The term ironman tends to be underrated in the sporting world and even more so against the titular superhero known as Iron Man (FYI: no relevance).
There’s no doubting though that ironman athletes are some of the fittest people on Earth even though they might not look like it against the average gym junkie. Think of their competition as a combination of surf, endurance racing and strength training in a military drill style drill. Their physique as a result is more athletically lean than bulky.
Matt Poole is one of these champion ironman athletes who once ran 2 kilometres with a broken fibular to make the finish line. And today we’re getting him to teach cruisy civilians like you and I how to get the strength and stamina of an ironman.
Ready. Set. Go.
Establish Your Goal Before You Train
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People always say “you train so much, Matty,” but my goal is to be fit by summer when our races are on. I know when I need to be fit by and which races I need to do. That’s me as a pro athlete.
For the average worker, if you’re just turning up to the gym to train with no light at the end of the tunnel, that’s the definition of crazy to me.
I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t turn up to train if I didn’t have anything to race for. So I love telling people and encouraging them to find something they love to do. Whether it’s running the City to Surf, a cross fit comp, an ocean swim…whatever it is, just do it. You don’t even have to break records.
If the event is sixteen weeks away, break down your training so that you know why you’re turning up to the gym, the pool or the running track everyday before then.
Our winter training program is boring as shit. It’s just weeks on weeks of training but the reason why we do it is because it’s a building block – think of it as money in the bank every week so when summer comes you can spend that investment.
There’s a goal at the end of it and that makes training more manageable and that’s exactly what we do as ironmen.
Train Like An Ironman
The ironman competition is iconic in Australia. There are the three water disciplines:
- Swimming leg
- Board leg
- Surf ski leg
We also have soft sand running transitions which are quite brutal and exhausting. You’ll know if you’ve ever tried running on soft sand.
Our training week is big and it consists of lots of volume and kilometres to cover. This is so we can stay on point for every discipline.
The average weekly program involves:
- 4 -5 morning swim sessions a week at a distance of 4km – 6km each depending on season
- 3 – 4 sessions of daytime running a week with varying distances that focus on short sharp sprints as well as general aerobic runs (20mins – 30mins each session)
- Monday to Friday afternoon board or ski sessions
- 2 gym sessions a week specifically focusing on core strength
- Wednesday and Saturday morning are the biggest key sessions known as ironman simulations
- Total of 15 – 17 training sessions a week
- Sunday is the only rest day
Notes on gym sessions: These aren’t your usual run of the mill gym sessions consisting of bench presses an bicep curls. Poole runs a custom program which helps him build core strength whilst preventing injury and honing his swim technique.
In the gym it’s specific movements to my sport. I’m working with a strength and conditioning coach. There’s no benefit to bench pressing as my muscles and body is already so exhausted from the training workload. To hop on a bench press will set me back and can potentially cause an injury.
Poole instead focuses on these areas in the gym:
- Any movements that simulate the swimming, ski paddling or board motion
These specific exercises bring advantages such as:
- Strengthened supporting muscles
- Strong lower back, strong hip flexors
Because you’re in such an unorthodox position on the board or ski, it’s important to make sure you have good mobility alongside strength and flexibility through those major muscles.
Recover Like An Ironman
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The desire to continually identify and improve weakness in your game shows strength. Training for the most part of my career has been very specific to Ironman disciplines and after many injuries and years of racing, today I discovered there is plenty of chinks in my armour. After years of treating my body like a rental car I’m very excited to begin working with Wade at @momentumvsports. We will be focusing on strength, flexibility, mobility and nutrition. With weakness comes an opportunity for improvement and the challenge ahead has given me new fire and motivation 👊🏼
The old school training days of get in and go hard till you drop is so outdated. It’s madness and so detrimental.
I’m 30-years-old now and the athlete I was and how I used to train as an 18-22 year old was relentless. I could get the workload and volume in at high intensity for every session – which was way more than what I can do now.
As you get older though you need to focus on recovery sessions to make sure you’re getting the most out of them.
I’ve had to work on keeping my body injury-free or as best as possible at that workload. It’s impossible to feel 100-percent and there’s always small niggling injuries. I’ve had a bunch of surgeries so there’s no one stop shop for everyone’s training program. Prevention is the key.
Matt Poole’s advice on how to avoid injuries:
- Choose quality sessions over quantity to maximise your results
- Implement recovery sessions into your training and moderate accordingly depending on how you’re feeling
- Ensure your body is always 100-percent ready for your quality sessions
- Take it easy on the normal sessions around your quality sessions – you can go harder if you want to, but be smart with the training plan and remember your priority on quality
- Don’t work one muscle group or do the same exercise repetitively, you will get muscle soreness which will alter the dynamics or mechanics of your body
- Don’t do the same type of cardio repetitively – if you went to the gym and ran an hour every single day, you’re guaranteed to do your achilles, calves or hips and things like that will start to twist or tighten or shorten
- The biggest failure of most athletes is that they don’t like going easy or missing sessions – listen to your body when it’s screaming for rest or recovery
- Try massages, physio or chiropractic treatments weekly if you’re training seriously – do it even if you’re not sore and think of it as maintenance rather than treatment
Overcoming Pain Barriers
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I’ve done races with a chest infection where I collapsed at the finish line. I completed an 8km run where I actually broke my fibular 6km into the run. I ran for the remaining 2km with a broken fibular and then finished at the line and got flown back to get my leg put in a cast.
Conditioning is the way to train your body to push through any pain threshold. If you don’t train to push through that pain barrier, you can’t replicate that in the race.
The secret is self belief and confidence. When the competition gets tough you have to be willing to hurt yourself more than anyone else in the race to reach the top. In our sport you grind people into the ground – it’s a game of survival with the last man standing.
When you give up on something, it’s a sign of weakness and that’s something you can always coach and always train.