How Norway became a triathlon powerhouse with head coach Arild Tveiten | EP#154
On 28 April 2018 Norway became the first nation ever to sweep a podium in a World Triathlon Series event when Casper Stornes, Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden showed the world what the "Norwegian train" is capable of. Arild Tveiten is the head coach of these athletes, and the man behind the transformation that is making Norway a true triathlon powerhouse.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- The training philosophy of the Norwegian triathletes.
- Intensity control in both easy and hard workouts.
- The use of extensive lab testing and an incredible amount of lactate testing in the field to ensure intensity control.
- Building the engine and physiology of an athlete versus race specific training.
- Triathlon being a highly aerobic sport and what that means for training.
- Managing training load to prevent illness and injuries.
- Training at altitude (and managing the return to sea level).
- Using technology to get the marginal gains needed to win in world-class competition.
- Arlid Tveiten is the head coach of the Norwegian National Triathlon Team.
- On the 28th April 2018, Norway became the first nation ever to sweep a podium on the mens side in a World Triathlon Series event.
The podium in Bermuda consisted of Casper Stornes, Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden.
- I used to be a triathlete myself, and have raced for more than 30 years.
My approach to coaching was from this active background.
- I was a member of the national team in the early 90's.
- Around 2002 I was working for a Finnish company who make heart rate monitors.
I was learning about intensity control in training, which I began using myself.
- I realised this was something I could do as a coach, so I began coaching age groupers on the side.
- In 2010, I was asked if I wanted to work with young Norwegian athletes as they were trying to build the Olympic distance team.
- I joined them for a training camp, with 25 young people who wanted to compete in triathlon.
There was a lot of potential, and it made me want to get more involved.
- I was then asked to start coaching Kristian Blummenfelt, as it was felt he had good potential.
He was 17 years old when we started working together in 2011.
- We began working on basic training and structure, and he started showing significant improvements.
- After a few months, the Federation asked if I wanted to join as Sports Director and Head Coach of the Federation.
They couldn't pay me much money but they gave me the freedom to do what I wanted.
- I had no formal education in triathlon training at the time.
I have since attended many training seminars and now have the highest level of training in coaching in Norway.
- During the 6 years, we've been mostly going in the right direction!
The progress of the Norwegian team
- When we put all the young athletes in Norway who wanted to do triathlon in 2010, there were 25 people.
4 of these are on the National team today, and another 1 is a coach.
This is a huge success I think
- From day one we had Kristian, Casper, Gustav, Lotte Miller and Jörgen Gunnarson.
- I've been working with them on a daily basis since, although often not face-to-face as we're all based in different parts of Norway.
- As I've grown as a coach, I have taken more control of every aspect of their training.
We also have more training camps which are longer in duration, and some are at altitude.
- When they are back in Norway we have one coach who does all their swim training with them.
- In the beginning, they often swam and ran with local clubs, but now it's more structured as a team.
- It's a step by step process that has taken time.
Main factors behind the success
- We were lucky to have a lot of motivated young athletes, who were willing to be do what they needed.
- We have a lot of focus on intensity control in training.
We started with heart rate monitors, but we now also use power meters on the bike and lactate testing on the run.
We also use oximeters when at altitude.
- We do what I think we need to do.
- Often we have to hold back a little in training - particularly on long bike and runs.
We need to be below 1.0 lactate.
- When we do intervals, lots of people do them too hard, so we focus on intensity control.
- For Kristian, when he is running his lactate is 2.5-2.6, so he will never do intervals significantly higher than this level.
- Since we know threshold, pace and lactate, we can be strict and remain controlled in training.
- In intervals, we want the athletes at or below their lactate threshold.
Triathlon is an endurance sport so it's an aerobic sport - you need to train at this level.
Thoughts on polarised training
- Stephen Seiler and I want to discuss polarised training!
- In one way our training is polarised: we have a lot of volume at low intensity.
However, it's not the way Stephen described polarised training - we're not going as high on the intervals but we are low on volume.
- In a way, it's a polarised training principle.
- The polarised training principles in Norway are often based on cross country skiers, who have races that are shorter than triathlon and very high intensity.
The principles make sense but they need to be adapted to triathlon.
Swim training structure
- In swimming we do high volume compared to most triathletes at 35,000 - 45,000m per week.
A lot of this mileage is low intensity, but we do include sprints to have maximum speed practice.
- When we do threshold sets, we try to use longer intervals.
E.g. 3x1500m at the same intensity.
We try to have longer periods of swimming constantly.
- We do speed work to practice for the start of the swim in competitions.
- On camps we try to do around 6000-6500m swims, with at least one 7000m session per week.
On camps we swim around 6 times a week.
Bike training structure
- In cycling we also have quite high volume, especially considering the athletes are ITU distance racers.
- The athletes are normally on the bike 5-6 times a week.
- When in Norway, it's not ideal to cycle outdoors so when we're home November-January we reduce cycling to 3 times a week.
One will be an easy session and the rest are intervals.
This could be up to 75 minutes of threshold sets.
- We have brick sessions indoors in the winter time which last up to 4 hours.
During this we may do 40 minutes of bike intervals, then 8km running intervals, then 30-40 minutes on the bike, then 6-8km running intervals.
It's a really demanding session!
- We find that if you mix threshold sessions in two disciplines you can have a higher threshold than just in one discipline.
- We normally do 1 brick session per week, but this increases closer to the race season.
- When we're on training camp, we have a higher volume of cycling.
We will have at least one 4-5 hour session, and two or three 3 hour sessions.
- We usually spend 7-8 weeks a year at Sierra Nevada, which is on a mountain top.
Every time we go out on the bike we have at least 28km back home.
We also do a lot of intervals on the hills.
I think this helps a lot with cycling fitness.
Returning from altitude
- Sierra Nevada is 2300m high, which is where most of our training is on this camp.
- It depends on the season, but we tend to return to sea level 10-14 days before the race.
- This summer we were in Font Romeu for 8 weeks, which is 1850m and therefore less demanding on the body.
From here, we have gone directly to races 2-3 days after coming down to sea level.
- This year the final race was in the Gold coast so we went down from altitude 4 weeks before the World Championships there.
Run training structure
- Similar to the other disciplines, it's a lot of volume with 2-3 intervals sessions a week.
- The run training is the most complex, because you need to take an individual approach.
- Kristian is rare in that he can do whatever you want in training.
- Most of the other athletes are coming from a swimming background and it takes time to develop the muscle and ligaments needed to tolerate high volume running.
- We need to establish what is too much or too little for each individual athlete.
- We pay close attention to athlete completing their training diaries to try and catch injuries before they happen.
- I have athletes who are always coming back from little injuries so we're constantly changing their volume.
- We also do strength and conditioning training to try and prevent injuries.
Managing training load
- When we're at altitude, we pay close attention to the mood and weight of the athletes.
If they're losing weight at altitude, that is never a good sign.
- We also measure the heart rate at rest, and heart rate variability.
- We use the oximeter to see how their oxygen levels in the blood are, and we also pay attention to urine.
- The diary log between the coach and athletes is key though.
- It happens that athletes will sometimes do too much, especially if they're going with a group.
We try to stress that although we train together, it's at your individual intensity.
- We recommend that if you're having a bad day, go by yourself and keep to your intensity rather than trying to keep up with the group.
Periodisation for the Norwegian team
- We periodise in a way, but it's not directly following a specific model as I don't believe in that.
- I believe in variation in training.
- We do put different training loads at different times during the year, and we vary our training loads across disciplines.
- During demanding training camps at altitude we have strict periodisation because it has worked really well before.
This is normally day cycles:
1st day: 2 interval sessions
2nd day: long, low intensity
3rd day: 2 interval sessions
4th day: half rest day
- Back home, life is structured Monday-Friday so we periodise a little differently.
All in all we're trying to optimise the training load to achieve the highest level possible.
- We do much of the same intensity around the year, which involves building the aerobic threshold.
- We go straight to intervals from the first week of training, and these intervals are the base during the year.
We do vary the duration of the intervals and the races.
- Closer to races we do more training at race pace or above race pace.
- Studies in Norway show it doesn't matter what way you do the intervals, just that you do them throughout the year.
- Our primary focus is building the engine and training the physiology.
Bike strength in the Norwegian team
- As a coach I see that most athletes depend on a strong swim and strong run during the race.
I think you have a limitation then.
You need to think about what else you can do to make an impact on the race.
- I think around 50% of WTS athletes have the same plan - stay in a group and take it easy on the bike, and hope for a good run.
However this doesn't always work.
- For us, we don't necessarily want to attack on the bike all the time, but I think it's equal to the other disciplines.
If you can use your strength on the bike, you should do it.
- We work to have that possibility.
- Sometimes we don't succeed, but at least we try! Most athletes in WTS racing never try.
- In Bermuda, it was a bit of a coincidence because Casper said he didn't feel like he was attacking on the bike and then found himself off the front.
- When we were training in Sierra Nevada we were looking at the profile of the bike course in Bermuda to try and plan attacks.
We analysed it and found that the hill was very short (45 seconds - 1 minute) and WTS athletes are good at going all out on short hills.
- We saw that athletes can push 500-600 watts but then need to rest at 200 watts for the next 5 minutes.
From this we did specific training where we attempted to keep pace at threshold intensity at the top of the hill, not going down to rest.
- We found this worked, and the athletes were then able to push hard at the top of the hill and this is what made the difference.
- I think athletes also didn't take Caspar too seriously because his ranking was not high, so they did not know how to react to him.
Development path of Norwegian athletes
- Normally we start when they are Juniors, around 17-18.
- Most athletes in Norway come from a different sport before they do triathlon, so they don't start very young.
- Now there is the Youth Olympic games in Buenos Aires, we've never had any athletes qualify before.
4 years ago Caspar did not qualify, but he was starting the process to be a world class athlete.
Now there is no one in his age group there that would beat him.
- Those who succeed at the Youth Olympic games are those who have a natural talent and started young.
I do not think this is necessary. We start with them at Junior level.
- If they have the motivation, we start to quickly progress them towards world class performance.
The volume at that age also increases quickly, but in a controlled way.
- Through this, you can see which athletes are motivated.
I think motivation is the biggest gift, and with our guidance they can perform at a high level
- Kristian, Lotte (Miller) and Jorgen (Gunderson) are all from a swimming background.
Caspar came from karate, and got into triathlon. During his first Nordic championship he was dropped by Kristian on the run, which was only three years ago!
Gustav was a really talented cyclist. He won the six days of racing in Sweden when he was 16. He was also a very good runner.
- We do a lot of testing with our athletes, and we start with an 800m swim and 5000m run test.
- When you are on the National team we go to the lab around 6 times a year to have all the tests.
Our athletes are in the lab now as we're going to altitude next week, so they will be doing three days of testing.
- If you're threshold power on the bike increases 20-30% during the season, that's normal, but we need to establish the intensity.
- We do tests before and after our training camps to measure the progression.
Gadgets and gear used by the team
- We use the Stryd running power meter regularly.
- We also do a lot of field testing on lactate, and we take around 1000 lactate tests per year.
Our best athletes are probably taking around 200 lactate test samples a year.
- In altitude, we regularly use oximeters to test the oxygen in the muscle.
It also tells us how well you're adapting to altitude.
Using it on the quads on the bike we can also tell how efficient your technique is.
- In swimming we use a Canadian system called TritonWear which analyses your stroke.
- We also use heart rate in all of our sessions.
Tips for young athletes aiming for World Class level
- Motivation is the key, and take your time.
- Older athletes seem to be getting good young, but they will have had many good years of training.
Tips for age group athletes to improve at Sprint and Olympic distance
- The most important thing is to remember it is an aerobic sport.
- Work on the things that will make a big difference to your time, not the small details.
- Athletes can get so into the details that they forget the basics.
Rapid Fire Questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon?
- I don't find these too interesting so I don't really read them!
- What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point during your career?
- If I knew today what I knew 20 years ago that would be good! I have a tendency to overdo things with my athletes so I'll try not to do that mistake again.
- Who is somebody in triathlon that you look up to?
- Marc Allen was my favourite triathlete, and his coaching business today is something I look up to.
- Triathlon is an aerobic sport.
The practical implications of this are applied by the Norwegian team: big volume at low intensity and longer intervals during the hard work sessions.
- When you have less resources you have less margin for error. Norway don't have a lot of athletes so they need to get the best out of the ones they do have.
In Norway they do a lot of lab testing and field lactate testing to ensure they are practicing good intensity control, and adapting well to altitude.
Similarly for age groupers with minimal time to train, you need to get the best out of your sessions. This might not mean lab testing, but the principle of smart training still applies.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Arlid Tveiten
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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