Ah, balance. Does it even exist? The definition of balance shifts day-to-day, from person to person, and many triathletes who aim for this elusive paradigm end up being too hard on themselves when they don’t achieve it.
Here’s the hard truth. Fitting in work, family, friends, social events, eating, relaxation and triathlon is challenging, and balance is hard to come by. It’s time to let go of this ideal – the ideal of achieving balance – and just find a playing field where you have the opportunity to enjoy training, be well, and perform in work, at home, and in training.
This requires pre-planning. I often see the fall out from triathlon training expressed as physical or mental breakdown (or both). The physical breakdown might be hormone imbalance, injury and inflammation, over training syndrome, burnout/fatigue or weight management difficulties. Mentally it can present as stress, anxiety, low motivation, depressed moods or negative thought processes.
Following are key strategies to help prevent you from the physical and mental “side effects” of managing a triathlon lifestyle. Behind these action steps is a desire for you to be your healthiest, happiest and fittest version, so if they ever begin to seem mundane or boring, remind yourself of the ‘why’ behind them.
PART 1: STRATEGIES FOR PARENTS
When kids are in the mix, fitting in triathlon training becomes a little more difficult especially if both parents are pursuing swim, bike and run training sessions. But it’s so important to emulate health, fitness, focus and determination as a role model for tiny humans. The key is being able to find calm within the chaos, and pursue training without detriment to your family or your health.
Did you know that prefrontal cortex activation helps you perform better? Prefrontal cortex is the the portion of your brain that sits “front and centre” of the frontal lobe and manages your executive functions such as decision making, concentration, precision, expression of thought and actions linked to internal goals; it also plans movement and coordination. Activities that stimulate your prefrontal cortex are an exceptional warm up to help you move and perform better, aiding in enjoyment, focus, muscle recruitment and injury prevention. When we play, as adults or kids, our prefrontal cortex lights up. This is when you can blend family and training time to your advantage (and the kids too). Depending on the age of your kids, the success of this strategy will vary. I encourage athletes to get a ball or head to a playground with their kids and spend time essentially mucking around or playing games as part of their training warm up or activation. Duck, duck goose is a good example, as is human noughts and crosses – check out YouTube for more ideas. If you’ve got a baby or toddler you can practice your rolling and crawling patterns on the ground – rolling and crawling is something I have all my athletes do pre-workout. There are even fitness classes at gyms that work on the principles of play, integrating functional movement. Once you’ve had some play time with the family your body and brain will be ready to get straight into your workout.
2 in 1: Play sporting activities with the children to stay fit and build relationships.
2. Their play or exercise time becomes your training time
A great opportunity for this is swimming during your kids’ swim lessons. Between sets you can look over and see how they are going. Or if you have a baby/toddler learning to swim you could tag team with your partner to get a short session in for half the lesson or afterwards while the family are showering and getting dressed. Then all you have to do is practice a very quick T1 to meet them in the car. Perhaps your kids are keen netballers, basketballs or footballers? Why not do your run sessions at the ground/courts while they are training? Find out if your local gym has a child care facility and work your training times around these hours. While at the gym you could even fit in a swim following by a stationary bike or treadmill workout, if there’s a pool available.
3. Planning and budgeting
Try to plan and budget ahead just in case you need the extra assistance before you burn out and start to struggle. When you’re tired, busy and stressed, clear decisions are hard to come by. So set this plan up early on in the training build. Parents will need to consider budgeting for extra nanny, childcare or babysitting hours to assist with the training times, especially if both parents are training. Even if both parents aren’t training this still helps your significant other to avoid getting loaded up with the kids all the time while you’re training.
4. Sharing the load
In the age of social media, connection and community are not as common as they once were. We need to lean on those around us more as a way to connect and help each other. Perhaps you know other parents who are passionate about fitness or have hobbies that take up their time. You could arrange a fortnightly swap of duties with the kids, allowing you extra time to do long sessions. You might also want to organise a group windtrainer session in someone’s garage where the kids can keep each other entertained, and if they need anything there are more hands to assist and jump off the trainer, limiting the amount of interruptions to a session for each individual.
Food: Save time by ordering on-line (no supermarket trips), get groceries or even cooked meals delivered to your door ready to store in the fridge or freezer.
PART 2: SAVING TIME WITH FOOD, SHOPPING AND AROUND THE HOME
These strategies are often thought of later in the piece, when the balls have been dropped – you’re pulling your hair out and the tears are frequent. I implore you to put these steps in place, now, to lessen the stress, both physically and mentally, later on.
1. Grocery delivery or pre ordered pick up
I make it a personal mission to avoid supermarkets – I find them stressful and unproductive. Here are a few things you can do to minimise your grocery shopping time and the potential stress:
- Order pantry items in bulk from an online store. My go-to is Bulk Whole Foods. However, you can do the same thing with Coles or Woolworths. Once you’ve done your first shop you’ll have the shopping list saved that you can simply tweak next time.
- Find a local butcher where you can either buy in bulk monthly to freeze or pre-order your shopping list for a simple pick up on a given day each week.
- Find a local fruit and veggie market that can prepare your boxes of fruit and veggies each week for you to collect. If you can’t find a business with this service nearby, ask if a family member or friend could complete your shopping list when they do his or her own. Send them off with some cash and a bunch of gratitude. Alternatively, there are great delivery services such as Aussie Farmers, Organic Angels or Real Food Grocer.
2. Meal Delivery
If cooking is not you’re thing or you travel a lot, meal delivery could be a good option, just keep in mind you will need to budget for this. You don’t have to order the full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days per week. Perhaps you could start by ordering five lunches to help your through the working week? The main thing to be mindful of is that portion sizes are often small, not sufficient for high volume or intensity training. Servings often don’t have enough green or antioxidant-rich vegetables either. I would recommend boosting these meals with a serve of vegetables or salad on the side to ensure your recovery is not impaired. Some companies are healthier than others, I recommend My Goodness Organics or Clean Cut Foods.
3. Food prep
Food prep can be boring, but boy do I kick myself when I don’t prepare my meals in bulk. It saves time, money, worry and those hangry outbursts! The most successful and simple meal prep strategy is to increase dinner quantities to make enough as left overs for lunch the next day. I also make large batches of meals or snacks on a weekend in prep for the week ahead. Some other ideas you can try:
- Bulk make a week’s worth of home-made granola. Simply add berries, yoghurt and other toppings for breakfast.
- Frittata or eggcups are another nutrient dense option that you can make in bulk and freeze for breakfast/lunch.
- Pre-marinate your meat then freeze it in serving sized batches.
- Have your smoothie ingredients in snap lock bags in the fridge/freezer, ready to throw into a blender.
- Make a big batch of your favourite dip, like hummus, so it’s ready to add to meals or have as a snack.
- Pre-chop vegetables so they are ready to stir-fry or steam – this is best done the moment you get your veggies home.
- Most good quality carbohydrates take a little longer to cook, these are great to make ahead – think quinoa, brown rice.
Food Prep: Place berries into containers, pre-chop vegetables and portion your protein.
Do it in bulk and you will save both time and money!
PART 3: GET MORE BANG FOR YOUR TRAINING BUCK
The two main methods for maximising results while reducing your need for training volume are:
1. Polarised training
2. Strength and conditioning sessions.
Polarised training is adapted from the ‘80/20 approach’, whereby the goal is to spend 80 per cent of your training time below your Aerobic Threshold or in Zone 2, and 20 per cent of your training time above your Anaerobic Threshold or above Zone 4. This means we bypass and avoid Zone 3.
Spending 20 per cent of training time in Zone 4 or above we work to develop speed, pain threshold and reduce perceived effort, all while having distinct physiological changes, including enhanced ability to burn fats and glucose, enhanced oxygen utilisation and reduced cortisol to testosterone ratio for muscular adaptations and recovery.
Specific strength training, with a focus on pure strength and power development (not endurance), two to three times per week can reduce the need to complete high volume sessions, thus decreasing the duration required for your long ride or run sessions on a weekly basis. For example, a high volume program might include a five-hour long endurance ride and three- to four-hour long run, without strength training during the week. A low volume program would program a three-hour ride and a two-hour long run, with the inclusion of strength training during the week. This frees up two to three hours in your week, and reduces fatigue and recovery time. I have seen many successful Ironman programs built with a peak week of 10 to 12 hours, as opposed to the more typical 20 to 25 hours. It’s about finding what is right for you and your body.
In addition to the above training changes, try incorporating cycling or running into your work commute, indoor trainer and/or treadmill sessions, brick sessions, and cluster travel, appointments and sessions – if you need to travel for an appointment or a meeting check out suitable training locations nearby where you could complete a session afterwards.
Training smart: Incorporate your work commute as training.
PART 4: TIME MANAGEMENT
- Time management strategies will come naturally and easily to some, and will be completely foreign to others. I highly recommend applying all or some of these time management tips:
- Social media. Let’s be honest, if you’re on social media then you have spare time on your hands. So, if you’re finding yourself pushed for training, social or family time, this is where you need to look first.
- Schedule training and travel time in your calendar and share it with your partner so they know when you’re available and when you might need help. Software like iCal (on Mac) and TrainingPeaks have the ability to sync across all your devices.
- Make your program work for you, not against you. If you have a coach, let them know how much much time you have available so they can work around this, rather than trying to cram in what they program.
- Cluster tasks. Instead of half-heartedly multi-tasking, schedule time to do similar tasks at once, for example allocating specific times to check emails, rather than having them open all day and constantly being bombarded with new tasks.
- Read The 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, which delves into these strategies in more detail. The less you have to “hold” in your memory the better. By setting up ongoing reminders these life tasks are one less thing for your brain to remember and process when tired or busy.
There you have it, a plethora of ideas to keep you balanced during the coming season – the goal being to reduce stress, enhance recovery and maximise enjoyment! Your relationships, mind, body, and results will thank you for it.