Episode 42 - Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

I’m a big advocate for triathletes implementing strength into their training program. But not many do it! Maybe it’s because you’re worried about getting too sore, or putting on too much muscle mass and affecting your power to weight ratio, you have zero time, or maybe it’s because you have no idea what you should be doing!

Joining me on the podcast is Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell who specialises in strength & rehabilitation for triathletes. He works with many triathletes of all levels, from age-groupers to the elite, through his online program, The Tristrong Performance Program - providing qualified, evidence-based strength training. 

Huw is all about building bulletproof bodies that are injury resilient with greater capacity. Exactly what you need to be strong and injury-free heading into race season!

Show Notes

Connect with Huw:

Insta: @huwdarnell

Learn More about working with Huw and the Tristrong Performance Program - Online Strength, rehabilitation and injury prevention program to bulletproof your body

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Episode Transcription

Episode 42 - Why every triathlete should be doing strength training with Exercise Physiologist Huw Darnell

Taryn Richardson  00:06
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian, and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy to digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it. 

 

Taryn Richardson  00:43
I'm a big advocate for triathletes implementing strength into their training programs. But not many athletes do it. Maybe it's because you feel like you get too sore, or you don't want to get too heavy by putting on more muscle mass, or you have no time, I get it. Or maybe it's because you just have no idea what you're doing. Joining me on the podcast today is Exercise Physiologist, Huw Darnell, who specialises in strength and rehab for endurance sports.

Taryn Richardson  01:10
He's worked with many triathletes from everyday age groupers all the way out to elite athletes like Ellie Salthouse. And he does this through his online program, The Tristrong Performance Program, which is a perfect way to get some qualified evidence-based help in implementing some strength into your life if you need it.

Taryn Richardson  01:32
Alrighty! Welcome to the podcast, Huw!

Huw Darnell  01:34
Thanks, Taryn. Been excited to jump on since we had a mutual client and I came across your content. Awesome work you're putting out there. So I'm excited to be able to chat all things triathlon.

Taryn Richardson  01:45
Thank you, I can't wait to talk to you too. I've been looking for somebody like you for a very long time because I'm such a huge believer in triathletes doing regular strength training. But not many of them do it. And you know, I totally get it - when you train for three sports, you've got to swim, you've got to bike and you've got to run in a week plus, you know, maybe hold down a job, maybe you've got family commitments as well.

Taryn Richardson  02:05
And so just adding an extra thing into your program can be a huge hurdle for people. But as a Sports Dietitian, this is definitely not my area of expertise so I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today as an expert and strength and rehab specialist who works specifically with triathletes, you're the perfect person to give the listeners some knowledge and some skills in why strength is so important and how to do it. And maybe even a little kick in the butt to get themselves started ASAP. So thanks so much for joining me.

Huw Darnell  02:40
Yeah, no, it's an absolute pleasure. And I think you hit on a massive point, that they're pretty much doing the whole Olympics in one sport with the three disciplines. And the daunting thought of adding more to an already very busy schedule can be quite overwhelming. But yeah, just to kind of reiterate what you're saying it is a massive, foundational pillar of what you know, health and performance is built on being strong and being resilient.

Huw Darnell  03:01
You know chatting about it today, we can really highlight the best strategies that I've found. Maybe debunk some of the big misconceptions that people hold in their minds when they think of true strength training? And I just like to take it a step further back and just call it performance programming. Because at the end of the day, when you come into the gym and look at me running through a session from an age grouper, a sprint distance, all the way to Ironman or a pro, it looks more like an athletic development program, rather than just like heavy lifting weights and restricted plans of movement and what people maybe have a misconception in their mind about what it would be.

Taryn Richardson  03:35
Yeah, just doing bicep curls on a Friday arvo for that pump up. It's definitely not that.

Huw Darnell  03:39
Yeah, especially if you're a sleeve tri suit, I learned, like, biceps - really unfunctional muscle for the sport of triathlon.

Taryn Richardson  03:46
Too much air resistance on the bike if they're too big.

Huw Darnell  03:48
Not good. Not good. I think you just kind of alluded to the fact that there's some key foundational stuff that helps with performance, and you do an awesome job in the nutritional space. And my area of expertise is kind of around that movement piece which strength falls under. But then the other two pillars, which I think are super important, and I like to upskill and educate people on -  the recovery piece. And then obviously having a really strong, resilient mindset. And whenever we think about a health goal or a performance goal, these are the foundations or the pillars that prop up this performance. So when we can dial all these in really well, that's when we can see some really special stuff and people being able to do more of their sports at the end of the day. That's what it's all about.

Taryn Richardson  04:29
I love that it's much more of a holistic approach, which is perfect for people to hear. So let's get into some meatiness. Let's just dive straight in. Why should every triathlete be including strength training as part of their program?

Huw Darnell  04:41
That's the million-dollar question, isn't it? Sometimes when you work with athletes, whether it's their coaches point of view that's been overlaid onto them, or it's they've done certain things a certain way for a period of time that's gotten them to a level, then adding in new things or things that go against their philosophy of how they think preparing for a sport would go, can be a daunting task.

Huw Darnell  05:02
But also, they think (that) their just training the three disciplines is going to be enough. That maybe doing weight is going to make them too sore, pack on all this muscle (if only it was that easy), and essentially slow them down, which is counterintuitive to what we're trying to achieve by adding strength work to the mix. And I know it sounds crazy - we add strength training to this already busy schedule. And we're used to hearing that you do your strength in your sport. And this can be enough to kind of tick the box.

Huw Darnell  05:27
But yeah, like I said, after working with hundreds of athletes in this space, I can safely say that strength is one of those foundational pillars, which has two really main benefits. One is resilience against injury. And when I talk about injury, I like to play around this little equation that helps people conceptualise why it is so important. So injury for me occurs when the load you're doing or the training intensity volume starts to exceed your capacity to tolerate it. And that capacity can come down to the level of a tendon, a bone or muscle or just the central nervous system as a whole.

Huw Darnell  06:01
And so we can think about, there's probably very few triathletes out there who haven't had tendinopathy or a bone stress injury. And this usually comes when they've ever taken time away, or they just do too much for the body to handle. So we get that injury in the area. And so the strength training is that capacity side of that equation - the stronger we get, the ceiling at what we can tolerate now becomes higher and higher. And so this means more time in the sport less time being injured, seeing red in your training peaks - no one wants to see that. We want to bulletproof the body as much as we can. So that's one silo - injury resilience. And then the other silo, that we really get excited about, is improved performance. I think the biggest improvement in performance comes from literally just being able to train unbroken through injury.

Taryn Richardson  06:43
Yeah, 100%. That consistency is what's key.

Huw Darnell  06:47
It's across the board with all sports  - you see teams who are really successful that you know, have a great season - they usually have the least amount of gains lost through the players being injured.  Then you see people who go on runs on the professional scene and triathlon, it's usually if they can string together a really solid pre-season training block and not get injured and get some quality work under the belt.

Huw Darnell  07:06
Then the other stuff  - which as a strength and conditioning coach I kind of nerd out on - is how do we get a more efficient and economical body for the sport of triathlon. And that really comes down to some key adaptations within the central nervous system. So being able to recruit what we can, more efficiently. So that means every time we do an effort across a, let's say, a marathon off the bike, we're wasting a little less energy, every time our foot hits the floor. Also, the reserve, where we're building an eight-cylinder car versus a four-cylinder car. So we've got more capacity to produce force.

Huw Darnell  07:40
And so now, as a gym-based example: Let's say you can squat 50 kilos, and every time you do an effort, it's worth 20 kilos of that. And now I take your squat up to 100 kilos but that effort still says there's a 20-kilo effort -  it's now a much smaller percentage so it's going to tap into less of that strength potential you've got.

Taryn Richardson  08:01
Well, that's crazy. I love the car analogy. It's something I use all the time with nutrition, but I talk about, you know, putting fuel and putting the right performance fuel into your engine and driving a high-performance machine, not like a beat-up Honda. So we can kind of take that pillar one step further with the nutrition of the fuel going into engine, but then also putting more cylinders into your Tesla or your Porsche as well. So that's really cool.

Huw Darnell  08:25
Oh, 100%! I think that economy of fuel consumption as well. So what you're doing at your end, if we have a more resilient, stronger athlete who's wasting less energy then what you're doing can be even more of a pronounced effect. Because we go from burning 100 kms per litre, or whatever it is, now we can start to get 110 or we get more of kms per gram or per unit of fuel that we're consuming.

Taryn Richardson  08:49
Yes, it’s that injury resilience, but then also just building more capacity in the body. And strength is one of the key things that people need to understand is the way to do that. Like, yes, you have strength in your training program, but it's nothing like the resistance you get from throwing some weights around in the gym.

Huw Darnell  09:07
And I think the typical person that grows up training in the gym - we get exposed to, maybe like, bodybuilding methods or really high volumes of training and the sport of triathlon in itself is quite a high volume sport. And so people think they need to replicate this type of training in the gym, whereas, in reality, the adaptation we're after is from the central nervous system. And that comes from lifting heavier, relatively heavier loads with good intent and for lower volume. So we generally leave feeling like we can do more, but over time practicing the skill of lifting, we start to be able to do more. When you can get that paradigm shift for people and recalibrate the way they think about strength, and it can start to seem more achievable to add it into their program rather than you know that first high volume leg session you do back and you can't get off the toilet. That's not really the sensation we're after.

Taryn Richardson  09:59
So that's perfect to kind of leapfrog into the next question I have for you, which is how many times do they actually need to include strength in their week to get the benefit of doing it? Like people come thinking they've got to, you know, go and do massive heavy sessions, and they're going to be sore. How many sessions does it take to build that resilient body?

Huw Darnell  10:20
It's about meeting people where they're at  - always. First and foremost.  It's an individualistic approach. So we go, "Okay, if all bets are off, you had no family or job to consider, then what's the gold standard look like?" Like, if you're a pro, and that's your sole task, then we go, "Okay, this will be what that looks like." But then I start to chat with the person and I go, "Okay, maybe we can't get the very gold standard. So how much can we get away with across the week?" So it is always an individualistic approach. But the minimum that we, kind of, see from the literature to get a solid adaptation of strength is probably two good exposures to strength across the week.

Huw Darnell  10:59
So that would be maybe a 30mins to 1-hour session, depending on the person's training, age and experience in the gym. But then the other way, I like to shift people's concept of it as well is every time you start to warm up, this is another opportunity to work on movement quality. A  little exposure of strength, a little bit of plyometric stuff. And so now our warm-up, bike warm-up, swim warm up - all these warm-ups, that sometimes - we're doing these anyway, so we may as well just find these little opportunities.  5-10 minutes pre-session to start to accumulate a little bit more work around core mobility, and breathing efficiency - all these things are going to tie into a better athlete at the end of the day.

Huw Darnell  11:37
All things considered, it is that two exposures across the week. And then where we place that is also super important. So there is an interference effect of strength and endurance, as you can appreciate, they kind of exist on two opposite ends of the spectrum. One is the adaptation we're after - if we do them really close together, we start to interfere the effect of both, so we won't get a maximal cardiovascular effect, and we won't get the maximal strength effect.

Huw Darnell  12:04
So if we can split them by 24 hours, awesome. If not - just get it done some way - some shape or form across the week. And again, if we go back to gold standard  - it's probably (best) as far away from your key intense runs, just to the eccentric loading of a run, because we got that foot contact, which creates a little bit more muscle damage. So we probably want to space it away from the run of key intense interval-style runs or threshold runs. Whereas if you think of a bike, you know, you're strapped into a pedal -  we're not gonna get that impact loading. That's a little less intensive on the body, so to speak.

Taryn Richardson  12:38
Yeah, that's great advice. I know that a lot of people get overwhelmed when it comes to strength and where they put it, but then also how much time it takes. So that was a really good tip around just putting five to 10 minutes in pre-session in a warm-up. Because that could be all it takes - that tiny little bit compounded over time is where you're going to get the benefit, rather than just doing a one-hour session smashing yourself and they're not doing it for weeks, because you can't face it again.

Huw Darnell  13:04
Definitely. And I think consistency is the key. I know it's a motto on the wall in the gyms that we operate out of but there's nothing truer - to any nutritional thing or strength thing or training program. If you're consistent with it, and over time you gradually progress it, that's the name of the game. The boom and bust mentality, or the 'all or nothing' - it really doesn't work. You need to progressively overload over time.

Taryn Richardson  13:27
Perfect. Just to refresh on where to put it in the week - at least, if we can, 24 hours away from our higher quality run so that our interval sessions, our hill sessions, anything with a lot of speed work in it. But say if you did an easy 45 minute run in the morning, could you put your strength in the afternoon?

Huw Darnell  13:47
Yeah, for sure. Like I was saying if we had the gold standard athlete who that's all that they needed to do, that's what we'd be looking for - the 24 (hours). And if you had an easy run, definitely you could do a strength session later in that day - that would work.

Taryn Richardson  14:00
And what if they had a really high-intensity bike or a really long ride where you kind of smashed your legs? Do we want to try and keep it as far away from those long endurance rides and runs as well or just the high-intensity performance type sessions?

Huw Darnell  14:14
Yeah, great question. And that's something that I've changed my thought process on. If you can get over the psychological fact of your legs being a little heavy on some of these rides. What we're really after is a heart rate adaptation. So we're not potentially as concerned with the power output or the speed at what we're riding on those longer on those zone two rides. If we're in the heart rate zone, we'll still be searching for that adaptation. So I think that if you need to get it done around those times it's fine but then working in gym to an RPE or a reps in reserve. And what that means is rating of perceived exertion.

Huw Darnell  14:51
So there's two ways of programming the gym - I can give you an intensity. I can go "Hey Taryn, you're gonna go in. I know that you can lift one rep max is 100 kilos." So I can go "Okay, we're gonna lift at 80% of that". And so now you go in knowing you have to lift that. Typically in the S & C world that's kind of a way people like to program. But my thought process now is that I've gone away from that. Because the training load of triathlon is so heavy, that people are going to be cooked and 80% one day can be/feel like 150%. And another day, it might feel like 60%. So I've gone to this rating of perceived exertion from a scale of 0 to 10. 10 being I've tapped out, that's my maximum. And then on the sliding scale, as we start to come down 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 - I flip it and I go, the reps in reserve correlates to that.

Huw Darnell  15:41
So if I'm at a 5 out of 10, when I finished this set, I should be able to do five more reps. Six should be a four, seven, etc, up to 10. And so now that they've got this other stress on their body, when they go into the gym, it's not that they have to lift 80 kilos, they just need to be in an 8 out of 10, or be able to complete two more at the end of that set. It's like this autoregulatory built in mechanism to account for the ridiculousness that is triathlon, especially in long course training where it's like 30 hours plus a week sometimes.

Dietitian Approved  16:10
Yeah, that's good advice. Because some days you just kind of feel rubbish. And it could just be because you're tired and you need a rest or your volume is peaking. And that sort of target for how hard you work is easily adjustable based on how you kind of front up to your session that day.

Huw Darnell  16:26
Definitely. That's why I like to reshift people's thought process of what strength is. I like to have a buy-in for their session that looks like yoga and recovery. It's self-myofascial release, it's movement quality work, it's getting the body moving. And so sometimes they come in feeling pretty average and by the time they're warmed up, they're ready to go. Or sometimes they still feel super average and we can sometimes call the session there. But if we have a buy-in and stuff that people should be doing that they don't often do very well, we can kind of get some change in perception or change in how people are feeling pre-session. And you accumulate that across a week and you can have some really positive injury reduction and just movement, muscle tissue quality stuff going on.

Taryn Richardson  17:06
Okay, Huw. Triathletes are incredibly time-poor. And strength is just another thing that they're trying to fit into their already loaded schedule. So if we're talking about, you know, 30 to 60 minutes, twice a week, if you can fit it in, what sort of exercises are going to give them the best bang for their buck, so that they've got good time efficiency, and they're not doing wasted training, and they can get the most out of it in a short period of time?

Huw Darnell  17:33
I think we kind of maybe alluded to that a little bit just before we're looking for the opportunities across the week. So if they can't start off with two dedicated strength sessions, maybe it's one dedicated strength session, and then they accumulate the other work either pre or post-training session. Like I had a triathlete come the other day, and he was, could commit to a 1 hour, a 25 minute, and then three 10 minutes across a week. So that's, that's how he programmed his strength.

Huw Darnell  17:57
But then there comes a step further back, and it's this concept flow guy called Duncan French, who led the English Institute of Sport in the lead into the London Games. He has this concept, and it's 'what makes the boat go faster?'. If we think of the perfect boat going through the water, what is it? It's a good crew? It's a streamlined design? It's lightweight? Or is it all these things that are going to make you better at this thing you're trying to do? And so we go, "So right, triathlon, what are the demands of the sport? Where are our key opportunities? What are the key parameters or characteristics of really good performance?"

Huw Darnell  18:30
And then we go, "Alright, let's assess you, we're gonna see where you stack up now". And so now if we know this is the gold standard, and you're somewhere along this trail, then we can go okay, you're starting here, what do you need to do to edge the needle closer to being this ideal top performer in your sport? And so we can think of running - running is a whole heap of single-leg stances done one after another. So single-leg strength training is going to be a really key thing here.

Huw Darnell  18:57
We think of where people fall down - in around, you're looking at, you know, 5kms, 10kms, 20kms - it all looks different. And our ability to hold posture and maintain form and movement quality as we go is going to be a key predictor of performance and how we maintain those energy leakages. It comes down to having a good core function. Comes down to having good foot intrinsic control. Comes down to being able to maintain this really solid run posture.

Huw Darnell  19:26
So there's going to be a lot of core, there's going to be a lot of single-leg strength - that kind of looks like running positions. There's going to be not a whole heap of upper body - you know, carrying biceps up a hill is in no way, shape, or form efficient. And so we think that the mechanics of swimming, the biggest thing that's going to cross over to any performance benefit is just stronger pulling power, but let's be honest, races usually aren't won or lost in that swim.

Huw Darnell  19:50
So it's probably going to be a smaller focus over the overall programming as a whole. But it comes down to that thing - what are the demands of the sport? What are the individual characteristics or injury history, and then let's edge the needle closer? And just from some general stuff, it's going to be lower body strength, single-leg stability, or strength and really solid core function. Just as a general kind of overview exercises that might look like trap bar deadlifts - pretty easy one to conceptualise, pretty low technical skill associated with it.

Huw Darnell 20:16
Step-ups are another really great one, but done in a position that kind of mimics that hip lock or a triple lock. If you pictured someone at the top end of their toe-off phase in a run, we want to get them to be able to be really strong there. So if we had a trap bar, we had to step up, we had some sort of hamstring strength exercise - so bring your heel close to your butt - whether that be on a machine, whether that be on a Swiss Ball, slider. There's some other really cool ways to strengthen the different components of lower body strength.

Huw Darnell 20:46
And then every muscle has a function and an action. And so if we think of the core, it has two roles, it's either to produce force or resist force. And so when we're talking about running our core's function is, as we hit the ground, can it keep the hips and the upper body relatively consistent? And so if we can start challenging that by doing like, say, a dead bug, so laying on the ground, opposite arm, opposite leg while we maintain a good stack, so pelvis on ribcage, and then something like a side plank. If someone just threw that all together, that would be a pretty solid program to start with and slowly progress over time.

Taryn Richardson 21:24
Yeah, that's excellent. One of the most common things I get, or push back, from triathletes about doing strength is that they are so worried about getting really sore, and that affecting all of those other sessions. Other than the nutritional things that we can do to help prevent doms and make sure they're optimising their recovery? Do you have any advice for them around how to prevent getting super sore from doing strength training?

Huw Darnell 21:48
Oh, yeah, we've all been there, right? It's not the most pleasant sensation in the world. If we're training to that level, either we haven't done a certain exercise, we've added a very novel stimulus, we've done way too much. Yeah, we talked about capacity and load tolerance before. Novel stimulus, as in like a new exercise, we've done way too much or we've done a lot of eccentric loading. And so whenever we lift, as an example, as I shorten my muscle, concentric as I lengthen, that's eccentric. So as my bicep does this, it then controls down. If we do lots of eccentric loading, and like slow lowers, that's when we can start to disrupt the muscle fibres and create a lot more of that doms-ey sensation.

Huw Darnell 22:30
Whereas if we take that deadlift example before, the way up, that would be concentric on the way down, that would be an eccentric load. So we can remove the eccentric portion of a lift altogether. And that's something that I do in season for athletes just to remove any muscle damage stimulus from the exercise, but still get that really powerful central nervous system adaptation we're after. So it'd be concentric up and then you could even just let go of the bar at the top, let it fall to the floor, grab the bar, lift it up.

Huw Darnell 22:58
And so we're almost removing any soreness that would be associated with that lift in its entirety. And then just one other little point that I love - if you go into the gym, and you're lifting out a five out of 10, six out of 10, which for me is an intro week to a new program, you're probably not going to be that sore, because we've got so much in reserve, that we're never really hitting that failure point. We're not going to be breaking down the muscle fibre, we're not going to be doing crazy reps to go into like these ranges where we're going to be stimulating that kind of sensation from training.

Taryn Richardson 23:29
But you're still giving the adaptations by doing that exercise even at a five out of 10?

Huw Darnell 23:33
Yeah, because it doesn't stay at a five out of 10, right? Let's say we take a six-week block of training where we periodise the load over time - there's a large degree of learning the movement, where the benefit of all this comes from. Because we talked about efficiency before and there's things in the body called motor units. So every nerve in your spinal cord goes out and activates a group of muscles. And so we call that a motor unit. The way that we do that is every time that we contract a muscle, this guy at the spine will go "Hey, do your job". And then the more we activate that pathway, the more efficient it gets. And then the more of those muscle cells associated with the guy at the spine, we can start to recruit. And so just practicing the skill over and over and over again into a submaximal load - that's what training is.

Huw Darnell 24:17
Whereas if we go in there and just balls to the wall, 10 out of 10 every time, we're not building a capacity, we're just tapping in and testing something. It's like trying to do Zone 2 work and going out and being at a heart rate of 180 - like, it's not the adaptation we're after. And so if you exist in the grey zone in the gym, it's like existing in the grey zone with your zones of cardiovascular training.

Taryn Richardson 24:37
Love that, love that! No triathlete wants to be told they're grey, they want training peaks to go green.

Huw Darnell 24:42
Absolutely. To summarise, don't add new exercises. You see this all the time - you're four weeks out from a race, "Oh, I saw this new exercise. Can we try this?" No, we're not going to add new stuff this close to anything. But yeah, definitely no new exercise and novel stimulus around key events. Trying to move sessions away from key training, or races. Appreciating that sometimes we're just gonna get a little sore - so doing heavy gym, work in your pre-season or your offseason. And then modifying the intensity in terms of reps in reserve or rating of perceived exertion. And finally, removing the eccentric portion of the lift in its entirety. All really good ways of getting rid of that doms.

Taryn Richardson 25:26
So it is possible to train without getting sore, which is nice for people to hear. Just a little side note, though, you will probably be sore if you don't do strength and then start strength. But that only gets lesser and lesser over time. You just got to stick with it.

Huw Darnell 25:42
Definitely.

Taryn Richardson 25:43
So you alluded to this just before. But what would you do differently in somebody's off season versus an on season. Like you've talked about some of the types of exercises that you would do differently, and the RPE differently. What, sort of roughly, would that look like in an on season versus off season?

Huw Darnell 26:02
I took this from the sporting world where, you know, teams will come in and they'll do a pre season slash off season block. And then they'll come into race or game season when they're actually week in, week out, playing games. And so we have three kind of key variables, we can play around with. The frequency of training - how many times throughout the week we're doing it. The intensity - that's that, either, RPE or load on the bar. And then the volume - and that comes down to number of sets, number of reps that they're doing in a session.

Huw Darnell 26:30
And so we can play around with these variables to get different outcomes. And we can have some high or multiple highs for periods of time, and then play around with pulling them back. So what that looks like in terms of a program - in the offseason, we can probably get away with doing a little more gym based work. So we can look for the anatomical adaptations in terms of stronger tendons, more resilient stiffness in muscles and tendons. We can look at trying to increase muscle if that's a thing. Or we can look at really pushing some strength adaptations. And so we can start to program these blocks as far away from key races as possible. And so generally, you're going to be doing more work.

Huw Darnell 27:10
And then as we come in, hopefully, we've got the strength that we're after. And then we start to look at reducing the volume of the sessions. And so that might go from being an hour down to 30 minutes. And then we're just removing the volume from the session. So we're doing less sets, less reps. But the flip is we keep the intensity pretty high because we don't want to lose the strength adaptations that we've gained in the off-season by removing the load on the bar or the intensity of the session.

Huw Darnell 27:39
But what that does is it tries to really hold on to that neuromuscular kind of efficiency that we're talking about, as we remove the fatigue associated with doing more work in the gym. So longer sessions down to sharper sessions, higher volume, but intensity stays pretty consistent throughout.

Taryn Richardson 27:58
So it's that periodisation type of thing that I talk about with nutrition all the time - you have to match nutrition to training load. Just like your training programs should be periodised, your strength and conditioning program should be periodised as well. Depending on if you're heading, like, eight weeks into the biggest race of your year. Or if you've got a few weeks or months off where you don't have any race coming up soon.

Huw Darnell 28:21
Yeah, absolutely. Periodisation. It's really just kind of seeing where you are in the season and then trying to plan accordingly. I'm under no illusions that my job is the most important. I'm just here to facilitate a more athletic individuals so they can be better at their sport. I often speak with coaches, and I try and get on board and speak the same language and see what their plan is for the athlete. And I just dovetail into their program. So I can not take away from it, but try and add to, as best I can. So when we're young coaches, we think we know everything and our job is always the most important. But then as you progress and you work with more people, it's always that client-centred approach where we're helping them get closer to what their goal is. And so we adjust accordingly so they can get the best outcome.

Taryn Richardson 29:07
Yeah, and nutrition is the same too. Right? We're like the wing woman and the wingman.

Huw Darnell 29:12
The silent partners in the background.

Taryn Richardson 29:14
Yeah. For somebody that has got a massive training program already. Like they're just fully jacked and loaded. They're not sure where they're going to fit strength in? If they then add strength into that mix, can they tip the balance into overtraining by doing that?

Huw Darnell 29:32
I'll throw this back to you, Taryn. Do you have a theory on this? Is it overtraining? Or is it under-recovery?

Taryn Richardson 29:38
Oh, good one. I don't know - working in the elite space, they do strength and they do heavy strength, and then they back up and run hard. It is just about getting all the pieces of the puzzle in place, right? Doing the nutrition, doing your active recovery, your stretching, making sure your program is actually set up right for you. Getting enough sleep, all those things are really important to get the most out of your training. Otherwise, you're doing junk miles, right?

Huw Darnell 30:04
Yeah, absolutely. People, obviously, they can over-train. Like if you go crazy in the gym, and you're not abiding by the principles that we've been talking about. You know, we've got a six-week training block, and week one's a 10 out of 10. Week two's a 10 out of 10. Week three's a 10... and they're like, no rest in between sets. Like everything's, you know, the typical kind of triathlete mentality of all or nothing. The potential for running into a wall is real.

Huw Darnell 30:30
But, my whole thing that I spoke about at the start is, there's four pillars to performance, and one of those is recovery. And so if you have a smart training plan, that's periodised, and programmed for the needs of the sport and the needs of the individual, then the whole load on the system starts to drop. And we build more resilience through recovery and strength, and we can start to build this bigger bucket of total stress or training volume that we can tolerate, before things are gonna start to overflow out the edge. And so if we then don't sleep well, we're not recovering and we're not feeling right, we're not moving right, then that bucket starts to become smaller.

Huw Darnell 31:08
And so how much we need to do to push us over that edge turns into a thimble instead of a bucket, so to speak. Like the recovery system I use with athletes, they've got to accumulate recovery points for how much they spend in training or competing. And so talking about it, like money in the bank, like you can know, if you're spending this you got to put stuff back in. And if you're going into debt, you don't want to be in debt for too long before you have to pay the piper at some point with interest. And that's not where you want to get to.

Taryn Richardson 31:36
That's so many great analogies, Huw. So my final question for you, which is probably one of the biggest myths or kickbacks you get from people when it comes to implementing strength into their program - are triathletes gonna get bulked if they start lifting things in the gym?

Huw Darnell 32:53
I think I said that earlier, "But if only if it was that easy, right"? It is partly designed to get hypertrophy, which is increase in muscle size - which is very counterintuitive to triathlon in its hole, but especially, like, the longer the duration, the more redundant muscle mass becomes. Funny story, one of my mates who is a pretty solid pro-triathlete, he got to the point where he was afraid of picking up heavy implements because he thought that the extra load in his upper body might lead to some unwanted muscle mass.

Taryn Richardson 32:24
No.

Huw Darnell 32:25
It's funny, but it's probably not uncommon. Yeah, that fear of putting on muscle. And in a sport where body composition and power to weight ratio is super important. But that just comes down to smart training, programming and not doing too much volume of certain things. And appreciating that sometimes a little bit of muscle gain is the more resilient athlete and you're going to be able to cope a bit more of a beating before you fall apart. And a bit of muscle in the right areas and stronger tendons and bones increases that capacity before we're going to start to get towards that point of breaking. Increasing the bulletproof level of that athlete is always a key kind of thing that we're after.

Huw Darnell 33:03
But if you think of how we grow a muscle, there's kind of three key things that we talked about. It's mechanical tension - so how much weight you've got on the muscle. Metabolic stress - so doing exercises until you get that really burning sensation. And then "Are you training for failure" - so at some point, getting to that 10 out of 10, zero reps in reserve.

Huw Darnell 33:25
If we've got that plus, obviously, that nutritional stuff that would be like the key environment for growing muscle. But when we go to triathlon, if we're programming smartly, we're not doing too much of that kind of training at the wrong times. Plus, you add 30 hours of aerobic training volume on top and aerobic kind of interval work in there - it's really hard to add muscle on when you're doing that much cardiovascular endurance stuff.

Taryn Richardson 33:48
It's counterintuitive, isn't it? You're doing long endurance type hours and training. That doesn't particularly bode well with muscle hypertrophy. Even if your nutrition is, like, perfect. You're not doing the type of training that's going to lead itself to actually building size.

Huw Darnell 34:04
Definitely. For those who are at a place where if they put more muscle on it is going to probably start impacting performance. I've even started playing around with ice baths post-session because what it does and they've shown this that it can start to downregulate something they call mTOR which is a mammalian target of rapamycin, essentially, it's just the body's way of saying hey, produce more protein.

Huw Darnell 34:26
And so exposure to cold mitigates the homeostatic stress, which is training, it kind of ergogenically comes in and stops, the body's need to repair from that, because we're dropping core body temperature, we're down-regulating protein synthesis. And so we can hijack the body wanting to build muscle by exposing it to things like cold. So I have started playing around with that in weight category style sports, like triathlon or even some combat stuff. But that's probably not for everyone to play around with. But just something that I've been doing recently that I thought was pretty cool and thought I'd mention.

Taryn Richardson 35:00
Thank you so much, Huw. I really hope that it's given people lots of good insight into how to do strength training in a way, but also that it is definitely needed in part of their programming, and they need to just find some time to fit it in. Even if it's 10 minutes pre-session post-session. That little tiny effort compounded over time is really what's going to give you best bang for your buck, rather than just not doing anything, find some space to put, you know, three lots of 10 minutes in a week - that's better than nothing.

Taryn Richardson 35:31
And start to prioritise thinking about the strength component in your training program. Because if you have a look at some of the triathlete's body composition over the years, like look back to Sydney 2000 Olympics, the muscle mass on triathletes back then was very, very low. And over that time, people who've got very injured and stress fractures, incidences definitely increased, not that they necessarily weren't there before, we may be better at picking them up. But, you know, triathlon is a very high load sport, we need to layer in the nutrition to support that.

Taryn Richardson 36:07
But we also need to have strong resilient bodies, like you said, to prevent that injury. And part of that for some people is actually putting some muscle mass on or just that getting that strength to keep the unit together. So it's nice and robust. So I love that term that you used earlier that building capacity and a bulletproof body.

Huw Darnell 36:25
Couldn't have said it better.

Taryn Richardson 36:27
So Huw, if people are like "Where is this guy, I want to find him, I want him to write me a program", where do they find you?

Huw Darnell 36:32
Yeah, I'm on social, I try and put out some content related around what I do, how to improve as an athlete. And then if you are a competitive triathlete, and you're looking to gain best shape, and say goodbye to some injuries, or niggles that you kind of have and stopping you from getting to the start line in a good shape now, I might be able to help you out, see what your goals are, and really go through a robust assessment on how you best you're going to be able to take that level of performance to something that you're pretty proud of in the next season - and not see red in your training peaks. So yeah.

Taryn Richardson 37:01
So do you work with people just in Australia, Huw or all over the world?

Huw Darnell 37:05
All over. So I've got an online kind of platform where I'll do pretty solid assessment, battery of tests via Zoom or however, we can facilitate that and then do some programming through some online training apps. So that's a big part of what I do. And then obviously, the face to face stuff in Brisbane. Also, I can facilitate sessions there.

Taryn Richardson 37:24
Yeah, cool. Alright. Well, thank you so much for your time Huw. I'll link all of that in the show notes so people can find you, give you a stalk on Insta and check out your website too. So thanks so much.

Huw Darnell 37:33
Thanks, Taryn. I really appreciate you having me on today. Love what you do, so hopefully I can add some value around the strength for the triathlon piece.

Taryn Richardson 37:40
Thanks, mate. I'll see you in the gym soon.

Huw Darnell 37:41
100%!

 

Taryn Richardson  37:42
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned. Email me at [email protected]. You could also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media at @dietitian.approved so I can give you a shout out too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to www.dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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