Triathlete’s Hardest Skill: Listening to your Body

Nutrition , Training Tips Add comments

By: James AdamsWattie Ink

In the triathlon world we listen and read so much about swimming, biking and running. We learn how to improve our technique, aerodynamics, workouts, gear, nutrition, etc, etc. We spend hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars to get that extra edge - ANYTHING to take that extra time off of your PR or gain that "free speed." Triathlon is a business just like anything else out there and you have to be careful of buying into all of the hype, gear and trends that can break your bank if you're not careful. The good news is, the single most important thing to get you faster in triathlon is free. Listen to your body! The body has an amazing way of giving you signals on whether to back off or push it. It can save you from injury, sickness and burnout; which can be the fall of any triathlete whether you're experienced or a newbie. As typical "Type A" personalities it can be often hard to coach or listen to the advice but if you look for the cues it can save you days/months of missed training. So what are the cues?

First of all, you have to take the skill seriously. Literally make it a part of your training goals for the week. Yup, add it to the already exhausting Swim, Bike, Run, Nutrition and Listen. If you have a coach it can sometimes make this even more complicated. One of the biggest coaching nightmares is for an athlete to push through a workout or lie about it because you don't want to let your coach down. You have to remember that you are PAYING your coach and you're not letting them down. They want to stay employed and see you reach your goals so they need to know what is going on with you both physically and mentally. Don't just be honest with your coach when you feel good. Those little adjustments your coach makes in the week when you are feeling off can make or break your development and really separates REAL coaching as opposed to the cookie cutter internet coaching plans.

Finally, here are five signs of overtraining and/or possible sickness coming on:

1. Resting heart rate is a great tell tale sign. First, find out what your normal RHR is. Everyone is so concerned with what their max heart rate is for training. Well, this number is more important in my opinion. Get in the habit of checking it daily. Put your HR monitor by your bedside and check it before you get up. The lazy or poor man's version is to just get a good feel of your pulse on your neck, start a timer to one minute and count how many beats you get. Do this for 2-3 days, divide and find your average. If your RHR is elevated than this is a good sign that you may be over training and/or coming down with an illness. Listen to the body - take it easy that day!
2. Restlessness. If you are tossing and turning at night, waking up frequently and overall just feel restless - this can be a sign. Note: this doesn't account for those that suffer insomnia, over-mental stimulation, stress, alcohol, etc. However, if you normally sleep like a baby and you've been training hard and can't sleep - this can be a cue to watch out for which can also effect much needed muscle repair and immune system strength that occurs during a good night's sleep.

3. Lack of sex drive (insert snicker). Believe it or not if you're training hard and find yourself with lower sex drive then normal you could be overtraining. Our bodies are very habitual so if you find your partner asking you what's going on you may want to re-think your training schedule before your partner re-thinks you!

4. Lack of motivation. Triathletes are tremendously motivated. The sport just seeks out and finds these types of individuals. However, sometimes even the most driven athlete can be unmotivated. This can be your body’s way of telling you - you are overtraining. This is the hardest sign to follow and sometimes only the most experienced will be able to distinguish whether it is a sign of overtraining or that you are just coming up with excuses to skip the workout. When making the decision keep in mind your recent stress both physically and mentally. Always err on the side of being conservative vs. being aggressive. I like to at least get out the door and give it the "20 minute test." Often times I'll come around but if I still feel unmotivated, down and tired I bag the workout and listen to my body.

5. Let's talk about feelings. This is probably the easiest sign of the five. You just feel terrible. Your muscles, joints and bones hurt. You’re fatigued and depressed. Overall, you just feel lousy and often times you find yourself sick. Really pay attention to this. Just as you should after you eat something, really pay attention to how you feel after a workout and make adjustments accordingly.

Listening to your body is so overlooked in triathlon. It is the key to success! Often times the “type A” can take over and you "do work" regardless of how you feel. Your body is smarter than you think, respect that. If you fail to listen to the free signs that your body gives you -you may be digging yourself a hole that can leave you with serious illness, burnout or injury that can make or break your season. Take descriptive notes in your training log, be honest with your coach, listen to your body and most of all have fun, that's why we do this!

About the author: James Adams is a former 4:04 miler turned triathlete racing on the Wattie Ink Elite Triathlon Team. He resides in Temecula, CA with his wife and two kids.

You can check out his blog “Adams Racing” at

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