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Articles

See below for a range of articles and training tips, free downloads and other triathlon based information:

1) Triathlon race day - check list

2) Can swimming improve running performance?

3) Competitive Anxiety: Facilitative or Debilitative?


1) Triathlon race day - check list

tri suit / tri shorts – tri top
goggles - 2 pairs: 1 light / 1 dark
swim cap
lubricant: body glide, etc.
wet suit
scull cap: if water temperature is under 16C
bike shoes
running shoes
bike helmet
race belt
race numbers
elastic bands to secure pedals for T1 exit
bike
pump
puncture repair kit
water / isotonic drink bottles and content
energy gels / bars
sun glasses
post race clothing
towel (distinctive colour)
talcon power (for bike shoes + running shoes)


2) Can swimming improve running performance?

Are you a runner looking to improve your performance without the risks associated with increased mileage? Have you considered incorporating cross training into you weekly schedule but are unsure as to what activity to do and how it will help? We’ll look no further than your local pool for a great option that will help you lose weight, gain strength, increase your cardiovascular endurance and give your hard working joints a much needed rest.

Probably, let’s consider ways in which swimming could actually aid running performance. In a nutshell, swimming can facilitate loss of body fat, increase cardiovascular endurance, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. This last benefit, the avoidance of overuse injuries, it the strongest argument in favour of swimming as a runner’s preferred choice of cross training activity.

Swimming can effectively increase endurance volume (yardage/mileage) within a training programme, without significantly increasing impact on leg muscles and joints. Arguably, these muscles and joints may also be benefiting from an active rest, whilst the heart and lungs continue to undergo a significant cardiovascular workout. Individual endurance runners’ empirical evidence indicates that when weekly running volume within the training programme reaches a certain level, the risk of injury increases significantly. Overloading through cross training offers the runner the option to increase training volume with a significantly reduced risk of injury. For the compulsive runner who has a hard time taking a rest day, swimming not only gives potentially fatigued legs an active rest but it also provides the body with an effective upper body workout. Additionally, swimming is practically a zero impact sport and therefore arguably the least stressful cross training activity, consequently ideal to practice when returning from injury.

Swim training sessions, similarly to run training sessions, can be designed to take into account scientific principles of training, for example, sessions designed to challenge the energy systems: aerobic (endurance), anaerobic and ATP CP (speed/strength) and/or stimulate muscle fibre recruitment. The approximate equivalence between swim and run sessions is estimated as: swim ¼ of the run distance. In terms of interval training, for example, 100m repeats in the pool would be the equivalent of 400m repeats on the track. Moreover, the equivalent to a 5k run would be a 1,250m swim, 10k run would be 2,500m swim, etc. However, runners who are new to swimming or those who are compromised through basic swim technique skills may find it difficult to swim long distances continuously without experiencing significant technique deterioration. Moreover, muscles which are unconditioned to swimming plus inefficient swim technique may lead to decreased motivation and dissatisfaction with swim training. The ideal solution is to attend coached swim sessions that focus on swim stroke improvement which in turn will have a positive effect on motivation and goal achievement.

Heart rate (HR) differential is an important variable when comparing intensity values between cross-training activities. Swim HR can be 10-20 beats below those registered for the equivalent activity intensity on dry land (e.g.: cycling, running) due to loss of gravitational force, the body’s horizontal position in the water, and the cooling effect of the water temperature. However, what truly counts is that the heart, lungs and muscles are still undergoing a significant workout.

Optimum performance from double training sessions or brick sessions within the same training day (for example, swim/bike – bike/run – swim/run – run/bike) which include both speed/ strength (e.g.: 20 x 200m sprints / hill running) and endurance training (e.g.: 800m swim interval sets), have traditionally been performed as: strength/speed session first followed by endurance session later. The logic being that the participant will be fresh for the quality workout and that it does not always matter if the participant were fatigued at the start of the endurance workout because that said fatigue would only add to the endurance effect. However, a recent sport science case study in the US indicated that there were no significant differences in terms of improvement of both strength and endurance when one group performed a strength workout before and endurance workout while another group did the reverse. These findings suggest that it makes little difference in terms of performance improvements as to which session comes first. However, if this logic is applied to run/swim or swim/run cross training, those participants who are new to swimming or whose skills are not robust may find it desirable to always perform the swim session first since it will prove to be the greater challenge to their motor skill development.

Cross training certainly makes sense to athletes, and anecdotal evidence supports the view that elite athletes are known to cross train effectively. However, runners who train moderately with little risk of injury may find that a more beneficial approach would be to do more of what they are already doing, applying the principle of specificity: i.e. add more running sessions to the training prescription to improve running performance. Nevertheless, the more committed runner whose goals include PBs and placing in races will benefit from cross training as a methodology to increase training volume without increasing the risk of injury. Additionally, it will add variety to training prescription and probably make training more challenging and enjoyable.


3) Competitive Anxiety: Facilitative or Debilitative?

Sport Psychology researchers working towards increasing knowledge and understanding of competitive anxiety and its relationship with sport performance, have within the last few years gradually become more and more interested in this subject and have significantly increased their attention on competitive anxiety.

Acknowledged authorities within the field have suggested that anxiety’s complexity and unpredictability can have a serious negative impact on athletic performance and therefore cause athlete’s to experience excessive stress and probably impaired performance. The current focus on anxiety in a competitive sports environment dates back to 1990 when Martens et al. theorised competitive anxiety as a multidimensional concept and developed a questionnaire named the Competitive State Anxiety Invetory-2 (CSAI-2), which was designed to measure cognitive (mind) and somatic (body) anxiety.

Multidimensionality meant that Martens et al. interpreted competitive anxiety as two independent constituent parts, cognitive and somatic anxiety, which influence behaviour differently and have different antecedents and consequences on sports performance. Multidimensional anxiety theory hypothesises that somatic anxiety will disappear quickly once the athlete begins competing whilst cognitive anxiety will vary throughout the competition influenced by the success or failure perception of the athlete. With regards to performance, multidimensional anxiety theory predicts that cognitive anxiety has a negative linear relationship with performance and somatic anxiety has an inverted-U shaped relationship with performance. Following extensive testing of the CSAI-2 and its validity, the construct of self-confidence emerged via statistical analyses as a third component (Martens et al., 1990). Studies using the CSAI-2 have supported the separation of cognitive and somatic anxiety into its constituent parts, which show them to have different antecedents, different temporal characteristics, different performance consequences and respond differently to interventions.

An important development in the competitive anxiety research has been the introduction of the notion of direction (Jones & Swain, 1992), that is, whether competitive cognitive or somatic anxiety is perceived to be facilitative or debilitative to performance (Perry & Williams, 1998). This directional constituent of competitive anxiety measurement is said to play a significant part in interpreting the effects of anxiety upon sports performance. In fact Jones (1995) has stated that previous equivocal findings in the competitive anxiety literature are partly due to researchers using anxiety scales which have principally measured the intensity of anxiety symptoms and not direction. The consequence of focusing on measuring the intensity of anxiety symptoms using the CSAI-2 has been that competitive anxiety had been viewed as debilitative (Jones, 1995). The introduction of direction through a modified version of the CSAI-2 (Jones & Swain, 1992) opened competitive anxiety to being interpreted as facilitative or debilitative. The facilitative or debilitative interpretation is dependent on the athlete’s perception as to whether the competitive anxiety he/she is experiencing as facilitative or debilitative. As a consequence of the introduction of the directional notion of competitive anxiety, research conducted by Jones et al. (1993) showed in their intervention that although there were no differences between groups on any of the CSAI-2 sub-component intensity scores, one group reported that their cognitive anxiety was facilitative to performance. Further support for the directional notion in competitive anxiety research was identified when Perry and Williams (1998), reported cognitive and somatic anxiety symptoms as having a more facilitative effect on performance, their research report supports Jones’ (1995) conclusion that high levels of cognitive anxiety may at times enhance performance.

I recently conducted a case study designed to measure a triathlete’s level of competitive anxiety, cognitive and somatic, in order to compare results with those published within Sport Science’s body of literature: One elite male triathlete, 31 years of age, competing in his first race of the season with the objective of testing the impact of his winter training and as a dry run for a series of world championship qualifying races taking place during the Summer race season. The participant had been involved in the sport for six years and had qualified to represent the UK for the last four world championships in his age group category. The instruments used to test anxiety were the Sport Competition Anxiety Test (SCAT): used as a mediator or predictor of state anxiety and the ‘Modified version of the CSAI-2’: used to measure pre-performance cognitive and somatic anxiety.

According to Jones’s (1995) control model, anxiety is viewed as facilitative providing that the athlete perceives that he/she can exert a certain level of control over both the environment and the self. The triathlete, who was the subject of this case study stated: ‘… to be anxious is a positive thing because without that anxiety, I would not go through all those stages of preparation. I would just go oh! sod it! … so it is the anxiety that I have from a long time before, that makes me train, mentally prepare, makes me make sure that I have got enough money for petrol to get here in plenty of time…I will check my racing equipment, so that I am better prepared and because I am better prepared, I perform better so in the long run the anxiety improves my performance’. His account shows that his being in control as expressed by Jones (1995) is what allows anxiety to have a facilitative effect on his preparation and thus his performance. Similarly, Lazarus’ (1993) assertion that people’s belief about their control over their environment influences their perception of threat, has some resonance in what the participant was expressing in the previous quote. Proactive control over our environment will reduce the perception of threat and thus the perception of stress, which could eventually lead to negative anxiety symptoms. Moreover, Eysenck (1992) had stated that control is the cognitive appraisal of the degree of control the performer is able to exert over both the environment and the self, that is, over behaviour and performance. Performers who are capable of perceiving themselves as able to cope and to be able to achieve their goals are predicted to interpret their anxiety symptoms as facilitative.

Burton and Naylor (1997) questioned the validity of whether anxiety is really ‘facilitative’ and argued that it may simply trigger other positive emotions such as confidence, excitement, and motivation. This ‘trigger effect’ can be interpreted within the triathlete’s case study account: ‘mental arousal comes first. I am mentally very focused about the race from quite a time before, days or even weeks before the race, but anxiety wise it is definitely the physical side’. The triathlete’s perception seems to indicate arousal, which affects intrinsic motivation and the process of getting psyched-up; hence the facilitator in this scenario may be the arousal and motivation, not the anxiety. Moreover, he stated: ‘high level of mental arousal, awareness… Aware of detail, not worried….. reaching a state of flow when racing. Focused racing’. This response could also be interpreted as part of the ‘trigger effect’ and not necessarily anxiety.

The data derived form testing and interviewing the participant is equivocal as the resulting data from the modified CSAI-2 seems to indicate that the participant perceives his cognitive anxiety as higher than his somatic anxiety, whereas the interview seems to indicate that somatic anxiety is higher than cognitive. Moreover, in the interview the participant is quite categorical about anxiety being facilitative, because without it he may not prepare as well as he does, however the directional scores of the CSAI-2 do not indicate that either cognitive or somatic anxiety is either debilitative or facilitative. What does appear to be clear from both the interview and the SCAT results is that anxiety is responsible for the participant’s meticulous pre-race preparation.

The conclusion I reached from this case study is that although results are equivocal in this specific intervention, there was enough anecdotal data to lend support to the body of evidence derived from Sport Science research which generally supports that cognitive anxiety has a facilitative effect on sports performance if athletes are able to interpret their anxiety as facilitative.

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