When athletes perform certain functions without thinking about doing them, they’re using muscle memory. An example of this is basketball players dribbling the basketball without thinking. To accomplish this, athletes have to practice for years to train their bodies to perform tasks without thought.
Muscle memory makes sense for a basketball player, but how does it make us a faster triathlete?
First, think about how we train. What do you think we’re training our muscles to do if we consistently train for running or biking at a certain pace or cadence, or for swimming with moderate pressure on the water? You guessed it—we are providing muscle memory training to our body that will translate to racing exactly how we train. This can be a good thing or this can be a problem. It all depends on how we train: always the same way or by mixing it up.
The best way to establish the desired muscle memory is to incorporate short intervals into your training sessions. Now, I know intervals are hard. They make you feel like you’re going to throw up and require mental toughness. But doesn’t your race require all of this as well?
The good news is that research shows that you don’t have to go out and do 10 x 800s on a track to get the benefit of muscle memory for running fast. A fairly painless interval workout for running is 30-20-10: 30 seconds running moderate, 20 seconds running 10K pace, and 10 seconds running all out.
For biking you can take the same approach: every 10 minutes do a one minute pick-up where you are spinning at 110 rpm cadence and going as fast as you can. You can replicate this for swimming as well: when you’re doing your laps, go as hard as you can during the first 12 meters of each 50 meter lap, pulling the water back with real effort, before falling back to your normal stroke.
These small changes can yield big gains. Training for muscle memory and incorporating intervals is the type of training that will have your muscles exploding. Try it. Stay with it. And watch the results.