Human Vortex Training and Menachem Brodie, present The Strong Savvy Cyclist and Triathlete Podcast, where we talk strength training, physiology, psychology, tech, and much more, to help you get fitter faster and stronger in and out of your sport, giving you expert insights, talking with other leading experts. And now, your host, world-leading strength coach, world cyclist and triathlete, Menachem Brodie.
Hi, everybody. And welcome to this episode of The Strong Savvy Cyclist and Triathlete Podcast. This week, we have Mikael Eriksson of Scientific Triathlon, and That triathlon Show, here with us. And I’m very excited, as you can tell. I was just listening to the episode again, as we were getting ready to upload it and just making sure, it’s edited. We got stuff rolling well. And I just remembered how much fun we had on this episode. And it was the same thing, if you listened to my appearance on the Scientific Triathlon Show part one and part two, it was the same thing. And Michael and I really connected through this. And I don’t mean superficially, we really had some great conversations. I think before we recorded each episode, we wound up talking for like 30 or 40 minutes before and after.
So, the great thing about today’s episode is you’re going to get a little bit of a different perspective. So, Michael and I, both agree that strength training for triathlon is a must. The way we go about adding it is going to be different. So, you’re going to hear a different approach and a different way to approach your training. And this is fantastic. I love having coaches and athletes, and other people who are doing things differently, and that it works because it allows you to understand. It depends just like our first episode. It depends. Everybody is different.
Now, before we jump into today’s episode, I just want to give you a couple of quick updates as to what’s been going on here at Human Vortex Training. It is the beginning of August 2019, and we just had two stellar interns just finish up. We had Chloe from East Carolina University. And we had Jess from Maryland. Now the thing is, is they both got some fantastic hands on opportunities.
And if you follow us on Instagram, you have seen and will see more videos and clips of them working with athletes or them recording me working with athletes. If you have already seen, because you follow us on Facebook, the PezCycling News toolbox post that I did here in July of 2019, the third Tuesday, I think it was actually the fourth Tuesday in July, you’ll see Jess and Chloe, both in the videos. One for jump rope, one for deep squat, one arm lat stretch with breath. They did a fantastic job, just like all of the other interns that we’ve had over years. From those individuals like Leon and Jordan, if you saw the Instagram, you got to see those guys during their gap year between high school and college. Or those who are specializing in physical therapy, exercise physiology, exercise science, sports performance, coaching.
From all over the US, we have had interns come and serve with us since 2011. And they all leave with the same thing. I learned so much. And I didn’t realize there was so much to go into coaching. And yet, how simple the progressions really are.
Now, if you are looking to unlock this for yourself and you don’t want to come, or you maybe you can’t come for two months to intern with me, I have an upcoming course called… Well, really it’s a certification actually, The Strength Training for Cycling Certification. This is the first of its kind in the world. I’ve been working on it for over a month, over a year. And there’s literally hundreds of hours of time put into this, just months and months, and months of work and refining and changing, and adding, and making it as beneficial as possible.
So, if you’re interested or maybe you took my strength training for cycling success or strength training for triathlons success course on TrainingPeaks University, make sure you sign up for the HV Training newsletter on humanvortextraining.com, because the newsletter list is going to get first dibs and a special offer for that course, that you’re not going to find any other time.
So, if you’re interested in getting it on the course, make sure you sign up. It’s August 2019. It’s going to launch here in the next two to four months, depending on how much I fiddle with it. So, those of you who follow the YouTube channel know that I’m a tiny bit of a perfectionist. All the interns find it really funny that I do all of those videos pretty much in one take. We’ll start over from the beginning and retake it again because it’s important to have that clarity, just like we have here for the podcast. And I had a little bit of a jumble there, but I’m not going to edit that out because it’s natural.
Now, without any further ado, we are going to jump into this fantastic episode with Michael of Scientific Triathlon. Make sure you check out his website. It’s a fantastic podcast. We cover lots. And because he’s a podcaster and he’s been doing it for a while, there are tons of take homes that you can take action on right now.
So, without further ado, let’s jump in to our guests today, Mikael Eriksson from That Triathlon Show and Scientific Triathlon. Mikael, thank you so much for joining us. I feel like we’ve already covered so much in the intro here beforehand. I feel like there’s so much to talk about.
Thank you, Menachem. It’s a pleasure to be here, and yeah, it’s exciting. I’m ready to roll, ready to get going.
Well, there’s been a lot that we’ve talked about before we jumped on and started recording. You’ve been doing that triathlete show, triathlon show rather for quite some time now, and you’re just starting to make your own appearances as a guest on podcasts. Do you mind sharing with us a little bit more about how made that transition or was it just something that naturally happened?
Yeah, it was both. I mean, for one thing, for sure, like That Triathlon Show has become more and more popular, and grown slowly but steadily since February or March 2017 when I launched it, and had the very few listeners, and now it’s definitely becoming one of the more popular triathlon podcasts in the world, I think. And that’s something that’s obviously been great to see. But also so as an athlete and as a coach, I always want to improve.
As a podcaster, I also want to improve and improve the results I get with my podcasts. So, improving the reach study tests and getting a lot of podcasts has been one way of doing that. So, in some cases I’ve reached out to other podcasts in the endurance space. And in some cases it’s been more like a connection thing. I’ve had some people on my show, and then I end up on their interviews like we’re doing now. So, I’ve been on some of those podcasts as well. So, it’s partially because of that networking effect, I guess, that it has happened. So, it’s been both. But in some cases I’ve just reached out to a podcast that I think that I listened to and like, and asked if I can come on, and then if they agree, then I’ve been on as a guest. And it’s been great.
And there’s always so much to learn, just listening into That Triathlon Show. I mean, you clearly have built up from being a runner and having those overuse injuries, and transitioning to triathlete. It’s very clear that you’ve read a lot. You also are keeping up with the research. How have you found that transition of going from someone who’s new to the sport and trying to figure out, okay, I believe you have put, can a complete nobody with no genetic gifts for endurance sports and lacking a long background of training, one day become a professional triathlete. How did that transition happen? And how have you progressed the last year and a half since you started that podcast?
Yeah. Well, I mean, I started triathlon way before the podcast, but I’m still fairly new to the sport. I’m four years into the sport. And before that I was doing running, let’s say recreationally. So, my first marathon for example, was just below four hours. I just broke the four hour mark, I think. And then I got down to a 2:50 marathon with many years of training. But for a long time, it was just recreational four to five times per week. And I wasn’t consistent throughout the year. I would have a month when I didn’t run, et cetera. So, but I got more and more into endurance sports through that running career.
But then unfortunately as I was improving and getting better results, I also got the injuries. And that’s how I transitioned in 2015 to triathlon. And I started to just ride my bike, or get a bike and ride a bike. And then learn to swim too. I mean, I could swim a little bit, but learn to swim better and use that as cross training to just keep fit while I was hoping to get back to running after getting rid of that injury, which ended up not happening. I did get rid of the injury, but I was stuck with multi-sport from that moment on.
So, I mean, I started reading things like Jack Daniels and Pete Fitzinger, and Lydiard and the classic running literature fairly early on in my career. I was studying engineering at that time and very fascinated in science, and how to train properly. So, I just consumed that sort of content as much as I could. And I took that into triathlon as well, that same attitude. And then I just trained and raised for a couple of years while I was learning the sport myself how to do it.
And then I had been coaching a bit in running. So, once I felt that I had actually learned triathlon to a good enough level that I could coach, I started to unofficially coach some people. And also, at the same time I started the podcast in early 2017. And yeah, from there on, I become more and more serious about triathlon. And then in 2018, no, ’17 actually, October 2017, I quit my engineering job and moved to Portugal, and became a coach full-time rather than part-time as it was before, and have been able to also focus a lot more on my training.
But you mentioned professional, I’m not professional. Although, I’m a fast age grouper but not professional. And I have been thinking about whether I should take a pro card or not, but right now I’m leaning towards, that’s not really what motivates me. If I had to choose between coaching and my own athletic career, I would choose coaching. And I don’t want to, I guess, compromise my coaching development and coaching career for my athletic career. So, I’m just going to try to maximize my coaching career and become as good a coach as I can possibly be. And that allows me the flexibility to train as like a sub-elite triathlete, which is great, which I enjoy. And being one of the best age groupers in the races that I entered. But I probably not going to want to take the professional route at any point right now.
And that’s something that I think is really interesting, because you’ve kept that in the bio. And it seems to me just listening to your show for the last five or six months that this is pretty much, it’s still driving you. But as a coach, okay, how do we build someone? Let’s say, and we’ll make this the first question. How do we build someone from no genetic gifts, so to speak, and no background of endurance sports into essentially getting them as high as they can? So, the question would be then, you took this as your own question when you were coming in as an athlete, and now you’ve recognized that that coaching is the passion and you’re still competing at a very high level. So, the question is, how do you look at building the aerobic engine for endurance performance by using volume frequency, intensity? How do you find that happy blend for your athletes? And how have you come upon that in the last couple of years in your own training and coaching?
Yeah. For me personally, I’ve just found that a consistency over time is by far the most important driver of improvements in endurance performance. And that doesn’t mean that you can take an off season where you take two weeks off, but what you want to look at your yearly training volume and not look at, “Well, I did 10 hours of training per week, the six weeks before my race, but I have no idea what [inaudible 00:12:49] entire year.” You want to take the big picture view and see how consistent you’ve been. Have you been training a lot for six months and then been injured for six months? And that’s the kind of cycle that I’ve been in before, both in running, but also in triathlon.
I’ve had my running injury, the same injury actually, which ended up being an interesting one, which I still have, although I’m not injured, but I still had the same as structural flaw in my knee, that past injury. So, we’ll see if it rears its ugly head at some [inaudible 00:13:21]. Either way, that consistency over time and trying to… When you take time off, make sure that it’s planned time off, and not because you’ll get sick, because you have been over-training or you just don’t train because you’ve been over training, which I’ve also been doing training too much. And then I just lose all the performance that I had in my workouts, and had to take time off just to get out of that. And that’s lost training time that is based on mistakes, training mistakes simply.
So, I guess that the main point there is that you want to have an idea of what’s your long-term goals are. And if you want to reach those goals and you’re not currently at that level, then you need to have a certain amount of training and apply that training consistently over months and months, and years and years. And that’s going to make the biggest difference.
So, I think that we all need to be a bit more patient and have a long-term view. So, right now, my main goal this year is the 70.3 Worlds in Nice, in September. But I’m actually when I’m training now, I’m not just thinking about that. I’m thinking about how this affects my triathlon in three years from now, or in five years from now. So, trying to always have that long-term view as well. And that’s also something that helps me make good decisions in training and not push the boundaries too much, but always challenge them a little bit.
Coach to coach, I think we appreciate how challenging that actually is, especially for beginners because they come and it’s almost like it’s magic. The first three months they see a linear progression is every three weeks they’re going to have a new best performance, whether it’s based off of pace or based off of power. But it’s interesting to hear you talking about the long-term goals. For the listeners out there, how do you break it down? How should one look at their training? If let’s say you’ve done a couple of sprints recreationally, and you’re looking at the Olympic for maybe a local event, and you’re saying, “You know what? I need about 10% reduction in my total time. Never had a coach. I have eight hours a week to train.” What would be some piece of advice that you would give them? What are common things that they should be looking at and paying attention to help them get to that level?
I think for triathlon, it’s a difficult sport because we have three disciplines to train for. And time is at a premium for most. So, it’s difficult to really, I guess, fit in the workouts that you would like to do in many cases. I think, especially for on the more beginner side and beginner to lower intermediate, you want to focus on frequency perhaps over the total duration of workouts with some exceptions. I think that a long run and a long ride, and a long swim in any given week, it’s a key workout. And it doesn’t have to be a hard workout. But having one long workout of each discipline is quite good.
But other than that, there isn’t anything that is really too short, like a 20 minute run, even off the bike, for example, to save time, that is a great way to get in some extra frequency on the run. So, rather than doing two runs per week, you might be doing three runs per week because you’re adding in that extra 20 minute run. Or rather than doing three runs per week, you’re doing four runs per week because you get that extra 20 minutes run.
And maybe then you find that actually, “I’m getting used to this. I’m getting into the routine. I can push that round to 25 minutes and it doesn’t really affect my schedule anymore.” Because that’s what you’ll also find that what felt like a lot to you a year ago, might not feel like a lot to you now, because you’ve learned to really appreciate that time, but also be effective with that time.
But to your question, frequency, I would say is the most important when you’re trying to use those eight hours. So, try not to do like just two workouts per discipline, but rather try to do at least three workouts per discipline. If you have those eight hours, that’s definitely doable. And so, three swims, three runs and three bike rides. And that means that not all of them are going to be very long. And you might think that 45 minutes on the bike or 30 minutes of running, but that’s just a waste of time, but it’s not. It’s super important to getting that frequent, consistent aerobic training.
In my experience, that’s been one of the biggest difficulties and struggles as a coach, getting new, both cyclists and triathletes to understand you don’t need to go out. An hour is a nice block of time. It’s why our personal training sessions are an hour, or why our podcasts an hour. The workouts done when it’s done. The podcast is done when it’s done. But so many triathletes come in and say, “But I need an hour workout.” Well, you don’t need an hour workout. If you can barely make it 20 minutes staying in aerobic zone, why don’t we make it 15 and build up your technique there?
What would be something you’d say to somebody that’s really struggling of, “Oh, all my friends are new triathletes, and they’re all doing an hour workout. But now, Mikael, you’re telling me that I should do 20 minutes.” How can they understand that this is the importance of the frequency? What are you looking for out of these shorter, but more frequent workouts, as opposed to doing 45 minutes or an hour twice a week?
Well, let’s take this example. If we have, let’s say three hours of running that we can fit in the program overall on a weekly basis, then I think that it’s much more effective to do one longer run that is an hour and a half. And then you do two 45 minutes rounds, or even potentially you do one 45 minutes run that might be a quality workout. So, you do some intervals as part of that run. And then you have 45 minutes left. And those can be two break workouts, easy breaks just to get in that frequency. So, it’s still easy intensity, 20 and 25 minutes. So, you have four runs per week, but the durations differ.
Another alternative might be to do one hour each time. But then what you don’t get, you don’t get the same frequency because you’re only running three times per week, rather four times per week. And if you have that better frequency, it has definitely an association with improved economy. So, especially that means that you waste less energy for any given intensity. And in running and swimming, those are super important. So in swimming, especially, it’s easy to think about it, that if you swim quite often, then it’s easier to improve your technique and maintain a good technique that you’ve built up. So, but this even goes for cycling to a slightly lesser extent than in running and swimming, I would admit, but it goes for cycling as well.
And the other thing there is that you do get that longer workout as well, the one and a half hour workout, which probably will stimulate some adaptations that you don’t get from an hour workout. And then at some point you might get really used to the one and a half hour workouts, and then you might want to try to push it to an hour 45 instead, and maybe redistribute your time.
So, if you still have that three hour time budget, then I would say that, yes, you get to a more advanced level. And depending on your race goals, like for Half Ironman, for example, maybe I would prefer to use an hour 45 minutes for that long run, and then remove one of the brick runs, so we can do that. But this really depends. But for the beginner, I would definitely try to stay on that side of frequency. And when you compare apples to apples, so you have the three hour time budget for running, that case that I described with varying durations, but good frequency and also a good variety in intensity that is going to be much more valuable than three times one hours. Even though you might have free one hour, there’s nothing wrong with that. You might do one intense run and two steady run, easy runs, aerobic runs. But it’s still in my opinion not quite as valuable as getting that extra bonus of added frequency and that long run as well.
So, let’s break that into an easy take home because there’s a lot there. What would you say age group triathlete just getting into Olympic distance. Maybe this is their second year and they’re looking to be more competitive. They have eight hours a week to train. No history of injury. They’re starting to lean out a little bit. What would be your recommendations for building that base in April, May, as far as how to break down those eight hours within that training week?
Okay. Yeah, that’s a good one. So, I think cycling can usually take up, if you’re like a good… Not a good all rounder, but you’re well-rounded athlete, so you’re fairly similar across the disciplines in terms of your ability level. So, then I would say that cycling can usually take up somewhere between 40% and 50% of the training even for an Olympic, if at least if you’re looking for performing that race. If we look at long-term development, perhaps you might work a bit more on swimming or running. But let’s put it at 50% here, because the math is easy that way. So, you would be biking for two hours, and then perhaps you’d be running for… Sorry, cycling for four hours and running for 2:15 to 2:30 and swimming for 1:30 to 1:45.
And I would try, if you have eight hours, that’s like right in the sweet spot where it probably is possible to get to three workouts per discipline per week, which in my opinion it’s a great number, great benchmark to shoot for. If you have six hours per week, then maybe you go to two, two, two, because it might not be possible to do much more than that. But with eight hours, you can do three, three, three, which is a much better… You get that increased frequency, which will make a big difference.
So, in terms of the bike, then I would do one, two hour long ride, and then two, one hour rides. So, and at least, well, one of those would be an intense ride. So, it would some internal work. And then perhaps as you get closer to your race, then you might include some intensity in the other easy ride as well, or some racing testing, that’s part of that long ride.
But for most of the year, I think that you should, with that time budget, use mostly the two hour ride and one of the one hour rides for just aerobic development. So, staying at a lowish intensity. And then one of the one hour ride, is going to be where you go really hard.
On the run, if you have, let’s say two and a half hours, I would do one run that is an hour 15, probably for an Olympic distance budget. And then you could have a second run that is 45 minutes, and that could be your quality run with intensity. And then you would have a 30 minute run. And that could be a standalone run, especially earlier in the season. It could be just a standalone, easy aerobic run. And it could also be a brick run. And for most of the year, that might be just an easy brick run. But then again, closer to race, you might add intensity to do that. So, add some race intensity after race intensity bike workout, for example. So, that would be the run.
And then the swim, we had an hour and a half. So, this is where it gets a little bit tricky because that’s not too much time really to distribute over three workouts. So, you could do one 45 minutes swim, and then one, 20 and one, 25. I’m not sure I’m a fan of that. I would maybe just simplify down to one swim that is 50 minutes and one that is 40, or something like that, or 55, 35.
And depending on the level of the athletes, if they are fairly good, technically, I might include intensity in both of those swims. If not, one of them will be completely focused on technique and the other would be a mix of technique and some sort of intervals. And that could be, yeah, and the other one that’s completely focused on technique, I want to rephrase that. So, completely focused on technique and aerobic endurance, so very easy swimming. And that might be difficult.
So, if it’s difficult to swim easy at all for the athlete because of technical limitations, then it might be just focused on technique. But if the athlete has an easy gear, then it would be a mix of that technique work plus easy gear work. And the other one would include intensity, although not all it would be intense swimming, of course. But that’s how I would break down that template week on that time budget.
And we have a little bit of a different approach as far as the intensity within. So, I agree with everything you’re saying. I think for beginners, it’s building aerobic engine, giving them that focus in technique. I think you said technique a dozen times there. And I really want to bring that out for the listeners. Because we all like to get in the water and swim hard, and it feels nice. But putting in the 15 or 20 minutes of technique work consistently, really helps immensely, those times come down, the perceived exertion comes down. How do you vary the intensity for where that athlete is based off of life stress or work stress, not sleeping well? How do we know that going into that workout, this is the intensity for today? Is it, are we sticking with the power meter, the stride power meter or the on-bike power meter? How would you have someone say, “This is the intensity for today, and this is how we want to coach that to make sure we’re getting the desired effect”?
I think this depends a lot on the athlete. And this is where the self coach athlete also needs to do some self-reflection, and think about, “What type of athlete am I? Am I somebody who is having difficulties pushing myself, or am I somebody who is no pain, no gain attitude to all that I do in training?”
And the approach that I take as a coach, if I coach that’s kind of no pain, no gain athlete, it becomes as much about holding them back and making sure that like, “Yeah, you are supposed to go hard in those hard workouts, but you don’t need to exaggerate. You’re not racing in the workouts, because no single workout is as important as a big block of training. So, just do a good, solid, hard workout and be fine with it. You don’t need to puke after that workout.”
And in that case, also what I think quite often correlates, is that the [inaudible 00:28:26] they quite often are also trying to beat their previous spaces or powers from last week all the time, and can get quite hung up on those numbers. And with those athletes, I also want to make them more intuitive, and get to know what the feel of certain 10th of the workout is.
So, if I say to somebody that, if I give a fresh whole intro workout to somebody, I want them to not from the start, it’s not possible if you’re just starting out. But what you should learn, what it feels like to be riding at your threshold or swimming at your threshold, or running at your threshold. And then you should be able to be to follow your devices break down. You should be able to do just as good a workout as what you did with your devices and get as much out of it anyway.
So, but with the other type of athlete that maybe have difficulties pushing themselves, they feel a bit more uncomfortable and not sure if the hurting is from just the exertion or if they’re actually injuring themselves. With them, I do think that it helps to have those spaces and powers as a guideline, definitely, and try to also make them hold themselves accountable to trying to get through with that.
And in that case, for me as a coach, the job is to try to give them pace or power guidelines that I know are achievable for them. Because if it’s completely unachievable, then that’s going to bring their confidence down even further. And that’s not a good thing. But what I want to do then, is to give them numbers guidelines that are achievable in terms of what powers they can hold. And then even though they doubt themselves, they try to hold that power and see that they actually did get through that workout. And they probably pushed harder than they would have if they were using like a self selected exertional level. But they learned that that’s possible. And that’s how you also improve your ability to tolerate, which is a crucially important element of being successful at endurance sports. So, that’s the approach on a high level.
We agree very much on, it sounds like at least from what you’re saying. The beginners, everybody comes in, and two things are prevalent in triathlon. And hopefully, this is just in the US for the first one. But HTFU, Harden the F Up, which is a very football or basketball style mentality. Right. Like you said, every time I have to beat my PR from last time.
And the second is building off of perceived exertion. How much do you use that in your training for beginner and intermediate athletes? And do you have them go out on the bike and put tape over the power meter and say, “Ride at feel and peak every 15 minutes to see how you’re doing.” Now, how do you build that in to help them understand, “Oh, RPE of four is great for endurance and awful for a recovery.” How do you build that in and help the athlete understand, and feel what the body is actually doing?
The thing that we do on a daily basis is that I have all my athletes, we use TrainingPeaks. And I have all my athletes rate the session RPE on a scale of one to 10 after every single session, where 10 is really as hard as you can possibly go. And one is, “I’m barely moving.” And then I try to, I see what numbers are coming in and try to, based on that, educating in what I want to certain types of workouts to feel like. And usually most high intensity workouts that I give, I want them to feel like an eight or nine out of 10. And most low intensity workouts would be four or less than four. And it’s not at all wrong if they feel like a one. I think that the higher the volume that you’re training at, the more your low intensity workouts should feel super, super easy.
So, when I rate my workouts, there are a lot of ones and twos in there. I go that slow. And then conversely, eights or nines for all around for the hard workouts. But I almost never go to a 10. And I don’t really want my athletes to go to a 10, either. Seven is okay, sometimes. You just have a really good day and that’s totally fine.
But most hard workouts are either an eight or nine. And the only workouts really that’s end up in that five or six, so they are your long workouts. So, they are at long intensity typically. But because of the duration of the workouts, they might be that moderate RPE rating of perceived exertion in total. So, that’s typically how it breaks down. That’s the main tool that we use for improving your feel for certain workouts.
But then yes, actually, I don’t do that much on the bike, but under run, quite often. And especially brick runs, I have them tape the display of their watch and go and run at feel, because especially it’s difficult. It’s a racing relation sort of thing as well, because then that’s where it can be quite difficult to go at the right pace or running after getting off the bike.
And on the swim, of course, you don’t get any immediate feedback for how fast you’re swimming. So, then it’s a lot about, it’s really, it’s about RPE, because yeah, you can check your internal times after each interval. And that’s great. But you’re also having to be able to do that during the interval. Because if you’re going to do a workout that is four times, 500 meters, then you’ve already done a quarter of your main set once you get the first piece of feed after that first interval. So, you can’t get that first one too wrong either.
So, swimming, I think is good in that way, you should take feedback after each interval from the watch on the wall or the watch on your wrist to see how hard you went and what it felt like. And that’s how you learn pacing with time.
Cycling, yeah, I think that’s really where the… I don’t have any particular tool or way that I use. Yes, I would be completely for taping the display of, or [inaudible 00:34:33] computer in some workouts and using that, it’s just that that’s not something that I’ve happened to use very much so, but that’s a great way to do things. What we do there mostly it’s just having those discussions around how hard a workout should feel.
Like when I get comments that, “This was really all out, I could barely stay awake after an hour after workout. And I still had the rest of my day to go through. And my legs were deterring the rest of the day, et cetera.” Then I know that end of session RPE was a 10, then I think that, “Okay, you probably did go a little bit too hard.” And conversely, if you have comments that indicate that they went too hard on easy ride or too easy on a hard ride, then we discuss around more specifically around those perceptions and what those workouts should feel like. And that’s, I guess, a conversational tool really that we use mostly to dial that in.
So, it sounds like the RPE is very much a driving force. So, I’m sure you’re aware TrainingPeaks introduced the happy to frowny face. And that was revolutionary. That was something my coach had me do back in 1999, 2000, was put how you felt today, average face, upset face, or a happy face. It sounds like you’re really relying much more on the perceived exertion of how that rider is feeling rather than chronic training load or training stress score, which I know everybody is so focused on that data. How do you explain this to the athlete that it’s not about chronic training load, it’s not about your training stress score necessarily, but it’s how you feel for that workout?
Well, to take it a step back, I rely mostly on actual performance data. So, that might be races. It might be time trials, like doing your classic 20 minute time trial or an inside performance test, or something else. So, and just the regular training that you’re doing. So, if you’re doing, and that’s why we can’t get too hung up on my VO2 max power is 400 Watts. So, I’m going to do that 400 Watts, no matter what. No, you should know what your VO2 max efforts feel like. And then if I give you a workout that is 10 times two minutes at VO2 max, maybe I give you a power range. I usually do this for my athletes. But it’s a range. And then they go, and they know as well that if they feel that it’s too easy or too hard, they adjust the workout.
So, well, if it feels too hard to stay in that range, then probably they need to back off and do a completely easy ride. But if it feels too easy to stay in that range, they are allowed to go above that range. They still shouldn’t completely kill themselves. But that’s just a sign that they have improved fitness-wise. So, if you manage those 10 by two minutes intervals at 400 Watts a month ago, and now you’re doing 415 Watts for them, then we know that you’ve under rate of perceived exertion, it’s the same. Then we know that’s okay. This is likely your fitness has improved, especially if it happens repeatedly, like at least twice.
So, that’s I guess the first sign that performance has improved. We can see it’s already in the workout performance. It’s when we have similar types of workouts that you repeat. And it’s typically in those harder workouts. But we can also see it in, for example, the heart rate for your long run or a long ride when it goes down at a similar pace, on the similar course and conditions. But in terms of CTL and or, well, let’s take it to the frowning faces first. Yes, those are brilliant. I love them. And it’s very important too that the athletes use them as well, just session RPEs from one to 10, like we just talked about. So, those are really good.
And I think that in general, it’s normal to have bad days. It’s a few of them. And it’s normal to have very exceptional days. But most of our days really should be neutral days or are usually neutral days. So, and I think that’s especially when you know that you’re striking the right balance of getting the volume that is right for you. Because it’s easy to have a lot of happy faces, if you have a volume that is not challenging you at all, then it becomes a lot easier to always have happy faces.
I’m sure if you’re time limited, that’s totally fine. But if you want to get the most out of yourself, then I think that at that point, when you feel that every workout is a new PB, and it actually is potentially. And then maybe you need to push yourself a bit more, not necessarily by intensity, but by just total chronic load and not in terms of the number, if it’s in TrainingPeaks, but actually just what we do out in the field. So, increasing the total training volume.
So, in terms of that chronic training load, yeah, I use it. It’s a tool in the toolbox, but it’s not one of the most useful tools. It has its uses for sure, but there are many tools that are more useful. So, I prefer to look at duration. That is the main thing that I look at. Because I know that if I give an athlete 10 hours of training per week, I know that I’m going to stick to certain principles regarding their low intensity and high intensity, and moderate intensity distribution.
So, eight hours a week is better comparable to if they did eight hours per week on average the previous year. So, I know that, okay, we’re improving our chronic training load year on year, because now they’re doing at 10 hours per week.
Whereas, the chronic training load is quite sensitive to thresholds not being corrected. It really relies on that. It also relies on a lot of other things, like for example, at [inaudible 00:40:23] the evening, if you go out and ride like a very hilly course, for example, or a drop ride or something like that. It can be very hard, sure. But you can get, I guess, artificially inflated normalized power that gives you an artificially high TSS. That’s not as much as beneficial as the TSS that you get might imply, especially not when compared to just an easy endurance long ride.
And I think this is one of the things that leads athletes to underestimate frequency of training, because they know that if they do a 45 minute ride at an easy intensity, a certain one, recovery intensity or a 30 minute run at an easy intensity, is going to give them almost no TSS. And well, then it doesn’t matter, does it? But that’s the thinking that we need to get away from, because performance doesn’t lie in the PMC, in the form of performance management chart. It’s much more so about frequency, how many workouts did you do last year and how many workouts are you doing this year? And how many hours did you train last year and how many hours are you training this year? So, those are much, much, much, much more valuable key performance indicators compared to the CTL and the PMC, although they do have their uses, but they are definitely not something that should be a high priority, especially for self coach athletes, because it’s too easy to get hung up on them.
And that reminds me of an episode we did a while ago with Tony Gentlilcore, when we were talking about strength training. And I had mentioned it also applies to triathlon and cycling training, is you should have five sixes and sevens, the vast majority of your workouts. And occasionally, an eight and nine, maybe a 10, but that should be very rare because of the toll it takes for the recovery.
But it also reminds me as you’re going through this, of something that Bruce Lee said and that I was reminded of by an athlete yesterday during a session. When I was a beginner, a kick was a kick, a punch was a punch. When I had started diving into things, a kick was more than a kick, a punch was more than a punch. And now, as I move towards mastery, a kick is a kick and a punch is a punch. So, it sounds very much the same as we can get lost in the TSS and the CTL. The PMC is nice, take a glance at it, “Oh, okay. That seems about right.” But really it comes down to the frequency, the intensity, and are you doing your workouts properly? And that’s really very simple when you look at it from that perspective, is it not?
Exactly. Yeah. And you’ve touched on that. Doing the workers properly, that’s another thing that I think that the TSS obsession leads to. It leads to mistakes in terms of not executing the workouts properly. Like for example, doing easy workouts too hard because you get more TSS faster that way. And ignoring to do easy workouts or recovery workouts because of like the ridiculous low TTS that they give. But that low TSS is not reflective of how valuable those workouts are in terms of, again, coming back to building that aerobic engine through frequency and total duration or consistently and over time. So yeah, I completely agree.
Well, let’s dive down into that. And that’s something that throughout the time of my working with my athletes they’ll notice, is that we go from a fairly loose consistency of how the workouts are written to a little bit more rigid. And then during the racing season, especially for the professionals I’m working with, there’s really, here’s the time that you need to hit in total for this specific system. And these are the rest periods you’re to have in between, but just get it done.
So, can you talk a little bit more about the workout execution and how you build this in? How do you make it so it’s not too rigid, not too loose, allowing the athlete to get what they need out of that specific workout?
Yeah, sure. So, if you start on the low intensity and so your low intensity workouts. So, I do use training sounds, and both power pace and heart rate sounds. And I think on low intensity, and I don’t necessarily say to an athlete that you have to use this or that, or that, I think that it’s always, you can have everything, and you can look at everything and blend information, because training sounds like your sound to heart rate is not going to exactly alert with your sound to power necessarily. So, I think that it’s quite good for athletes to actually look at everything and assimilate that information, and make a judgment call into workout with a variety of inputs.
But I think on the low intensity side is where heart rate is very, very valuable and quite underrated, because the world is becoming more and more obsessed with power. Power is great. It’s really is. But on the low intensity side, heart rate can be just as important, because you’re not looking to go with any specific speed or power necessarily. You’re just looking to get the work done, spend time on feed, time in the saddle, time following the black line in the pool, and do that at an intensity that is very sustainable, that is not tasking your different metabolic systems really at all. You’re just building that aerobic endurance without causing any undue stress that is going to take longer to recover from, even if it doesn’t feel that hard to go at that semi-hard gray zone intensity.
So, I think to sum that up, I use heart rate or power, and typically it depends a bit on who the athlete is again. So, with that more unconfident beginner athlete that have difficulty pushing themselves, I might feel okay with giving them face zones. And especially if I know that they go and do their runs on flat roads and on power, it’s of course, yeah, it’s regardless of the terrain really. Whereas, the athlete that always want to push power and pace numbers, I typically want to… Or I’m more and more transitioning into using heart rate as the primary metric for how to follow that easy intensity prescription. But also RPE is still crucially important.
So, I think that even if you have certain heart rates that you’re trying to hit or a certain power that you’re trying to hit, an easy workout, unless it’s a four hour long ride, or this is all relative, right? A two hour long ride can be a hard workout for a beginner. But for somebody who’s been in this sport for a long time and training for maybe Half Ironman, they’ve done a lot of three hour rides in their days. They’ve done some four hour rides. So, a four hour ride, sure, that doesn’t feel easy all the way necessarily.
But those bread and butter, one hour, half an hour, an hour and a half maybe workouts that you might be doing on a day to day daily basis at a low intensity, even if you are in the right power zone and you are in right heart rate zone, if you feel that you’re working hard, that your muscles feel a bit like jelly or that you’re feeling like you’re swimming through some thick pudding when you’re in the pool or something like that, then just go easier because those workouts shouldn’t feel hard because that’s also going to add in particular mental stress, and it might be a sign that you’re already pushing the boundaries a little bit.
So, I would still say complete that workout, but then tell your coach what he felt like. Give that honest feedback. And that’s when the coach needs to, and you need to take the decision together, what does that mean? Are you pushing the boundaries a bit too much? Do you need to dial it back? Or was this perhaps more of a one off, maybe a bad night sleep, et cetera. So, that’s why.
But the important thing there is to not just blindly follow the power zones, because it’s going to be even harder. And you might just get over that edge in that case and really move into some non-functional overreaching. And this has happened to me on several occasions, which is one of the reasons that I’ve learned that the integration of all this information, heart rate, power pace and RPE is so important. And it’s not just about one or the other. Sorry, I’ll let you jump in here, if there’s anything about the low intensity workouts that we should dive deeper into or clarify.
No, I think you hit it spot on. And I think that too many athletes are so focused on power. One, they ride too hard. They’re like, “Oh, my endurance, my upper end of endurance is X.” They may feel bad being passed by, especially on the recovery days, by their grandmother with their Yorkshire Terrier in the front basket of their beach cruiser. But that, number one, that’s really where training adaptations happen is outside of the hard training you’re doing. And making sure that you’re getting in the right amount of intensity. And I’d like to call them HRV rides or runs where we’re going based off of heart rates.
So, your job out on your ride today, or your run is to maintain a heart rate between 120 and 140 beats per minute. And to play with it, to make that mind, body connection where you’re able to say, “Wow, I’m up at 1:41. Let’s see what I can do with my breathing and relaxing my arm. Oh, I’m down at 1:37, and I’m maintaining the same pace.” So, learning how to, to interact deeper, whereas so many people, and I see, and it sounds like you as well, a lot of coaches, these are your power numbers, just go based off of these. And it’s such a monoculture, if you will, where it’s just one thing matters above all else. But as you mentioned, everything matters, you have to look at all of it and find that sweet spot for that athlete.
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And I really, really liked that approach of trying to see what you can do with things like breathing technique in general, like on the run, trying to stay really relaxed, lower your shoulders, loosen your cheeks, make sure it’s dealt of any unnecessary tension when do you go and do those easy rounds. It’s still, you’re doing really great quality work. It’s not just quality in the way that it’s high intensity, but it’s still a quality work. So, you need to on the bike, you can dial in your time trial position. Or on the bike, what I like to do is typically just catch up on some Netflix or things like that, and don’t take it too seriously sometimes. But I’ve done a lot of, I guess, the form work in the past as well. So, I have that side of things covered.
But to give an example of how easy it can can be, I just did a race the other week, and I finished fifth overall in one of the biggest half distance races here in Portugal with some 700 or 800 participants. And my bike training, for example, before that race, I typically rode my bike five to six times per week. So, I’m definitely a high volume athlete, 20 hours per week or so typically. And two of those rides that I did each week would be just a one hour ride, very easy. I would go at maybe 150 Watts or 140 Watts. And my threshold is around 300 Watts. This is my vanity FTP, but my actual threshold at 67 kilograms. So, but my heart rate was down at 100.
And actually the last week or couple of weeks before the race, when I got really, really fit, I had my heart rate down at probably average heart rates in the 97, 98, 99 for a couple of those rides that I did, just indoor on the trainer. So, that’s helps with a fan of course. But still, and that’s to compare it to when I do hard intervals, my heart rate is still low. That’s just a heart rate profile that I have. But I’m definitely pushing it into the 150s or 160s, depending on what the type of interval it is.
So, having that large range that you’re working with and being okay with it, being super easy, it still is valuable, because for me that massive volume of bike training that I did, that’s what helps me be a good cyclist. And yeah, that for me is super important. But I don’t mind that the power looks super low and that somebody is going to look at Strava and see my 140 rides or 100 BPM rides on Strava at all. So, I think that’s quite important too. I guess, check the ego at the door and don’t leave that out of the training, because it’s on race day, that it matters.
So, let’s get into that a little bit because that’s something, check the ego at the door, is the exact phrase one of my coaches said to me when I was 15, and over and over again. Let’s talk a little bit about that and the social pressures that we’re now seeing on the coached athletes, and especially the self coached. How do you wrap your head around at something that you mentioned at the beginning, think long-term, don’t just think three months, six months a year from now, think about the training and how it’s building you for three years from now? Do you have specific tools or suggestions for the listeners as to how they can start to, “Strava doesn’t really matter, because my workout today, I was supposed to be slow.” What are some things that you tell your athletes or coach your athletes to help wrap their head around and get the right thing done at the right time?
Yeah, I mean, I think it would be great for an athlete to have to write down their long-term goals. But actually, and this is a practice that just you asking these questions triggered me to think about doing this, implementing this with the athletes that I coach, because it’s not something that we have done. What we do is I see some planning and we discuss all the goals for the season. And then based on that, we establish some season objectives.
So, for example, the season objective might be, my season objective this season, they will help me achieve my season performance goals is to train on average 18 hours per week, because based on what I’ve done previously, that’s a bump in volume. And they will definitely be enough of a stimulus that I will improve compared to what my performance have been previously. But at the same time, it’s not a jump that is so big that it will derail my training by causing me to overtrain or get injured if I do it right. And so, hopefully, that’s the idea there.
And I think that if you have long-term goals and also season goals, and you can have longterm objectives and season objectives. And an example of an objective would be just that, how many hours are you trying to train this year? So, don’t look at it at a week by week basis necessarily, but a year by year basis. And then, of course, then you break it down into smaller parts. So, okay, if I’m needing to train 500 hours this year, what does that mean? How many hours do I need to train per month? How many hours per week? Did I take into account that I’m going to have an off season where I do three weeks without any structured training? And maybe later recovery weeks after my races and that sort of thing. So, actually it’s not just 52 divided by 500, that is my weekly number, but I need to train more in some weeks and less in some weeks. So, breaking it down, how you will achieve that essentially.
And I think, yeah, I mean, it is difficult. It just takes deliberate thinking about it. And writing down your goals is perhaps the most, the strongest thing that you can do. But then thinking through it, if you have a coach and you trust that coach and that coach has a plan laid out for you, then it should be easy enough for you to actually go out and do that really when you have that end goal in mind. But if you don’t, then you need to actually have that discussion with your coach. Ask the coach to explain to you why it is important that you go at do whatever that training prescription is, and not go too hard. If in this example we’re discussing easy, low intensity rides versus letting them become moderate. So, having to declare understanding.
I actually, I read a book or listened to an audio book recently called Switch. The subtitle is something like How to Make Change When Change is Hard. And they talk about free concepts of how to change habits, whether it’s in yourself or in others, and or free pieces of the puzzle that you need to have all of them. And one is they talk about analogy with an elephant rider who is trying to control this big animal, big, strong animal. And he can do it in some situations. But if the elephant wants to do something else, then he’s really powerless in that situation when the elephant sees someone and runs away.
So, the feed that you need to do, if you want to make change and change the habit, is you need to motivate the elephant. So, the elephant in this case, it is an analogy for our primitive brain and our emotional parts of the brain. So, you need to have that motivation. And that would be like visualizing yourself qualifying for the world championships or whatever your big goal is, having a photo of the world championship finished and perhaps fitting your triathlon photo next to it, and looking at that every day, and knowing that that’s what you’re working for, and getting that emotional kick out of… Somehow, you need to figure out how to do that. But having that emotional part of it in place.
But you also need to, of course direct the rider of the elephant, because otherwise they’re just going to walk around aimlessly. And that’s not the idea either. So, in this case, this is an analogy for clarity. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is the purpose of this low intensity ride? And that’s why I think that if you’re coached, definitely have a discussion with your coach. And make sure that if you don’t understand why the coach gives you the kind of work as they do, ask them, and they can answer. And if you’re self-coached, or you just need to be really clear with what you’re hoping to achieve with your program, but taking the big picture view, because your goal, your vision, that qualification for the world championships or whatever, that’s a long term approach. And you also need to take a long-term approach, that sort of direction that you give yourself.
And the final deferred piece of the puzzle there is to… I forget what they call it in a book, but it’s something like pave the way or something like that, something about the path. So, that’s basically about your environment. So, setting up your environment to be successful. That can be things like in an endurance sports context, things like alerts on your garment. If you have a certain heart rate that you don’t want to get above on your easy workout, set up those alerts to beep, once you pass 140 BPM or whatever it is. And then those alerts, that’s a change in your environment, trigger for you to slow down. So, if you just see it on your display, that’s a different thing, and actually having those alerts.
Another environmental change that you can make is to take away your Strava account. I think a lot of athletes would benefit immensely from that. And I’m not really on Strava. I have Strava, and all my workout sync there, but I really don’t do anything with my Strava. So, for me, it doesn’t matter at all. So, that’s why I have it. But for many athletes, if you’re actually active on Strava, then actually stopping to be active on Strava, and completely deleting your account, that might be the way to go there.
I think for me personally, that has helped me compared to some problems that I had last year pave the path for me, is to stop doing group workouts, because on the swim and on track workouts, I consistently killed myself and got 10 out of 10 session RPEs in those hard workouts, because I was racing every workout and putting a lot of pressure on myself. So, and that wasn’t beneficial for how to execute those high intensity workouts. So, I got away from that and now I do most of my training solo. And I find that that works really, really well for me, because I don’t put that pressure on myself. I don’t raise myself even when I’m going hard. And I’m hitting those eights and nines rather than those tens. So, that’s another example.
And it’s Chip and Dan Heath are the authors of Switch. I’ve learned that out. I think I have four copies floating somewhere around the world. A fantastic book. Yeah. That and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, fantastic books.
But you mentioned, clearing the path. And essentially what’s great about it, they talk about, it used to be that clearing the path was you move the large boulders. So, that’s the first step, is you start with the biggest obstacles. And then after a while, we had the horse and wagon. So, then we had cobbles. So, you’re slowly building the habits that are making that path more and more smooth to where eventually you’re able to fly down, like the Autobahn and you’re going 140 kilometers an hour.
But it’s interesting that you mentioned sending those alerts, deleting Strava. “Oh my God, Mike, what are you talking about? Last thing, why would you say this?” But Strava is the bane of most coaches or triathletes existence because we are naturally competitive. We need to know where we stand, right? So, if someone doesn’t want to delete Strava, what would be one or two tips that you would suggest to them that they try to help keep their workouts on track?
Yeah. If you don’t want to delete it, just try to ignore it, would be my second tip. And letting your races speak for themselves, I think that’s my suggestion there. I mean, if your goal is to get some Strava segments, you can train for getting some KOMs on Strava. That can be a perfectly fine goal. That can be your end goal. But then your training should reflect that goal. And either way, you’re not going to try and hit KOMs randomly in your workout. You’re going to have specific dates that you’re going to try to peak for that sort of performance. It’s still going to require a peak performance. And in training, you still need to be that disciplined.
I guess a little bit of knowledge of physiology might help because we talked about building that aerobic base. If you have a long bike ride, let’s say you have a three hour bike ride. And you do most of it easy. You do most of in [inaudible 01:03:06] where it should be. But then you have a couple of Strava segments that you like to try to push it on from time to time. So, maybe you do three of them.
What happens is that when you really push it hard for a couple of minutes, three times as part of that ride, every time you do that, you go very, very hard. You use anaerobic system and as much really all of your aerobic system as well to push those power numbers, if they are fairly short segments, at least. And you produce a lot of lactate. That lactate is used in the anaerobic metabolism to produce those high power numbers. But it also goes into the aerobic system then for to be used in the aerobic oxidation to produce energy for moving you forward.
The thing is though that when that lactate gets into the aerobic system… Lactate by the way, it’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing at all. It can be used as energy as I said, but it’s something that we need to be aware of how it works. And when that lactate gets into the aerobic energy system, which it will do when you produce it, because it needs to be… Not all of it is used in the anaerobic system, but it also needs to be used in the aerobic system. And then what happens is that you end up using a lot of carbohydrate as the metabolite in the aerobic metabolism rather than fats, which you could be using.
The goal as an endurance athlete is to be using a lot of carbs and a lot of fats. You just need to be able to produce a lot of energy, period. But in those lower intensity workouts, you’re really trying to work on improving your fat metabolism, is one of the main goals there. And that’s not by going on a crazy diet or something like that. That’s just by training at the right intensity mostly.
And if you end up doing those Strava segments, as part of your long ride, you’re going to have lactate in your aerobic system for many, many minutes. And this can be up to 10 minutes or something. You’re going to have a significant amount of lactate in your bloodstream, and that’s going to be used preferentially in the aerobic metabolism, which means you rely more on carbs than you need to. And you don’t get the same benefits as if you would have just stuck to your guns and began at that seven, two intensity that was planned.
So, that is an example of, again, directing the rider in the previous analogy. So, having the clarity of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why it makes no sense to go out and do those Strava KOMs even though it feels like, well, it’s just two minutes out of a three hour ride, what difference does it make? But it does make a difference.
A huge one. I mean, it’s massive. And this is where, in my opinion, a lot of endurance athletes are very confused because we hear, at least I hear, and I’m guessing you do as well, when it comes to the strength training, “Oh, but I need specific adaptation to impose demands. And I need to do lunges and leg pressing, and squats. And that’s it. I don’t have to do anything else.” Where they’re mixing up the specific adaptations to imposed demand or taking it to an extreme in one area. Whereas, hey, actually, if you had that zealousness in your workouts, when it’s supposed to be zone two or even zone three, and you just stick there instead of trying to blow yourself out, because, “Oh, well, my best speed before was X.” Instead of staying in that specific energy system, the adaptations would be that much better.
This is something I think that the endurance world still doesn’t quite grasp as far as the average rider. And even some of the average coaches is that there’s a time that you need to be very specific when a rider is getting up to that second, third year in my philosophy currently, that’s when, “Hey, you’ve got a small ring endurance ride today, and you’re to stay between 130 and 140 beats per minute.”
And I’ve even gone as far as have a semi-professional rider put on a triple chain ring, so that we could maintain their heart rate over the Pittsburgh terrain, because it’s very up and down. And the leap that he took from one year to the next when he did that was massive. But the self awareness and his ability to, as you said before, check the ego at the door. And he got some hard poking from his friends, “Oh, look at you. You’re using the granny gear. Oh, you’re off the back.” To, “Wow. How did you get so fast?” Was massive. Do you see that this is a big challenge because of the expectations in our sports of triathlon and cycling, or is it more a misunderstanding of when and how to get into the minute details?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I don’t know that I have an answer, but I do want to comment that that’s another way to really make sure that you paved a path for, by just prescribing small ring easy bike rides. So, because then you actually have to expressively, I guess, go against your coach’s orders if as an athlete, if you are to go into the big ring. So, that’s a great way of making sure that the easy work stays easy. It’s of course be difficult in hilly climates or hilly areas. But yeah, I really liked that approach.
In terms of your question, I mean, I think that definitely expectations, and again, like social media, Strava, et cetera, that plays a huge role. And for athletes that are in a group training environment, it also, yeah, it does play a huge role. I do see that that’s a common place where… but it can be difficult as well. I really understand that athletes want to train with their friends and they’re slightly different abilities. They still want to go at the same pace. And they can do it, but it’s not optimal for them.
So, what I try to do in these situations, because I see it with my athletes that train with their friends, and it’s not so much even an ego thing for them, it’s just that this is the time for them to be with some friends. And they might not have that time that much otherwise. So, it’s a compromise.
And what we then just tend to discuss is that, okay, I mean, that’s perfectly fine that you maybe go a bit harder on this Sunday ride, if you need to do that to keep up with your friend and the friend really don’t want to, or cannot slow down for you. But we just need to be aware that this is potentially going to compromise or slow down your improvement as an endurance athlete. And are you okay with that? You can make the choice. The choice is up to you. But you need to be aware of what the potential consequences might be. So, that’s definitely it. And what was the other option, again, that you mentioned? I already lost myself in the question.
It’s a misunderstanding. We don’t fully understand when to apply specific adaptation to impose demands to a stricter team.
Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, I think that that’s definitely an issue. The way that I look at that is, for many self-coached athletes in particular, the training becomes a bit like a Frankenstein’s monster because it consist, it’s the result of 13 articles on TrainingPeaks, two free training plans from a Google search. And I guess the workouts that they got from two previous coaches, and then what the best friend is doing, and what Chris Froome is doing, and what everybody else says that they shouldn’t be doing. And so, that’s not ideal. There’s just so much information out there, which is great. And we’re both contributing to this by having our podcast.
But I think that the athlete needs to take responsibility for being critical of information that they consume, and also understanding how to integrate information and that you cannot use everything. And when in doubt, simplicity is usually the better answer than complexity. So, make things as simple as they need to be, not simpler than that, but well, as simple as they can be not any simpler than that. I think I’m paraphrasing a bit, but I think somebody like Albert Einstein said that. So, I think that’s a common problem that the complexity and all the fancy words that you can read about in articles online mostly these days, and hear people about, that confuses and muddies the waters quite a lot. And that’s another issue. Yeah.
And it’s interesting that you mentioned the two free training plans from Google, and then the one from my other coach before, and then what Chris Froome is doing. We have so many influences as triathletes and cyclists. Have you noticed specific common themes in the athletes that you coach, and two or three common behaviors, or thought processes that they have that always show up or consistently show up in their ability to climb and progress quickly?
Great question. Yeah. I mean, I think themes, that I don’t want to say obsession necessarily, but over-reliance on things like the PMC and the performance management chart and CTL, that’s definitely a trend that I see. And also I guess, a rigid approach to metrics, to power numbers, for example. I mean, I think power is fantastic. And we would be nowhere near our ability to train as effectively as we train without power meters. Don’t get me wrong. But also when you get to guidelines, you need to accept that are guidelines and they’re not the be all end all answer. A perfect example is race pacing. Not everybody should be between 80% to 85% FTP for their Half Ironman race power. But that’s what everybody thinks because there are some articles that rank high on Google. Let’s say that that’s the race pace for Half Ironman.
And so, I guess there is a proliferation of those guidelines that become rules that are set in stone. And yeah, I think that that’s a common trend, and that is a, I guess, a negative trend because we need to not be quite as rigid in our approaches. I think turning that question to what the common themes in terms of improving, I think long-term goals, that’s something that I see that the athletes that have long-term goals, they really seem to do better and especially in the longterm naturally. But they manage to stay consistent much better.
And the third thing that I want to mention, and this again, is another like positive trait that I think that improving athletes seem to have, they have, actually I want to mention two things, great enjoyment for the sport and for the process. So, going through the process of training and not putting too much pressure on themselves to beat themselves or beat their previous performance records from last week or last year, every single time, just going out and enjoying the training.
And the final thing is definitely time management. And really, you can get really good at time management and creative use of time. For example, I think a lot of athletes spend a lot more money on gear that could be spent for example, on getting a cleaning lady or getting a babysitter every now and then, so you could have a little bit more time to train when needed. So, making the right decisions there in that area. So, prioritizing becomes important. But yeah, so the cleaning lady would be an example of how you can buy yourself a bit more time. But of course, it can also make yourself more time for free in various different ways by just effectively planning what you’re doing. So, sitting down on Sunday night and looking at the week ahead, but also doing it way more in advance, letting your coach know when you will be traveling for work. And so that we can plan an easy week for that week. And then the previous week can potentially be a lot bigger week that you can train a lot more, and then you recover when you’re traveling.
So yeah, I mean time management and enjoyment for the sport, and having those long-term goals, those would be three important attributes that I see in athletes that are improving. And also being coachable. But that doesn’t mean that they rigidly follow every word that their coach says. They can question it and we can have a discussion around it. And sometimes we do what the athlete thinks is best. That quite often happens actually. But those are some of the most important qualities, I think.
That is one of the best answers I’ve heard in a long time, to be honest. I’ve been around the block a couple of times, but the mention of enjoyment of sport, I mean, that’s one of the two rules that I have for working with me. Rule number one, is this should be fun. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have a smile on your face and you’re laughing and giggling, but it’s going to be hard work, but you’re going to enjoy the process.
And two is communication. I love the fact that you mentioned that you should not blindly follow what your coach is telling you. That there are times that I’m guessing with you as well, there are times that you’ll explain to the athlete. And the athlete still doesn’t comprehend it. And say, “Just trust me on this. This is the workout that’s right for today, but here’s the two adaptations that you can make if you feel X or Y.” Is that something that you do as well?
I lost the middle part there of that last question with about to communication. So, can you repeat that?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you communicate that the athletes should not blindly follow, so I’m guessing that in your practice as well there come workouts where you say to the athlete, “Trust me, this is the right workout for right now. However, if you feel X, this is the adaptation. If you feel Y, this is the adaptation to make this a good workout for you.” Is that a true statement for you?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. You can definitely work with if else solutions and that sort of thing in workouts, and learning, teaching the athletes how to adjust to certain situations.
And then perhaps, one example that I think of is that with one of my athletes, I really wanted to work on his VO2 max. And we did that for a while. He did that. And this is an athlete that has typically done a lot of sweet spot and tempo training on the bike, especially. And we agreed to do VO2 max because I thought that would be best for his development. So, we did a weekly, sometimes two weekly VO2 max sessions on the bike, and a lot of high volume, one week long ride that was four to five hours.
But then after a few weeks the athlete came to me and said, “Look, I don’t feel… I’m not enjoying this view to my focus very much. And I don’t feel that I’m adapting to them quite as much as I used to adapt to a sweet spot work. Can we try the sweet spot work again?” And then in that situation, I also know that he’s an experienced and knowledgeable athlete. So, it wasn’t a difficult decision for me to just say just, “Yes, we do as you suggest. We do the sweet spot workouts and take away the VO2 max session.” So, if you feel that you’re not adapting to them as well as you should, then that’s the logical consequence. And this athlete has a history of knowing what has worked in the past. So, let’s revert back to that. So yeah, it definitely is about being flexible both as an athlete and a coach, and having good communication, and being open-minded to suggestions from the other party.
And it sounds like that’s also a point where you might look at HRV training or using insight to help get a better understanding of what the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses are, or is that already built into the program before you get to this point?
Yeah. Inside training was the basis for doing the VO2 max training. So, physiologically, it made sense to do the type of training that I wanted to prescribe. But then what’s happened is that in the real world, the athlete just didn’t feel the adaptations. We didn’t retest it at that point. But I think that this athlete, I knew the athlete is a very experienced athletes, very good athlete. And so, I trusted him and his judgment. So, that’s why we made a call to go against what the physiological reports that we got from the testing would propose that would be the best solution, and go completely against that and just go on the athlete’s intuition and experience.
And that’s the art part of coaching, which I think is being lost, in my opinion, is being lost today where so many people were like I was, the first half decade that I was coaching, “Show me the research, and then I’ll do it.” Well, it depends. Each half made is a study of one. And you have to really understand that athlete. Some beginner athletes may say they know what their body needs. And we all have a feel. And that’s where that art comes in as a coach where, “Okay. Well, let’s talk about this.” And looking for those markers. Is there anything in your metamorphosis we’ll say as a coach that’s really found you or brought you to finding that blend of art and science is much more gray as opposed to black and white?
I mean, I would say that the biggest influence on that is all these conversations that I have with people like you on podcast interviews, all the interviews that I do for my podcast, especially has given me access to so many of the greatest coaches in the world, and seeing how they all do things slightly differently. Also, some of them specifically talk about those different approaches that they take for different athletes. So, just seeing that in the real world there is no single formula that works for everybody. And there are great, great, great coaches, the most successful in the world, but do things completely differently from one another, if they have their favorite approach. So, that just shows that there are different approaches.
And that’s one thing I guess, that I’ve taken us influence, that’s okay, we need to realize that even though there might be stronger evidence for one thing versus another, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the better thing to do for the athletes. I would say for sure, that that is the biggest lesson or the biggest driver for me, learning that it’s not black and white, and there are many shades of gray here in this area.
Mikael, we’ve covered a lot today and quite a bit, and you have so much more. I really wish that, you know what? We’re going to have you back at least two or four, 14 times here, because there’s a lot of questions. I have about three pages here of other stuff we wanted to stick with the building of the aerobic engine and the workout execution, and how it’s the simplicity of things.
Now, what would you say for today is the big one or two, I guess the word would be messages that you’d like the listeners to remember? What are those one or two chords that you’d like to hit one last time as we wrap up here?
Okay. So, the big message would be focus on the longterm, if you’re planning to be an endurance athlete for a long time, then focus on that. Have your vision, and realize that nothing is as important as consistency, frequent training over time with great, great, great consistency. And in terms of improving as an endurance athlete, and one of the best things that you can do is to have the right amount of training. And quite often, if you want to improve, you would be increasing your amount of aerobic training, so endurance training. But most of the trainings should be at the low intensity. And then you would have some high intensity as well. But with the high intensity, you don’t need to beat your RPEs every single week. You shouldn’t raise yourself. You should not put pressure on yourself because that’s a recipe for not performing in those workouts.
So, execute your workouts correctly. Know what the purpose of the workout is, and go in with that knowledge and then execute on that. But yeah, just to hummer home that message, consistency, frequency, and the biggest aerobic adaptations over time really, they’re endurance, sports adaptations over time. They come with the total amount of aerobic training that you’re going to be doing. So, think in terms of hours per year of training. That is the most, most important training objective when it comes to reaching any performance objective in my opinion.
And Mikael, you have a ton of resources on scientifictriathlon.com. Are there any in particular that you’re promoting right now, where you’d like for the audience to look for? Because you’ve had some awesome offerings there, pre-made training plans. You also do the inside training as well. What types of things do you offer for the listeners who are interested in working with you?
Yeah. So, I have pre-made training plans either on TrainingPeaks or as PDFs. And then I have the inside testing, so the critical power testing on the bike. So, that can be done at home with a power meter or under road, but remotely. So, you don’t need to go to a lab and get that metabolic testing. And that can be great if you want to learn specifically about the right intensity to do your training, although that still only integrates power, it should be said. So, it doesn’t give you license to forget heart rate and RV as we discussed already.
And then finally, I do coaching. I’m currently not coaching at the moment. Unless you are a professional athlete or a budding professional athlete, then we can have a talk, because then I’m interested. But we also have James Teagle, is a great coach who also works with me on the coaching side. So, you can check out coaching, and James might have some available slots. And either way, if you’re interested in coaching, then just drop an email, and there is a waiting list. So, you can get a place on that.
So, we have the coaching and the training plan, and the inside testing mainly. But the biggest thing, the most important thing, because that’s the one, the test, the biggest reach and the most impact is the podcast, so That Triathlon Show. And that comes out every Monday on Thursday. And has done so for a long time now, for two years. So, go and check that out. And there’s a ton of episodes there, really from the very start to some real goodies back in the archives to check out, that are evergreen content that you can learn from, even though it’s not new anymore, but it’s still relevant.
And I strongly recommend to the listeners out there, don’t just listen to one episode of That Triathlon Show, go over to their page, like and subscribe, give them a review after you’ve listened to your first one, because Mikael was one hell of an interviewer. Lots of great information there. And also today, Mikael, thank you so much for joining us. And we definitely have to have you back. And there’s so much here. So, I hope you guys have a pen and paper and are going back through and listening. Mikael, thank you so much.
Thank you, Menachem. And also one more thing to mention is that the listeners should go and listen to your interview on That Triathlon Show, when it comes out or if it is out already. It will be out in mid May 2019, I think, because you recently did a great episode on the podcast, the two part into where we dove deep into strength training for triathletes and endurance athletes. So, check that out.
Thank you. I’m the worst promoter. I just like talking [inaudible 01:27:32]. Thanks. Thank you. So, make sure you listen to that one. But don’t wait for that one, there’s so many other ones out there. All right. Thank you, Mikael.
Thank you, Menachem.
That’s it for this episode of the Strong Savvy Cyclist and Triathlete Podcast, with world-leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes, Menachem Brodie. Don’t miss an episode. Hit that subscribe button and give us a review. For more exclusive content, visit humanvortextraining.com or get the latest expert videos from Coach Brodie on the HVT YouTube channel at HV Training. Until next time, remember to train smarter, not harder, because it is all about you.