Train hard, recover harder - Guest Post by Pedro Gomes

One of the simplest concepts of being successful at long distance triathlon also seems to be one of the hardest concepts for many triathletes to accept and make happen. Easy, slow workouts and recovery sessions help you become faster!

Image by Pedro Gomes. 

Image by Pedro Gomes. 

If you are invested in this sport, it is important to make every single workout count, especially if time is limited. It is important to train with a purpose each and every time you step out the door and that may also mean taking the right approach to a session and accepting it’s purpose. If your coach has developed heart rate zones for you, you will probably notice that your "recovery" zone is very very easy! This is done for a reason, and most athletes will feel this zone is "too easy". 

The hard workouts are the real “meat” of your triathlon program. They are in the program for the purpose of damaging your legs or arms so your body may learn from being broken down and fighting through the heavy, burning feeling in the muscles when racing. On these hard/intense workouts, you need to be able to stimulate your heart rate into the recommended zones, being properly recovered is key for this to happen. 

Realizing that these zones serve a purpose is the first step. The hard workouts may not all be very intense and may just be tough because of its duration. On these long sessions you will build endurance and help your body to develop strength it needs to handle more intense sessions and, obviously, races. Hard workouts are where we want to work on the top of that chart.

It is a waste of time to be out there and not being able to work past something that feels like you are in your comfort zone, or training in the grey area.  On these sessions you want to work as close as possible to your race pace because, there goes the saying, if you can’t do it in training, how will you be able to do it on race day? If you are not getting into the zones you need to on the hard sessions, you are not putting your body through those motions and he doesn’t become efficient at those levels. Obviously your race zones are different accordingly to the race you are preparing and so if you are aiming for a Olympic distance, your race zone will likely be above threshold while if you are preparing for a 70.3 or IM race, you will probably be spending a lot of time just below your threshold heart rate.

Now the hardest thing about training for most athletes – the recovery/easy workouts.

Let me put it this way: if your hard workouts are designed to break your body down, it would make sense that your easy days are there to build your body back into one piece. So there’s a very simple rule you should take into consideration for your recovery sessions: you can’t ever swim, bike or run too slow on a recovery day, only too fast. Stick to your recovery heart rate zone to ensure that you are not going too hard, if you just go by "feel", it is likely that the undisciplined athlete will still go a bit too hard. 

Understanding this is notoriously hard to grasp. So maybe if you understand why training slow helps recovery, may be it will be easier to accept it and apply. Slow, easy swimming, biking or running helps to flush oxygen-rich blood through the legs and arms and also promotes micro-muscle tears healing (and other damage that a hard session creates). Overall this is what active recovery is all about. As soon as you begin to push the pace, you are creating more damage rather than helping your body heal.  We are all individuals with different needs, body types, and recovery speed. Your easy pace and heart rate may vary from day to day or even within the same workout. It is perfectly natural to feel sore and stiff following a hard workout, and it is important to remember that there is a difference between soreness and stiffness and the pain that comes with pushing the pace too hard.

If you really listen to your body, it will tell you when you are running too hard on your easy days and most of us don’t listen to our body the way we should. This is why we use these zones. Until we start taking recovery days really easy and understand how much fresh we feel on the next day we have to endure a hard sessions, we will still be going too hard on the easy sessions. Try it for a week. Stop wasting time on the not-hard not-easy zone! Learn to pay attention to your body and easy planned sessions so your hard days can become your fastest yet!

Bear in mind, these numbers do not reflect your zones, to get accurate training zones, consider hiring a coach so he or she can help you, and help you with implementing them. 


This article was written by Pedro Gomes, Professional Triathlete and Coach. To learn more about Pedro, check out his website at He is happy to answer questions as well. Find him on twitter @krepster. 



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