How to Combine P90X with Triathlon Training

triathlon training on bicycle

Mixing P90X and triathlon training is not something that’s an obvious fit. After all, triathletes have three sports to train for already. And beyond that, they’re some of the most notorious overtrainers on the planet. But as you well know if you’ve read this series of articles, training hard doesn’t necessarily mean you’re training smart. So this week let’s up your triathlon training IQ and get some X into the mix.

“You’re all triathletes,” said the keynote speaker, a famous cycling coach, to a large group of multisport athletes at a conference I was attending. “That means that 90 percent of you are overtrained right now.” Triathletes, historically, are the consummate “if some is good, then an excessive amount is what I’m going to do” group of athletes. Steeped in obsessive lore, the most famous triathlon stories are usually about training instead of racing. And for those in the inner circle, it’s even worse. Once asked by a reporter from a triathlon publication what he did for training, triathlon icon Scott Molina replied, “I’m not going to tell you, because you’ll think I’m an idiot.”

Triathletes: you gotta love ’em. At least I love ’em. But then again, I’ve been called stupid/obsessed/crazy (among other things) over my training endeavors for most of my life. And yet it’s triathletes who, more than any other group, try my patience on the message boards. “Why,” they’ll ask, “can’t I train for an Ironman and do P90X doubles in my spare time? All I was going to do was sleep anyway.”

I mean, c’mon, we’re talkin’ about the sporting obsessed. Remember, the first triathlon wasn’t the sprint or even the Olympic version of the race. It started with the Ironman and worked backward to more conventional distances. And along that line of devolution, let’s take a look at how we can improve our triathlons by moving more of our training into our living room. P90X may seem like a big undertaking for that average person. I think you triathletes, however, are going to have to buy in to the “less is more” philosophy.
Why P90X?

Let’s face it: though the X is primarily a performance-based program, most of us do it because we want to look better. As one college baseball player said to me, “To be honest, I’m happy with my sports training. I’m only doing X to look good on the beach.” Yeah, well, Charles Atlas may be the guy you want around when the bully’s kicking sand in your face, but you sure wouldn’t want to haul all his bulk around Kona. Triathletes may want to look better, but the kind of muscles the Chest & Back workout develops is going to offset any strength gains by adding wind resistance to your aero position. For this reason, a serious triathlete needs to make some concessions in the P90X regimen.

The upside is that as I said before, most of you are overtrained. This means you’d get faster by running, riding, and swimming less than you currently are. And that’s where the X comes in. By structuring your year periodizationally in a way that includes both strengthening your weak areas and recovering from your overused ones, you’ll get faster by spending less time working out.

The perfect schedule
If you’ve got a race approaching, there’s no point in beginning P90X. It’ll break you down and slow you down. In a perfect world, you should begin your training program soon after your final race of the previous season. In an imperfect one, at least schedule X as far out from your main objective as possible. As a gauge, there’s no reason to start X if you’ve got a race approaching in less than three months’ time. Hopefully you’ve got six months; nine is even better.

Foundation
P90X is the foundation phase for your sport-specific training. This is why you don’t want to do it close to any important race. You may train right through early-season races, but you’ll get no benefit from X training close to an event where speed is important to you.

Periodization
All triathletes are familiar with periodization. You don’t all do it, of course, but you know that you should do speed work, aerobic work, and threshold work separately, then bring them together closer to your big race. Consider P90X to be the foundation plan for your foundation plan. It’s where you’ll strengthen your body and improve its capacity for improvement in all the areas detailed above.

Recovery
Oh, the “R” word! This is where we don’t train, or at least don’t train hard. No pain, no hallucinations, no glycogen-depleted hobbles home after an 8-hour training day. The horror. But you know you’ve got to do it sometime, or you’ll become like one of those triathletes you know who’ve been on a plateau for the last 2 decades because they’re more addicted to their morning 3-hour swims than they ever could be to coffee.

Here’s where you’ll want to place P90X in your schedule: at the season’s end when you shouldn’t be running, riding, or swimming anyway. Not only will it give you something new to focus on, but no matter how fit you are, it will blast your endurance-oriented cells into oblivion and leave you sore and tired enough to feel as though you’ve spent 20 hours each week on your bike.

Putting it all together
A full round of X, done during the off-season when you’re resting from your sport-specific training, would be preferable. Then you’d begin doing maintenance X work, along with your specific training increased in volume and intensity.

You may want to alter the classic schedule or even do the lean schedule if you’re a high-level competitor who’s worried about muscular mass in a strength-to-weight-ratio sport. P90X won’t get you huge, but the classic schedule will almost certainly add size to your upper-body muscles. Whether or not you’ll find this a benefit is a call you’ll have to make for yourself.

If you feel you need the overall body conditioning that P90X offers and are willing to sacrifice your race results for a while, you may want to put together a hybrid schedule that combines P90X with your current training. It’s hard to write a schedule for everyone because there are hundreds of personal variables to consider. This is why so many athletes hire personal coaches.

Below is just one example of such a schedule. Yours should probably vary, but by using this template, you should be able to get an idea about how to make your own schedule. You could also consult my blog, where I create hybrid training schedules for myself all the time. I would write a schedule like this for individuals who are fairly triathlon fit but have been doing too much sport-specific training and are pretty weak outside their sport-specific movements, causing their triathlon times to have hit a plateau.

This schedule contains no racing, but you could work races into it. Your personal races should all be labeled A, B, or C. A races are priority races. None should be scheduled near this period. B races are where you’d like to do well but not necessarily peak. These are to be taken seriously and none should be here either. Around B races you should be doing more sport-specific training. The difference between B and A races is that you may schedule a B race during intense training while you would always taper and peak for an A race. This schedule will address your weaknesses and get your ready for a C race. This is a race you enter so you can work on things like transitions, race tactics, and scheduling, and so you can dust off your racing form. Slow times are to be expected.

Your actual multisport training should be planned by you or your coach. For P90X, I’m going to use a hybrid of the classic, lean, and doubles schedule.

Block 1 (Weeks 1 through 3)
Day 1: Chest & Back and Ab Ripper X
Day 2: Easy swim and Plyometrics
Day 3: Shoulders & Arms and Ab Ripper X
Day 4: Easy ride or run and Yoga X
Day 5: Legs & Back and Ab Ripper X
Day 6: LSD (long, slow distance: ride, run, swim, or “brick” [combo] workout like bike/run, etc.)
Day 7: Rest or easy aerobic ride, run, or swim and/or X Stretch
Note: Your sports training should be easy technique training done in zones 1 and 2.

Recovery/Transition Week
Day 1: Core Synergistics
Day 2: Plyometrics
Day 3: Easy ride, run, or swim and Yoga X
Day 4: Legs & Back
Day 5: Core Synergistics
Day 6: LSD (long, slow distance: ride, run, swim, or brick/combo workout)
Day 7: Rest or easy aerobic ride, run, or swim and/or X Stretch
Note: Easy, again, is the key with your specific training. Your goal here is engram training: building neuromuscular coordination patterns.

 

Block 2 (Weeks 5 through 7)
Day 1: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps, Ab Ripper X, and easy run
Day 2: Swim drills and Plyometrics
Day 3: Back & Biceps, Ab Ripper X, and easy run
Day 4: Easy ride or run and Yoga X
Day 5: Legs & Back and Ab Ripper X
Day 6: LSD (long, slow distance: ride, run, swim or brick/combo workout)
Day 7: Rest or easy aerobic ride, run, or swim and/or X Stretch
Note: Here you can begin coached workouts. These should still not be full-on as your priority is still on your X training.

Recovery/Transition Week
Day 1: Core Synergistics
Day 2: Easy run and X Stretch
Day 3: Easy swim and Yoga X
Day 4: Easy ride and X Stretch
Day 5: Core Synergistics
Day 6: LSD (long, slow distance: ride, run, swim or brick/combo workout)
Day 7: Off
Note: This should feel like a true recovery week.

 

Block 3 (Weeks 9 and 11)
Day 1: Chest & Back, Ab Ripper X, and easy run or ride
Day 2: Plyometrics & easy swim
Day 3: Shoulders & Arms, Ab Ripper X, and easy run or ride
Day 4: Yoga X
Day 5: Legs & Back, Ab Ripper X, and transition practice
Day 6: Hard brick/combo workout
Day 7: Rest and/or X Stretch

 

Block 4 (Weeks 10 and 12)
Day 1: Core Synergistics and coached workout
Day 2: Cardio X and coached workout
Day 3: Ab Ripper X and coached workout
Day 4: Yoga X and coached workout
Day 5: Legs & Back and Ab Ripper X
Day 6: Coached workout
Day 7: Recovery ride, run, or swim and/or X Stretch

Note: There are too many variables to discuss your sport-specific training, so I’m leaving that to you and your coach. If you do race at any point in the schedule, alter it so you take at least a couple of easy days prior to the race. Racing always takes a lot out of you and you’ll want to avoid overtraining at all cost. I think it was Paula Newby-Fraser who said that it’s better to be 25% undertrained than 1% overtrained. If you want to run a schedule by us, check out the Message Boards.

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