Triathlon: Diversity is cool, but at what cost?

Posted on Monday, June 20

Triathlon: Diversity is cool, but at what cost?

A column by Daphné Bilodeau, PT, Nxt Generation PHYSIO.

Summer is approaching, and the desire to sign up for a triathlon increases with the rising mercury. Discover here our physio tips and even more reasons to adopt this sport! 😉

The triathlon combines three well-known disciplines that are practiced in the following order: swimming, cycling, and running.

The diversity of this sport makes it a 3x more varied workout, which piques the interest of many! Diversification is great, but at what cost?

Positive aspects

Triathlon is fundamentally an endurance sport. The pursuit of training remains simpler, even in the case of an injury. Since the same cardiovascular energy sphere is engaged throughout the activity, it is easier for the athlete to engage in cross-training without losing too much time. For example, they can focus their energy on swimming and cycling in case of running-related pain, allowing them to maintain good capacities for 2/3 of the disciplines while preserving their aerobic cardiovascular endurance.

The risk of overuse injury is therefore lower compared to intense practice of a single discipline. With varied training, the repetition of the same movement is less significant, reducing the chances of overloading the structures.

Points to watch out for

However, it is important to pay attention to the total volume of training, ensure proper progression, and allow for adequate recovery. Your training now becomes 3x more demanding, as you have to perform in three different disciplines. The overall stress on the body can easily become greater, especially if the required distances are longer.

Our bodies secrete more cortisol in response to excessive stress, which weakens our structures by negatively affecting their necessary recovery metabolism. Ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones become more susceptible to injuries. Training for impressive distances can lead to overloading quickly. An Ironman doesn’t get its name for nothing! 😉

Our advice

If you are starting from scratch or had to stop training for the winter, you should begin with small outings, with three training sessions per week for the first week. Attention! I’m referring to three total training sessions, not per discipline!

If you are already training and wish to continue progressing, you can follow the same principles while maintaining your current level.

It involves alternating between increasing the number of training sessions, the duration per session, and the intensity of the workouts. In the meantime, your training plan should include weeks with lower volume to allow your body to recover.

The progression towards a sprint triathlon should take a minimum of 3 months, while the progression towards a half Ironman or an Ironman should span several years.

In any case, I highly recommend seeking guidance from a kinesiologist who specializes in training periodization. They can develop your training plan based on your goals. They first prepare your macro-level progression and then provide you with short-term training according to your progress.

Not only does proper progression help avoid the risk of injury, but it also allows for better long-term performance. If your body is not well-rested, your subsequent workouts will not be as effective because you won’t be able to give your 100% as planned. Just keep in mind that there is a fine line between the necessary training zone to push your limits and the level not to exceed.

The table below is an excellent example.

Our explanations:

Mechanical stress depends on the activity itself, the training volume, and intensity.

The stress level needs to initially exceed a minimum threshold to promote adaptations and allow for improvements (first white line). Over time, training performed with proper progression increases the total stress level that the body can handle without risk, represented here as “The Zone.” In other words, you develop new superpowers.

Following the curve of the graph, which represents the training stress level, we can observe that with the application of greater stress, there is a risk of surpassing the maximum capacity for adaptation outside of the “Zone” and entering the red zone.

Indeed, the curve exceeds the maximum threshold accepted by the body and diminishes the subsequent capacity that the body can handle. Thus, a portion of the progress made is lost.

Insufficient recovery can also have the same effect. If the curve doesn’t have enough time to fully descend before the application of a second stress, this second stress is more likely to exceed the zone and enter the red zone. Therefore, a lower level of stress can cause more damage if your recovery is not sufficient beforehand.

Mechanical stress also depends on the athlete’s basic biomechanical capabilities. For example, a runner who lacks ankle mobility will have to compensate elsewhere to bring the leg forward without stumbling. They may tend to overuse their peroneal muscles to generate more pulling force and increase ankle movement, or increase movement at the hip or even the lower back. At that point, the compensating structure becomes overused more quickly and may exceed its maximum capacity for adaptation, resulting in an injury.

It is important to address joint stiffness, muscle tension, hypermobility, and discomfort before an injury develops.

Assessing your running technique, swimming technique, and bike positioning can be considered, as well as seeking a physiotherapy evaluation.

The key remains in progression and listening to your body!

So, when will your first sprint triathlon be?

Daphné Bilodeau Physiotherapist Nxt Generation PHYSIO

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