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Ironman Training: 10 Minimalist Strategies

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The Ironman race, is one of the most grueling races any human can endure. The training requirements can feel a little daunting to the average athlete, looking for another area to test their level of fitness.

Everyday athletes often approach training for their first event, in the wrong manner and end up on the other side of the over-training line.

So how does an athlete prepare for such an event without stepping over that invisible line?

Here are ten simple strategies to help you train smarter, so that you can be ready for that big day!

  1. Do Short Swims

Swimming requires much more efficiency and “feel for the water” than pure fitness.  When it comes to swimming, frequency and consistency, is more important than long grueling swim workouts of 60-90 minutes.

Focus on one long, 60 minute swim, once per week.  Rather than a steady, slow swim, you should structure this workout to include hard, race pace intervals with short rests. Then pepper other brief 15-30 minute swims, such as 20×50 or 10×100 throughout the week, preferably before a strength training session, swim or bike so that you minimize  prep time.

  1. Indoor Bike Rides

Cycling can involve dressing, prepping tires, getting gloves, filling water bottles, meeting with a group and other activities that can take 15-20 minutes before you’re even on the road training. lets also not forget the traffic you’ll face once your on the road.

So if you want to maximize your cycling bang for your buck, find a room in the house to be your “pain cave”, set up an indoor trainer, and do 1-2 short, intense indoor bike trainer sessions per week. You’ll stay focused and structured with this approach. Keep these indoor workouts to 40-60 minutes in length and utilize interval training to combat boredom.

  1. No Early Season Long Bikes

With a minimalist approach, you only need to ride long (or ride outdoors) a maximum of once per week. This one ride can take anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on how close you are to your race. When your fellow competitors are busting their ass all year long, turn your focus to two or three long rides, and only in the final 8 weeks before Ironman.

  1. Bike Alone

For both your indoor training session and your outdoor rides, you should try to ride alone as much as possible, and here’s why: group rides not only require lots of time investment to get a group together and head out for the session, but these rides also include lots of drafting, socializing and pace fluctuations – all of which won’t be happening during your actual Ironman. So ride solo and avoid groups during your cycling workouts and you’ll get much more bang for your training buck.

  1. No Long Runs

You heard me right. No long runs. While a long bike ride is a session from which you can recover relatively quickly, a long run (2+ hours) can significantly impact your joints and literally keep you inflamed and beat up for up to 2 weeks.

In the same way that anaerobic high intensity interval sessions have been shown to significantly enhance aerobic fitness, short and intense runs of 80-90 minutes are all you really need to get you ready. The trick is that you need to make these 80-90 minute runs high-quality, not long slow death marches like most Ironman athletes treat their long run. Do this session on fresh legs, after a good day’s rest, and you’ll maximize the intensity and efficiency of your one key run training session.

  1. Run On Short Courses

If you do opt to run more than once per week, you should stay away from long courses, like 3+ mile loops or lengthy trails, because the longer the course, the more likely it is that you’ll take your time and run it slow. Instead, choose to run on tracks, neighborhood blocks, or short loops, which are far more conducive to brief, high-quality and intense intervals.

  1. Lift

Multiple research studies have shown that strength training can improve endurance performance by increasing neuromuscular recruitment, efficiency and economy – especially for cyclists and runners. There is an amazing amount of evidence that participation in  a strength training program, is significant at injury prevention.

Compared to short distance triathletes, you’ll notice that the best Ironman triathletes tend to be slightly “beefier”. This added strength and muscle, which you can realistically achieve with 1-2 full body weight training sessions each week, can significantly enhance joint stability, cushioning, and impact during the relatively long and rigorous Ironman event.

  1. Recover

Doing your high intensity interval training sessions and key run workouts on fresh legs, will give you way more bang for your training buck.

Tracking resting heart rate, body mass, sleep, oxygen saturation, hydration, appetite, muscle soreness, energy level, mood state, well being and previous day’s performance is key in knowing when your ready to go and when you should take a well deserved day off.

You’ll find that with minimalist training, you not only recover much more quickly, but you also require a minimal taper for Ironman. Rather than spending 3-5 weeks of “healing” and tapering prior to a race, you can literally begin backing off just a week prior to Ironman.

  1. Diet

You may find that you have more difficulty maintaining your racing weight when you aren’t training for an insane number of hours each day, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to eating anything you want, then training your ass off with chronic cardio to burn those calories.

The “Carbohydrate Loading Conundrum” article does a fantastic job teaching you how to maximize glycogen stores while also increasing the body’s reliance on fat for energy. The strategies highlight the importance of choosing slow burning fuel for the majority of your energy needs. To fuel properly, think high fat diet, with a combination of coconut oil, high molecular weight starches and amino acid capsules during my actual training and racing, rather than the traditional gel and sports drink combo.

Some days it will feel like all your doing is training and eating but you must keep your body fueled properly to ensure better recovery and peak performance along the way.

Hopefully, these 10 tips give you a very good starting point for minimalist Ironman triathlon training, and help you to avoid chronic cardio self-destruction by training dozens of hours per week.

If your searching for a complimentary strength program to amp up your results, we would love to help!

We can help fill in the training gaps along the way!