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How Training Slower Makes You Faster

Updated: Jun 26, 2018

We’re heading into what will be the off season for many of you. This is the perfect opportunity to focus on form, technique, low heart rate training, slower rides - some things that just seem counter-intuitive to athletes that want to RACE faster.

Has this ever happened to you? You have the race of your life and all you can think about is, “I have gotten this far, now I want to get even faster.” So, you begin to increase intensity and speed in your workouts. Every workout is harder, every workout you get faster, and then, BAM - you end up injured, sick, or too tired to race well the next race. Then you wonder, "what happened?" Or, if you don’t wonder, you just put your head down and say, "as soon as I get healthy, I need to start training harder."

WRONG! That is absolutely not the right answer, just as training hard now when we don’t have a triathlon for 8 more months is not the right answer. 

We have several energy systems that need to be trained; which is where the periodization comes in. We have the aerobic system (or O2), the anaerobic system, and the ATP-CP. When we race, we typically hit each of these energy systems, but not all of them at once, and certainly not all of them at the same time. Not only that, but if your aerobic system is not built properly, the other two systems become insignificant when racing.

Think about training like building a house. If you don’t have a solid foundation, you can build a house, but the quality will be compromised and eventually the walls crack and the roof caves in. During the off season, you need to build that foundation - that aerobic system so that your body is stronger and more capable of handling the higher training load and racing efforts during the season.

Working lower heart rates right now will teach your body to use fats as your primary energy source. If you skip working low heart rates, you never properly train your body to use those fats, and you will immediately need to begin using carbohydrates and sugar for energy. Yes, we can use carbohydrates and sugars, but the reality is, we have more fat available than carbohydrates and simple sugars in our body. Most of us understand and agree that we have some extra fat that we wouldn’t mind getting “used up,” but this still rings true for even those who have a low percentage of body fat.

And now, back to those low heart rates. Yes, training at low heart rates mean you will be running and riding slower. But again, if we don’t teach your body to use fats as fuels at a lower intensity, we cannot teach your body to use fats as fuels at higher heart rates effectively. If we can teach your body to use fats, then we can lower your heart rate at the higher intensities and get you running and riding even faster. 

So, here is my test for you. Use the next month to play with this. It’s the off season - you have nothing to lose. Get a Moxy test (the Tri Fitness Training Center can help you out with this).  Workout in Z1 (Zone 1) for 1 month. Do the same ride or run route and track what happens to your speed from week to week. No, you do not have to run/ride the same route every day (you can do it just once a week), but your other workouts should also remain in Z1 (or lower). You don’t need us to coach you for this, but once you see the results to this test, you will understand the importance of building the proper foundation.

Author: Vicki Ostendorf

To further contact Vicki, email her at 

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