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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Top Five Books for Business, Sport and Life

I read a lot.  Typically about a book a fortnight - sometimes more. Probably less than 1% of these are fiction with the majority being related to physiology, nutrition and psychology.  I also pride myself on the fact that I try to read books on views that are diametrically opposed to mine just so I can understand others perspectives (and sometime the basis for people arguments).  As an example I strongly disagree with Vegan beliefs from a nutrition perspective (from an animals rights perspective it's a different story) but have read The China Study and Forks over Knives.  I'm always curious how many Vegans have read Primal Body, Primal Mind and The Real Meal Revolution.

From a business, career and self awareness perspective here are my Top-5 (in no particular order)

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie 1936
The title is often used in the form of an insult ("Guess they've never read How to Win Friends and Influence People..") but the tips in the book are powerful in their simplicity.  Nearly eighty years since it was first published the messages around owning up to things before they are discovered (proactive accountability) and the secret of Socrates are as relevant now as they were in 1936

The Art of War - Sun Tzu 5th Century AD.
That's right - this manifest was written one and a half millennium ago and is still just as relevant.  Messages like:-
 "To know your enemy you must become your enemy" - to think the way your competition does in order to defeat their strategy 
"He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious" - choose when to fight and when to ignore
are as relevant in business and life in the 21st century as they were in the 5th.  In a similar vein Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings published in 1645 similar applies Japanese battlefield strategy to business and life.

When Perfect isn't Good Enough - Martin Anthony and Richard Swinson 1998
When Perfect isn't Good Enough explores the line between attention to detail and perfectionism and
the negative impact on work and relationships of crossing that line.  There are many 'Aha' moments for most people in this book as it explains the difference between 'good' stress (which makes us productive) and bad stress and talks about how stress is in fact based on fear.  Being able to recognise this can significantly reduce the 'stress' and anxiety in many aspects of life.

The Antidote - Happiness for People who cant stand Positive Thinking - Oliver Burkeman 2006
Again a funny title distracts from the true value of this book. In many ways this book is the antithesis of "The Secret" as it explores concepts around applying negative thinking (working out worse case scenarios and defining whether they are that bad anyway) and the negative impact of regimented goals in terms of tunnel vision.

Sucking the Marrow out of Life - John Maclean 2005
Not a business book in the essence of the other four but incredibly powerful and motivating.  If you
ever feel like giving up read this book.  The perseverance around completing the Hawaii Ironman and swimming the English Channel will help put your (often) first world problem in perspective.

Monday, 27 June 2016

The Whyometrics of Plyometrics

You'll often seem me in the local gym jumping from foot to foot or over benches.  Apart from giving the meat-heads something to snigger at what am I actually doing and why ?  It's called Plyometrics.  Whilst the term plyometrics is accredited to the US runner Fred Wilt, plyometrics themselves were originally created by the Russian Yuri Verkhoshansky in the late 1960's, early 1970s.  Over the years a huge number of studies have found benefits to runners and triathletes in doing plyometrics (and that doesn't include for the amusement of others)

Ground Contact time.
The most efficient part of running is when the runner is in the air.  When the runner is on the ground as part of the stride, braking forces via friction are applied and the runner's movement is slowed.  If this ground contact time is reduced then this loss of momentum is also reduced and runner moves more efficiently.  In simple terms plyometrics reduces the time between landing and leaving - from a physiology perspective what this means is reducing the time between the eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) phase of the muscle movement.  It's important to remember this - we are trying to reduce the rebound time.  So when doing plyometric exercises it's important to mimic this.  For example jumping over a bench or box isn't strictly a plyometric exercise.  Jumping over a box or bench and then IMMEDIATELY jumping straight up and trying to touch the ceiling IS a plyometric exercise as we trying to reduce the time between eccentric and concentric contractions. It is therefore important when doing plyometric exercises to try and minimise time between landing and leaving the ground.

Plyometrics also help improve the elasticity of tendons.  When running, energy is stored within ligaments and tendons (kinetic energy) - plyometrics help improve the storage/release of this energy which further assists in 'spring' and in reducing ground contact time.

Some of the new Garmin watches like the 920XT and 735 measure and record ground contact time so it's easy to track improvements.

Stride Length.
In simple terms running velocity is cadence (how many times you turn your legs over per minute) multiplied by stride length.  Reducing ground contact time improves or increases cadence but there is a finite improvement and generally this is around 195-200spm (steps per minute).  Once cadence is optimal the only way to become faster is to increase stride length (and conversely when stride length is optimal the only way to become faster is increase cadence).  Beginner runners may have a stride length as low as 30-40 centimetres whereas Olympic marathon runners can be up to and even in excess of two metres (and they are typically not very tall either - their stride length is greater than their height).

So how does jumping around improve stride length ?

One of the biggest limiters to stride length is joint range of motion mostly around the hips and hip flexors.  Some people call this flexibility but whatever the term the issue is the same - lack of hip range of motion greatly impacts how long a stride you can take.  Plyometrics facilitates Dynamic Stretching (not to be confused with Ballistic Stretching which can be dangerous).  Dynamic stretching involves taking a muscle (or joint) progressively out to it's full range as opposed to Ballistic which can take a joint or muscle beyond it's range.  Dynamic stretching is more effective than static stretching too as it over-rides the brain in restricting muscle range via the golgi reflex.

For runners, plyometric exercises such as split lunge jumps dynamically stretch the hip flexors and glutes to quickly improve Range of Motion.  Split Lunge Jumps involve standing in a lunge position, jumping up in the air from that position, swapping legs in mid air and landing in the opposite lunge stance.  As mentioned above you then want to immediately jump and swap back to the original lunge position.

Injury Prevention / Support Muscle Recruitment.
Many injuries including the common ITB issues are caused by support muscle activation (or lack of).  Unfortunately a lot of physio exercises are focused on muscle strengthening rather than activation.  For example side leg raises are great for strengthening the glute medius muscle (which helps stops the knee dropping in and aggravating the ITB) but does little to help with ensuring the muscle 'switches on' at the right time when running.  By forcing the body to try and stabilise itself (or fall over giving the meat-heads further things to snigger about) plyometrics cause subconscious activation of the support muscles.

Rather than doing leg side raises for the glute medius I recommend lateral hops. Stand on one leg.  Hop to the opposite side as far as possible and land on the other leg.  Hop back.  If it takes you a long time to stabilise/balance it's a good indicator that your stabilising muscles aren't working or activating very well.

So whilst they look trivial and are often the sessions people 'miss' (funny how an athlete will get up at 4am and run two hours in the rain but are too 'busy' for a fifteen minute plyo session) plyometics can add more value than simply just running more and in a much more time efficient manner.  

What are some of my favorite plyometic exercises for runners ?  Here are a couple :-

- Split Lunge Jump (as mentioned under stride length)
- Lateral Hops (as mentioned under Injury Prevention)
- Jump down box springs (stand on a box or bench, jump down and on landing immediately jump up and touch the ceiling)
- Box Hops. (Standing on one leg hop forward towards a box and then immediately hop up onto the box)

Rather than reps it is better to use time ie complete as many reps of an exercise in sixty seconds.  This also facilitates increasing the speed at which you are doing the reps which, in turn, makes the exercise more effective.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The Personal Best (PB) Delimma

Before reading this I want you to do a simple test.

Write down your immediate response to this scenario.  Don't over think it, don't go back and change your answer.

You have a current half marathon running PB of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

You do a 5 kilometer running test.

Based on a well proven formula that has been used to coach Olympic runners and world record holders your coach tell you that you can run a half marathon in 1 hour and 39 minutes (4:41 minutes per kilometre) and tell you to run at that pace for a half marathon event this weekend.

Your IMMEDIATE response ?

About 10 percent of people, in my experience, answer with just one word - OK.  Of the remainder about one third say "I'll try" and the remainder answer "I'm not sure (or I don't think) I can do that"
And there in lies the delimma

For many people, in order to do something, they have to know or believe they can do it. The problem is that, if that is the case, they will never consciously improve their PB.  They 'know' they can run 21.1 kilometers at 5:13 pace so they can do it. They dont know, or havent proven, they can run that distance at 4:41min/km and therefore dont believe they can. This is especially true of milestone numbers like sub 1:30 in a Half Marathon or Sub 3, Sub 4 hours in a marathon.  Studies of result in runs show clumping of results around these milestone numbers

If you have to believe via proof that you can achieve something in order to do it then, by default, you will never set a PB.

The difference with the 10 percent of people who say OK - and in my experience then typically achieve what they are asked to do is not that they 'believe' they can do it.  After all they technically have no reason to but they a) trust in the information or data given to them based on the results of studies or others and/or b) do not doubt they can do it.  There is a big difference between self belief and lack of self doubt and typically the later is more important in achieving Personal Bests.

Quite often runners or endurance athletes are very analytic which is both a good and bad thing.  Bad in that over analyse things or are governed by their own imperical evidence.  Evidence is, by definition, what HAS happened and therefore what CAN happened is definined by this evidence.  It is interesting, without getting into a religious discussion, how many people believe in things like God or life on other planets with NO evidence to actually support this yet are massively sceptical when it comes to over things.

If you are not one of the 10 percent or one third that say "I'll try" then start to look at whether your need to 'believe' is actually limiting your performance.  Then ask what do you need, outside of the performance itself, to remove any doubts.  It could be talking to one of the 10 percent who have improved their PB's based on the same system that is being used to set your goals.  It could be a case of moving to being one of the 30 perfect and saying "You know what - I'll give it a try" - maybe do this in training rather than an 'A' race if you're not 100% committed.

But the simple, limiting fact is that if you need to do something in order to believe it's possible then you will never set a PB.

Hence the PB delimna.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Change your words - change your attitude.

As a coach I often receive messages from people stating that they can't make it to a session.  Usually these messages are quite simple.

"I cant make it to track tonight"

"I can't make the swim squad as I have to work late"

Quite simple and valid, but imagine rephrasing these statements to actually reflect what you are doing.

"I cant make it to track tonight" becomes "I am making the choice that something else is more important.  I acknowledge that if I don't achieve my goals it is because of these choices"

"I cant make the swim squad as I have to work" becomes "Work is more important and again I acknowledge that if I don't achieve my goals it is because of these choices"

That is not to say that the choice to prioritise one thing over another isn't incredibly important and needs to be done frequently and typically the reason IS more important but the difference in the wording is accountability.  By acknowledging that you have made the choice to give your training a lower priority in this case you are also acknowledging that you are accountable for the outcome of missing sessions.  Life happens and we cant hit 100% of sessions but must also acknowledge, and be accountable for, the fact that if we consistently prioritise one thing over another than the goal related to the later is compromised.  

We cannot have a goal that requires 'xxx' work, do only half of the work and expect to achieve the goal.  It is interesting people that don't do the work, don't achieve the goal but then blame others. As a coach clients sometimes leave because they are not improving at the rate they expect but when looking at their logs they miss a lot of sessions.  They change coaches but still don't improve - the issue isn't the program but their lack of accountability.

When people tell me they cant make a session as they are working a simple question comes to mind.  "What if you were going to your daughter's wedding ?", "What if it was a doctors appointment for a serious issue?"  Would you make those commitments ?  Again it is not the case of one thing preventing another but rather acknowledging (and being accountable for) the fact that you are making a choice. And again that choice may be absolutely valid.

Once you start becoming accountable for your decisions and acknowledge the impact of your choices you'll be amazed how much more thought you put into them and into your priorities. One of the biggest traits that defines successful people is not their VO2Max but their ACCOUNTABILITY.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Know Your Place

The Internet is full of wonderful motivational quotes.  If our success was based purely on implementing exactly what we see in those quotes then we'd all be mega-successful.  Many of those quotes are based on visualising success - on seeing ourselves as being successful, behaving as though those things are a fatal-completes.

Two of the most common quotes are the one in the image - what matters most is how you see yourself and to act like the job you want not the job you have.

In the corporate world these quotes often cause more problems than they create the next Donald Trumps.  Imagine a waiter acting like the restaurant owner ?  Well while he's doing that who's actually serving the customers?.  It's not about pecking order but rather about developing the skills and experience at a given level before progressing to the next level.

And therein lies how it relates to Triathlon (or indeed any sport).  It's not uncommon to see athletes behaving like they are Pros (or at least how they think Pro's behave) - strutting about and going on about their 'sponsors'.  The trouble is that, like the waiter, they focus more on behaving like a Pro and forget about the basics.

A simple rule is "Know Your Place"

It's great to have aspirations to be a Pro but at any given time you are where you are.  It's not uncommon to hear athletes say to their mates "Yeh - I'm a sub 10 hour Ironman".  In their mind they are the lion in the mirror but their race results and tests mean they are, in reality, the kitten.

And therefore need to do what the kitten needs to do to become the Lion.

A fourteen hour ironman needs to do what a fourteen hour ironman needs to do to become a thirteen hour ironman.  An eleven hour ironman needs to do what an eleven hour ironman needs to do etc.  Theres no point the fourteen hour athlete spending all their time doing the sub-10 stuff if they haven't yet developed the basics.

A simple task is to look at your last 3 results relative to the field.  That is where you are at NOW. You may be able to come up with an excuse but an excuse is really just something you havent developed yet.  It was hot ?  It was hot for everyone - some people have just developed the skill of dealing with it whether that be a physical or mental skill.  Frankly drop all the excuses and just look at the data.  THAT IS WHERE YOU ARE AT.  Then, like our 14 hour ironman, look at what THAT athlete needs to do to make the next step.  Yes it may be boring and not 'glamorous' but it is what someone of YOUR level needs to do.

Dreams and Goals are important and great motivators but unless you know your place you'll never achieve them.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Training Peaks

Training Peaks is an incredibly powerful tool but can be a bit overwhelming to begin with.  Here's a guide to get you started !

When you first login you can see your schedule for the week - scrolling up and down lets you see past and future weeks.

When you click on a scheduled workout you'll see the details of the workout - the description of what you should be doing and sometimes some hints/tips/suggestions in the pre workout notes.

When you have completed the workout just fill in the relevant details - the time/duration etc but more importantly the Post Workout comments.  What you enter right in here is automatically emailed to the coach.

You can also upload off different devices such as Garmin or Suunto.  When you upload from these the metrics such as duration are automatically filled out.

If you are going to be unavailable - work, travel, family commitment etc then just enter these in.  On the day of the event click the [+] side and add a Workout type of 'Other'.  Note you can also add an event such as a race and also your Metrics like weight, resting Heart Rate.

When entering unavailable times it can sometimes help to be descriptive ie "Away in Sydney for work but will take running gear"

You can also do all of this (except for uploading) via the iPhone or Android Apps which are available free on their stores.

Monday, 18 May 2015


It’s no coincidence; given Triathlon is essentially a summer sport that the ‘off season’ occurs over the colder and darker months.  A time when people’s moods are often lower due to lower levels of Vitamin D compounded by less daylight hours. Many people comment that they lack motivation over this time.  Indeed there is a ‘syndrome’ called P.I.S.S - Post Ironman Sadness Syndrome based on people training hard for an event for many months culminating in a good or bad performance and then that feeling of having to ‘start again’ for their next event.

Here are some tips or suggestions for maintaining or even building motivation in the offseason.

Take a Break.
People in full time work are given four weeks annual leave.  Most companies will insist that you take this.  Annual leave gives you a chance to take a mental and physical break from work and to (hopefully) come back refreshed. From the corporate world it was not uncommon for people to resign after taking leave as the break allowed them to “see the forest for the trees” in terms of motivation.  So why not take a break from training? This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing - there is a difference between physical activity and training.  Spend four weeks not worrying about structure, not worrying about doing ‘x’ runs or swims a week.  If you wake up and it’s a nice day and you feel like going for a ride then do it.  If you feel like going for a walk or surf then do it.  If you feel like staying in bed and reading a book then do that. If you feel like trying something new like Yoga or a dance class then give it a try.  The point is to avoid the pressure of structure and do what you feel like. Four or six weeks isn’t going to massively impact your fitness especially if you are doing some fun aerobic activities. I often say the best time to start again is when you start to miss it - and then wait one more week..

Define your Motive.
This is something that you can and should do during your break.  One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t have Motivation without Motive”. The suffix -ation means creating the action of.  Motivation is the action associated with YOUR motives.  In other words define YOUR reason for doing this. YOUR is highlighted because it needs to be YOUR reason - not someone else’s.  It may be something that might sound silly, trivial or even narcissistic when said out loud but that doesn’t matter.

“I do this because I love the company of my friends"
“I do this because it provides an escape"
“I do this because I want to prove I can"
“I do this because my ex partner/friend said I was too xxx to do this"
“I do this because I want to make my friends jealous"
“I do this because I like to look good"
“I do this to set an example to my children"

The key is the reasons have to be your reasons.  For me it is a desire to prove people wrong.  To prove unhealthy beliefs such as you can’t do endurance sports without sugary gels and you can’t do well in triathlons without training 20+ hours a week wrong.  These may sound silly to some people but they are MY reasons.

Sit down with a pad and pen and write down why you are doing this.  What you may find is that the motive no longer exists.  For example if you wanted to prove to your couch potato friends that you could do an Ironman - and you have done that - that the motivation no longer exists.  If that is the case, and a new motivation that is important to you doesn’t exists then it may be worth acknowledging this and not forcing yourself to continue.  The key is to be very honest with yourself as to why you are doing this and whether that reason still exists.

I use this in races too.  When things get tough (and they will) or things go wrong (and they do) then it is this ‘reason’ that keeps you pushing on and remaining focused.

Set some short-term goals - and link them.
I am not a fan of goals as they often define limitations.  Set a goal of going sub 11 hour in an ironman and you may achieve it and finish in 10:59.  Commit to every day going harder, faster or heavier at the gym and you may do 10:30.  But there is no denying short terms goals help support motivation. Using the SMART systems (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) set a goal of, for example, improving your Critical Power on the bike by at least 5% over the next 6 weeks.  THEN define and, more importantly, link your training sessions to this goal.  Weights, indoor trainer sets - even diet in terms of watts/kg can be linked.  Then understand that by NOT completing a session you are directly impacting that goal.  If you miss a session you compromise your chances of succeeding.  A more important way to think about it is that you will fail. For many fear of failure is a more powerful motivator than success

Phone a Friend.
Having a training buddy is important but triathletes are typically competitive people so recruiting a frienpetitor is more valuable.  Create a competition with a friend based around either a short-term goal like the Critical Power or a race.  Define a wager to create more pressure. Then ask yourself, if you wake up and don’t feel like doing something, whether your frienpetitor is out there doing it..

Many coaches will say that you should enter off-season events.  There are, for example, plenty of running races during the triathlon off-season.  Whilst these can be great ‘goals’ to use they don’t necessarily provide motivation especially if, for example, you know you can cover the distance already.  A focus on defining your motive as the root of motivation and then creating some pressure (called eustress) provides a far better impetus to be accountable and to get out of bed when it is cold and dark.