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Three new year's resolutions that will make you a faster triathlete

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Commuting to work on your bike will not only reduce your carbon footprint,
but will also increase your weekly bike volume and make you a better rider.
Photo by Herkie

Three resolutions that will improve
your race times:

  • Lose weight

  • Stretch more
  • Lower your carbon footprint

'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions. Here are three common New Year's resolutions that will not only make you and the world healthier, but will also have the side effect of making you a faster triathlete.

1. Lose weight

Everyone knows that losing weight makes you faster on the bike because it increases your power-to-weight ratio (a primary determinant in bike speed). The less you weigh, the less gravity will hold you back on the hills, and the less inertia will slow you down on the flats. (Since shaving weight off your bike can cost thousands of dollars, your resolution to lose weight may also support your resolution to save more money too!) What you may not know, is that losing weight helps you run faster, too. Research shows that for each pound lost, a runner runs 2 seconds faster per mile. That means that if you lost that last 5 pounds, your 10K time would improve by over a minute, and you could shave 4:22 off your marathon time without any extra training.*

2. Stretch more

Stretching reduces muscle soreness, improves flexibility, and lowers the risk of injury. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, after a flexibility routine the muscles' core temperature is increased, enhancing oxygen delivery to the muscles, which in turn improves nutrient delivery, speeds the clearing of metabolic waste, relieves inflammation, and reduces the time muscles need to recover. Chances are, if stretching is on your list of resolutions, then you already knew all that. But stretching regularly can also improve performance beyond the simple benefits keeping you fresh for your next workout. Regular stretching has been shown in some studies to improve running economy, according to the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Regular stretching can also increase the speed and force of muscle contractions by increasing the activity of the filaments within your muscles responsible for movement. In The Triathlete's Training Bible, Joe Friel adds that stretching after you work out naturally increases the amount of human growth hormone your body produces. Human growth hormone is responsible for building muscle and the post-exercise adaptations that lead to performance improvements.

Static stretching has actually been shown to decrease power when done before a workout, though. Your muscles work like springs, which contract based on how tightly coiled the spring is. Stretching a spring lowers the potential force that it can exert, and so too with your muscles. The best way to improve your athletic performance through stretching is to undergo a dynamic stretching program in your warm-up that mimics the movements you will be making during the workout (i.e. skipping or high-knee stepping for running, arm circles for swimming, or box jumps for cycling). Static stretching and yoga-type exercises are best done after your workout to improve blood flow to the muscles and increase growth hormone production.

3. Reduce your carbon footprint

There are several ways in which you can use your triathlon training to save the environment. The first is to ride your bike rather than driving or taking public transportation. Biking is a sport where improvements are proportional to time spent on the bike. Riding to and from work or taking your bike when you do errands not only saves money on gas and time with parking, but adds lots of riding to your weekly training. Furthermore, riding at a lower heart rate will also improve the amount of power you can push at any given heart rate. After commuting 25 miles a day on a fixed gear last spring, I had the best cycling season of my life, improving both my half ironman bike split and my 15K time trial split by 1.2 mph each (5% for each). Spending more time training means you will be spending more time outdoors rather than in the car, watching TV, or on the computer.

Eating local, organic, unprocessed foods will also reduce your carbon footprint while improving the nutrient density of your diet. For every pound the average American gains, we use an extra 39 million gallons of oil, says Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of processed food, according to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Food production is responsible for 20% of our annual oil use; the same percentage as goes to personal transportation. So by making fresh, local, healthy food choices you can cut down drastically on your own carbon footprint. For those who are truly devoted, cutting down on your meat consumption can lower the carbon footprint of your diet tenfold. Eating less meat also encourages you to fill your belly with antioxidant-rich plant foods, improving your ability to recover from exercise and providing your body with high-quality nutrients with which to build new cells.

*Note: This only works for runners who are slightly overweight. If you are already at your ideal weight, then losing weight is likely to hurt your performance by reducing muscle mass and harming your immune system.

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