A Multisport Physcian's Thoughts on Triathlon Marketing Statistics

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December 14, 2016

Mike Ricci


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It is likely that most of you read the statistics shared with USA Triathlon that were obtained by the marketing company TribeGroup (read "The Mind of the Triathlete") and posted on their website.  The data was collected several years ago during the last "economic correction" in 2008/2009.  One might argue that the times have changed in 5 years but I am unconvinced that many athletic consumer attitudes have changed significantly during this period.  While I realize that I am likely preaching to the choir on this, make no mistake, there are some glaring points that many multisport participants who utilize coaching programs and share interests in health maintenance and injury prevention can use to their competitive advantage.  In the interest of time and space, I am unable to dig too deep on the subjects but hope to in the near future if there is reader interest.TribeGroup posts interesting information on multisport participant spending. They did not provide much information regarding discretionary income investment on coaching, massage, physical or rehabilitation therapy for injury management or prevention.  While it appears that participants in the survey were willing to spend a significant amount of their money on equipment that they believe will make them faster, (over $3000 on equipment versus only $300 on nutritional supplements in 2008/2009 , see Table 21), the survey did not appear to enquire about amounts spent on actual training and maintenance of the athletes‚ real machine their bodies.

While respondents seem to respect nutritional supplements, the interest is only enough to consider spending the same amount of money in the near future (approx. $300 Tables 43-45).  We all know proper nutrition is paramount to success- just ask formula 1 mechanics about motor oils!  Where are these athletes receiving advice on nutritional supplements?  Are these sources reliable?  The media and internet are loaded with information, much of which ultimately must be regarded as half-truths:  some sellers taking scientific data and making it fit into their marketing (read USNews.com).  Be cautious.  Review the information carefully with trusted resources such as a coach, expert/specialist in the area of interest or additional literary resources before making the final decision of adding a supplement to your training plan.

The survey discovered that nearly 70% of respondents did not have a training plan to prepare for the events that they entered (see Table 15).  Further, nearly 70%photo 3 train without some form of coaching; nearly 30% answered that they did not want or need a coach (see Table 18).  While one cannot simply jump to conclude that much of this population would therefore be more likely to suffer from an injury than those with a plan, this data is very concerning to me.  Without a scheduled maintenance plan, it makes intuitive sense that one's auto engine would be at higher risk for damage and further costly repairs.  What exactly do the warning lights mean on the car's dashboard?  Oh well, I suppose one can simply buy or lease a new car unfortunately, we only come with one body.  Are these athletes really capable of recognizing when their internal warning lights are flashing before a sidelining injury occurs?  Is a triathlete truly willing to take the same risk?

When asked to list other sport activities outside of triathlon, 45% of respondents listed weightlifting.  I am interested in exactly what exercises those participants perform, how they know that the exercise form is correct in order to minimize injury risk and exactly how they determine when to alter the number of repetitions, vary the resistance or alter the form/progress the movement in order to improve function especially if they are amongst the respondents who do not have a coach or advisor to guide them?  Not all strength training plans posted on the centerfold of Men's Health Magazine are appropriate for an individual's level of training/tolerance.  While the published exercises are excellent and created by some of the country's best strength & conditioning coaches, they may not be the best exercises for a given athlete, (read Men's Health article).  I've seen many patients the victims of centerfold-inspired resistance exercises that they were either unprepared to perform or done incorrectly; the results were months of rehabilitation and cancelled sporting events.

I was pleased to note that 32% of respondents listed yoga as an activity performed outside of triathlon (Table 55).  As I am a huge proponent of rest/recovery and yoga as a recipe for injury prevention, let alone maximizing strength power and endurance, yoga is a low impact activity that promotes muscle flexibility, joint mobility, musculoskeletal circulation, improved breathing response and stress reduction that offers tremendous benefits to all age groups for a minimum of time and financial investment.  When I learned that respondents who identified themselves as competitive were least likely to participate in yoga, I was flabbergasted.  Perhaps the competitive athletes reading this might take note that activities that promote the maintenance of skeletal joint mobility, muscular flexibility, locomotion balance and stability may well indeed improve the quality of rest/recovery time investment (read Bicycling article).  Incorporation of some form of organized muscle/joint prehabilitation and rest/recovery activities that enhance balance and stability just might provide the reader with the competitive edge that they've been searching for.

Of those multisport participants surveyed, 43% were over 40 years of age (26% were 45 and over).  These athletes are far more likely to develop an overuse let alone an acute injury than their younger counterparts.  Thus these age groupers will need to consider these facts when designing their annual training plan.  Further, they would benefit from adjusting their discretionary income and apply more of these funds toward health and fitness maintenance, injury prevention and coaching programs designed to educate them in this regard (read CDC article).

Striving for another year of personal bests in triathlon or other sporting activity is a goal that gets many of us motivated to rise and train each day.  Going faster is simply hardwired into in our psyche.  If we choose to invest such time, effort and resources on our sport, might it be wise to reduce the risk of disappointing performance and devote some learning from experienced resources on how to improve?  As my financial advisor once told me, "The worst advice is free advice."  Next time we are flying down the road, let's stop periodically to smell the flowers.  Research supports the less recognized and underutilized concept of going slower in order to achieve speed.  The mainstay of this is rest and recovery.  Taking the time to assimilate the proper nutrition, allowing adequate adaptation to training stressors and investing the time to focus more on balance, stability and the relationship between the musculoskeletal and nervous systems will pay great dividends in the form of higher PRs with minimal injury.


Dana A. Stearns MD FACEP is a competitive rower and multisport enthusiast. He has trained athletes in all age groups from children to octogenarians with a focus on movement preparation, periodization and injury prevention.  He is an emergency physician, anatomist and professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools in Boston.  

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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