Coaching News – January 2019

Stretching the truth

A timely receipt of a research paper on the impact of stretching (Baxter et al, 2015) coincided with a coach-education question last week.  Therefore, I thought that I would round up what has now become a recent trilogy on athlete recovery by adding my thoughts on stretching to that of the transition period (see August 2018) and rest & recovery (December 2018).

As those who regularly read my missives will know, I tend to support my arguments with terms such as ‘evidence based’ or, where no empirical evidence exists and arguments are supported by intuition or assumption, as ‘evidence inspired’.  One of the more obvious examples of the latter is the argument for using stretching as a tool to aid performance or reduce the risk of injury in endurance athletes, and now we have a paper that sheds some further light on this subject.

Historically, pre-exercise stretching was the staple of endurance running groups, prescribed by coaches to prepare the limbs for exercise.  Post-exercise stretching was also prescribed as part of a cool down programme to minimise the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  For simplicity, stretching could then be described as being one of two kinds – acute stretching referring to discrete exercises conducted immediately prior to exercise (Wallmann, et al., 2012) or chronic stretching, conducted as part of a long-term strategy for increasing flexibility (Stone, et al., 2006).  Due to the limited time available here, for now I will simply focus on acute stretching programmes and may return to chronic stretching at a later date.

Flexibility has long been recognised as a component of fitness (Bompa & Haff, 2009) and arguably stretching has been considered to be an appropriate if not important part of that strategy (Shrier, 2004; Wilson et la., 2010).  However, evidence shows that elite endurance runners are anything but flexible, with studies suggesting that they tend to be less flexible than their amateur counterparts (Saunders et al., 2004).  Whilst this statement appears to be at best counter-intuitive, research has shown that untrained people with the lowest levels of flexibility have the most economic running styles (Gleim et al., 1990).  Although this study needs repeating across a broader range of athlete ability, it does support the findings of several other theories.

Increased mobility of the pelvis over the transverse and frontal planes during the stance phase of running requires an excessive energy cost to stabilise the pelvis.  Certainly sprinters are renowned for extolling the benefits of having tense muscles and tendons to increase elastic storage and thus reduce oxygen demand.  It has also been proposed that reduced flexibility could be accounted for by the hypertrophy of muscle resulting in a reduced range of joint motion.  All good food for thought and certainly all worthy of additional study.

However, we do know that acute stretching prior to exercise as part of a warm up regime has been shown to decrease running economy (reflecting the energy demand of running at? a constant submaximal speed) (Saunders et al., 2004; Shrier, 2004; Thacker et al., 2003).  The rationale for this theory is that stretching reduces the mechanical efficiency of the lower body through the reduction of musculotendinous stiffness (Thacker et al, 2003).  In this instance, musculotendinous stiffness ‘specifically refers to the [muscle] unit’s ability to resist an applied change in length’ (Kuitunen et al., 2002).

Historically, muscular stiffness has been associated with increased risk of injury and an inhibitor of athletic movement particularly in the early stages of an event and yet, in endurance runners muscular stiffness is recognised as a desirable trait (Wilson & Flanagan, 2008).  Inflexibility in the hip and calf regions are associated with improved running economy (Baxter et al., 2015).  The ‘reduction of mechanical efficiency stems directly from the decrement of muscle stiffness that appears as a result of muscle stretching’ (Baxter et al., 2015).  As we have postulated in our own research concerning running form, stiffer muscles around the ankle and knee cause an ‘increase in force potentiation when transitioning from the braking to the push off phase in running’ (Kyrolainen & Komi, 1994).

More effective elastic energy storage and return from a stiffer musculotendinous system is therefore favoured in endurance running (Gleim, et al., 1990).  Without taking advantage of muscular stiffness, activation of increased numbers of motor units requires increased oxygen consumption and energy expenditure (Wilson et al, 2010).  Additionally, acute stretching may strain muscles, causing a decrease in force development and an increase in oxygen requirement immediately following the stretching regime (Shrier, 2004).

All interesting stuff, but the research  is not all negative.  Some studies have identified that stretching isolated muscle groups prior to performance testing can increase the strength of that muscle group, (Akagi & Takahashi, 2014), however, as yet, there is no evidence to suggest that the same applies to endurance running (Worrell, et al., 1994).

Thus, according to the academic studies, not only is there no recognised benefit to acute stretching as part of a warm up activity prior to running, but there would appear to be disadvantages to doing so, not least to running economy through decreases in mechanical efficiency and increases in oxygen demand.  However, whilst this evidence based theory makes academic sense, our own intuition on this topic which is associated with our experience of immobility, would suggest that some other strategy needs consideration.  Also, this still leaves the question of whether there is an optimum level of flexibility required to maximise running efficiency.  According to Saunders et al (2004), optimum flexibility is a balance between muscle stiffness to optimise elastic energy storage and return, whilst allowing for an optimal stride length (Saunders et al., 2004).  I await with bated breath their definition of the optimum stride length because this is, of course, related to running form.

Whatever your current strategy, if it is working for you – minimising the risk of injury and maximising performance – then at this juncture I would advise that you continue to follow your plan but keep a watchful eye on future research.  At some point in the near future, I will hope to follow this up with a brief look at chronic stretching strategies.

In the meantime, please go carefully in this weather and take no risks with your training.  We have a full season of training and racing ahead, and so swapping the road bike for the turbo trainer or doing shorter running sessions at submaximal pace over the next few days, will minimise the risk whilst allowing you to stay active.  A few days of power and heating outages at work have put us under great time pressure this month and we go into February with some outstanding work.  Therefore, we have reduced the number of athlete bookings this month to allow for some consolidation and catch up.  If you are awaiting reports or testing dates, please be patient and we hope to be back up to speed shortly.

One date that is confirmed is a further swim video analysis session at Tiddenfoot on Saturday 9th February at 12:00.  More details on request.

Keep warm!



Coaching News November

Thank you very much for your patience whilst we dealt with matters closer to home this month.  For the second time in a little over a year we have been reminded of the importance of our families and also the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, with both our departed living well into their eighties.  Health and fitness are obviously highly prominent in the message we are keen to promote to our athletes, but this has become a timely reminder that, in providing the services we offer, we don’t lose sight of our own well-being.

This is never more relevant than during the busiest month of the year, which for us is always November.  As athletes begin to plan for next year, we invest a lot of time in screening potential athletes for their fit into our model of coaching.  This process may sound slightly more stringent that at first glance would seem necessary.  Although this is as much an opportunity for the athlete to screen us, as it is for us to determine the level of compatibility, our coaching philosophy is built purely around our coaching efficacy.

Much research has been conducted on self-efficacy in teaching which has been shown to be a vital ingredient in teacher effectiveness.   Whilst coaches do not share all the characteristics of teachers, much of the function we perform includes elements of instruction, guidance in the development of skills and the provision of feedback, which is consistent with teaching practice.  Further still, like a teacher, the coach also acts as a motivator, strategist, administrator and planner to the athlete, to enhance both the learning and the performance of the athlete.  Coach education would go one further and suggest that it is the coach’s responsibility to elicit personal growth from the athlete.  However, I have always baulked slightly at this because it predisposes that the coach operates in some superior plane to the athlete which, of course, may or may not be the case.  I should add, however, that the development of athlete character in aspects associated with the sport is a function of coaching.

The principle study on coaching efficacy, conducted by Feltz et al. (1999), focussed on a programme of reductionism to produce an effective conceptual model of coaching efficacy.  Evaluating previous studies on coaching confidence and the more widely known work of Bandura’s conceptualisation of self-efficacy (1977, 1986), they perhaps over-simplified the model.  However, in so doing, they were able to identify the coaching specific sources of efficacy information and coaching efficacy dimensions, that combine in a multidimensional model to produce a set of outcomes.

As ever, I have added my own flavour to adapt this conceptual model into a practical model that operates in the real world of coaching.  Thus, the sources of coaching efficacy information come in the form of coaching experience and preparation for working with any particular athlete for a specific outcome; the prior history of coach achievement, particularly in similar circumstances; the perceived skill level and performance of the athlete; and the support network the athlete has to achieve their goals.

Primed with the confidence that this information provides the coach, and thus the potential fit the athlete has for any programme of coaching, the coach is able to progress to the dynamics of coaching, or coaching dimensions.  The dimension of coaching strategy is the confidence the coach has in preparing both a training and competition strategy that will draw the best out of the athlete.  In the multi-event seasons demanded by many triathletes, this is where the skill in combining the science of periodisation with the experience of measuring training load and recovery is paramount.

Technique efficacy is the confidence the coach has in their directional, instructional and diagnostic skills.  Again, experience is key here, particularly in utilising diagnostic skills to steer subsequent instruction and/or corrective action.  This is why we put so much emphasis on our own development in understanding the key components of the three disciplines we coach, as well as making skill analysis and development sessions available for our athletes, where logistics and cost allow.  However, it is a common observation of mine that coaches tend to intervene too quickly and there is a tendency to over-prescribe corrective action based on insufficient knowledge.  An often-cited example of this, and one to which I may return in future, is the study of elite gymnast coaches in action and the range of unnecessary feedback they produced for one particular gymnast.  Thus, knowing when to intervene is as important as the how.

Motivation efficacy is the confidence coaches have in their ability to positively affect the psychological state of the athlete.  This may come in a multitude of forms but is not restricted to the measurable progress that athletes can see in either their performance or their skill level.  Providing evidence for this when the athlete is in the midst of a demanding block of training can be a challenge in its own right.  Therefore, regular conversations can be key to highlight aspects of data or skill development that may not be readily evident to the athlete.

The fourth dimension, no pun intended, is the controversial one – that of the building of athlete character.  I don’t dismiss this as readily as my comment above may suggest, but, as a generalisation, an athlete will develop this if the correct approach to all other aspects of training and racing is taken.

Assuming all the above is in place, and it is a big assumption, then coaching efficacy will be displayed in many aspects of the coach’s behaviour.  High efficacy coaches have been shown to display more effective coaching behaviours including positive reinforcement of desirable performance as well as mistake contingent encouragement combined with appropriate technical feedback.  Together, these assist in the improvement of athlete performance and thus contribute to athlete satisfaction.

This, therefore, is why we spend a significant period of time in both the screening process and in creating a channel of free flowing communication early in the athlete:coach relationship.  Ensuring that our coaching model will provide, or can be adapted to provide the perfect fit, reinforces coach efficacy and thus ultimately leads to athlete efficacy.


Coaching News October

Driving from the pool back to The Depot one lunchtime last week, I was surprised to hear the dulcet tones of Dr. Vybarr Cregan-Reid on Radio 5 Live.  As well as contributing an educated commentary supported by a vast literary repertoire, the prime reason for Dr. Reid’s presence as guest editor on Nihal Arthanayake’s Afternoon Edition was to promote his latest book, Primate Change: How the world we made is remaking us.  As the School of English Reader in English and Environmental Studies at Kent University, I really shouldn’t have been surprised by either his 5 Live appearance or his publishing his third book in five years.  In fact, I think that I should really come clean here and confess that my reaction was less surprise and more disappointment.

Two years ago, I had been invited by a former colleague from the University of Hertfordshire to attend a presentation by Vybarr to support the launch of his previous book; Footnotes: How running makes us human.  Whilst very grateful for the invite, I sat amongst the small audience and nodded knowingly as he presented his thoughts with which I agreed, and unmoved for those with which I did not.  At that time, my disappointment was not that I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but that I really wanted to have the opportunity to discuss and debate the topics with which I didn’t necessarily agree.

Whilst his presentation was not the most polished I have heard (he came over better last week on the radio), enough of his content was consistent with that of my running workshops to reinforce my confidence that the underpinning theory of Natural Running Form was heading in the right direction.  As I joined the short queue to purchase a copy of his book, I decided there and then that not only would I use his tome to further inform my workshops, but that I would use my additional knowledge and experience to write my own book on running.  My disappointment last week was with myself in that I had only reached page 76 of this book during which time Vybarr has been published again!

There are, of course, plenty of mitigating circumstances for the slow progress on my part, and some of them are almost justified.  However, the intent has always been there and, to compensate for the lack of scheduled time set aside for such research, I have diligently carried his book with me to each of the countries I have visited in the ensuing period.  That’s some air miles for one book!  In reality, however, the real reason for this tardiness is that unlocking the science behind running is proving to be a spectacularly time-consuming experience.  Whilst not quite the vade mecum that I am intending to publish, every page of Vybarr’s work is so well informed that it leads me on to make additional research, either to understand the primary research that informs it or to find conflicting studies and thus make a better fist of the explanations.  This practice is consistent with every other book and research paper I pick up; hence the ponderously slow progress.

This then is proving to be the problem.  Much of the basic mechanics of running have been well known for hundreds of years and well documented since at least the 1960s.  As a general guide, Geoffrey Dyson’s The Mechanics of Athletics provides an accurate enough model for running that should have informed running coaches since its first edition.  What Dyson didn’t account for, however, was the second running revolution that led to jogging and with it, the birth of the modern running shoe.

Poor daily footwear choices were already a feature of modern culture and, combined with a changing and more sedentary lifestyle, this was a problem that was simply waiting for its time.  Before this second running boom, in the main, runners were those who diligently toiled away on running tracks and, in so doing, further developed and reinforced the biomechanical movement patterns that they had established whilst they were young.  This was a progressive process because whilst running is a natural behaviour, running form is a learnt skill.

In encouraging the population to go outside and take exercise, the jogging revolution came with good intent.  However, all cultural revolutions have a tendency to become the victims of unexpected consequences and three things were to quickly overtake the positive ideals.  The end quickly became more important than the means; a common result of the human nature of always being in a hurry to achieve.  In the process, and unknowingly because we had yet to fully understand the risks involved, we sacrificed running form for speed.  And, in so doing, we made the outcome, the performance, the only indicator of progress.

The net result of this attempt at a fast track process was, of course, the evolution of the modern running injury.  The running shoe with its built-up heel and motion control support enables poor running technique – including heel striking – and contributes toward muscle atrophy whilst providing only limited sensory feedback (Cregan-Reid).  Without the modern running shoe, jogging, which is an extension of walking, would have not been possible.  This hybrid walk/run locomotive pattern is unnatural both in terms of posture and forces (Saxby) and, although not solely responsible, modern running shoes are a contributory factor to this phenomenon and reinforced the regular cycle of running injury.  Such is the rate of injury, Christopher McDougall quipped that “the real mutants are the [runners] who don’t get injured”.

As we accelerate and progress from a walk to a run, the foot is meant to inform the brain of the changes to both impact and pace.  Proprioception – our body’s sense of its own position, balance and movement – uses stretch receptors and pressure receptors situated in our muscles, joints and skin to inform our brain about our interaction with the physical environment (Saxby).  Often called our sixth sense, I refer to proprioception in running as our forgotten sense.

A large percentage of these receptors are in our feet, the part of the body where we should be fully engaged with the physical environment.  When our feet are masked by “inappropriately constructed and excessively cushioned footwear” (Saxby), our brain is deprived of the necessary feedback that would otherwise influence running form.  Thus, by enabling the runner to exceed their developed biomechanical ability, the modern running shoe has led to a regression in running form which, more often than not, has led to injury.  The process of heel striking is thus a cultural adaptation of learnt behaviour rather than a biological one which is only possible as a result of reduced proprioceptive feed back to the brain.

To consider something like running to be a skill, you have to believe that there is a right and a wrong way for it to be performed.  If we are to find the solution to this problem, then we must believe this to be the case.  In fact, the alternative, would now be to hold a position against all the evidence.

The further and deeper that I dig into the mechanics of running, the more I discover that the real work is not so much in understanding how we should run – Dr. Cregan-Reid and others got the easy job there – but in trying to deconstruct how we currently run.  Understanding this will allow running coaches to identify and prescribe to runners the necessary changes to allow a safe, effective and permanent transition to Natural Running Form.  This perhaps over simplifies what has become such an all consuming task for me.  However, as yet, we still do not have the ultimate model of running which remains my work in progress.

Yet another month comes to a close with too much rapidity and things are already shaping up well ready for next year.  The race calendar is filling quickly, and so is our weekly schedule of athlete testing, analysis, feedback and coaching along with multiple weekends of coach education.  Whilst it is difficult not to already be drawn into preparations for 2019 (and in multisport this actually means qualifiers in preparation for 2020!) we still have much to do this year and much to be proud of too.  Thus, I will close on Dr. Chris Taylor’s total domination of the Seriously Brutal Duathlon.  Now that is going to be a tough act to follow next season!


Coaching News September

Coaching News September

One of the biggest challenges of trying to use a low resolution narrative when presenting a natural running form workshop, is that when it comes to the detailed discussions, only a high resolution narrative will suffice.  The difficulty here, however, is that these sessions are nearly always time pressured in trying to condense what would ordinarily be several hours of theory into a short delivery window.  And so it was when I attempted to do just this at the recent Duathlon Hub training weekend.

Every time I teach this particular part of the theory, the content changes and thus no two sessions are ever the same.  Depending on the interests and prior knowledge of the participants or, more importantly, on the questions or feedback I receive, the delivery always meanders off the script in unique ways.  In this most recent case, the question I received was not only worthy of a diversion during the session, it prompted me to go back to my notes to ensure that I had got my story straight.

In the high resolution narrative, there are multiple contributory biological factors in our ancestors’ ability to survive the transition from inhabiting the tropical forest to the savannah.  In fact, there are probably somewhere between a half dozen to a dozen factors which are deemed critical to this success and thus, our survival as a species.  In the low resolution narrative, I have a tendency to use one key example – that of our ability to sweat – to simplify the delivery and make a key point.

To support this example, as most people haven’t heard of a kudu (a kind of antelope inhabiting the savannah), I ask the audience to consider what happens when they take their pet dog or a horse out for a run on a hot day.  The explanation is that their inability to sweat as a method of heat regulation offered us an advantage over other mammals.  This provided our ancestors with a critical adaptation that enabled them to source food with the necessary high calorific content that ultimately fuelled (no pun intended) our rise from failed forest dweller to masters of all we survey.

However, as was rightly pointed out to me by workshop attendee Gill Fullen, horses certainly do sweat.  Indeed, of course, horses sweat, as do dogs, and so the sound bite is factually incorrect.  Gill’s comment therefore sent me scurrying back to my notes to work out why and how I had reduced the high resolution explanation to this simplified version.

It is not just our ability to sweat that is a key evolutionary advantage.  It is our capacity to sweat more than other mammals that is significant here.  We share apocrine sweat glands with our mammalian cousins, which form their prime effective sweating apparatus, however humans also have an abundance of eccrine sweat glands (between 5 and 10 million) that cover our body, particularly in the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and the head, that provide the prime cooling system for humans.

As a result, we are able to secrete more than a litre of liquid an hour which evaporates from the surface of the skin cooling the blood beneath, and the body as a result.  In contrast, not only does a horse lack the volume of sweat glands, it is also covered in a fur coat which, whilst reflecting solar radiation, stops the air from circulating and prevents the sweat from evaporating.  To supplement the cooling system, in extreme conditions, animals such as horses pant to increase evaporative cooling.  However, one of the additional evolutionary advantages that comes from bipedalism, is that we have an adaptive breathing system that allows us to breath independently of our walking or running cadence.  Equally critical for our survival, is that our endurance running pace forced our prey to increase its pace from a sustainable trot, to an energetic gallop.  At a gallop, quadrupeds such as antelope and wildebeest (and horses) are easily able to outrun us.  However, they are only able to take one breath per leg cycle and thus, whilst galloping, are unable to pant, the process of taking short, sharp, shallow breaths.

This limitation comes from the movement of the internal organs against the diaphragm in accordance with the rhythmic timing of the animal’s gait.  Thus, whilst galloping, the animal must synchronise the breath with each stride, an insufficient process to enable both breathing and cooling to effectively take place.  To complete the story, all our ancestors had to do was to track the chosen (probably the largest) animal in the midday heat, ensuring that it never had sufficient time to cool, thus forcing its body temperature to a critical level when the animal would collapse.

For those who wish to learn more, the primary source for this theory is:

Bramble, D. M., Jenkins Jr. F. A. (1993). Mammalian locomotor-respiratory integration: Implications for diaphragmatic and pulmonary design. Science, 262: 235-40.

For the low resolution narrative, I would urge you all to read The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, health & disease by Daniel Lieberman.  It’s a thoroughly absorbing book.

Slightly closer to home, we have had an excellent month with athlete successes at the Powerman Zofingen ITU World Long Distance Duathlon Championships, taking Applied Triathlon Coaching’s overall medal tally to 30 medals in multisport competition!  Additionally, our regular marathon runner Deb Self successfully completed the slightly longer 112 mile challenge that is the Rat Race Coast to Coast.  The photos from this event are simply stunning!  Well done to all.

We are now heavily engaged in planning for next year and would like to welcome those athletes who have recently joined our ranks.  This is always an exciting time for us as we get to know your objectives and ambitions and learn to work with you.  Please note however that we are heading to the Lake District for our annual week-long retreat this weekend and therefore will be preparing training plans to see you through this period.  Although we will have internet access, the connection can be slow so please do call if you need any assistance.

Happy training in these beautiful early autumn days.




Coaching News August

All of a sudden the greater part of the summer is behind us and, bar a few hardy souls now tapering for Coast to Coast, Powerman Zofingen, the Brutal, the Multisport Festival in Ibiza, or those final club races, this is now the time for what was historically termed the transition period.  I write historically, simply because the word has obviously taken on a whole new meaning with the advent of multisport.  However, this minor confusion aside, the transition period remains an important aspect of any annual periodisation plan.


The transition period is essentially a recovery period that allows the athlete to recharge the batteries.  This period can sometimes be a shortened break to allow a brief recovery phase in the midst of a double (or triple) periodised plan, between races, readying the athlete for the next preparatory phase of training.  Or, more traditionally, the transition period is a 4 to 6 week full, but active, recovery linked to the next annual periodised plan.


I could try and write something from memory, or rather, from my own interpretation of transition in its practical coaching application.  However, it is far easier to directly quote Tudor Bompa, who is regarded as the father of all things periodisation: “After long periods of preparation, hard work, stressful competitions, in which both physiological and psychological fatigue can accumulate, a transition period should be used to link annual training plans or [the] preparation for another major competition, as in the case of [multiple] periodised plans.”


The training during the transition period should be low key with a reduction in all loading factors – intensity and volume, technical and tactical – with allowances for general training only.  The objective is to allow for the facilitation of psychological rest, relaxation and biological regeneration.  Failure to allow for a full recovery before embarking on a further periodised plan is likely to impair performance in future training cycles whilst also increasing the risk of injury.


However, this phase of training requires a similar level of consideration to every other week within a training cycle.  If nothing else, this is to ensure the avoidance of the most common mistake of the transition period – that of the athlete allowing the training to come to a complete standstill.  Any abrupt interruption of training will lead to a significant detraining effect resulting in a “substantial loss in the physiological adaptations established in the previous months of training”.


For endurance athletes, short term detraining can result in a substantial reduction in both time to exhaustion and overall endurance performance.  “Maximal aerobic capacity can be reduced by 4% in as little as four days of detraining, by 7% [within] three weeks and by 14% in as little as four weeks of inactivity.”  Similar reductions in output occur with physiological markers of power and strength also.  The initial phase of the next training will therefore be required to regain this lost ground before further progression of athlete performance can be sought.


Recovery from injury aside, active recovery is therefore preferable to ensure that athletes continue to engage the bioenergetic characteristics of the sport being trained for.  Training should be low key with volumes and levels of intensity set to be approximately 40 – 50% of those achieved during the peak periods of the competitive phase.  Additionally, with the ever increasing range of events that athletes need to prepare for and thus the need for athletes to be up to speed earlier and earlier every season, there is a serious call to start back onto full training without allowing for the full 4 – 6 week period.  Thus, the transition phase, particularly for those with early season qualification races, is often reduced by at least two weeks.  This allows for an early reintroduction in particular of form drills and skill redevelopment before embarking on the first phase of the next annual periodised plan.  The progression should be carefully considered, however, with a carefully crafted, gradual rebuild in volume and intensity.


This is also the ideal time for athletes and coaches to review the progress made in the previous 12 months and begin to plan for the next.  Additionally, the end of the transition period is the ideal time for the athlete to re assess current performance levels through physiological assessments to set the benchmarks for the forthcoming training.  We are currently busy scheduling for this important task with both our long term athletes as well as those who are coming on board in preparation for the 2019 season.


With the increased numbers of athletes passing through the Depot requiring assessment and testing, particularly bike lactate testing and running video analysis, we are delighted to announce that we have moved!  We are now to be found about 20 feet from our previous location, still in Building 86 at the Royal Ordnance Depot in Weedon but now in the main building on the left.  The additional space will hopefully allow more opportunity for coaching, with additional services to come on board in the next few weeks and months.  Please keep an eye on the website or Facebook for further details or email to make a booking.


I am heading off to the 2018 ITU Powerman Long Distance World Championships in the morning and then to the Duathlon Hub Peak District weekend to present both a Natural Running Form workshop and an introduction to Team GB Age-Group racing.  Busy times before we head to the Lake District at the end of September for our own transition period.


Keep up the hard work please, unless your own transition period has already started, in which case, please enjoy a little active down time before we begin the training full on once more!



Coaching News June

Coaching News June

In the same way that May Week is now in June, our recent monthly newsletters are making their appearance in what could technically be described as a month late, even though effectively they have just tripped the calendar by a day.  And so, we therefore find ourselves in July with half the year now behind us and, for many athletes, crunch time is the weeks now ahead.  The events are coming thick and fast with the world duathlon championships, the European standard triathlon championships and Ironman Bolton all taking place in July.
Whilst this is therefore no time for some athletes to be making substantial changes in their exercise regimes, we have received several questions of late concerning nutrition and, in particular, from athletes seeking guidance on how to set themselves up for the day.  Therefore, Sarah has therefore given this some thought and presents her case for breakfast.

‘Breakfast cereal’ has become a modern paradox.  There is now so much evidence for the benefits of eating a substantial and low GI meal at the start of the day and yet food manufacturers continue to market refined carbohydrate as the ideal breakfast. (GI = glycaemic index; a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood sugar levels).

The idea of eating grains for breakfast dates back to the late 19th century when food reformers called for a cut back on excessive meat consumption, and explored vegetarian alternatives.  Corn, oats and wheat were cheap to grow and methods were gradually found to make these grains palatable, with a certain amount of cooking involved.

With advances in food processing in the 20th century – hulling, rolling, puffing – breakfast cereals, which could now be eaten without cooking, became big business.  The more sophisticated processing increased the shelf life of the cereal, but also robbed the grains of their nutritional value.  The bran and germ were refined out – at the time, these were thought to interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption – but this process also removed important nutrients such as vitamin B and iron.  To improve the flavour, sugar was added.

Nowadays, breakfast cereals are likely to be fortified with minerals and vitamins in an attempt to boost their nutrient value, but many are still the result of over-refined grains, and so don’t provide much in the way of fibre and tend to be relatively high GI.

Eating breakfast early in the morning kick-starts your metabolism, the energy production process, and starts fuelling for your muscles and brain.  You should feel more alert following this first meal of the day and, by making it a substantial and low GI meal, you should feel more satiated for longer and avoid possible blood sugar and insulin spikes following your next meal.

Previous research has also shown that the thermic effect of food (calories burned due to digestion) is lower in the evening than in the morning, possibly due to slower emptying of the stomach.  A review of this and related research has led to the creation of the Big Breakfast Study, funded by the Medical Research Council.  Among other objectives, the study aims to assess the impact of meal times on the body’s energy expenditure processes.  The outcomes will contribute to improved nutritional guidelines, based on optimising the timing of calorie consumption.  The study will measure the effect of meal times on body weight, as well as blood pressure, blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels, and appetite.

I haven’t yet found out when this study is due to conclude but I’ll keep an eye on it and keep you posted.

In the meantime, I’d like to encourage you to do your own research.  The cereal manufacturers have conditioned us into thinking that the first meal of the day must be based on refined grains, but why is this when, at other times of the day, we are more inclined to eat balanced meals containing a protein source such as meat or fish, vegetables and complex carbs.  I want to challenge that thinking and ask you, would you eat casserole for breakfast?  Or rice?  Or salad?  Put your social conditioning to one side for a while and consider what a substantial and low GI breakfast could look like.  By front-loading your day (consuming most of your calories in the morning), you will also be less reliant on your evening meal for refuelling.   Especially for those of you doing the bulk of your training in the evenings, this is surely worth a try.

As with any aspect of your training regime, please make sure you introduce changes gradually; radically changing your eating habits can risk gastric discomfort.  But if you decide to give it a go, please let me know how you get on.

A final word on breakfast cereals – there is still a place for some of these in your food cupboard.  Those made without added sugar such as Weetabix or Branflakes, when served with milk, make a nutritious snack or small pre-exercise meal when time is tight.

For more information on the Big Breakfast Study read

Food for thought, as ever.  It may also be speaking the obvious, however, please also give some thought to your hydration strategy at present.  This is important, not only for racing but also before, during and after your training sessions.  The more effective your hydration strategy, the more effective your training sessions will be and the sooner you will be able to recover and get out on your next session.


Coaching News – May

Another month of rapid progress with the racing coming thick and fast along with, finally, the arrival of summer.  We are now at the point of refining plans and tapering as the international season approaches too.  So, well done to everyone who has raced well so far this season and best wishes for those whose A races are still to come.  For those requiring pre Bolton or pre Tartu/Glasgow/Denmark/check ups and testing, please contact us soonest because the days are filling up fast.


I had wished to add a little more flavour to this month’s newsletter, however by necessity we have had to be busy with introducing a Privacy Policy in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulations.  By necessity, we hold a range of personal information including dates of birth, videos and medical information for the personal benefit of our customers and will continue to control and use this information in accordance with the Data Protection Act (2018). Full details are available on our website  If you have any questions or concerns with the way in which we store and use this information, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We also respect your privacy in terms of making contact and therefore, should you wish to be removed from the Applied Triathlon Coaching mailing list now, or at any time in the future, then please do not hesitate to contact us.



Privacy policy


  1. About this policy

1.1.   This policy explains when and why we collect personal information about you, our customer, how we use it and how we keep it secure; and your rights in relation to it.

1.2.   We may collect, use and store your personal data, as described in this Privacy Policy and as described when we collect data from you.

1.3.   We reserve the right to amend this Policy from time to time without prior notice. You are advised to check our website regularly for any amendments (but amendments will not be applied retrospectively).

1.4.   We will always comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when dealing with your personal data.  Further details on the GDPR can be found at the website for the Information Commissioner ( For the purposes of the GDPR, we will be the ‘controller’ of all personal data we hold about you.


  1. Who are we?

2.1.   We are Applied Triathlon Coaching, or any other division of the group providing services to you.   

2.2.   We can be contacted using the details displayed on our website at


  1. How we protect your personal data

3.1.   From 25th May 2018 we will have implemented generally accepted standards of technology and operational security in order to protect your personal data from loss, misuse or unauthorised alteration or destruction.

3.2.   We will never pass on your personal data to any third party.

3.3.   We will notify you promptly in the event of any breach of your personal data which might expose you to serious risk.


  1. What information we collect and why

Type of information


Legal basis for processing

Name, address, telephone number, email address

Managing the relationship with the customer.

For the purpose of our legitimate interests in operating the company.

Emergency contact details

Contacting next of kin in the event of an emergency.

Protecting the customer’s vital interests.

Date of birth / age related information

Managing membership categories which are age related. 

Provision of personalised services and advice to the customer.

For the purpose of our legitimate interests in operating the company.


Provision of adequate facilities for members.

Reporting membership and participation information to our National Governing Body (BTF) British Triathlon Federation.

Provision of personalised services and advice to the customer.

For the purpose of our legitimate interests in operating the company.

For the purposes of our legitimate interests in making sure that we can provide sufficient and suitable facilities for each gender. 

For the purposes of our legitimate interests in organising race entries for the benefit of Members of the Club.

Photos and videos of customers

Publishing on the company’s website and social media pages and using in press releases.

As part of assessment and analysis of customer’s swim, run and bike technique.

For the purpose of our legitimate interests in operating the company.

Consent: we will seek the customer’s consent on the registration form.

The customer may withdraw their consent at any time by contacting us by e-mail or letter.

Medical conditions

For health & safety.

For the safe managing and supervision of the customer.

Provision of personalised services and advice to the customer.

Protecting the customer’s vital interests.

Body composition data, e.g. weight, height, BMR, etc

Provision of personalised services and advice to the customer.

For the purpose of our legitimate interests in operating the company.





Version 1.0 dated 30/05/2018.  We reserve the right to update or amend this privacy policy at any time.


Applied Triathlon Coaching is a division of is a UK registered Limited Company, registration number 04431009.


Coaching News – April

As the numbers of coached and tested athletes at Applied Triathlon has increased, the range of experience of athlete has broadened.   Therefore, we increasingly find ourselves trying to ascertain the most effective way of both establishing the most appropriate training for this widening range of individuals as well as redefining our justifications and explanations for delivering that training.  Where running form is concerned, however, we keep going full circle.  No matter how much we explore the current academic literature and coach education guidance, we become more concerned by the inconsistencies we find.  Of course, we continue to make revisions to our coaching model as we discover more about this complex subject, and continuous learning certainly takes place.  However, the more we read and observe, the more confident we become that our approach to Natural Running Form is heading in the right direction.


Running is often considered to be simple activity – what Olympian Ron Clarke once described as putting one foot in front of the other and repeat.  It is generally understood that those with the best running genes who train the hardest are most likely to win.  However, running can almost certainly be described as a skill and this means that there must be a right or most effective way to do it.  Running is however a skill that is rarely effectively taught.


All runners have stylistic differences – coach education confirms this – but it is the similarities which are important.   On closer inspection the best runners pretty much all do the same thing – foot contact, stance, toe off –  with less able runners completing the same process but less efficiency and less effectively.  Good runners are graceful; their running looks effortless and they (nearly) always look like good runners.  Ancient Greek paintings of runners display a similarity of running form whether depicting fast or slow running which is very similar to how Mo Farah runs.  There is an accepted link between consistency of training and performance but is there a link between consistency of form and consistency of training?


Conversely, less efficient runners look like poor runners and their running form often differs according to their running pace.  Despite the development of modern running shoes, improvements in coach education (both in content and methodology) and increased scientific understanding, injury rates remain consistent across the endurance running community.  Some of these injuries can be associated with differing form and therefore, is there a link with inconsistent form and increased risk of injury?


There are contradictory view points on what constitutes good running form, with opinion varying from “running style [being] ordained at birth” through to “stature and development” and thus currently there is no accepted (academic or coach) model of running that depicts good form.  This lack of a model has resulted in the force production concept of running remaining in vogue in coach education for the development of endurance athletes.  In simple terms, force is applied beneath and behind the runner to create propulsion.  This application of force comes at the price of greater ground reaction forces however, and therefore modern running shoes are provided with appropriate cushioning to reduce the effect this has on the runner.  This good intention of the added protection in the cushioned running shoe has however produced unintended consequences.  It has restricted sensory feedback, increased muscular atrophy of the key running muscles and enabled maladapted people to allow running with a heel striking action.  The increased impact transient as a result of heel striking is known to be a contributory factor in running injuries.  Combined with the modern lifestyle, the modern running shoe has allowed us to exceed our biomechanical capabilities in the search of running increased distances and intensities.


The recent barefoot running trend (better described as the re emergence of the minimalist running shoe) was borne out of identifying the need to reduce the risk of injury for endurance runners.  However, the trend is now pretty much gone, without establishing a legacy worthy of the initial noise it briefly made within the running community.  Efforts by authors of such work as Running Form (Danny Abshire), Chi Running (Danny Dreyer) and The Pose Method (Dr. Nicholas Romanov), with additional research by evolutionary biologist Professor Daniel Lieberman, established a plausible case but this was perhaps undermined by academic researchers not finding sufficient supporting evidence for the barefoot concept within the laboratory.


It could be more strongly argued however that the failing of this movement was more in the inability of coaches and athletes to translate the drills and movements successfully into their everyday running without compromising their current level of performance.  Or indeed risking injury, which was counter-productive to the initial objective of runners changing running form, especially by those who forced the pace of transition.  Such impact as remains has probably been to encourage athletes and coaches to focus a little more on running form in training as opposed to outright performance, but it has been unclear which of the drills are appropriate for whom and how these drills are to be integrated into the actual process of running.


Lieberman states that it is becoming increasingly more certain that western society is suffering from two modern afflictions:  a surfeit of highly calorific, readily available foodstuff and [leading] an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.  For long-term well being, this is proving to be a deadly combination.  Running remains the most easily accessible and potentially effective antidote to both.  However, the misunderstanding of appropriate drills leading to the misguided coaching of running is not only unlikely to effectively support those who currently run, but is also unlikely to encourage those who really need to participate in this most natural of activities.


Therefore, we shall continue to try to understand which drills work and why and to offer an easy to follow, safe and appropriate model of running for our athletes and non athletes to follow.  In time, with further understanding, there is no reason why running cannot be considered comparable to other skills.  Runners could be taught to effectively tune into the process and learn to consciously control running until the new form becomes a part of the subconscious.


Here endeth the sermon for today!  In other news, Applied Triathlon is now a Triathlon England registered triathlon club and all coached athletes can consider themselves to be club members.  To take full advantage of this, please join Triathlon England as an individual member and annotate Applied Triathlon as your club.


We have events a plenty on the horizon, lots more athlete testing and analysis to complete and our Monday swim slot at Woodgreen Leisure open air 50m pool to look forward to!  Please keep up the good training guys!







Coaching News – March

Well, what a month this has been.  Sadly, in most cases, we have not been able to put all the hard work in training into practice this month due to the weather which has resulted in multiple race postponements.  In duathlon in particular, we are used to the weather interfering with races, but I do not recall an occasion when so many events have been cancelled or postponed.  Not only does this cause problems for scheduling the re arranged events, we lose out on the opportunity of proving the effectiveness of the winter training.  All is not lost however, as you have all worked very hard to ensure that you have maintained your training wherever possible.  Training indoors may not always be as effective as getting outside but I am confident that many of your fellow competitors have simply been striking through their training with another missed session and so I am very pleased that you have all continued to stick with it despite the conditions.


That said, we have seen some strong racing performances this month both before the weather deteriorated and yesterday at the National Duathlon Championships.  Progress has been made across the board and, the training data has supported the potential for improved performance where athletes haven’t been able to race. Therefore, we must push on and realign the training for the next set of objectives and rely on the training data assuming that this would have translated into improved performances in every case.


What then still awaits us this year?  Next up are the early season marathons with athletes running at both London and Manchester – good luck guys!  Then the focus switches to the European Middle Distance Duathlon championships followed a few weeks later by the World Standard and Sprint Distance races, both events being held in Denmark.  During this period, I will continue to run bike lactate testing from the clinic at Weedon and will be leading bike recces over the UK Ironman course at Bolton for those who are targeting this as their main event this year.  For those aiming to race in the triathlons at Tartu and Glasgow in July and August (or Bolton) or trying to qualify for next year’s triathlons, I have now confirmed the booking at the 50m heated, open air pool in Banbury on Monday evenings.  This session is available to all levels of swimmers with an emphasis on stroke improvement initially, followed by conditioning later in the season.  There may be the opportunity for video analysis, but this is still being negotiated at present.  For those awaiting a swim video analysis session at Tiddenfoot, this has been penciled in for Saturday 14th April.  Any takers for either sessions should contact me soonest, please.


For the Long Distance Duathlon team, the first round of qualification has now been completed – congratulations to all.  Please note that the next cut off for discounted race entry is in a few days’ time.  Please don’t miss out!  I will soon be trying to get confirmation of the second run course from the race organiser for this year so that we can prepare the appropriate training.  The last-minute changes last year certainly affected performances across the board!  More news on this will therefore follow.


A much less controversial newsletter this month and I will have to postpone the answer to the question received a couple of weeks ago as to why we test for lactate threshold and turn points rather than VO2.  There is a short answer to this question, however, I would rather explain it in more length in my response.  What spare time we currently have has been taken up with both coaching and reviewing my work on Natural Running Form.  We continue to operate a programme of continuous improvement on all the work we undertake and I have recently returned to the topic of running form to both improve the quality of our analysis as well as improve the clarity of the reporting.  The ultimate objective is to not only report on what we discover on each individual athlete within our analysis, but also to produce a visual model of what we perceive good running form to be.  This is no small task and is certainly proving to be one of the most challenging and yet exciting tasks we have undertaken.  It will certainly save me from having to do some of my own training for a while and so I will have to continue to train vicariously through all your efforts!


Please keep up the hard work.








Coaching News February

I had intended to write about other matters this month, however, I received a lot of feedback including some questions on last month’s musings (, and therefore I have decided to respond to this first.

I am reliably informed that the rats chosen for the experiments were young and male and the main question raised last month was whether the outcome would be the same had the rats been female.  Sadly, I simply do not know.  As yet, I haven’t had the wherewithal to track down any specific research (of which there is an awful lot with whole journals assigned to the subject) and in truth, I am not a fan of laboratory-based research on mammals.  Rodents they may well be, but rodents form over half of the world’s mammal types, and over 100 million mammals are used in laboratory testing every year.  This fact always leaves me feeling just slightly queasy.

My guess is that the result would be different with female rats.  Exactly what form this difference would take, I do not know, but I do know that this answer exposes me to the risk of being accused of applying stereotypical beliefs to these complex biological and social interactions.  In today’s politically correct climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss differences between the sexes.  Even from a scientific standpoint with appropriate research data to support the intrinsic differences, this is currently treacherous territory and, in Canadian and American universities at least, such discussion is potentially career ending.

The stated aim of this particular piece of post-modernism is to achieve equality of opportunity for women and thus this appears a laudable objective.  At face value, you would think therefore that understanding and, better still, celebrating the differences between men and women may actually increase the likelihood of successfully facilitating this outcome.  If you can recognise the differences, you can establish which of these are significant and make the necessary allowances and or adjustments to overcome them.  However, on closer inspection, by denying that evidence exists, it is becoming apparent that it is in fact equity (equality of outcome) which is the post-modernist goal.  To understand the difference between equality and equity or, more importantly, the dangers of equity from a coaching perspective, we need to bring the conversation back onto common ground and an example which I regularly introduce into both my coach education and Natural Running Form workshops.

Under the current climate of social culture, certain ultra-running races are under pressure to provide equal numbers of male and female participants on start lines at their events.  So, why is it that currently more men sign up for these events than women?  If you compare men and women in a very general sense, then you will discover much overlap of attributes including many aspects of physiology and other biological characteristics.  This is a very useful thing to understand when preparing training for athletes.  However, it is when you turn your attention to interests that the real differences appear and, it is at the extremes of characteristics and interests, that the significant differences begin to manifest themselves.

Those women who are interested in ultra-running, also happen to be very good at it.  I would guess that if you even suggested that anyone had levelled the playing field for the likes of Ann Trason, Nikki Kimbell or Jenn Shelton to achieve success in their chosen field then this would both genuinely cause offence and devalue their achievements.  These women may be at an extreme end of the ultra-running scale, however I have chosen the extreme for a reason.  In a reflection of life, athletic competition also selects for extremes.  Therefore, although when at the height of their competitiveness, these three could arguably (and often did) win any race they entered, they tended to be lone women amongst a large and equally competitive field of male runners.  Unfortunately, this will remain the case until such time as more women have an interest in running rather than through social manipulation of start numbers.

As with your own athletic successes, had you known you needed to do less to achieve, not only would this devalue the achievement but it would also risk diminishing the goal setting and preparation in the first place.  This reduced challenge, I would argue, would result in none of you taking up the challenge in the first place.  Thankfully, among my athletes, I am blessed with a 60:40 ratio in favour of women, all of whom already display the necessary characteristics and interest in athletic achievement.  To underline this point, congratulations to Helen Sahgal, who is certainly getting back to the top of her game, running an early season 38:55 at Oulton Park last week to win the women’s race; also to Kathryn Hanson whose gutsy performance along with husband Ian, earned her yet another iron distance finisher’s medal at Challenge Wanaka in New Zealand!

Closer to home, spring is hopefully just around the corner, but please take care during this period of extreme weather.  This is no time to take risks and we can always pick up the pace as the weather improves.  Many of you have races coming up ranging from qualification duathlons to both Manchester and London marathons.  I am therefore now fine tuning your tapers but will be doing so over the next few days from the pool side in Lanzarote.  We have such a busy period ahead that we must make some room for a couple of days off now.  I will of course have the tools of my trade with me, but there may be a slight delay in responses to questions and feedback.

Enjoy the snow!