Updated: Apr 6, 2020
As races get cancelled, and facilities close, how do we adapt our training plans so that they’re still relevant and motivating but reduce risk?
I covered this in more detail in my Facebook Live seminar but for those who prefer reading to watching, here’s my key points:
Respect the guidelines or rules set out by your government
This is number one. Yes you’ve worked really hard for a race that has or hasn’t been cancelled yet, and that’s really important to you, but nothing is as important as the wider health of our community. We’re facing unprecedented disruption to our lives and the economy, and there’s absolutely no point in those sacrifices being made if we undermine them in the name of our training. Keep things in perspective. Training (or lack of) is not the most important thing happening right now.
And within that I'd add don't take the piss - sometimes the rules aren't quite clear or spelt out, for example in the UK right now (23rd March) we're told we're allowed 'one form of exercise per day', (right now) that's your choice to interpret, but in my mind it doesn't mean an 8 hour Ironman training ride. The more risks any of us take, the more likely things are to be tightened up. Plus the longer you're out there, the more chance you'll have an accident, which isn't just impacting an already overloaded health system, but in many cases you won't be getting the normal standard of care, given limited resources.
Reset your goals and expectations
Rather than second guessing what will happen about future races and beyond, take control of what you can right now, and decide an appropriate training pattern based on today’s circumstances. Plan for the weeks ahead rather than worrying about the months to come, things are changing too fast to waste time and mental stress on that.
Update your training plan to minimise risk to your immune system
Think carefully about the appropriate training load. Whist some exercise is good for your immune system, higher intensity or longer sessions, can have a negative impact on your immune system, putting you at more risk of getting ill. Remember you can be carrying Corona without symptoms. And whether you’re worried about the risk to yourself or not, that means you have more chance of passing something on, or needing to socially isolate and therefore being less able to support vulnerable people around you. I would especially urge you to cut back (in terms of the length of sessions and/or intensity) if you're someone who regularly gets ill or if you're facing considerable additional stress right now (your body doesn't really differentiate between training stress and life stress in terms of the negative impact it can have on your body and recovery).
Remember we don’t get fitter from training, we get fitter from recovery from training, and that's potentially compromised right now, in terms of reduced availability of food, especially vegetables, restless nights and increased stress. Where possible do what you can to stay focussed on the 4 Rs of recovery: rehydrate, refuel (carbs), repair (protein) and rest (sleep).
If you were ramping up for a race, bear in mind you can’t maintain a build or race ready phase indefinitely, so instead I would recommend adapting your training so to stay in base phase - mostly zone 2, easy efforts. And where possible spread the load, so more, shorter sessions, rather than the ‘long weekend’ sessions.
If you’ve just had massive restrictions imposed on your free time, in terms of increased child care or additional working responsibilities, try not to think about what you would have been doing, instead focus on what you can do now, don’t aim for perfection, aim for what is possible. Could you do a 10-15 min body weight session at home at some point in the day?
At the other end of the scale, many people now have a lot more free time. If you’re in this category try and avoid massively increasing your training load and instead build up steadily (within the guidelines of avoiding sessions which are too intense or long). If you do too much too soon you risk injury or illness, as well as a drop in motivation a few weeks down the line.
See this as an opportunity to work on some of the areas we tend to neglect - stability and mobility exercises are very easy to do indoors with little or no kit. I'll be broadcasting live weekly home based body weight strength and conditioning sessions aimed at triathletes (very minimal kit) on Tuesdays, 6pm and body weight S&C followed by cardio on Thursdays, 1pm BST (GMT+1). After just a few weeks, I can tell you my glute muscles are already a lot stronger and more stable than they were pre Corona!
Triathlete specific – swimming and turbo
For triathletes wondering what to do now the pools are shut in most countries, remember in general running and cycling are potentially higher impact than swimming so don’t just swap one for the other. Where my clients had 2 swims a week I’m suggesting they swap one of them for a zone 2 run or cycle at least for the next month.
In terms of maintaining swim fitness, personally I believe that the most important thing we can do, where possible, is maintain cardio fitness (through other exercise) and accept we’ll lose some swim specific fitness. We can work on maintaining the muscles (unfortunately your lats which you use for swimming are one of the hardest to workout with body weight unless you have a pull up bar, but you can do some rows with a theraband, as well as core and triceps work) but this wont really replace a swim workout.
Try and work on maintaining muscle memory by replicating the stroke action with swim cords, or even a pair of tights (where possible you could combine this with watching videos of great swimmers e.g. take a look at the Swim Smooth swim types and a ‘Smooth’ swimmer). And I know a lot of people are looking into open water swimming, but please heed the pleas from many resorts not to inundate them, and avoid doing anything that could risk you needing the support of emergency services.
For those who have just purchased a turbo – again, watch out for the training load. An indoor session is generally harder on your body because you’re not free wheeling or moving around in the saddle so much. Make sure you protect your bike from sweat, salt is corrosive. Where possible set up a fan to keep you cool. Use the time to work on some skills such as trying to avoid fluctuations in power, increasing cadence without increasing power (e.g. can you build up to 100 rpm whilst staying in zone 2), building up time (slowly!) in the aero position etc. And don’t forget to hydrate properly, including electrolytes, chances are you’re sweating a lot more.
I won't cover outdoor exercise here, it may not be possible where you live, and where it is, I think enough has already been said about the importance of maintaining social distance and avoiding accidents.
Should you train when ill?
I’ve had this conversation soooooo many times with my athletes in the past, and in my experience people always want to continue training when ill. I would seriously urge you to think about this, even if you’re planning to stay inside. Forget above the neck, below the neck. When you train you put stress on your body. This is compromising your body’s ability to recover and if you stay ill for longer (even if you don’t feel too bad), not only will you lose more time from training, but you could risk getting more ill (dangerously so) and if you’re ill (and don’t know if it's Corona) you can’t support others.
This certainly isn’t my area of expertise, but some general principles:
Create basic routines where possible (but be prepared to adapt) e.g. Get dressed in the morning, and decide when (if) you plan to exercise so days don’t drift
Control the controllables: Stop second guessing what is to come and endless scenario planning, focus on what you can do now.
Stop the constant news feed – create set times to check the news and cut down the constant alerts. Ignore (and stop spreading) ‘advice’ and speculation unless from reputable sources.
Look into online ways of staying in contact, but be aware that everyone deals with things in different ways, be tolerant and be mindful of what you’re saying and the impact it could have on others. And (parents especially!) don’t set unrealistic expectations on yourself based on what see on social media.
Rest and relaxation is more important than ever. Sleep hygiene – stop looking at your phone or computer an hour or so before bed.
For further help, check out the NHS overcoming series
Have set work hours, they might need to adapt from your normal hours, but don't let things drift just because there's no start and end to 'being in the office'. Agree routines with those you share a house with, but be ready to adapt.
You're going to be here a while so spend some time setting up a proper home desk, as far as possible, don't be tempted to work from the sofa. And make sure you take regular breaks, if only a few minutes to stretch and focus on posture.
Stay strong, stay safe everyone