Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Triathlon Training - How Pros Train

Over the years I have done a lot of training with Jonas Colting, Bjorn Andersson, and Clas Bjorling -- together the Swedish Doodes! What follows below is a conversation that we had a few years back. It shares some interesting ideas about different types of endurance athletes.

Each of the Doodes is highly successful in their own way. While their approaches might be a little different -- they all workout frequently and can absorb considerable training load (volume & intensity).

The magazines are full of ideas on what we should do. This is thread that lets you see what three outstanding athletes -- ACTUALLY do. Want to know how the one of the five fastest cyclists in the sport trains? Read on...

A lot of armchair experts have a tendency to criticize an athelte for their weaknesses -- what is more useful is to learn from the best aspects of their program. Why are they such a strong swimmer, cyclist or runner?

I greatly appreciate the willingness of the Doodes to share their information with me and their permission for me to share with you. They are very humble guys -- always saying that they are not experts. They train all day, every day -- they are real-world experts!

The conversation started with G asking Jonas (The Colting Doode) what we can learn from Bjorn's bike training. Bjorn was 24 (at the time) and ripping the legs off the best triathletes in the sport. I wanted to know why. I didn't care about his position, run splits or cadence -- I want to know the source of the watts!

Jonas the Swede doode here!

I copied this mail to Björn so he might give an answer himself. Yes, Björn would in my eyes be one of, if not THE best cyclist in our sport today given the fact that he´s only 24 yrs old and developing. Already this year on at least two occasions he virtually crushed the competition on the bike in worldclass races (Utah half-IM were he came 2nd and UK half-IM which he won).

The question is then how such a strong cyclist deal with the harsh Swedish winter as in relation to what was written below. Well, the reason why Björn is incredibly strong is simply that he rides a lot and he rides fast.

The key for him I think is that he is very consistent in his riding:

-No tinkering around on different bikes with different setups. He more or less always rides his time-trialbike with right angles and gearing (180 cranks, 58-11 gearing). He rides in his aeroposition in every workout (it may not be for the entire workout)

-He rides outside no matter weather or circumstance. No trainer or roller or stationary bike. He does have a MTB for snowy conditions, setup like racebike.

-He does long workouts and fast workouts all year round except for the six weeks right about now when he takes time off training more or less compeletly. Long means six to seven hours. Fast means that once a week he goes hard for 60 minutes + 4x5 minutes in the same workout and another workout hard and steady for three hours most likely averaging 41-42 kph

Cold for me is an issue, not for him. We just spent some time this weekend with the nationalteam and as the only member still in training at this time as I´m racing IM Florida, I had to do a few fastpaced workouts this weekend. It was about 3 degrees celsius and a biting wind accompanied with some chillinbg rain. I did an hour of motorpacing and really complaining about muscles not working in the cold bla bla and he just shut me up by telling me how he didn´t have any problems doing speed even in -10 degrees..... He didn´t teach me much but he taught me a thing or two...

So that´s Björn, a different species alltogether. Riding fast and long and very specific year round makes him extremely strong and tremendously powerful in the legs. I can add that his power and strength comes from pushing huge gears as well as working with the stroke of the foot. I doubt that he ever set foot in a gym so it´s obvious that the best sport-specific strength-training can be done on the bike.

For me, the program below makes sense. I can´t stand to make to many hours at that time in the cold so I make the best of the hours I can. Typically for me, my aim on the bike during the midst of winter will be to maximize power and aerobic efficiency as oposed to endurance.

I might do one three hr MTB-ride outdoors (endurance), twice a week 6x8 minutes on aerobic threshold (circa 160 hr) on my trainer or stationary bike and maybe once a week (if there´s nothing to watch on the TV..) a set of 10x3 minutes of powertraining (45-50 RPM on big gearing) on the trainer.

Other than that, a higher dosage of cc-running and cc-skiing during a few months will stress the aerobic efficiency to high levels even if the total hours per week might seem lower due to lesser volume on the bike.

I´m kind of looking forward to that non-biking time of year as the weather in Sweden just turned south.... It´s five degrees and raining outside.. Today I´m having a 3-hr ride in a 5-hr day. Tomorrow and the day after that I´m riding 5 hrs each... Well, what doesn´t kill you only makes you stronger or something like that... I´m going to Mallorca on tuesday for eight days so I´m just singing along to that old Curtis Mayfield song "Move on up" ..."..and keep on wishing, remember your dream, it´s your only sceam so keep on na na na"

Fast and strong!
The doode

G writes...

Thanks for that. If Bjorn has any extra ideas then I'd love to learn. Scott Molina and I were saying that we are pretty impressed with Bjorn's racing in the USA -- he is KILLING them on the bike -- he made a big impression on Cameron when he rode away from everyone in Utah.

The Man Himself (Hell Doode) replies:

Seems like Jonas knows more about my training than I thought. To make things clear/clearer there are a few things I can add and comment.

It´s true that I do 99% of my training outside and the duration of my long rides is 4-6h during winter. I tried riding everything on trainers before but I just didn´t get the same effect out of it. So for people with tough winter conditions I´d still recommend to ride outside if possible. Clothes are important obviously and there are very good options available. Focus on shoe covers (pearl izumi are excellent), good gloves (I use expedition gloves), a warm hat and something to cover up your face. I use a very old cyclo-x bike with a look ergostem and an adjustible seatpost to get the same setup as usual. Another good way to get some long rides in even if it´s really cold is to go home after the first 2-3h, change clothes get warm, eat and go out for another couple of hours. It´s not ideal but it´s better than nothing.

About intensity it´s also true that I incorporate nearly the same kind of training throughout the year. But I also try to get some variation in different parts of the year to not stagnate. I prefer to focus more on long distance rides during base-training and a bit more towards intensity the closer I get to my main races. I do the same kind of sessions throughout the year but with different focus and in different porpotions. Tempo rides is very important for me cause it´s the easiest way to build power. I´m careful not to do any anaerobic work though.

G replies...

Thanks for this. Did you know that Bjorn is the only triathlete that I am scared to ride a bike with?! One man -- he can END my week with one good pull.

I need some ideas to get stronger on the bike. My running is good but I feel that I've sacrificed some bike strength. Hope to get up to ColtingStrength -- think that BjornPower is out of reach!

From a draft article on training protocols, I wrote:

1. it's not "either or" -- an effective approach will balance many different approaches
2. very tough to run <2:50 after 180K of 75 rpm
3. I think that most of us will move back and forth, between a force/ME-focus and an aerobic efficiency focus
4. gym strength -- the most important is effective force training -- "effective" will vary by athlete, location and season
5. the overall benefits of a high volume, aerobic focus should not be under-estimated. Ultimately, recovery concerns will limit steady-state volume for most athletes. The only way I can hit my high volume targets is with a healthy amount of easy
6. the ultimate limiter for most AGers -- ability to sustain AeT for the race
7. the ultimate limiter for most top AGers and Elites -- arousal control in the first half of the race and the ability to do the stamina training required for reaching one's ultimate aerobic potential
8. my experience is that that top-down approach is a compromise, it will get athletes bike strong but they will limit their overall development. This will be seen in IM run splits -- lots of examples around. The aerobic efficiency trained on the bike is as important for IM running as IM riding.

Pedder adds...

G, in an email you said, [quote Coming from an intensity background -- they get a huge boost when they switch to a period of aerobic overload. PRs have nearly always resulted quote]

This can be construed in several different ways 1) The athlete has maxed out their performance with Intensity training, and didn't give enough emphasis on aerobic training, the switch to aerobic overload, then forced an adoption and they got faster.

2) Building first with intensity, then supplementing with aerobic overload, would be a great training tool, especially for athletes with winter conditions to suffer through. Start them out with intensity training, as the weather clears and they can train for longer outside, they switch to aerobic overload. They get strong and fast. 3) Plan it as, general prep - aerobic development, intensity - strength power, aerobic overload - topping on the cake = super strong IM athlete.

I'm (as is Rich) an example of having a solid aerobic base, then doing intensity training at least once per week. The a switch the the 'G' plan and aerobic overload resulted in a PR for me. Would I have had that PR with only the aerobic overload, without the intensity phase prior? Who knows but food for thought.

G replies...

One thing to consider with an intensity focus on the bike -- even if one rides well, it doesn't simultaneously address most people's run limiter. Many strong AGers can train with elites but have 30-45 minutes put into them on the run. So an appropriate training strategy should consider how to address this limiter.

#2 -- yes that's a possibility but I still think that swim camps, run camps and bike strength (not FT work) will be superior for a winter protocol.

Pedder replies...
In the scheme of things, bike fitness is the easiest and least risky to acquire. Put in the miles, you get strong. Easy!

Run fitness, as we all know, is more difficult, due to the inherent possibility and risks of injury etc. I changed my running protocol this year and have seen huge progress, though I'm still not even close to potential. For the first time ever I've put in 70 - 75 mile run weeks!

Below, you advocate Aet, Aet+, Steady and upper steady on the bike, No FT training. Not so with your run protocol, you do have a considerable amount of AeT work, but also supplement that with 800's at slightly over FT. Is this addressing a specific limiter or yours, or, do you treat the run and bike differently for a reason?

g replies...

Perhaps athletes are injury prone on the run because the are tired from excessive bike intensity as well as ramping up their run volume too quickly. We all look for reasons to avoid change. One of the things that enabled me to continually progress was a willingness to change my approach. It didn't always work but I sure learned a lot!

With the run training -- I think that it is useful for certain athletes to supplement with a limited about of FT+ work -- leg speed, cardiac output and economy. The benefits are more global than just for running. However, the FT+ training comes well after the establishment of excellent AeT endurance. More on this in my blog on Real World Marathon Training.

So the primary goal is high run frequency, leading to increasing tolerance of run volume. If the athlete is biomechanically sound then one can consider adding run intensity -- however, most people are running slow in races (relative to their pre-existing run fitness). It took me three years of elite run training to get to the point where the FT+ work was worthwhile for me. I'd done it in the past but that training was wasted because I didn't have the durability to tap my "speed" in races.

Pedder replies...

OK, makes sense. I also wasted a LOT of time and energy doing all the sexy run workouts, track, tempo runs etc. but never saw the gains I was looking for. When I went back to basics, meaning frequent running, easy to moderate pace, with volume my body could handle without breaking down, my run improved immediately.

I also see, for AG athletes, that body comp plays a vital part in their run training, whereas it has significantly less impact on cycling or swimming.

Big J back in da house....

A few reflections:

I believe indeed that muscular restrictions are limiting a lot of people, especially AG-ers. I see a lot of people buying in to the Lance Armstrong-ish type of riding and pedal like crazy (90-110 rpm) but unlike Lance not really going anywhere.

I am an example of an athlete doing 70-75 rpm during the bike-leg and have on three occasions finished of with a run between 2.48 and 2.52 so it can be done alright. However, it´s ALWAYS tough to run sub-2.50.

Some general thoughts on the matter:

-A lot of people subscribe to research and trends from the cyclingworld. Well, triathlon and cycling are two completely different sports! Cyclists race roadraces where you constantly go between 100-180 heartrate mixing aerobic/anaerobic system. When they do timetrial they hardly ever have to do it for more than an hour. And they never have to run after... As IM-athletes we strive to ride a very even bikeleg in terms of effort, to put out an 80% effort with an even HR and then go run for three or so hours. Therefore, triathletes looking to improve on the bike shouldn´t imitate the training of cyclists.

-Actually, some recent studies done have shown that a rpm of 60-70 to be most effective for time-trialing in bikeracing but since biking is the most conservative sport there isn´t much interest in new ideas in the cycling world or so it seems.

-A low rpm actually helps on the run! In order to run fast you need to have a fast cadence and an effective gait. For me, that´s the key to running fast. As long as I can keep cadence I´m alright. When I push gears on the bike i "save" this "fast movement" in my legs. I`m usually pretty muscularly tired in my legs after the bike but it seems I´ve used the "slow-moving system" and saved the "fast-moving system" for the bike.

-A lower rpm keeps the heartrate down. I can ride pretty fast using 56-11/12 in training and still keep a 130-hr. That would be 65-75 rpm. When I gear down and spin 90 rpm going the same speed my heartrate will hit 140-145 right away. I´ve experimented with this on numerous occasions and without a doubt does a higher cadence/same speed result in a much higher HR. In my mind a higher HR also means demanding more energy which in racing of course is bad. You want to stay effective, saving energy for that run..

-In order to push big gears on the bike in a race, you need to train that way. I think a lot of people constantly have a high rpm and not really challenging themselves strength-wise. In this case, going to the gym won´t help much. There seem to be little or none crossover in gymstrength and actual bikepower. I see myself as pretty strong on the bike and Björn for sure is monsterstrong but I´m a wuss in the gym. I'm worthless doing squats and the rest of the legmachines aren´t much better either. The reason as I see it is that on the bike you have a "muscular chain of motion" creating force. It´s very dynamic and the force develops through several joints. In the gym, you work one or two muscles at the time and it´s very static.

So, the endresult of my thoughts would be that for most people, sufficient gains can be made on the bike by getting stronger muscularly and being able to push bigger gears. It actually saves your legs for the run and it saves you energy. And it will make you go faster on the bike for sure.... And the only way to actually achieve this is to put in the big ring and gear down, riding with lower rpm in training.

Björn, I know you have some really good thoughts on this with power and rpm and why it´s more effective.


g replies...

Hey Bro,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. Some ideas that came to me when I read this...

For the properly trained IMer, we are probably looking at a continuum -- at one end is the athlete with outstanding sport specific strength (typically the best cyclists, typically a weaker runner) -- at the other end is the athlete with outstanding aerobic endurance (typically a weaker cyclist and a great runner).

Bjorn -- outstandingly strong athlete -- cyclist
Gordo -- aerobically very fit -- runner?
Jonas -- blended athlete -- strong with good aerobic power -- balanced (where I want to be!)

Not surprising that Jonas is the most balanced -- I think that it takes many seasons to get balanced and Jonas has the oldest "athletic" age of most of us.

The athletes that improve season after season will be the athletes that are willing to embrace the changes required to address their limiters. Many athletes spend their time trying to make their strengths even stronger to counteract their weaknesses. It's human nature to want to work on our strengths and resist facing our limiters.

Examples for each of us...

A. Bjorn -- awesome strength from his training, would likely get a good benefit from increasing aerobic fitness per KG -- running is about aerobics per KG -- IM cycling is about big aerobic watts (KGs not a big factor on the bike)

B. Jonas -- simple point, say weight training, you don't really like it, you aren't all that great at it -- it certainly wouldn't make you slower to improve it.

C. Gordo -- same swim/bike speed for nearly two years, improving endurance but not improving speed in these sports. Must improve sport specific strength to improve aerobic pace.

Not sure if these examples are 100% correct -- my point is that we will gain the most from focusing on our limiters.

Aerobic Guy -- There is a limit to how close I can get my AeT to my FT.

Strong Guy -- Once you are going 45kph on the flat, you have to become MUCH stronger to get more bike speed -- so, time to address aerobic fitness and/or other areas.

Swimming -- swimming is technique, endurance and strength // many low 50 or better IM swimmers have good technique and strength // this enables them to swim well in an IM on very little swim volume (I've seen as little as an average of 10K per week). However, there is a big cost to swimming that fast when you don't have the endurance base -- tight backs, large amounts of glycogen used, higher HR for first hour of the bike -- all this adds up. So, for all top athletes, I think swim endurance is essential. I don't know the exact numbers but if a 51 minute guys uses 15% of total glycogen for his swim -- and -- 54 minute guy uses only 5% then that is probably a good trade. I think that the aerobic training in the water also benefits overall endurance. Fast swimmers cannot afford to swim low volume -- then the first hour of the race makes them too tired.

Like I said with the AG discussion -- I don't think that we have to choose "strength" or "aerobic fitness" -- I think that we need to train both.

Cadence -- higher cadence has a higher aerobic cost -- I agree with that. I also can see your logic for the lower cadence saving the HR and the quickness for the run. Brett Sutton has said this with Craig Walton. There is probably something that we can learn from Colting training. You seem to be able to do that -- but -- you also don't only train low cadence. You do higher cadence work for economy (motor pacing). I think it works because you are balanced in your training and have good aerobics per KG. I also think that with your VO2 you can run better than you do. My FT pace is 3:30 per K, my AeT pace is 4 per K -- on paper many people should be able to run faster than me -- they need to learn from my training, like I learn from their training.

High cadence running -- we want to be able to train high cadence running for, say, three hours. We can't do that because our legs would die. Does high cadence cycling teach the muscles to be quick for long times? Remember that we need to be quick for the last part of the race. Swim 90 mins, Bike low cadence 4 hours, Bike high cadence 1 hour, run 1 hour. Baron knows that I used to try to lift my HR a little bit after I hit the six hour mark on my long days -- I used to say that I was "now training the run". Having the ability to elevate HR and cadence at the end of a long day can be trained. I did it every 7-10 days all summer. What I should have done is some low cadence, strength work before that. I climbed in the hills but we all know that flat strength is different than hill strength.

Many athletes experience neuromuscular fatigue from not having the ability to turn the legs for hours and hours. I suspect that there are material gains from being able to spin 100rpm for six hours -- it requires muscular harmony -- this is independent of the cadence used for TTing. So even for a masher the high cadence work is an important part of muscular economy.


Colting Cadence -- very good ideas about how your cadence works for you -- you will likely find that you can train your body to adapt to the higher cadence training. If you do this then I think you will be more effective when you race with low cadence. I changed my cadence this summer. There is a 1500K adjustment period. What I think I forgot to do was continue to insert low cadence flat riding for strength. I became very efficient but I lost some strength.

High Cadence Endurance -- you are right that many people with high cadence don't push the watts -- this is a sign of a strength/force limiter. They will benefit from focus low cadence work and a power measurement device showing them how low their watts are. Chuckie/Lance -- these guys crank watts and cadence -- for them, very efficient -- we can learn something from them and from Bjorn.

To summarize, I don't think that it is a choice. I think that we will all benefit from using some of the "other" strategy from where we feel uncomfortable. Part of why I get better every year is that I am willing to be uncomfortable. I know that you guys don't mind being uncomfortable too!

Thanks for sharing -- very helpful for me to think through this stuff.


Doode 2 -- chips in...

Good discussion, I´ll try to make a few points even though I´m not a physiologist.

Regarding cadence I don´t think there is a "right" cadence that suits everyone. Some people do very well with a high cadence approach and some do better with a low cadence. With the strong tradition in cycling and now with Lance most athletes embrace high rpm:s because it´s the "right" thing to do even though it may not suit them. I´ve taken a lot of heat for my cycling style and tried to change it but figured out that high cadence is just not for me. And my running sucks regardless of cadence on the bike or even without biking before so I don´t think that´s an issue.

About muscular fatigue with low cadence I personally don´t think that it needs to be a problem. If you go from say 90 rpm to 70 I think the forces applied is still relatively small in relation to your max strength. So it would still be about "endurance" strenght (not sure about the right term in english) which in my opinion is quite easy to improve with specific training.

The examples of each of us is probably very true. Jonas is a very complete athlete and he is very strong on the bike when he gets consistensy in his riding and doesn't change his position every other ride. The biggest strength of his is probably that he is a strong and consistent runner. When he is on form he is always running well at the marathon and that´s always going to get you a high placing in IM with the run being the most important leg.

My biggest weakness is of course the run. I´m not sure what you mean with aerobic fitness/kg here but I´m actually not sure that´s my problem if I understand what you wrote correctly. Despite my weight my (max)Vo2/kg is reasonably high (tested last weekend at 6.75l/min translating to 81.6ml/kg*min with off-season weight). I know max Vo2 is not a limiter during IM but it´s still a measure of aerobic fitness. I´m also doing a reasonably high run(and bike) volume so I don´t know if endurance is my main limiter either.

I´m no expert so this is just my personal experience of things, don´t take it too seriously.


G adds...

Good stuff. Bjorn Running Ideas

1 -- 82.7KGs off season -- what is in-season weight? what is Bjorn height?

2a -- Ironman Running is aerobic threshold fitness per kilo -- this is different than VO2 and functional threshold fitness -- it's why I run well at the end of a race but not so strong on the track. I suspect that my VO2 is only a little above average. My FT pace is 3:30 per K and that's not impressive. My vVO2 (velocity VO2) is about 3:18 per K pace (79s per 400m). My weight is 73-76KG -- I bet somebody could estimate VO2.

2b -- How often is Bjorn running? I had really good results when I increased my running to 6x per week -- it changed my body -- ask Baron, I look different now. Also, Baron changed his body after Run Camp 2002. So running more often will give Bjorn a better running body. I think we do need to be careful that we don't lose bike power -- I lost some. Bjorn has lots of bike power so this is probably not a risk for him.

3 -- Biomechanics -- I think Bjorn runs with good technique for a large man -- you also have good fresh running. What I think you a missing is probably aerobic economy. Do you do lactate testing at different run speeds? I bet it would be very interesting to compare your bike graph with your run graph. I bet that they look different and contain information for your training strategy.

4 -- Cadence v Force -- I am not an engineer but say... Gordo 95 rpm -- Dude 73 rpm // that's a 30% difference -- pretty material regardless of %age of max strength. While higher cadence might not work for Bjorn to "race" -- it might be good "training" for the heart and legs. I'm not sure but when we want to change the race results then it's good to change the training (sometimes). I think you need a change for your training to help your running. You only need a TINY bit more run speed to become the fastest guy I know for Half IM.

My biggest recommendation is run more often -- even easy pace -- it helps with the body and with the leg "toughness" for the end of the race.

Thanks for the ideas!

1. Weight around 78kg before HIMUK. Jonas and I are still not sure about the scale used for the tests last week Height is around 188cm.

2a. Makes sense. b. Trying to run around 5 times/week during build-up and spec. prep. 1 long session 2.5h, 4 shorter from 40min to 1.5h. I´ve tried to do some speedwork in an effort to improve my run-economics, around 2 times/week.

3 Yes I have, but not on my computer right now. I´ll ask to get them sent to me by e-mail, and then send it to you if it´s not too much problem.

4. Despite what some people think I´ve actually been doing high cadence work on the bike for some time now. The reason is because it´s a good way to improve the pedal stroke. But it´s most likely too little to have any real impact on the things you wrote (lungs and heart). On average 1 time/w and usally after one of my long rides as intervals. 4*8min etc. I´ll do stuff like that more often in the future.

Thanks for the input

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