Podcast, Training

“How Should I Use My X Hours of Training Time per Week?” with AJ Johnson | EP#134

 June 18, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

“How Should I Use My X Hours of Training Time per Week?” with AJ Johnson | EP#134

“How Should I Use My X Hours of Training Time per Week” with AJ Johnson

Coach AJ Johnson of D3 Multisport reveals how he would structure the triathlon training of age-groupers with varying amounts of available time, from 5 hours to 25 hours per week.

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:

  • How to train with 5-6 hours per week of training
  • How to train with 7-10 hours per week of training
  • How to train with 11-15 hours per week of training
  • How to train with 16+ hours per week of training

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About AJ Johnson

  • Triathlon coach at D3 Multisport.
  • Has a long career in triathlon behind him, including racing Kona three times.
  • Coaches athletes from beginner level to World Championship qualifiers to world champions.

Time-crunched athlete with 5-6 hours per week

04:25 -

  • I always start with understanding the athlete's history. For example, are they coming from a swimming background or running background. That definitely changes things. 
  • For someone who doesn't have a particular strength or weakness I like to take those five to six hours and split them evenly throughout all three sports.
  • At this point in time, for a beginner who's very time crunched, my goal is to just get them used to all three sports so they have a better understanding of what they're getting into with the sport of triathlon. And it let's them know what it's going to take to get comfortable with both the physical and technical nature of the sport, and what it's going to take to make progress.
  • I would want to space it out if, if possible, so an hour a day, six days a week. You can be more consistent this way, because you're spreading the load on the body out and giving it time to recover a little bit more. 
  • If the athlete has less experience in a particular discipline I would focus more time on that discipline. The swim for many athletes, for example. 
  • If you've been running solidly for the past four or five years with 5k:s and 10k:s, things like that, then maybe we can get away with 20-minute run sessions to just maintain fitness, and focus most of the available hours on the bike and swim.
  • For somebody more advanced but limited to 5-6 hours per week, I would push that athlete a little bit more towards focusing on the swimming and the running. Because even six hours a week just cycling is not a whole lot, and it would be hard to bring up bike fitness on this schedule. 
  • I would really also take advantage of brick training, with a lot of bike-run workouts. Because number one, it's obviously very race focused. And number two, one of the main reasons I like to do that is that with six hours a week, almost all of it has to be quality. Particularly in this case with an advanced athlete.
    • It could be intervals on the bike and right off the bike a 15-20 minute run to get the legs turn it over, get to race pace, hold it for 10-15 minutes, then cool down.
  • An example schedule might be:
    • Swims on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
    • Brick workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

" I would really also take advantage of brick training, with a lot of bike-run workouts."

7-10 hours per week of training

15:30 -

  • The same kind of weekly structure as before can work well for these athletes:
    • Monday - technique/recovery swim, maybe some pulling. (~45 minutes)
    • Tuesday - brick workout, with sweet spot/threshold/muscular endurance type work on the bike. (~1h 15 min)
    • Wednesday morning - run. It might be a race-pace run if their body can handle it. Otherwise, just aerobic endurance. (40-60 minutes)
    • Wednesday evening - swim, if possible. (~45 minutes)
    • Thursday - brick, as Tuesday, but maybe do muscular endurance if you did threshold on Tuesday, and vice versa. (~1h 15 min)
    • Friday - Longer swim, with longer intervals. (~45-60 minutes)
    • Saturday - Longer bike with short brick run
    • Sunday - Longer run.
  • For the long course athlete that last month before the race you're still going to have to push it a little bit. and get some extra hours in over the weekend for this short amount of time solely because Ironman racing just demands it.
  • Earlier in the season there aren't too many differences between long- an short course athletes in terms of how they train. This framework works well for both. 
    • I do think short course athletes focus a little too much on threshold intervals and just speed. You do have to have a solid robust base first before you are able to go and really maximize your potential for short course and holding lactate threshold and that sort of stuff. So I don't want it to sound like it's all just intervals, intervals, intervals. They're really concentrated at specific times. There's more speed work in the short course athlete's program, whereas for the long course, I'll focus more on muscular endurance, like over-gear, hill work on the bike and on the run, that sort of stuff.
  • In the case of a newer athlete, even if they can and want to do more, I definitely want that athlete to stick more to to the lower end of this range, seven or eight hours. And not start out at 100 miles an hour and then all of a sudden they're dealing with a knee injury or something like that. And again, as long as the athlete's schedule allows, really trying to space all of those seven hours or eight hours out evenly throughout the week.
    • Also, their workouts are not going to be nearly as intense as someone who's been in this sport for three, four or five years. And we have to be quite careful with things like overgear work and hill work and the muscular endurance training, as it does take time to build up.

11 to 15 hours per week and 16+ hours per week of training

32:32 - 

  • I still like that same weekly structure (see above).
  • The workouts just get a bit longer. This gives the opportunity to have a few different types of intervals. I'm mixing up intervals with progressive intervals in zone two, three, four, five and coming back down. That run on Wednesday, because it's longer, opens up for a little bit more specificity in terms of for example, running a lot of hills. That long swim on Friday can be up to 4000 m. 
  • Then you hit the weekend, and this is where it all comes down to  what, what's the race like and what's the terrain like? And I think here really the weekend is also a big place where even for veteran athletes nailing down nutrition, pacing, and equipment choices are really, really key things that I think a lot of athletes don't necessarily focus on. 
  • The Tuesday and Thursday brick workouts will always have intensity to them. It's the Wednesday run, and the weekend long ride and long run where early in the season and middle of the season there isn't as much intensity, although there can still be some, like sweet spot/muscular endurance intervals for example. Three months out from an Ironman your long ride may have 3 x 20 minutes of sweet spot, whereas a month out it's more of a 3-hour continuous race simulation, followed by a 20-30 minute run at your goal race pace. 

AJ:s tips on weekend structure and swim-bike bricks

42:58 - 

  • I don't always have the long ride on Saturday and the long run Sunday. I think so many athletes mentally say they're not a great runner because they've never given themselves a chance to have a really great quality long run. And what that does then for you on Sunday is now you're biking on tired legs. And I think that for a lot of even half Ironman athletes and of course Ironman athletes, you're going to be biking on tired legs. Nobody's fresh at the three and four and five hour mark.
  • I try to have athletes do a swim bike brick. I think that's really underutilised. It's very different if you wake up on a Saturday morning, you have pancakes and coffee, you read the paper, you let the food digest, then you get out on the Ironman race simulation. That's very different than having swam for even 20, 30 minutes, getting on the bike and going. So to really nail down race day nutrition, that session is super key because in an Ironman, you're going to be getting on the bike and you won't have taken in any calories for an hour, one hour 15, one hour 20... And all your blood is more up in your upper extremities since you've been swimming, but now that blood's got to get shunted down into your legs. So what's happening with your digestion? Can you take a bar? Can you take a gel 10 minutes into the bike, 15 minutes, 20 minutes into the bike? What works for you?

Rapid fire questions

35:47 - 

  • What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or swimming?
  • What's your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
    • Aero wheels
  • What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point in your career?
    • I wish that I had done a little bit more race pace work. I was big on going longer and longer and longer and it took me awhile before I realized that I was getting to the point where I could ride longer, but not ride faster.

Key takeaway

  • Using a significant amount of brick workouts in your training can be a great way to get a big return on your time invested in training, and get a lot of quality work done in a short amount of time.

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with AJ Johnson 

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.

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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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