Does triathlon training require 10,000 hours

Does it really take 10,000 hours of triathlon training to win the race? Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, cemented the 10,000 hour rule for mastery.  This premise is based upon research by the Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University. Although Gladwell offers a strong argument for the 10,000 hour rule there are many studies which contradict this theory.

Challenging the 10,000 hour rule

Genetics is one issue that could sway the outcome. Of course, there will be exceptions. At 6 feet, 5 inches, Matty Reed, is an exceptionally tall pro triathlete. Becoming an aggressive cyclist is his response to the height issue. This is one example which proves reality offers unique variables which fail to be duplicated in the lab.

Sometimes less is more. The long hours spent triathlon training can be difficult to juggle with other responsibilities. Ironman training can easily consume 15 hours weekly. Some athletes choose a lean training model.  Ironman champion, Sami Inkinen, only devotes 12 hours weekly to his ironman training plan.  Time, then, becomes relative.

An effective triathlon training program will favor quality instead of quantity. A difference exists. Some triathletes are checked out and going through the motions. A serious triathlete will intensively concentrate on effort and form. More is achieved in less time when you’re checked in instead of checked out. This is an example of a primary difference between average and elite triathletes. After you’ve gained competency, it’s easy to put everything into overdrive and go through the motions. Elite triathletes choose to maintain steady focus. This helps them to continuously make ongoing minor adjustments to form and technique.

20 instead of 10,000 hours

An abundance of learning theories exist. My focused research shows that it’s possible to gain proficiency with something new in a mere twenty hours. Whether you follow the 20 hour or the 10,000 hour rule, focused deliberate practice is common to most learning models.

Is your triathlon training efficient?  photo credit: dhim09 (279) via photopin (license)

Is your triathlon training efficient?
photo credit: dhim09 (279) via photopin (license)


Here are 4 steps you can apply to your triathlon training plan:

  1. Skill. Deconstruct the skill that you want to improve. Let’s take your cycling training as an example. Figure out the micro skills within the broader skill set for cycling. Emphasize the critical micro skills which will lead to the biggest results.  This follows the Pareto Principle where 80% of your results come from 20% of the skills. Decide what you want to focus on with cycling that delivers the most bang for your efforts. Then emphasize learning those specific skills.
  2. Self correct. Learn basic information through a variety of resources like coaching, books and videos. Training for a triathlon is the ideal opportunity for self coaching. Instead of pushing through a mistake you want to stop, notice what was wrong, consider the correction and then try again with the correct method.
  3. Set aside. List your barriers to practice. Then figure out the plan to work through those obstacles.  You’re more likely to consistently practice when you block out the time in your calendar.
  4. Stick to it. Consistency leads to faster performance gains than sporadic practice. Decide how you can fit 20 hours into your busy life. By the way, there will be a frustration level when you first start out. Instead of quitting too soon, follow your plan to stick with the initial 20 hours.

Here’s a tip to help you succeed. Learning combines systems, rhythm, creativity and rest. When you’re training for triathlons, the easy days serves a purpose. Whether you’re a beginner triathlete or elite triathlete, rest and recovery is necessary. Well, focused concentration combined with recovery also applies to building your mental muscle.

Tips to build your mental muscle

There’s something called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s like HIIT (high intensity, interval training) training, but for your brain instead of your body.

  1. Concentration. Set a timer for 25 min. with absolutely NO distractions. That means lose the ear buds, turn off the email notifications and leave your phone behind. Work with focused attention that’s distraction free for 25 minutes.
  2. Relax. Take a break or have relaxed fun after you’ve successfully completed a full 25 minute set. Rest periods serve a purpose.

That’s pretty much it. Most triathletes can fit 25 minutes somewhere into their day. The technique frowns on disruptions. You have two options. Either you start the 25 minutes all over again or you set boundaries to continue your time and deal with the disruption after your 25 minute interval is complete. Of course you can do several 25 minute sets.

Pomodoro Technique recognizes how distractions slow down learning and skill development. It can take up to 20 minutes to recover from a distraction. That’s a lot of time for people who are already stretched to the max. Concentrated effort helps to rapidly develop your skills.

Do it yourself triathlon training tip

Self coaching is an under-utilized gem. Triathletes seek the easiest way to overcome challenges. So we look to our coach for solutions. Learning is slowed down when you rely too heavily on someone else. Yes, more effort is required to figure things out on your own. Becoming a proficient problem solver speeds up your learning curve. This is one benefit of working through your own challenges.

Break the automation trap where you’re doing what you’ve always done. Your brain lights up when you break the triathlon training routine with something new. Elite triathletes continue to actively work on perfecting their technique. Figure out what’s not working physically and mentally. Then concentrate on refining those moves. Master the basics before you fine tune the particulars.

Challenge. Let’s shorten your learning curve from 10,000 hours to 20 hours. Use your triathlon training time to refine the micro-skills for each leg of the race. Begin to self coach instead of relying on someone else’s feedback. Follow the Pomodoro Technique with highly focused concentration followed by a rest period. Remember consistency is superior to sporadic practice. What are you ready to improve? Go ahead and share your strategy.

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