Processes part 2 – Specific processes to boost your triathlon performance
Part 1 of our processes article identified our training philosophy that incorporates the two process groups associated in triathlon training; physical processes and mental processes. Adherence to the training philosophy, supported by following both the physical and mental processes allows the athlete to develop successfully.
Here we look in more depth at the physical and mental processes needed to succeed in training and racing.
Have you ever heard of the “mind-muscle connection”
It is applicable here; having a strong mental image of a movement pattern and knowing how to manipulate the muscles responsible for the action makes you a much more effective and adaptable athlete. You’ll be able to control your body in the different scenarios that creep up on you; you’ll notice if you stop moving in desired ways because you won’t feel those muscles working or you’ll feel them working overtime.
As well as being able to make the physical link to your limbs and movements, you need to know how to control your mind! There are times when you need to dig deep, push on harder, or even restrain yourself; mind control allows you to do this by using various techniques such as visualisation (recapping previous experiences, imagining occurrences, etc) and developing and using mantras.
You need to find, follow and recite your mental processes regularly, just like physical training.
The most significant process for you to acknowledge and then adhere to is to train at the correct intensity. Use your mind to learn how your body feel and then train at perceived effort levels, always.
This MUST be the top process on your list; it is often the reason why many athletes never reach their potential!
Most triathletes diverge from or never even follow this advice. Too many people think that harder and longer is better; training too hard or too long is disastrous!
Being patient and accepting this process will result in the improvements and longevity. Once accepted and applied, there is nothing more satisfying and motivating than continually seeing improvements in performance whilst remaining healthy and injury-free.
Physical (mechanical) processes
The processes involved with movement should be kept simple and specific to the individual and to the sport of TRIATHLON. Reducing process thoughts to single words or short phrases, or simple visualisations or counting works best.
Here are some examples:
- PUSH! – pushing the water back fully and hard every stroke;
- “PUSH makes me go swoosh” Brett Sutton;
- Swim arm movement: REPs – Recover, Enter and PUSH;
- 1 PUSH, 2 PUSH, breathe;
- Count strokes (per length, etc) – makes you aware of consistency in stroke, where your hands are.
- STOMP! – up hills, on the flat, into head winds (basically all the time!);
- 1-5 is power time;
- Stay low and flow;
- “Grip it and rip it” Brett Sutton – grip the aerobars and use your upper body to get strength to the legs;
- Eyes front – look forwards.
- Chin up, chest proud, hips front – keep your body weight vertical;
- To ATTENTION – run tall, as above;
- 3x Step-breathe out, 3x step-breathe in;
- Heel-to-toe (striding);
- FAST feet – not over striding.
- Counting strides – makes you aware of cadence and where your legs are.
Mental (psychological) processes
Mental processes are the ones that help you stay focused, aware and in control of your actions and emotions – they boost your “toughness”. These are the processes that help us overcome challenging sets and tough moments in races.
Develop them, use them and hone them in training – training is practicing your race.
Do so and come race day you have an arsenal of powerful mental steps to help you overcome obstacles.
Some of these visualisations and mantras might be:
- “Race myself, not them”
- “Come whatever may, I’m in control!”
- “EASY speed now for a HARD finish”
- “Look at these overambitious competitors, I’ll get you back soon!”
- “I’ve trained for 12months, I’m more than prepared”
- “If I’m feeling challenged, so is everyone else”
- “Someone else is hurting just as much as I am”
- “This burn is temporary, tonight I’ll be free of it”
- “This is nothing compared to “X” session/race”
Training and racing are HARD
Training and racing are not always pleasant; there will be sets/moments that require more effort and control. These moments could be physically hard and demanding (climbing hills, etc), or hard for our egos to accept (needing to hold back and go slow or accepting that today is not your day).
There will also be moments that undesirable things happen and that you need to stay calm to be able to overcome.
These are all part of the sport (and life) and can be overcome in almost every occurrence – if you develop and remember the processes.
Train with awareness, without being distracted, so you can store mental notes about the hard and easy parts of sessions and racing. Build a catalogue of experiences to call on to help you succeed.
Over time you will likely have made up your own mantras, or remembered a mantra of your idol, and can use them to help push you on or reign in your eagerness. Be mentally and physically aware so you can add to your existing arsenal, or to modify them.
Using general processes and finding your unique ones
The above examples of physical and mental processes are exactly that, examples. They may work for some, but not others.
There are some processes that are “general”, they apply to everyone because they are how/where the sports are performed, or physiology dictates it! While there are other processes that are unique to the individual.
Finding unique processes that work for you is important and a large part of this learning falls on you, while it could also be an area for your coach. Our article on coaching cues explains that everyone learns differently, has different understandings of movements as well as cultural differences which is why unique processes don’t always transfer.
When you train, undistracted, assess what words, phrases and visions create the best process focus for you. Why not use a thesaurus if needed (or google), to learn a different word so you can really make the point hit home (or make things rhyme)?
These unique processes will be a powerful boost in future sessions and races.
Why hinder your application of processes?
Part 1 of this article had an overview of the distractions that unhinge athletes.
Now we will cover our “big 3” hinderances that most commonly compromise an athlete’s belief, commitment and performance. We are all guilty of being influenced by them, or dwell on them for too long. The problem is that very few people can sieve through the “rubbish” and realise they are not helping their own wellbeing and performance.
Access to results
In today’s world, you can literally find ANYTHING on the internet and it’s easy to find peoples outcome data, whether they be friends, peers, rivals, idols, etc. You only need to know a name to go online and you´ll find their training data and race results. Whilst this could provide some short-term determination it often results in comparisons, self-doubt and worry.
Social media and portrayal fakery
There are many factors today that are NOT regulated or display/portray the truth. Social media provides the prime example where faking or exaggerating things is EASY. The ease of using filters to enhance images, taking snapshots of training data mid-session (with deliberately increased power, speed, etc), pretence of being happy and strong when the opposite is true, etc are very common.
People mainly use these tactics to seek affirmation and support, because they are secretly insecure with their development. Longer term it can mushroom out of control and the individual breaks down or simply vanish – profiles and websites literally disappear!
All this fakery wreaks havoc on your hormonal and psychological state. It has been well documented that social media directly influences stress hormones and can lead to mental health issues. Part 1 of our processes articles linked to another article referring to this subject; but here are Joe Rogan and Elon Musk (Tesla and Space X) talking about the same thing.
Many athletes sabotage their adherence to good performances (in training and racing) by self-sabotage.
Access to data and results and (especially) social media causes self-doubt, doubt in the process and a massive fall-off process application.
This is where an athlete sets compromising expectations and mini goals during sessions and races because they have become obsessed with data. Data is easily accessible now days, but it is not adaptable or reliable – especially as our body is not the same every day.
“Last session I was swimming/cycling/running at this pace, I’m below that now, I need to work harder”
When this happens, processes get neglected, in favour of just moving faster, with no real awareness or consideration for how “faster” is achieved. Short-term, this might help you achieve that extra pace. Longer-term, you have:
- Compromised your health and wellbeing (overloading your body on a day it was more fatigued, which is why you underperformed in the first place);
- Compromised your muscles/joints (moving in a way that is straining them);
- Reinforced bad habits!
Instead, focus on the process(es) specific to you, control your effort and ACCEPT that day by day your performance will fluctuate. You will have good days and “bad” days, they both contribute to a better future, bad days more so than good days if you learn from them.
If you do want to go faster “now”, focus on your movement processes. Execute them well, use the correct muscles (strengthening them at the same time) and you will go faster. But make sure you also control your perceived effort and nutrition.
All age groupers start triathlon as a hobby, as a way of increasing fitness or to destress. You were no different. However, after gaining some experience and knowledge from reading, watching videos and tracking peers, you become competitive and want to become an “Age-grouper” Championship qualifier.
Attaining qualification slots to the various Championships is a great achievement; it is a prestigious accomplishment and can be a valid objective for many. There are Elite / Pro Championships and there are Age Group Championships.
Looking at the age group route, here are some problems that arise
With the mass use of social media, the way social media algorithms work, the ability to follow friends/strangers/hashtags, etc, the qualifications are thrown in our face every day – especially in the months leading up to qualifying events and then the Championships themselves.
Too many hobbyist, stress-busting athletes now see themselves as “failing” unless they attain slots to World / European / Asia / US Championship status – even those that have been in the sport for as little as 2 years and have already made HUGE personal progression.
The fault with the current qualification process
Triathlon is now a massive commercial sport, with various governing bodies and corporate organisations all trying to entice triathletes to their races, and each having their own championships to aim for.
Compare triathlon to the qualification process in swim, bike or run and you will see it is very different. The route is much more “rigorous” to the World stage. Athletes must qualify at Local, then County, then Regional levels before attaining National qualification and then, only if successful at this level, move into the International arena.
There are at least 4 tiers to work through before you reach International or “World” level. The benefit of these tiers is that progress and development is much easier to track, expectations are managed better, and competition is much more prestigious.
In triathlon, it is possible to turn up to your first event and qualify for a World Championships because of various reasons. This does not set a fair example. There are various reasons of how a slot might be gained; not many in the age group, faster athletes already qualifying, faster athletes not wanting / can´t commit to go to the next level, can´t afford to pay there and then to secure the slot.
Everyone racing triathlon trains hard, makes sacrifices and pays to enter races. One person may qualify as mentioned above, whereas another may have races of a lifetime at another venue and then miss out on qualification by mere seconds – finishing second in their age group but in a field with only one qualification slot.
The flipside to this is that those that do qualify and race at the World / European / USA / Asia Championships will be racing against some fierce competition. It will be a sharp realisation that the qualifying process wasn’t quite right, as the competition was more experienced and much stronger!
This unfortunately is the way of triathlon and so must not be a source of frustration or be the main goal!
Don´t let anything make you ignore your process application.
Processes secure long-term success
When you have your processes established, they are relatively easy to apply in easy situations. They will need to be practiced consistently though, to successfully apply them when the going gets tough or when there are distractions present.
Recapping the training processes
Alongside the processes listed above, there is also the process of training your physiology – as largely covered in part 1. Triathletes (and any other endurance athletes) need to develop an efficient aerobic system.
The process for developing a strong aerobic system is simple: consistency and the use of the correct intensity! Master the ability to feel the different effort levels, commit to the lower intensity, even when you are around others, pushed for time, or feeling good.
Take responsibility and ownership of your development, don’t let technology with fixed algorithms tell you otherwise, or cram in sessions if you are pushed for time. A typical example would be that you have a 3-hour easy aerobic ride programmed; however, you have only 2 hours spare. Working harder in 2 hours, above aerobic levels, is NOT the right route to take, a harder/faster 2 hours does not “make up for” an hour less volume!
Setting goals to qualify for Kona or being a national age grouper are great, but without applying the process to support them, the chances are likely to be jeopardised by self-pressure, comparisons, eagerness, mechanical strain, compromised immune systems and disappointment.
Processes lead to outcomes.
Processes are controllable, outcomes are influenceable through process application.
Processes are now, outcomes are the future.
You must have confidence in, and commit to focusing on, the processes that you can control and implement for short- and long-term success.
Filter through all the distractions and concentrate on your own personal development through applying your own unique processes.
Processes = performance success and longevity by remaining healthy, strong and injury-free.