setting appropriate intensities is critical for optimal development ultimately the development of injury and illness. Really, for me, with this slide we’re hitting some real key aspects around maintaining consistency.
We’ll move onto recovery now because obviously this is what holds your body together. Most people feel that it’s the hard training that they’re doing and almost energy that they derive from really being able to push themselves hard session after session. That’s where they think their fitness is coming from, but your fitness is actually coming in those off periods, when you’re sleeping, when you’re resting, when you’re recovering. Those are the times that your body is repairing the damage that is being done during exercise. Every time we exercise, the reason why we get better is because there is a little bit of an overload in the system, and our body goes back and looks at it and goes right, what can we improve so that next time this exercise is better, we withstand it better. That goes for ligaments, tendons, muscles, the cardio respiratory system, moving blood and transporting oxygen, absorbing the alveoli in the lungs etc. These systems get better and better all the time.