We picked the brains of the greatest minds in the sport of triathlon – four coaches of top pro triathletes. They shared their thoughts on injury prevention, nutrition, life balance and everything in between.
Canadian Joel Filliol has built quite a reputation as an elite coach. For one, he coached Canada’s Simon Whitfield to silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But beyond that he’s served as head coach for the national federations British Triathlon and Triathlon Canada, and has worked with top names such as Alistair Brownlee, Jonathan Brownlee, Tim Don, Helen Jenkins and Jordan Rapp. He’s currently based in Victoria and working with ITU athletes Kirsten Sweetland, Lauren Campbell and Kerry Lang, as well as lronman athletes Hillary Biscay and Chris McDonald.
Training Philosphy: What we’re really trying to do is the maximum sustainable training load for any given athlete, and the key word is “sustainable.” That’s a word coaches talk about-consistency. And what does that really mean? It means that the level of training, the level of work you can back up day to day and week to week for a long period of time, and the idea is that we progress that over time-that athletes can progress to be able to tolerate and absorb a higher and higher level of work. And of course you adapt as you go. That contrasts to an approach that’s more varied or uses more traditional cycles, like build 1, 2, 3 and then have a week off, a down week. It varies from that-where we’re looking at longer periods of time where the goal is to have a really consistent period of work. Of course,you need the right level of intensity to stimulate improvement, and that can come in different ways. That can come from inteNals at various paces or from using natural terrain like hills or from higher frequency or varying the volume. So there are lots of ways we can adjust that workload, but we’re trying to have basically the highest average workload for a longer period of time, and that’s what gets athletes fit, and then some specificity into the kind of races they’re preparing for, and then the right amount of rest based on all of that.
How To Peak For A Race: I think it’s less about trying to achieve that big peak on those days than it is to have a performance that’s predictable-that you know that if you line up your training in this planned way that you’re going to have the best level of your season on those days. That it’s predictable and consistent is probably what Iwould apply to anyone-less so than chasing after a peak. As I said, things can go wrong if you’re pushing a bit too much to try to be better than you’ve ever been before, but what you really want to be able to do and need to be able to do is have a consistent, reliable and predictable performance-and that’s going to give you your best chances of having the kind of day you want in your goal races. And what the practical piece for that is is having a consistent lead-in to your races. I use the same basic lead into almost every race that my athletes do, and the main difference between a major priority race and just another race is what happens from seven or eight days, from 13 to 14 days prior. So the week before is always the same; it’s the second week before that we vary depending on the level of the race and the workload that they’ve carried in. The right amount of rest, the right amount of taper-having a real consistent pattern for that into races-one, it takes a bit of the thinking away from, “What am I going to do race week?” but also sets up that predictability and that pattern that we know what to expect race week; we always do the same sessions and that predictability, that reliability is there. I think it makes it easier to produce that consistent performance. So it’s slightly different thinking than trying to get a peak and more about, “How do we make sure that we’re able to express the fitness that we’ve built through training?” What we want to avoid is that sensation of heavy legs or sluggishness, and usually that’s from recovering or doing too little. You can also feel like that from being too fatigued but many athletes I think do too little race week or the two weeks before-they almost over-rest, and they get that sluggishness from that.
The Right Workload At The Right Time: What we’re trying to do is have the right workloads for each athlete-the right workload at the right time for the athletes. Ithink that’s sort of a broad principle, but there are some different stories for how I can illustrate that. “Philosophy” is kind of a big word-what does that mean? What does that apply? My lessons working with Simon post-Beijing-we were lucky to have success, so you look back and ask, “What contributed to that?” And Isaid there were three things that were really important for Beijing, and they were conditioning, conditioning and conditioning. Just having a really high, robust level of fitness, of conditioning. And that really takes you a long way, and I think it’s easy to get distracted with-in our sport with either the technology of it or the many different ways which we can go about training and convolute the big picture- that it’s about getting our athletes as fit as they can be and ready to race and express that. But getting as fit as you can be isn’t that complicated of a process. Having seen and worked with so many different champion athletes, I can tell you that they’re not all training at the same level, and what they are doing is training at the level that’s right for them. And for some of the men or some of the women, that may be running eight or nine or 10 hours a week, and they’re at the top. And there’s others who are only running four or five, and they’re equally as fast. And it’s not about a coach being right or wrong, but it’s the right approach for the right athlete at the right time-figuring that out for the individual is really what the task is.
On Injury Prevention: Part of it is getting the training load right because a lot of injuries are caused by or are preCipitated by training load that is too high and they can’t cope with it and structurally bad things start to happen-they start to move in less than optimal ways or compensate-compensation patterns in their movement, which lead to injury. So that is very important. Very well-skilled coaches seem to have lower injury rates from that perspective of knowing the right load for the athletes so all their stabiliser muscles and form is able to hold together, so there’s the right progression. But I look at an athlete’s injury history, their biomechanics, what we know about their sport history also as indicators of what they need to do. The athletes that I’m able to see and work with more closely, more intensely might have a physio screening, they might have areas where they need to develop be identified and we can address those in a sport-specific way, which is using various exercises or ways of training to develop strength or conditioning or ability to hold form-there’s ways we can do that within training, within sport-specific training. Then there’s also looking at what we can do in terms of other exercises that might address limiters or predisposition to injury. So that might be spending time doing gym work or drill work or isolating particular areas that we know are weak and then-I wouldn’t necessarily say “isolate” areas but emphasising development in areas that are weak or predispose an athlete to injury or where they’ve identified a movement pattern from before. I really encourage athletes to have a good self- maintenance-type programme, which basically includes foam rollers and those types of activities that can keep the body moving.
I don’t mean stretching as it were, but it’s about how those muscles are working together and that can help a lot. I don’t like athletes to have to rely on medical support or physios or chiros. I’d prefer them to be able to do a lot of that maintenance themselves.
On Balancing All Three Sports: If I give people advice, frequency is important in such that even short workouts are still really useful. If you only have time to swim 20 minutes, that’s better than nothing. And doing that more often. Even short runs-20 or 30 minutes-are much better than not doing those, and spread those throughout the week and you can achieve a good level of frequency. Because part of learning how to move well-and we might talk technique, or biomechanics in swimming and running-the frequency and neuromuscular coordination and flow is important. It’s figuring out within their own schedule, their life schedule, what is a programme or a layout for the week, a schedule for the week that they can repeat conSistently because again if you’re too ambitious or you don’t anticipate what level is sustainable for you, then you’re going to end up less consistent over time if you’re constantly missing sessions, or some sessions are too much and you just can’t recover and then that affects your consistency the rest of the week.
On Mistakes Age Groupers Make: I suppose just making it more complicated than it needs to be at times. I think you can easily make things too complicated, try to be too sophisticated. And it really is that endurance training is really simple. It’s easy to overdo single sessions but then sacrifice consistency as opposed to knowing what the right level is for any given athlete at the time and then being able to back that up. How I see improvement in an athlete is not necessarily how good anyone training session is. It’s how much they’re able to back it up and be consistent throughout the week. >