Move Like a Pro: Building a Triathlete’s Base Phase

Triathlons are full of transitions. Creating an effective training plan for a race or an entire year of racing requires transitions, too: The off-season transitions to prep or base phase to the build phase, which may include a race specific period to the taper, the race and then back to the off-season. As athletes transition from the off-season to their base phase, they generally think about the big picture.

Quite simply, it’s getting back out there in the pool, on the bike or on the road. It’s the time to start structured, purposeful training again. Traditionally, volume and intensity is low to moderate in all three sports. Team Amino Vital triathlete Beth Andrew is shaping her training plan for the year and offered these tips for a base phase.

FOCUS ON STRENGTHS
Fine tune favorite aspects of the sport. A key component to getting back into training is to find what you love about each sport and working on your strengths in each one. Finding what you love will help keep you motivated. Working on strength will increase your confidence. For example, Beth loves the challenge of cycling hills. She’ll spend a few of her training rides perfecting her climbing ability – keeping a high cadence and a constant power and never quitting at the crest. You may love running hills or simply getting outdoors, so get out there! Your strength may be high run cadence or a great arm recovery on the swim. Doing drills to hone those skills will set up a strong foundation, allowing you to add new skills in future phases.

FOCUS ON LIMITERS
The base phase is when you start work on injury prevention or technique flaws. Injury prevention is important not only for this year, but for longevity in the sport. Find out what caused that sore hamstring or tight calf last summer (probably not the hamstring or calf itself!) and work on preventing it now. It’s a great time to add core conditioning. Last year, Beth developed a nagging muscle ache in her back and an imbalance in her left hip in the lead-up to her Iron distance tri. This year, she’s staying on top of it with Pilates or yoga classes once a week and TRX combined with Coach Noss’ Compound Move Series to prevent a recurrence.

Correcting technique flaws in the base phase will make a big difference on race day. You may not get faster by correcting your pull in the water or your run stride, but you’ll prevent injuries and become more efficient. Last year, Beth had one swim lesson with a USAT coach, and having a new set of eyes on her swim stroke and body position made a huge difference. She slowed down her swims, worked on specific drills in the water and conditioning out of the water (hello, lats!). By race season, she was swimming longer distances and faster speeds—all with a lower heart rate!

BENCHMARK TESTS
Now is the time for testing in each sport! Benchmarks help set realistic goals, speed targets and volumes for the season. Beth has a sprint triathlon in March, and in prep for that, she planned two timed 300-yard swims. She did one in January and has another one planned two weeks before her race. She’ll be able to see how far she’s come in a few months and give herself a realistic target for her swim finish time. Common speed-based tests include a timed mile or an early season race, a 20-minute time trial on the bike or the 200/800 benchmark for the swim. You may want to get video of your swims or runs and you may want to invest in a functional movement screening. These screens reveal how and where you create power, have potential imbalances and where you are flexible (or not).

Your base phase may be as few as two weeks or as many as twelve based on your fitness level and the goals you want to achieve this season. Regarless, engineering the perfect tri season starts with the foundation phase. Now get out there and build your best season ever!

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