I’m a firm believer in the idea of muscle memory and its relationship to triathlon training. In a simple summary, repetition of a motor task creates long-term memory for that task to the point where it can be done without thinking about it. Muscle memory is why we have the idiomatic phrase “It’s like riding a bicycle, you never forget.”
In most cases you can say muscle memory is a good thing. Steph Curry shooting a 3-point jump shot is evidence of that. However when it comes to triathlons, if you’re always training in the same places, your muscles will get used to it and you won’t get those gains you’re hoping for. You need to shake things up and start thinking along the lines of using muscle confusion (the idea behind P90X) in your training plan.
For many people, there’s only so many places to go riding. In the Atlanta area I have quite a few marked courses to choose from both inside and outside of the perimeter. I’ll rotate my long ride locations every weekend. I keep my muscles guessing. I don’t want them to get used to those hills or lack there of. I’ll even switch from tri bike to road bike during the week. It’ll give me a different posture and it’s easier to tackle the hilly terrain of the city. I have several weekday marked Atlanta Cycling routes I change up.
Running is just like cycling in that you need to be able to switch up what terrain you run on. It is even beneficial to work in a speed workout on the track or long flat stretches. Don’t forget about those hills! Unless you live in an area that is totally flat, you should always make sure to fit them into your workout during the week.
Swimming is the one area that is hard to get around. Most triathletes have the pool they practice in as their lone option. I have been lucky enough to have four options during the year. At Georgia Tech I can go between the Leisure Pool and the Olympic Pool. The Olympic Pool is always 4-5 degrees cooler and during the summer is long course meters. I can also get in some outdoor short course swimming in my association pool. Lastly, I have the option to participate in group open water swimming to mix things up even more.
Don’t fall into a very mundane, regular training routine. If you can keep your muscles always guessing, you should better gains and you workouts won’t feel stale after a month.