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It’s not just the workouts!

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Squad doing dive-sets. Photo: Rob Holden Photography

Since coming on board as assistant coach to Brett Sutton two years ago, I’ve had the privilege to learn of the intricacies of the training approach.

I have been an enthusiastic triathlon age-grouper for 16 years, have worked under various coaches and spent much time learning the workouts and the mix of workouts for my own optimum performance. Having previously had an office job of standard hours, I fitted the training in with the time available (i.e. early morning workouts, using the commute to work as a bike workout, longer workouts on the weekend, etc). In hindsight it was pretty easy to work with as the parameters were already set.

Fast forward to standing on deck with Brett as a trainee coach, I was keen to learn of the actual workouts and volumes given to both the development pros and the elite level pros. After all, they have a whole day available for training. So with all that extra time how exactly did they weave it all together?

It has been intriguing to learn of all the little nuances Brett makes daily in regards to each athlete’s training. The very individual mix of sets; which athletes run on the track; why some athletes complete the same run set on the road; why one person has an aggressive bike position but not another; why one person rides a cadence of 90 and another at 65. At the pool every athlete appears to be using a different combination of pool toys whilst four different swim sets are running simultaneously across the lanes.

Constructing the specifics of the athletes schedules and workouts is obviously very important. However it was, surprisingly to me at first, not the number one priority for Brett.

I soon realised that Brett placed enormous time and attention on ‘the other stuff’ – life balance, home life and creating an environment for happiness.

Ironically the very things that many age groupers may already have set in place and take for granted. Brett explained to me that these are the most important elements for a successful athletic career and enabling the athletes to reach their full potential. It is in neglecting these aspects where we sometimes see ambitious athletes (pro and age group alike) come unstuck when ramping up their racing goals.

Every athlete has a different set of needs and we strive to provide the environment which works best for each individual; whether it be daily routine, a secure or home environment, or new challenges. Some athletes are encouraged to study or take part time employment – so they don’t live, eat and breathe triathlon 24 hours per day.

When in camp, the composition of the group is important as it affects dynamics, and athletic outcomes. Personality traits and temperament influence not only the workouts being given, but also when, where and with whom they might be completed.

Similarly frequency of racing, with some athletes racing far more frequently than others, is all accounted for; along with the difference between races for training, and races for racing.

Applying the lessons of elite coaching to my own athletes, I have seen how making minor changes in environment, prioritising personal situations and life balance are a major contributor towards their athletic success. Striving to stay one step ahead, and beating problems before they have even started.

Dynamics trumps workouts, and the real secret at is that an athlete is a person first.


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