Podcast, Science, Training

Triathlon periodisation with Chris Myers | EP#112

 March 22, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Triathlon periodisation with Chris Myers | EP#112

Chris Myers, PhD, discusses planning your triathlon training on a macro level and training periodisation. Whichever plan you choose, you need a plan for your training on a macro level, and have an idea of how your training will evolve over the timespan of at least a season. 

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • The importance of big picture/macro planning of triathlon training. 
  • Different training periodisation methodologies. 
  • Whether certain kinds of periodisation are more suited for certain types of athletes or events.
  • When do you need to change your plan?
  • Does periodisation really work or are we just assuming that it works?

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About Chris Myers  

1:14 - 

Chris' background and research

3:30 -

  • I currently work in human performance with US Navy divers in Panama beach, Florida.
    • We look at the effect diving with different mixes of gases, and immersion, have on human performance.
      • We look at both endurance performance (e.g. running or cycling), and skeletal muscle performance (e.g. strength and power).
    • Ultimately if we can quantify these effects we will know what changes to make to diving equipment to better improve our divers performance both on land and under water.
  • In terms of my own endurance background, I've been road racing for 20+ years.
    • I started road cycling my sophmore year at West Point, the US military academy.
    • I raced there, and in Germany, as a neo pro for 6 years while I was on active duty.
  • A couple of years ago I made a full transition to triathlon, with a primary focus on short course.
  • I coach road cycling, mountain biking, and both short and long course triathlon and duathlon.
    • I coach age-groupers to elite level athletes.

Macro planning/periodisation of training

6:10 - 

  • It gives you a big picture and can help you know the path forwards.
    • You need to map the box before you can think outside of it.
  • Most of us, especially age-group triathletes, are working professionals with families.
    • We have regular life that goes on alongside trying to do three sports.
  • Having an annual training plan means you can map the way forward to reach your goals throughout the year.
    • It allows you to plan appropriately to give you the best chance at being in the ideal form of fitness when it's needed.
  • When planning your overall training plan you need to consider three factors:
    • Your personal history and your historical fitness first (e.g. new, returning, professional etc) as this is a key factor in how you approach your annual plan.
    • How experienced and confident you are in the specific sport.
    • How much time you have. Is your event six weeks away or 1.5 years away?
  • There are a couple of different approaches to take when you're talking about an annual training plan, which is where periodisation comes in.
  • I personally use Excel to manage my training plans.
    • I have a specific spreadsheet for cyclists (mountain, road, cyclocross etc).
    • I have a separate one that's more in-depth for multisports.
  • In each one, they encapsulate the three major factors of periodisation:
    • Macro-, meso-, micro-cycles.
  • I have the big picture (e.g. year, or significant chunk of time), and I can break it up into stages or different training blocks/macro cycles or meso cycles.
    • E.g. the base period, intensity, competition, and recovery periods.
    • I denote those, and I've changed the names to align with US triathlon:
      • Base period, pre-competition build, competition build, and recovery.
  • Underneath this I can break those macro cycles into micro cycles.
    • Here we focus on what our goals are for those cycles, what are our performance limiters and what are we going to build on.
    • It's personalised based on performance testing.
    • It's based on numbers e.g. how much TSS (training stress score) required to get to the right CTL ramp rate.
      • The same numbers we see in Training Peaks and WKO.
  • There's another version we can use, not everyone has access to it but on training peaks they do have the automated annual training plan builder.
    • This takes all these metrics into account and auto-calculates it for you.
    • It can help you build your basic annual training plan for yourself.

Related listening

Common mistakes when planning training

12:41 - 

  • The first one is not balancing enough recovery in the plan.
    • No matter where you are in the cycle, the body needs to recovery in order to get better.
    • All the work done in a previous training block will tear the body down and increase the stress.
    • Sometimes you need to take half a step back to take two steps forward.
  • A traditional training block is 3 weeks on, 1 week off (especially in base and pre-competition).
    • I often see people taking 1 or 2 days off in a 4 week period and that becomes a "rest week".
    • The body needs a lot more time than that!
  • Looking at basic skeletal muscle physiology, following an intense weight lifting workout it can take at least 72 hours to recover.
  • I usually say 96 hours is a minimum for a "rest week", and then you start building back up to prepare for the next training cycle.
  • Each person is different - some will need more recovery than others.
    • Looking at your history can help with analysing this.
  • Another key mistake is going too hard too often.
    • I know since being a triathlete myself the need to get it all done, and squeeze in 'extra hard' workouts if you think you might miss one tomorrow.
  • It's all about modulating intensity and duration, and trying to stay focused.

The classic periodisation model


  • Periodisation is primarily defined as the organised approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of the training programme during a specific training period.
    • Basically you have key focuses that build upon each other.
  • There are several different theories for periodisation:
    • The classic model was produced by Leo Matveyev and includes a base period, intensity period, competition and recovery.
    • Olympic coach Lydiard first applied this model to endurance sports in the fifties.
  • Classic periodisation is an approach I like to take with my beginner athletes because it's a very structured approach.
    • The classic model looks like a pyramid:
      • Base period as the bottom part, the longest and widest phase.
      • Intensity phase is the next block up, a little higher but with a shorter duration.
      • Competition phase is a smaller block, with a higher intensity and a lower duration.
      • Recovery period is the tip of the pyramid.
    • You can flip this on it's head and actually invert it for some athletes if it works better.
      • You do the intensity first and as you get closer to competition period you do your base phase.
  • Periodisation is still a very individualistic approach.
    • I take into account personal history, performance background and experience to assess what they need.
    • If they are new to the sport they will need more time to build their cardiovascular foundation, as well as skeletal and muscle performance.
      • In this case I would probably use the classic periodisation approach.
    • If I'm working with someone who has been in the sport for a while, and is possibly crunched on time or wants a different approach, we may invert the pyramid.
      • I've had some great success with this with some athletes, but some epid failures with others!
  • Real life example: I have an elite level mountain biker I work with in Europe who I've worked with for 6 seasons.
    • For the first 2 seasons we took a classic approach and moved into a non-linear approach, guided by his performance and data analysis.
    • A couple of seasons ago we had a hiccup where he couldn't do a couple of workouts in the winter due to life circumstances.
    • He still wanted to do the Trans-alps, which is a 7-stage mountain race in southern Austria.
    • We took an inverse approach and had great success with it - he and his teammate finished third!
    • But I've got as many examples when this approach has failed, even when I thought it was a good approach.
  • Basically, it goes back to looking at the individual and how they react, and what their physical history is.
  • I'm putting out a lot of key terms here, but it's important to remember that periodisation gives us an approach to plan your training.
    • It gives you a path to get where you're at, which is the goal of periodisation for age group triathletes.
  • It's important to remember the big picture of the plan, not just planning each individual workout in intricate detail.
  • Real life example: A friend of mine has prescribed hill repeats for a client.
    • The original prescription was 3-5% (hill slope) for 5 minutes at upper zone 2 pace on a treadmill.
    • The client decided to do it outside instead, which is fine.
    • He got a text from his client with a balance lever on the side of the road showing the incline of the hill, and asking if that was enough.
    • This highlights paralysis by analysis! We can get too much into the description and we forget we're doing this for fun.
    • We have goals and we want to do the best we can, but we're doing this for fun.
  • As with anything in endurance sports, the most important thing is the individualised response, not the generalised advice.

Other periodisation methods

25:55 - 

  • Block periodisation was proposed by Dr Issurin in the late 90's/early 2000's.
    • It's a play on the classic approach, but instead of four blocks, there are three:
      • Accumulation, transmutation and realisation.
    • Essentially, block periodisation involves more highly concentrated workloads to get the over reaching stimuli in order to reach a goal faster.
    • Block periodisation enables you to specialise more than in the classic approach.
  • There is also a non-linear approach, which is used by the coach for the Brownlee's.
    • This involves a mix of everything throughout the week - hitting all the different energy systems from base, to endurance, to neuromuscular.
    • You vary intensities throughout the week.
    • It still has an undulating approach, as seen with traditional periodisation, but it's a different approach on the micro cycles.
  • In traditional periodisation you may not hit any intensity in the base phase, whereas in an undulating model you always keep some intensity throughout.

Effectiveness and necessity of periodisation

30:17 - 

  • It's individualistic, and it's mainly a tool to help you get to your goal.
  • People have written whole books on the discussion of whether periodisation works or not, so I won't get into that.
  • It's about knowing yourself and figuring out what works best for me.
  • For me personally as an athlete, I like to have a plan, which is the military side of me from being in the army for 15 years.
    • I know it's what a lot of my clients like too, but that is just the type of people I work with.
  • I know other coaches that just analyse the data and use it to guide them on where to go that have also been highly successful.
    • This can be very effective with the software we have now (e.g. Training Peaks, WKO).
    • The analysis can be so in depth that it can tell you where to go or how to adjust accordingly.

Analysing your data

31:39 - 

  • You need to have a base metric to look at - without this you can't know if you're improving.
    • E.g. Functional Threshold Power test on the bike, Critical Swim Speed test in the pool, Critical Power Test on the run.
  • If you see a positive change in these metrics, you know your training is working!
    • If you're not seeing a change, maybe you need to change your training strategy.
  • If you want to dive deeper for example in cycling, you can do quadrant analysis with your pedal stroke.
    • More than the traditional quadrant chart in WKO, you now have the ability to look at your numbers across the four quadrants.
      • You can assess:
        • If you produce more power on the bottom stroke versus the up stroke.
        • If there is an imbalance how is it affecting your performance?
        • When is fatigue kicking in, and how is that affecting performance?
    • This is a double edged sword as you can reach "paralysis by analysis" where you don't know what to improve on, or what to use as your measurement.
    • However, it can be a really great tool to get you to your goal better and faster.
    • It's really important to strike a balance.
  • Consider where you are at and what your goals are to decide where your time is best spent.
  • In terms of frequency of testing, this will vary throughout the season.
    • E.g. Taking the classic periodisation approach:
      • Base period: you're doing more volume than intensity so your FTP isn't going to change too much. It might get better by a few points but it won't be huge jumps like 2 or 3%.
        • The same with swimming and running.
        • During this period, I would test every 6-8 weeks, possibly even every 12 if it's a long base period.
      • As we move through each block and intensity increases, the testing should become more frequent.
        • "Performance itself is the key metric of perfromance" - Dr Coggan
        • You can do all these lab tests, and watch your VO2max go from 55 to 62, and your FTP go from 220 to 280, but if you go and do a time trial and you can't hold 280 watts in a real world sense, your training program is falling short.

Practical tips to take away

37:20 - 

  • When you're first starting to plan, look at four key things:
    1. What is your history?
      • What is your background in the sport(s)?
    2. Know your strengths and limiters.
      • What do you do well in, and what might be holding you back?
    3. What are your goals?
      • Set realistic goals.
    4. How much time do you have to achieve these goals?
  • These factors will help you set a realistic macro plan, and guide you through which strategy you should take.
    • It gives the context of the bigger picture.
  • Don't be afraid to change the plan though!
    • When I work with clients, their annual training plan may often change 4-5 times throughout the season because life happens.
      • Maybe they have a business trip or they take a vacation with their family.
      • Maybe their performance is moving up faster than expected and the plan needs to change to reflect that.
  • "All plans go to crap when the first bullets are fired"

Rapid fire questions

27:23 - 

  • What's your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or endurance sports?
  • What is your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
    • My Tacx Neo trainer. I can't ride outdoors here in Panama City Beach because of the heat so I do a lot of training indoors on Zwift.
    • Secondly, my TT bike. I've been cycling for 20+ years and I love riding.
      • My TT bike is a Quintana Roo, I got a good CDO.1.
      • I'm just building a BMC Time Machine for time trialling.
      • I've also got my Specilized Roubaix which has been my workhorse for several years.
      • I've got a couple of cross bikes in storage too right now.
  • What do you wish you had done differently at some point in your triathlon or endurance sports journey?
    • Calm down! I always get myself worked up before an A race, we plan so long and it's building to this point. I stress myself out and there's time when I should have done well and it went sideways because I did not calm down.
    • At the end of the day it's just a race!

Key takeaways

  • Periodisation is a tool, it's not gospel.
    • You shouldn't use it to get closer to paralysis by analysis, but you should use it as a tool to achieve your goals.
    • Have a plan on a macro level.
  • It is very individual, don't fall in love with any single methodology.
    • Choose the method that works for you, and if it stops working, change!
  • If you don't know where to start, classic linear periodisation may be the best place to begin your journey.
  • Manage by measuring your performance - the key metric of performance is performance itself.
    • Make changes if necessary.

Links, resources & contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Chris Myers 

  • On the Peaks Coaching Group website.
  • Via email: cmyers@peakscoachinggroup.com
    • Email Chris any questions as he is happy to chat directly over email.
    • Chris is also currently taking on clients so you can contact him by email or through the website for more information. 

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 

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.

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