Podcast, Training

The Trisutto Way of Triathlon Training with Carson Christen | EP#140

 July 30, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

​​The Trisutto Way of Triathlon Training with Carson Christen | EP#140

Carson Christen is a sport scientist and professional endurance coach with Trisutto. We discuss the Trisutto approach to triathlon training and its components, including specific aspects of swimming, biking, running, strength training and nutrition.

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:

  • An overview of Trisutto's training philosophy.
  • A typical training week based on this approach for an age-group triathlete.
  • Specific aspects of training for the swim, including focusing on "quality strokes" and the use of specific tools.
  • Specific aspects of training for the bike, including low-cadence work and MMM-workouts. 
  • Specific aspects of training for the run, including strength-based running, form and posture. 
  • Carson's take on strength training and nutrition. 
  • Common mistakes age-group triathletes make and how to avoid them. 

Sponsored by:

Precision Hydration

Precision Hydration
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to hydration. Take PH's free Triathlon Sweat Test and learn how you should hydrate. Use the discount code THATTRIATHLONSHOW to get your first box for free! August 2018 promo - get 20% off your order with the code TTS20!

The finest triathlon wetsuits, apparel, equipment, and eyewear on the planet. Trusted by Lucy Charles, Javier Gómez-Noya, Flora Duffy, Mario Mola, and others. Visit roka.com/tts for 20% off your order.


About Trisutto

1:30 -

  • Trisutto is one of the largest and most well-known and successful triathlon coaching businesses. 
  • Brett Sutton is the founder, and he currently coaches Daniela Ryf. 
    • Brett was also Chrissie Wellington's coach previously. 
  • There are many other successful athletes that have gone through the Trisutto system. 

About Carson Christen 

1:56 -

  • Carson is a sports scientist by background and has been a professional endurance coach for 5 years. 
  • He has a Masters degree in sports physiology. 
  • Carson has coached professional triathlon victories and National Champions and Olympic cyclists. 
  • Carson is from the US but is now based in Germany. 
  • Carson is a Trisutto coach. 

Overview of Trisutto - swim

5:34 -

  • There's no secrets to the Trisutto training method, its just simple, no fluff hard work.
  • The methods have been tried and tested for years. 
    • They can be changed when needed, but it continuously works. 
  • It comes down to consistency, especially in a sport like triathlon. 
    • Day after day, the hard work gets put in. 
  • When it comes to the prescribing of workouts, it doesn't matter who you are - professional or age-grouper, you need to train for triathlon, not swim, bike, and run.
    • Those three components make up the sport, but it is still one sport. 
    • Problems occur when people train the bike, or the run, but don't train them as one sport. 
  • Trisutto is a very swim dominated group, which is the achilles heel of the majority of triathletes in the world. 
    • The swim drives the rest of the day in any distance. 
  • The top 3 things that are important when it comes to the swim isn't a drill or technique or distance. 
    • 1) You have to go to the pool!
    • 2) You have to get in the pool.
    • 3) You have to enjoy what you're doing. 
  • ​Do you recognise this type of swim training?
    • You go to the pool, start with a 500m warm up. 
    • Then the main set, maybe 10x100m best effort with 20-30s rest. 
    • Then may some drills, with some kicking, and then a cool down. 
    • That is your hour swim.
  • You could go back and look at what you did, or repeat it weekly, but you won't do any better at the swim portion of triathlon. 
    • In that session you've done maybe 1000m of good, hard work. 
    • That's the achilles heel right there - people aren't swimming enough for what they need to be.
  • At Trisutto, we swim more, we swim more often, and we swim a big overall volume. 
    • It doesn't necessarily come down to yardage per week, but it's about the overall volume of the quality main set work.
    • Only good strokes matter. 
  • At sprint distance, you want to be able to do 700-1000 good strokes, at Ironman you need around 4000 in an hour. 
    • This is what we try to have our athletes do. 
    • This is seen in people like Daneilla Ryf doing a 6000m swim set. 
    • An age grouper may not do quite as long a workout, but you need to get in the pool and just swim. 
  • Bella Bayliss, 16x Ironman winner from Brett's squad:
    • When she was living in the UK with her husband and racing full time professional she had 3 days a week to swim.
    • She would get in for 1 hour and swam as hard as she could (e.g. 4x1000m, 60 min straight swim, 40x100m)
    • She moved her Ironman swim down from 65 minutes down to the low 50s. 
    • She didn't do any drill work because she didn't have time.
    • She'd put on her paddles and pull buoy and just swim. 
  • Swimming is also more forgiving on the body and is less likely to result in injuries.
  • You want to be able to get out of the swim and be ready to go on the bike. 
    • If you haven't trained in the swim it can take 1-1.5 hours on the Ironman bike to settle down. 
  • Often athletes will think they failed on the marathon, and it can actually be that they weren't prepared for the swim and it impacted their whole day.
  • If you come out very far back on the swim, you can end up struggling to catch up throughout the whole race. 

Overview of Trisutto - bike

15:15 - 

  • For Trisutto, it's all about pushing the big gear.
  • We find that through this you're recruiting your massive leg muscles (quads, hamstrings and glutes).
    • These recover the quickest, especially in an aerobic setting.  
  • For example Daniela Ryf races around 76rpm on the bike. 
    • If you were to raise her rpm to 86 you would probably see her average heart rate go up about 10-15bpm.
    • This would be applicable to any athlete
  • Having a lower heart rate on the bike gives you a bigger window to play with on the run.
  • That's why we push using strength and getting from point A to point B the quickest and the most efficient. 
  • There's different athletes in the power curve - e.g. if you're Lionel Sanders you probably can't push 70 cadence on the bike because you need to be pushing over 300 watts. 
  • In a one minute full gas velodrome time trial, the Chris Hoy's of the sport are pushing 150 cadence for a minute at 1000 watts. 
    • The best 4k track cyclists are pushing 105-110 cadence for 500 watts. 
    • If you go to the 40-50k time trial in the Tour de France, you see them pushing 375-400 watts at 95 cadence.
  • As per the power duration curve, you see that as the power drops off, the cadence comes down.
    • So for the majority of our athletes who are pushing 200-250 watts for an Ironman, why would you use 100 cadence when you could use 70 and keep your heart rate lower. 
  • Each athlete is different and everybody will have a different cadence that they use. 
    • We try to build the strength to keep the heart, which is a muscle, not having to work too much before the run.

The science behind cadence 

18:03 - 

  • It's like anything sports science related - there are lots of studies that say different things. 
  • For amateur athletes most of the articles which have stood the test of time say that the best cadence is 65-70 cadence.
  • Bike fitting and crank length should also be discussed in this area - your legs are levers. 
    • Brett has previously contributed to the crank length debate.
  • You have to look at what works for the majority of athletes and try it out. 
  • Brett has coached athletes since the 80's, and he says this so you don't have to guess at what is best. 
    • It's been shown to be effective for 20 years, for 90% of athletes. 
  • There are always exceptions - e.g. Nicola Spirig. 
    • She's one of Brett's athletes and an Olympic gold medalist. 
    • She rides a higher cadence, that works for her. 
    • You won't see her pushing 60 cadence for a bike - but thats ITU racing, you need to be able to accelerate. 
  • You need to look at the broad scope of the sport.
  • With a lower cadence you might burn through more glycogen in the legs, but that's why you train it. 
    • The heart is also a muscle and is being used all day long. 
    • For the swim you don't have to use your legs, but you do for the bike and run. 
  • The aerobic component, and the recoverability of the big muscle groups in the legs, is much better than the heart.

Overview of Trisutto - run

24.02 - 

  • In triathlon, whoever slows down the least is usually the winner.
  • At Trisutto we don't look at pro runners as a way for our athletes to run. 
    • Coming off 5-6 hours on the bike, and at least an hour swimming, both involve leaning forward with their chest cavity in front of their centre of gravity. 
    • This is why you often see athlete hunched over at the end of an Ironman.
  • We teach our athletes: the larger the athlete, the more backwards they sit.
    • A good example is in South East Asia/India you see ladies walking down the street with pots on their heads, or they're carrying food on their heads. 
    • If you looked at them from the side while they're walking, you'd notice they are leaning back, not forwards. 
    • This is what we try to train. 
  • If you look at Daniela running, she's very upright compared to the faster, pure runners.
    • However she still produces a run split similar, if not better, most days. 
  • It comes from body awareness, standing tall and looking straight ahead. 
    • Many people look at their feet when they're running, but looking straight forward or tilting the head a little up helps. 
    • One cue is if you were running towards someone, you want them to see the ball of your feet. 
  • Try not to do the forward lean that many of the professional runners do. 
  • Our run training is very strength oriented, and low volume to a certain extent.
    • However more frequency and consistency. 
    • You see the triple run days that some athletes complete.
  • Running hills and using the treadmill a lot as strength training. 
  • The technique under fatigue is important - being able to keep running when you're tired.

Prescribing training - don't just rely on numbers 

  • Brett recently wrote a blog post about prescribing training, and how he infrequently prescribes power numbers, it's more about 'best effort'. 
    • This is the Trisutto methodology - don't be reliant on the numbers.
  • This sport has become very number oriented, but you also need to look at what's best for the sport. 
    • I use numbers, and many of my athletes are data-driven too. 
    • It's about finding a balance, and liberally explaining to the athletes that some days the numbers won't be there. 
    • Mentally you then need to check it out.
  • For example with Kona, it's so warm and it's very hard to train for that. 
    • You may run a 3 hour marathon in every Ironman you do, 4.15/km. 
    • You get to Kona and just the nature of the race means you may run a 3:15.
    • This is where the data can kill the athlete - they see their pace drop off and they mentally check out. 
  • It's a struggle and an art to learn when to use the numbers and when to not.
    • You also don't want the numbers to hold people back.
  • It comes down to the coach and the athlete's preference. 

Example training week

32:55 - 

  • For an age grouper competing at half and full distance, with 10-15 hours a week to train.
  • You should always shoot for 3 swims a week, 4 swims are even better. 
    • One heart rate swim - threshold session. 
    • Endurance swim - longer swim.
    • Speed session - working on the top speed.  
    • The fourth could be a recovery swim. 
  • On the bike:
    • Anaerobic day - going hard with 30-60s intervals (generally with 1:1 effort to recovery), hill reps. 
      • Closer to race times it may be more like 2min/1min. 
      • In the off season it may be 1 min hard/2 min easy. 
    • Long ride day. 
      • This may include race specific stuff, or big gear segments. 
      • Working on strength over the duration of the distance. 
      • We may incorporate a 'medium-mad' time trial at the end (i.e. half Ironman/Ironman pace).
      • After that you may do a race-pace brick. 
    • Tempo reps - mod, medium, mad session. We tend to phrase it as "moderate, medium, ?". The '?' is about how you're feeling. 
      • Duration could be 15/15/15, 30/30/30, 50/50/50. 
      • Starting at a lower intensity, picking up with each interval. 
      • We don't want people to psychologically check out, so if you stay at medium that's okay too. 
      • It's about what they're capable of doing in the session - if they can go mad, go mad. 
      • E.g. 10 x 1min on/1 min off, MMM. Starting with 75% FTP, then 86% FTP, then 90% FTP. No recovery between sets. 
      • Some days you can do 78%, 90%, 103% - if it's a particularly good day. 
      • We try to keep it a bit more aerobic on those sets. 
    • You can add another session depending on what you're trying to accomplish and where you're at in the year
  • Teaching athletes to listen to their bodies is an important aspect of this. 
  • Shorter intervals are the biggest gear work, with low cadence. 
  • Longer intervals (e.g. mad segment), cadence may be in the 80's. 
  • For the long rides, we like to have our athletes keep the cadence lower there too.
    • I have athletes where I want their average cadence for a whole long ride to be 70-75. 
    • We may be using it as a strength component on some of the hills, or trying to keep their heart rate low. 
  • Heart rate decoupling is a debated topic. 
    • For keeping your cadence lower on a long ride, you'll see less of a difference in the decoupling than if you're riding at 90 cadence, even at the same power. 
    • As you fatigue, your cadence naturally drops anyway but your heart rate may still rise. 
  • You'll probably never see our athletes prescribed a cadence above 80-85. 
  • Amateur athletes often stress about long rides too heavily and lose fitness because of it. 
    • You don't need to be doing a 6-8 hour ride every week a few weeks out of Kona for example. 
    • You'll need a lot of time to recover, which disrupts the consistency. 
  • In terms of the run:
    • A quicker component of the week - 30/30 (seconds on/off), 1/1 (min), and 2/2 min intervals. 
    • Build workouts or negative split workouts. 
    • Long run. 
      • I never have an athlete run over 2.5-3 hours in one session, rarely over 2.5 hours. 
      • Especially when preparing for Ironman in the spring in North America - it's already so hot. 
      • Your form will break down as you fatigue, and we don't want to elicit that in a heavy training week and cause an injury. 
      • Splitting the run up into a long run in the morning, and a jog in the afternoon is a good option.
      • This makes it easier to stay on top of nutrition and hydration too.
    • Brick run.
  • The training is similar across each discipline. 3-4 of each with similar aims for the sessions. 
  • We often have our athletes doing 2 runs a day. 
    • E.g. hill reps in the morning, easy 20-30 minute jog in the evening. 

Strength training and nutrition

46:30 - 

  • Strength training is very important.
  • However a 10-15 hour a week amateur athlete who has a family and works 40 hours a week will often lose time for other training if they add a lot of strength training. 
    • For example, if they go to the gym 3 times a week for 1 hour each session, that leaves only 8-11 hours for training. 
    • The swim is usually the first discipline to get hit. 
  • Bret gets a lot of flack for a couple of articles he's written about strength training. 
    • But he gets it right - with the big gear work we do, the hill reps and the paddles/buoy/ankle band/parachute in swimming, you're getting very sport specific strength training while working out.
  • It's all about the time management. 
    • I prescribe athletes a strength programme - for example programmes by Erin Carson
  • If an athlete has the time to strength train, and it's not getting in the way of potential gains in the pool, or making them so tired they can't train, it's great. 
  • For nutrition, the KISS principle is very good.
    • (Keep it simple, stupid.)
  • There's a lot of nutrition companies out there, but there's lots of stuff that makes it too complicated. 
  • At the end of the day, your brain over the course of 9+ hours needs to be fed. 
    • Your blood is going everywhere else to keep your body alive!
  • Trisutto probably prescribes more calories in racing and training than anywhere else. 
  • I still believe there's a big place for doing fasted morning workouts. 
    • Anywhere up to 2 hours your body generally has enough glycogen and energy stores.
  • Some special Trisutto sessions you may get your two bottles of water for the bike for 4-5 hours, and you're not allowed to fill them up. 
    • It comes down to not forcing your body to rely on it sometimes. 
    • Making sure you do enough so you're ready for it on race day and not trying anything new. 
  • I love food, and I think every athlete should love food and not be afraid of it.
  • In the world nowadays it can get into people's heads about food and fitness, and thinking you need 5% body fat. 
    • Sometimes we tell athletes to gain weight! 
  • After Daniela Ryf's ITU career, Brett had her put on quite a few kilos to handle the demands of Ironman training. 
  • It's important to have a metabolically flexible approach.
  • I want my athletes having at least 1g/kg body weight of carbohydrate per hour in racing. 
  • For my males, I want them to have 75-90g carbohydrate per hour. 
    • This is 300+ calories an hour, and I want them hitting this every hour.  

Common age group mistakes and how to avoid them

55:17 - 

  • Stressing about volume of training can be a mistake.
    • Volume is important, but as long as you're consistent with the training. 
    • The consistency is more important: getting stuff in day after day. 
  • Strength training is good and valuable, but in the scope of your time and availability you need to assess what's the most important to fit in. 
  • Not enough swimming is a common mistake! 
    • Take the three principles: go to the pool, get into the pool, and enjoy the training in any way possible. 
    • It's common in Trisutto to swim with a pull buoy because it can make it more enjoyable. 
  • Nutrition - making sure you're getting in enough, especially on the bike. 
  • Don't overbike!
    • There are a lot of courses with hillier and harder bikes these days. 
    • Athletes get it into their heads that they need to hit 70% of threshold power, or 80% for high level amateurs/professionals at Ironman. 
    • On certain days, your body just might not be there. 
    • It can be important to sometimes forget the numbers, because it may save you on the run. 
  • Be patient, have the courage to be patient and start slow.
  • You have to train for triathlon, which is three components into one. 
    • So many people want to buy a bike training programme from a cycling coach, a running programme that the Olympic marathon runners use, and all the workouts that Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps use for the swim.
    • Trying to combine these together into one training plan isn't working towards an altogether goal. 
  • What you did today is just as important as what you did yesterday and tomorrow.
  • You have to make sure that all your sessions jive together. 
  • I think that's what Brett Sutton has done well for 40 years.  
    • He's been around so many different sports and has so much experience. 
    • He spoke to Eddy Merckx and asked him 'how do you save so much energy to win the Tour?' and he said 'by pedaling the least amount possible'. He would pedal three strokes hard, and one stroke easy when riding in the pelaton. 
    • This led Brett to believe pushing fewer RPMs in the bike leg of an Ironman can help save your legs for the run.
    • It comes down to what has worked for 20 years, not necessarily just the scientific studies. 
  • Take a look at what you're doing in your training and ask yourself 'is that going to get me from point A to point B the quickest on race day'.

Trisutto coaching certification 

1:02:59 - 

  • I got a Masters in sports science and then moved to Boulder, Colorado for 5 years. 
    • I worked for a professional cycling company out there. 
  • Coming from a swimming background I was always interested in triathlon, but didn't dive into it for a couple of years. 
  • I ended up coaching an Australian pro, Leon Griffin, and we had some success.
  • I started picking up age groupers and really started enjoying the sport of triathlon, more so than cycling.
  • I met my fiance out in boulder who was getting a degree in engineering. She was then offered a job in Germany with SRAM bicycle components. 
    • Three years ago we moved to Germany and I've lived here ever since. 
  • I've always followed Brett's blogs and found them interesting, so I got in touch with him.
  • The certification process is really neat, the coursework that he and Rob Pickard have written is great. 
  • You go through the syllabus, and the best part is you have to spend 2 weeks on deck with Brett at a training camp.
    • You get to watch him interact with his athletes and his age-groupers, which I found great. 
  • Every coach is their own, you can't moonlight off Brett's results. 
    • We know the Trisutto methodology, and the results speak for themselves, but it's essential to have spent so much time with Brett. 
  • Brett is very open, a lot of his blogs are based on questions age groupers have sent him. 
  • The persona of the coach on deck was helpful to learn from watching him.
    • There's lots of coaches out there who didn't start in triathlon, and are too authoritative in their coaching methodologies. 
    • The biggest thing I've noticed in triathlon is that many athletes are coming from very successful careers and they immediately check out if you become too authoritative. 
    • Knowing how little you have to talk when coaching somebody is vital. 
    • Brett quotes 'knowing what to say and when to say it' - he might say two words to Nicola the whole practice, and that's it. 
  • John Wooden, the basketball coach, was the same way - he'd say only what was needed and no more. 

Rapid fire questions

1:08:05 - 

  • What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or endurance sports?
    • I love Google Scholar and all the science journals out there. I also like reading blogs from fellow coaches. 
    • I like getting a big, rounded viewpoint of all things going on in the sport.
  • What's your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
    • A pull buoy, or a good travel case for taking your bike on an airline that allows you to break it down and not be charged the ungodly fees! 
  • Who is somebody in triathlon that you look up to?
    • Brett Sutton obviously, but also a few other coaches such as Dan Lorang who coaches Jan Frodeno but is also working in the professional cycling aspect of the sport. 

Key takeaways

  • You're training for triathlon, you're not combining swim, bike and run programmes. 
    • This will differ depending on the type of athlete you are or what you're training for. 
  • Consistency is key!
    • This comes up time and time again, which shows its importance. 
    • What you think you're doing isn't always what you're actually doing. 
      • On a monthly basis, go back and look at how many training sessions or days you missed. 
      • The number varies but it's usually too many, from the perspective of optimal athletic development. 
      • The best age group athletes are the one who are best at managing their time to ensure consistency. 

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

    Connect with host Carsen Christen

    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. 

    I sincerely want you to contact me to

    • Send me feedback
    • Give constructive critic​ism 
    • Request topics and guests for the podcast
    • Send me your triathlon-related questions 
    • Tell me that you've rated and reviewed That Triathlon Show so I can give you a shout-out on the show and tell you how much it means to me!
    Subscribe to That Triathlon Show and never miss an episode!


    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! 

    Enter your text here...

    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.

    If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

    {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Explore our products and services