One of the biggest challenges a triathlete faces is wading through the plethora of information available to them. Magazines, the internet, athletes, coaches, pro athlete websites and blogs, all shout out the so called secrets to being a super star. The reality is everyone. In fact anyone spruiking it has to be dealt with a degree of scepticism.

The famous heredity study tested thousands of people on their response to the same training program. Their finding showed that just like in most populations there are responders and non-responders. Some responded well while others went backwards doing the same program!

From a Genetic perspective professor Stephen Roth has written a pretty concise summary of how genetics can determine performance. My goal today is to talk more about the other factors which can determine the suitability of a training program for you. It has me beat how people pay for a generic 12-24 week training plan to follow without giving any thought as to whether this suits me as an athlete or a person.

One of the most important sport science principles (the guiding lights we use to develop a training plan) is individuality. Every athlete is different and hence every athlete needs to be treated individually.

Individuality simply means, your training should match, your strengths, weaknesses, goals and needs. The key here is to understand the person and their training background. For instance;

  • Biological & Chronological Age: Chronological age refers to our birth years, whilst Biological age reflects where we are physically (health/fitness)/mentally. Just because an individual is almost 60 doesn’t mean you as a 30 year old should be able to train the same as him!
  • Training Age:  Refers to the years of training or more specifically swim, bike or run training you have in you. Someone with 10 years’ experience will be able to cope with a lot more training than someone with only 1-2 years.
  • Specificity-Fitness Profile: This refers to the S’s of fitness we worked through a few weeks ago. How does your profile look for each of the sports? Does the training target your weaknesses.
  • Capacity to Train: Whilst two athletes may be similar in performance ability, they may have quite distinct abilities when it comes to the capacity to train. Some athletes require significantly greater workloads to achieve their appropriate performance level. Others will respond better with an intensity focus, while others need lots of racing to arrive at their ideal performance level. Capacity to train also refers to environmental factors such as time, support at home, resources, access to squads, weather and motivation
  • Capacity to Recover:  An athlete’s capacity to recover from training loads can not only be affected by genetics, but also by a number of factors outside training. These include school, work, family, finances, diet, sleep, stress, travel and so on. Left unconsidered, these factors can be an added stress that can clearly affect recovery rates and the ability to train, which subsequently will have a detrimental effect on performance.
  • Health Status:  An athlete’s health and injury status/history contributes significantly to their ability to train. Some are bullet proof, while others (myself included) are prone to breaking down. Fragile athletes need closer monitoring to prevent breaking down or work more closely with health professionals to reduce injury or health risks. Consistency of training is the basis of performance improvements, and athletes who encounter frequent interruptions due to health problems are all too frequently stopped from reaching their performance potential.

Gaining an understanding of these factors helps to provide a complete picture about “training background”

So when presented with the so called magic training program it is important to ask, how does this relate to me as an athlete? Do I have the time? Am I physically and mentally ready for it? How do the loads compare to my past training? Does the training address my specific improvement areas? And most importantly how does it relate back to my goals and dreams for participating?

It is important to recognise that successful triathlon performance is the sum of numerous factors that will vary from triathlete to triathlete. There is no simple formula that can be adhered to which will guarantee successful performance. Whilst you might fight it out over the last few kms of the run or share the finish shoot with someone, how you both achieved that result may vary significantly.