About Matt Dixon and Purplepatch Fitness
Matt Dixon is a former professional triathlete and elite level swimmer. Matt is a contributing editor to Inside Triathlon Magazine and a coach / fitness consultant to many professional athletes.
Healthynomics would like to thank Matt for his time and triathlon training tips.
Healthynomics: How important is rest and recovery for triathletes? What advice can you provide when it comes to rest and recovery?
Matt Dixon: Recovery is the most often ignored variable of performance, and one that is normally relegated in importance when balanced with ‘getting the work in’. I would argue this is the biggest mistake in an athlete’s training. The truth is that any triathlon training plan is only every going to be as good as the balance of supporting recovery (and nutrition). At Purplepatch, we integrate recovery blocks into a yearly calendar to allow full recuperation.
These are usually 10-14 days in length and help the athlete clean out and truly recover. This being said, these are not the primary recovery tools, as we like to implement recovery days into training throughout any phase of training. We tend to have two days of any week in which there is limited stress placed on the body and allow real ‘value’ training to occur on the other 5 days of the week.
Every 3rd week or so (not 4th!) we then have 3-4 days in a row of low-stress days. The goal of these is to create consistency of training throughout the whole of training across a phase/season. When an athlete has consistent recovery imbedded in training it usually results in the ability to stay healthy, consistent in training and perform better in the tough sessions – truly the platform to improving performance.
HN: Are there any biomechanical weaknesses or muscle imbalances that you commonly see in triathletes? What preventative measures can the triathlete take to avoid them?
I find that is it highly individual for the levels of imbalance and structural weakness in athletes, but it is always worthwhile to work on mobility and functional strength. Traditionally I see three main weaknesses and limiters.
- The first common issue is weakness, normally in hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and lower back. Ironically, this often leads to pain in the IT Band and around the knee, but the source of the issue is the hip, hamstring and lower back area.
- The second limiter is mobility in the hips, having a limited range of motion and ability to freely have full range of motion for optimal riding and running biomechanics.
- The final limiter is the ability of the athlete to truly synchronize and control movements. When an athlete simply swims, bikes and runs, it is rare that they truly maximize their power production as they simply don’t have the neuromuscular firing of synchronized movement.
The best tool I have found to address all of these issues, for all levels of athlete, is the TRX Suspension Trainer from Fitness Anywhere. I have all my professional athletes use it, as it is portable, it is easy to progress exercise level and intensity, and possible to get a lot of useful training in without heading to the gym.
HN: Why is it important for triathletes to have a strong core? Are there any particular exercises that you would recommend?
I essentially answered it above but, we believe in functional strength, not just a strong core. There are several reasons functional strength is important:
- Allows neuromuscular learning for synchronized movement – the athlete has control over movement and better ability to generate power.
- Functional strength will allow increase recruitment of muscle that is already there to generate power – making more efficiency and power.
- Proper functional strength will help strengthen the supporting muscle, allow the maintenance of form/biomechanics when the prime movers begin to fatigue (normally later in the race)
- There might be a decrease risk of injury, but much of that is due to the above and is actually a secondary reason to have it as a central part of training
HN: What are your top 3 favourite training tools for triathletes?
- The first is the TRX Suspension Trainer – for the reasons above.
- The second is a swim snorkel – the single greatest tool for a swimmer to use in training to help improve body alignment, connection between the pulling arm and opposite hip (hence timing and power production) and, ironically, will help breathing action (really!)
- Finally, many of my athletes train on a power-based trainer, normally the CycleOps Powerbeam. The efficiency and effectiveness of the session has massive implications on bike performance.
HN: How has the general approach to triathlon training changed in the last 5 years?
Matt Dixon: Part of me wants to say that it has evolved tremendously, but much of the triathlon training in the United States remains dated, naive and backward. The over-reliance on volume without recovery still leads to a big problem of over training and athletes of all levels arriving to races fit, but tired. The positive is that there is a tide of change beginning to occur. People understand the importance of speed in training, and athletes and coaches are becoming smarter in their approach.
I think we will see a continual evolution in triathlon training, with a more global approach to performance that is similar to other endurance sports, and this trend is going to continue to facilitate better and better performances. I also expect the women to continue to close the time gap on male competitors, and their level of competition will continue to rise and rise.
It is already to the point now that, even in Ironman racing, there is no opportunity to be truly successful without having a balanced attack of strong swim, bike and run.