Beginners, Podcast, Training

Joe Friel’s advice for improving training structure and periodize your way to success | EP#1

 February 13, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Joe Friel's advice for improving training structure and periodize your way to success | EP#1

Joe Friel is a perhaps the most famous name in the entire triathlon industry. He is one of the most accomplished coaches in the sport, he's the author of Triathlete’s Training Bible, and he's the co-founder of Training Peaks.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Why Joe rewrote the Triathlete's Training Bible Ed. 4 from scratch.
  • How to periodize your triathlon season.
  • How Joe improves swim times of his athletes without ever going longer than 25 meters!
  • What you MUST do to maintain and maximize performance as a masters athlete. 


Triathlete's Training Bible Ed. 4 is not just an update but a complete rerun

2:54 -

  • The only thing that is about the same is the table of contents. The previous book was tossed out and Joe rewrote a brand new book.
  • Joe incorporated new things going on in triathlon. This includes all recent changes that have taken place over the years not only in terms of science, but also his own opinions on how to train athletes for triathlon.

Examples of new topics in the book

4:55 -

  • The book has become very personalized. For example, the original book talked about one particular way to periodize, but this time Joe offers several different ways of periodizing.
  • The pros and cons of each periodization model are explained, and Joe guides you in deciding which method is best for you based on your unique situation.

Additional information about swim training for triathletes

6:05 - 

  • Swimming is about technique. If you can get the technique right, you are more efficient. If you are more efficient, you swim faster. 
  • Joe teaches athletes swimming using a four-part framework: Posture, Distance, Length and Catch.
  • Each of these parts focuses on a particular aspect of swim technique, starting from the fundamentals. Once one element is mastered, you can move on to the next element.

Triathletes' approach to planning a season and creating an annual training plan

11:18 - 

  • Periodization philosophy: The closer in time you get to the race, the more like the race your workouts must become.
  • It means that when you are many months away from the race, you can include things that are very different from racing in your training plan. Like lifting weights, for example. The farther away you are in time from the race, the more beneficial it is to do things that are very unlike the race.
  • On the other hand, we do workouts that are very race-like, like riding a bike at the intensity intended to be used on the race day, as we get closer to the race.
  • We move away from very general training (unlike the race) to very specific training (very much like the race). There is a gradual change in the course over several weeks and months.

Specific phases of periodization and what you do in each phase

12:58 -

  • Linear / Traditional periodization: During the base period, generally 3-6 months before the race, you do a lot of volume, building up mileage and training duration. You then gradually start to include higher intensities. In the last weeks before the race, you train at race-like intensities.

Reversed periodization when training for an Ironman

15:17 - 

  • Reversed periodization: Essentially, Ironman races don't require a lot of intensity. So in the base period, you can do a lot of high intensity training but the training volume is not very large. In the weeks leading up to the race, workouts will become longer, and the duration will increase.

Other periodization models aside

17:18 - 

  • Undulating periodization: Has the same type of pattern as linear periodization. From high volume in the base period to higher intensity in the build period. The only difference is that you manipulate your schedule on a weekly basis, to do things like emphasizing the bike one week, and then emphasize run or swim training next week.
  • Block Periodization: This is the newest of the methods. It focuses on one aspect of fitness at a time instead of doing all at the same time. For example, instead of doing both aerobic endurance and muscular endurance workouts in a training block, you'd do just one of them throughout the block. It works best for elite athletes.

How do you structure your training week?

21:01 - 

  • It depends on an athlete and how they handle hard workouts and recover from them. Some athletes have the capacity to handle a lot of training stress and a high density of hard workouts, others cannot do that.
  • You need to learn what works best for you. Do you need just one easier day between hard workout days, or do you train better with two or even three easier days?

Tips for masters athletes

23:18 -

  • You can maintain your aerobic capacity (VO2max) to a much higher level by doing high-intensity training. If you do, the decline of VO2max will be slight. It drops faster if you quit doing high intensity training. If you stop training altogether, it will drop really quickly.
  • Do not stop lifting weights (or start lifting if you haven't already done that). This helps maintain lean muscle mass.
  • Keep your body from storing too much fat by stimulating hormonal adaptions with intense exercise. This again comes down to doing intervals, lifting weights, and similar. Also, make sure you get enough sleep.

New concepts in Triathlon training

29:23 - 

  • ​Distribution of training: how much training should you do in different intensity zones?
  • Polarized training. This means training mostly below the aerobic threshold and above the anaerobic threshold. Most athletes try to do most of their training in the region between these two thresholds. That is the intensity zone you want to save only for when you train specifically for a race.
  • Training stress score. Using TSS you can quantify the work that you do and your overall training load, not only in terms of the duration or distance, but also in terms of intensity.

Rapid-fire questions


  • Favorite book, blog or resource: Super Forecasting
  • Favorite piece of gear or equipment: Power meters
  • Personal habit that helped Joe achieved Triathlon success and success life in general: Being consistent
  • What is Joe’s favorite race? The Ironman World Championship

Links and resources

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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