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The one percents - how important are they?

When I hear coaches discuss training, I sometimes hear them mention the phrase “the 1%s” referring to those extra sessions or exercises to enable triathletes to go that little bit faster or improve their performance.

What are they? And how important are they?

One of the coaches I am mentoring in Tri-Sutto’s coaching course, asked the question “I get my athletes to do a yoga session once a week. How important is that?” This could also relate to a weight session, Pilates, stretching and recovery sessions.

Of course, each individual is different and as a coach your programs should be individually tailored to suit that athlete. A novice triathlete or an age group athlete may have different amount of experience and time when compared to a professional athlete. The age grouper may have not as much time to complete the training sessions in the pool or out on the road but while at home may have time to do some strengthening exercises. All these factors should be weighed up in a time/benefit analysis that best suits each individual.

Years ago, when I worked with Brett Sutton for Triathlon Australia, we had our elite team of athletes undergo a series of physiological testing and biomechanical analysis of each discipline in triathlon at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). I remember the Biomechanist discussing with Brett the finer points of the swim stroke for each athlete and how they could be improved. Brett listened intently but weighed up the benefit for each athlete and whether it was worth changing a hand placement or a 2-beat cross-over kick when the athlete was already a very competent swimmer. His thoughts were ‘if I change this, then that will affect something else’. You could spend a lot of time changing one small aspect at the expense of the athletes overall training program and in the end, they may be no faster. The very nature of the swim in triathlon does not require a perfect stroke as it does in the pool so why change a 1% when so much can be gained by an extra swim session or a longer more targeted swim session.

The same can be said for those extra sessions of non-specific training other than swim, bike and run sessions. Will I get any value out of a strength session that involves weights that paddles in a pool or running and riding hills won’t achieve?

Are these non-specific 1% sessions taking up time and just taking away valuable recovery time? Are these extra sessions making the athlete tired for the main sessions? I heard on a pod cast recently one of NZ’s top triathlon coaches say “I wish athletes would concentrate on the 99% of hard work, rather than the 1 per cents!”.

I was discussing this subject with one of my elite athletes the other day and he said “once you get the 99% covered then maybe you can do the 1%’s”. Yes, that may be a good starting point but as long as the 1%s don’t take away any of the 99%.

Triathlon improvement is built on consistent, specific and progressive training. Weigh up the projected value of extra sessions that are not specific training sessions.

I am definitely not against doing these extra’s if required, but put them into the program at the right time. Maybe, the 1 percents should be left to the off season when specific training is not so important, tiring and time consuming.

Rob is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia. He is an Age Group Triathlon World Champion and has been racing and coaching in Triathlon for over 35 years.

Rob is the instructor and mentor for the Trisutto Coaching Certification

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