Sport Rotation in Triathlon - Getting through a Plateau

a triathlete riding his bike
September 3, 2007

Mike Ricci



Earlier in my life I worked in a big city, took the train to work everyday, and trained for triathlon about 6 hours per week. My job was stressful and my commute was long; about 3 hours per day. I lived in the Northeast, where the weather was very seasonal and the winters were cold, dark and wet. I didn’t know it at the time but I was training by what I now call ‘Sport Rotation’.

My triathlon season went from June through August. In the fall I would run some road races but by mid October my season was over. I usually took a few weeks off to let my mind and body recover from the season. By December 1st I was usually starting to log some consistent running miles and I would hit the weights 2-3 time per week. I would jump in the pool for a swim once per week and maybe get on the bike trainer once per week as well. This cycle would continue on until February when I decided that my run base was strong enough and I needed to start working on my swim more frequently. I would drop my running back to 3-4 days per week, and get in the pool 2-3 times. I would continue with weights a few times a week, and I would try my best to get on my bike trainer one time per week. Since the season’s dictated my training schedule, sometimes I would be outside on my bike by late February, but most times it wasn’t until early April. I would usually put in as many miles as I could for April and May and by June I would have a more balanced approach to training

I guess the big question would be: How did I do in terms of my fitness or racing? By the time I was in my second season of following this routine, I was at the top end of my age group in New England. I raced primarily Olympic distance and sprints, but I did the occasional longer race. In 1995, I won my age group at most races, and finished in the top 5 or 10 overall.
Even though I really found this training theory by accident it worked for me. I don’t even know if ‘finding it by accident’ is the right term, but I didn’t have any other choice because the weather dictated the training schedule. Riding my bike outside in the winter months wasn’t an option. Swimming year round with a Master’s program was out because I had to drive 30 minutes each way to get there. Time was limiting factor and the biggest bang for my buck was just lacing up my running shoes and going for a run on most days. No intervals and no speed work. I would just run. And when I got tired, I would take a day off. It may be a very simple training plan, but one that worked for me. I have always found that once my run fitness is up to par, the rest of my fitness comes quickly.

If you are interested in using sport rotation (some coaches may call them ‘Run Camps’ or ‘Swim Camps’ etc) your best option may be to focus on one sport for three weeks, take an easy week, and then repeat the cycle. If you use two months to focus on one sport, then a complete rotation would take six months. After six months you can return to a more balanced approach. If you let the season’s dictate your schedule it would go something like this: Starting around November 1st you start your run focus. By early January you would start your swim focus and by early March you would be starting your bike focus. You don’t have to make it that rigid as we usually have off weeks, colds in the winter, and life that gets in the way of training. It happens.

Become a runner during your run focus. Run with people who are better than you. Watch how they train. Swim with the swimmers during your swim focus months. Become a fish. Watch the fast swimmers swim. Watch their form and see what you can learn. On the bike, become a cyclist during your focus months. Ride with a group. Learn bike handling skills. Learn to ride in a pack. During these focus months you can learn a lot, you can improve a lot, and you can take your fitness levels to places you haven’t been before. Don’t become a slave to training. Use these ideas as a guideline, but not the end-all for your training.

See the chart below on how a sample sport rotation set up would work for someone who has about ten to fifteen hours a week to train. I hope these ideas help you reach new heights and break through the next level next season!

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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