Review: The Well-Built Triathlete (Matt Dixon)

Cover of The Well-Built TriathleteIf the name Matt Dixon isn’t familiar to you, it probably should be.  He’s an exercise physiologist and coach in the bay area.  In addition to having an impressive race resume from his younger days (two time Olympic trials finalist, NCAA D1 swimmer, and a win at Vineman 70.3), he’s probably best known for founding and leading purplepatch fitness, which has led to over 150 professional Ironman and half-Ironman championships and podium finishes (including 50 wins).  His success is the result of combining and balancing four key elements– endurance, nutrition, recovery, and strength.  Get the balance right and athlete’s enter a “purple patch” in which their true performance potential comes shining through.  This is the book to help you get there too.

Right up front, let me just say that you shouldn’t expect to just pick up this book and find a set of instructions that will lead you to a win in Kona.  At 356 pages long, it’s probably one of the longer books in triathlon training– and relatively little of it is “fluff.” Along the way, you’ll find the path littered with interesting ideas that may dramatically help your performance alone (such as exploring 165mm or shorter cranks or performing regular urinalysis with pee strips to flag dehydration and illness). To make it useful, I’ve started creating an detailed outline and set of reading notes, but I’ll still have to keep referring back to the original text for schedules, strength exercise pointers, etc.  When I SOMEDAY finish my reading notes, I’ll be sure to post them here for posterity.

One of the most important aspects of this book is that it builds on a healthy respect for the stresses placed on an age group multisport athlete.  I would like to think that Matt read my blog on how coaches overtrain multisport athletes (smile), but I think his presentation of the evidence far surpasses mine. At the same time, however, his templates do seem quite daunting– sometimes including up to four consecutive days of key workouts in a row!  None of my coaches in the past ever did anything quite that challenging to me– and I probably wouldn’t be alive to tell you about it if they did.  I also think that that kind of schedule is almost impossible to keep for an executive with any kind of busy work schedule to keep.  Toss kids in the mix and it all goes right out the window.  So, no, I won’t be using Matt’s schedule templates anytime soon.

Matt is also a huge fan of functional strength.  I once bought one of the purplepatch strength training programs on TrainingPeaks.  I followed it for about a week, but quickly abandoned it because it was ridiculously intricate and seemed to involves hundreds of strange-looking unconventional exercises.  In The Well-Built Triathlete, Matt seems to have refined the program to its bare essentials– and even includes an assessment test so you can identify where your core weaknesses are.  Just having that makes the purchase of the book worthwhile.

The Well-Built Triathlete includes a separate chapter that talks about each of the three sports in triathlon,  Each of these chapters are densely-packed with great information.  For instance, Matt does probably the best job I’ve ever seen about describing “counter steering”– a useful turning skill for those European ITU races that feel more like criteriums than time-trialing.

I could go on and on about The Well-Built Triathlete.  Matt is clearly a coach who knows what he is doing– and I have to thank him for providing a “brain dump” of his wealth of knowledge into a (long) book on triathlon.  I don’t see myself using his book for planning out my calendar (I think I would turn to Philip Skiba’s books for that), but I do see a ton of his tips becoming essential components of that plan.  Both serve a critical purpose.  All up, I’d say that this book is one of the top ten books in training that I’ve come across– even if your shelf is quite short, I’d find a place for it.  Certainly, you could push The Triathlete’s Training Bible off the shelf to make room for it.


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