The T.I.M.E system: effective and intelligent winter training with Rob Wilby | EP#158
Rob Wilby, triathlon coach, coach educator, and host of the OxygenAddict podcast, discusses his T.I.M.E system for effective triathlon training through winter. His approach works particularly well for time-crunched age-group triathletes training for half and full distance triathlons.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Test and Evaluate.
- Intelligent Intensity.
- Effective Effort.
- Examples of weekly structures and workout structures Rob use with his athletes.
- Rob's recommendations for when you're going into spring and summer training.
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Maximising effectiveness of age-grouper training time
- One of the recurring themes I saw in the athletes I coached was that they're super keen, but they don't have as much time to train as they'd like.
- Over the years I've come up with a framework for training, particularly for age groupers competing at half Ironman, or full Ironman distance.
- It's called the TIME training system.
- It stands for all the things I find important in training, but it's name after time because that was such a recurring theme.
- The most important thing is making sure athletes get the most bang for their buck in training time.
- T stands for 'Test and Evaluate'.
We want to honestly evaluate how much time you have to train - it needs to be realistic and your plan needs to be written for the amount of time you have got.
Secondly we want to test our athletes regularly because you can't afford to train with guess work. You need to be sure that the intensities you're training at will bring the most improvement in the shortest amount of time.
- I stands for 'Intensity' or 'Intelligent use of intensity'.
You need to use the appropriate intensity in swim, bike and run, at the appropriate times of year.
- M stands for 'Mindset'.
The way that you approach training, and whether you've got confidence in what you're doing, is so important.
This is something that coaches can really help an athlete with - ensuring the athlete knows that what they are doing will be effective.
- E stands for 'Effective effort'.
This ties all of it together. We want to make sure that anything you are doing in training will get you to your goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- The key thing that guides all training is the goal to be the fastest triathlete you can be on race day. All of your training should be aimed at that.
You don't necessarily need to be the fastest swimmer, the fastest biker or the faster runner you can be, but the fastest triathlete.
- Sometimes we need to take a step back and think about the best ways to use your hours for training to make you the best athlete.
If you're a weak swimmer, it isn't always the best plan to spend half your training time swimming - you're going to spend more time on your bike on race day.
- My approach to winter training is using the majority of their training time to focus on the thing that'll make the most different on race day.
- For both 70.3 and Ironman distance racers I focus on building their bike power.
We'll do 2-3 short high intensity workouts focused on raising their FTP - which is essentially how fast you can go over a 40km time trial.
- I usually advise my athletes to do these sessions on the turbo trainer as we can control more variables.
In a 60 minute session we'll do a warm up and cool down, and 30-40 minutes of hard work including rest.
We're looking at working at or around 100% of functional power, and working in a ratio of 5 minutes work/1 minute rest.
- A classic session may be 6 x 5 minutes 100% threshold, 1 minute recovery.
You could do this every week, but we know people will get bored and need progression so we often start in smaller chunks and build it across the season. E.g. 1 minute/2minutes/3 minutes/2 minute/1 minute mini pyramid to introduce them to threshold training.
By the end of the winter they should feel they can hold the 100% for a longer period of time. They may be doing 4 x 8 minutes, or 3 x 10 minutes at 100% threshold.
- The overall amount of work at threshold may not change, but the longer chunks will help them hold it for longer.
- In an ideal world I want the athletes to get to Spring a lot faster on the bike.
- In terms of the run, lots of athletes want to improve their run over winter and are surprised when I give them a plan with lots of running at a steady state.
- However, it goes back to the big picture of being the fastest triathlete on race day.
- The human body can only absorb a certain amount of threshold training per week, and this counts across all three disciplines.
If you try and do threshold sets in all three disciplines, it is likely this will totally exhaust you because it's too much in one week.
- The aim of run training is to work on the run-specific ligaments and tendons to improve the durability of our body.
You get pounded just from going out for a run, so we need to build the ability to train before training you.
- Your cardiovascular system is already getting training regularly from the bike, so you don't need to be doing threshold training in the run in winter.
Often athletes are surprised at how much better their run improves using this strategy, and it helps prevent injury.
- The key to improving your running is repeated running 3-4 times a week without getting injured. The one danger for getting injured is trying to run fast and hard, especially during the winter.
- I'm a big fan of the Jack Daniels pace tables - his E pace running is ideal for winter training, which is low to middle zone 2 heart rate running.
- The 3-4 runs per week initially would be 30-45 minutes, and one longer run per week starting at 45 minutes, increasing to 90 minutes over the winter block.
Running short and more frequently is better for athletes than infrequent long runs during winter.
- Winter swim training can be minimal in the winter, particularly if you're very time limited. We can usually maintain the swim with 1 per week, and focus it on drill work and practicing perfect form.
For most athletes with around 7 hours a week, we aim for one swim a week and we'll add more in closer to race season.
- As we get into spring on the bike, you will have hopefully done two 9 week blocks where we've raised the FTP on the bike.
We tend to see a 6-8% increase in FTP per block for most athletes. This is a really good improvement.
- In Spring we reduce the amount of intensity on the bike, and 1 session per week will now be 'sweet spot' which is around 90% of FTP.
At this level you can do longer reps, and more overall reps. You will still be getting 95% benefit compared to working at 100%.
- We also begin working on specific leg strength, using big gear work on the bike.
- In general if our athletes are helpful and have no knee problems, we will do low cadence work (20 revs/minute lower than comfortable cadence).
We start with 1 minute out of every 3 low cadence, then 2 minutes out of every 5 low cadence, then 3 minutes out of every five, 5 minutes out of every 10.
If you can ride outdoors these sessions can be done well outdoors, particularly on rolling terrain, but they also work well on the turbo.
I tend to have my athletes do these sessions in zone 2, and you still see the benefit. This can be difficult for athletes to get used to!
- As the season gets closer we can push higher intensities for the athletes it's appropriate for.
- For the run, the athlete should now be nice and durable, and will have increased aerobic endurance from the winter bike training.
- In Spring we start introducing more distance, and more intensity.
- For 70.3 athletes we start doing progressive runs, building to race pace intensity. This may still be challenging at this point in the year.
- For Ironman athletes, I often tell them they don't need to often run faster than race pace in training, and Ironman race pace is usually not too fast.
If you're aiming for a 3 hour marathon, that is still only 7.5 minute miles.
- Your training needs to be specific to how you will race, so you need to use the intensity in the most appropriate way.
- If you've got more run training in you, it's probably important to spend that on volume, rather than intensity. We want to programme our bodies to be able to run comfortable in the race - e.g. a 3:30 marathon in an Ironman.
Anybody who has tried to do this will probably agree that the second half of that marathon can be very hard.
- In 2008 I raced at the long distance World ITU championships. I went far too hard on the bike, and really struggled to run 8 minute miles on the marathon.
This was a lightbulb moment for me, because like a lot of people at the time I'd go out on training tempo runs and be doing 6 minute miles. I would never do this on race day! The fastest run on the day was not even 7 minute mile pace.
- My approach has always been to look at the body as a whole. Aerobically and cardiovascularly your VO2max will be lifted from any of the training you're doing.
If you've raised your threshold on the bike, you'll have raised your threshold on the run as well.
- You can always have your athlete go out and do fast runs and increase the VO2max this way, but my concern is that this will often increase the risk of injury in a lot of athletes.
- The key thing to being an effective coach is finding the way that works for the athlete you're working with.
- Experiment on yourselves and find out what works for you, but be honest with yourself.
- I've interviewed Joe Skipper on my podcast and he's an outlier because he can do threshold training in most disciplines most days. He's genetically gifted in how he can recover.
This is so different from what most athletes I know can do! They usually need a day off running the next day and an easy day in other disciplines.
Most athlete can do a threshold day on the bike though and still work hard the next day.
- Age can also be a big factor, the older you get the less your body can absorb in the way it could when you were younger.
- Regarding the swim, you now start to make use of your improved swim mechanics, start swimming more fruently, and starting to introduce more volume and intensity.
- Typically in this phase I'll split 1 hour sessions into 20 minutes of drill work and 20-30 minute main set (mix of endurance and/or threshold training).
Race prep training
- Typically my race prep phase will be 12 weeks long, and here I'm discussing 70.3 and Ironman athletes.
- The most specific training here is getting them used to how long they're going to be out there for on race day, as this is the biggest challenge.
- The intensity isn't usually the biggest challenge, it's the ability to do it for the duration of time.
- Now athletes need to carve some more time out of the week because we're building the duration in all of our efforts.
The intensity will start to match what they're going to do on race day as well.
- I still include 1 sweet spot session on the bike to try and increase, or at least hold, the top end power.
The remaining sessions will drop down to what they're going to be doing on race day.
- We will also do 1-2 race preparation weekends where the athlete does a broken Ironman/70.3 across a weekend.
E.g. long swim Friday night (4.5km), long bike (6 hrs) with a run off it (45 min) on Saturday, long run (2 hrs) first thing Sunday morning.
You're trying to mimic the demands on race day.
- That workout will give athletes a really good sense of how fast they can realistically go on the bike on race day.
- On a typical weekend in this phase the long ride will be around 6 hours (or slightly less if the athlete is particularly fast).
- The long run will go to a maximum of 2:45 - 3 hours.
Although I've found it's better for athletes to do repeated 2.5 hour runs rather than one 3 hour run that wrecks them for days.
We're always training with the next day in mind.
- I only ever have my athletes do their long run the day after their long bike on those specific race preparation weekends.
The rest of the time I like to split those two sessions up. Usually the long ride on Saturday and the long run on Wednesday.
- Most athlete tend to underestimate what they can do in a week, and over-estimate what they can do in a day.
Typical winter training week
- Monday is usually a rest and recovery day.
If you're the kind of swimmer who is able to do a recovery swim, definitely do that! However if you're a beginner swimmer and that will be an effort for you, stay out the water.
- Tuesday and Thursday are threshold workouts on the bike, Saturday is the long ride that will ideally be outdoors for 3 hours. If the athlete can't get outdoors I'll give them a 90 minute turbo workout with some sweet spot efforts.
- Steady runs will be scheduled for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. These are usually two 30 minute runs and one 45 minute long run.
We will build that to two 45 minute runs and one 90 minute run.
- Our key swim for the week will be scheduled on Wednesday. It'll be a mix of real technique focused work, and some quality swimming as we progress through the winer.
- If the athlete has more time, we'll add an endurance based swim on the Friday as well.
- It'll workout to around 7 hours a week for most athletes, depending on the duration of the long ride.
Getting the most out of technique sessions on the swim
- It's hard to improve swimming without specific guidance, so if you can find a club with a good swim coach I always recommend joining for that.
- If you can have underwater swim analysis done, that can also really help. It can even just be your friend recording you so you can see what you're doing.
- If you haven't checked out SwimSmooth I would highly recommend doing so.
He has a set of specific drills and if you cycle through them you can quickly see what will help you.
- If you do one length of drill and one length of swim, if you're not feeling like something is improving you need a professional that will help you make necessary changes.
Tips for age-groupers
- You want to train as often as you can without getting injured.
90% of the benefit will come from just getting out there and doing the training. If you tend to go a bit slower you'll probably have more success in the long term.
- If you do your intensity work intelligently and monitor your improvements all along, that will give you the most bang for your buck.
Rapid Fire Questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon?
- Gordo Byrn kept a weekly blog. He was an age grouper who got very good at Ironman and finished 2nd overall at Ironman Canada. He did a weekly blog while he was training and they're great to read back.
- He also has a book called Going Long which is brilliant.
- What is your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
- My running shoes, no question. I use the Soloman Speed Cross and I love them.
- Who is somebody in triathlon that you look up to?
- I'm a big fan of the guys at SwimSmooth. I've been on Paul Newsome's coaching trainings and it was fantastic. He can get information across to people really simply.
- Avoid getting injured or unwell at all costs. Consistency is key, and if you can avoid these things you'll remain more consistent in training.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Rob Wilby
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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This was a very interesting episode that raises a lot of questions with me.
1) What’s your take, Michael, about that the body only can handle a couple of high intensity workouts per week over all diciplines and that the high intensity workouts in for example biking will also “spill over” to the running etc?
I was under the impression that especially the threshold training was very sport specific. I have also believed that you should aim for at least two high intensity sessions per dicipline and week. But come to think about it it often surprices me how few high intensity sessions meny of your guests recomend and practise for them self.
2) Another, different question regarding treshold or zone 4 training. How will just doing zone 4 work on the high intensity sessions in a block (no zone 5) work out with respect to residual effect? Or could you say that zone 4 and zone 5 will trigger the same systems?
a) It is extremely individual. Some athletes can handle A LOT of intensity, and some can do a lot of intense swimming for example without the intensity negatively impacting the ability to absorb run/bike training. But for some, the total amount of intensity definitely directly impacts all three disciplines (e.g. 3-4 hard swims per week means less room to do a lot of intensity on the bike or run), and they may only have a few hard workouts per week (in total, across all disciplines) in them.
I think it comes down to how much of a base you’ve built up, more than anything. If you’ve consistently been training for 10+ hours per week for the last 5 years or more, then you are much more likely to be able to handle a lot of intensity than somebody newer to the sport. Regardless of intensity, age, and gender. A lot of older athletes seem to assume that they can do only a very small amount of intensity, but this isn’t always correct. Those that have that great base of endurance can do a lot more intensity typically than a 25-year old in their first couple of years of training.
As for cross-over effects between disciplines, there is some for sure, but I agree that the higher the intensity (e.g. threshold and above), the less positive cross-over effects there are. So I don’t really agree with not doing any hard running over the winter.
As for what my guests recommend, I think it’s all over the place really 😛 Some recommend very few, some recommend a whole lot. I think mostly it comes down to the athletes you coach. For some, very few is the right answer. For some, a whole lot is the right answer. That’s why there’s so much value in a good coach-athlete relationship.
2) Since intensity is a continuum, they will trigger the same systems, although Z5 will trigger a larger VO2-response and therefore be more beneficial in improving VO2max. But Z4 can also improve VO2max. I would say the better your VO2max, the less likely Z4 training is going to have an effect on it, but for slightly less well-trained athletes, it can have a big impact. Z4 on the other hand will in most cases accumulate a larger duration in a lactate steady state, so it is more specific for improving power/pace at this steady state, although again, Z5 can also elicit these adaptations. See table 2 here for more information
Thank’s Mikael! How many and how to distribute the high intensity sessions comes down to knowing your self in other words… But it’s interesting hearing what you think.
My 2:nd question really, behind the not perfect English, was if you there is a need to “maintain” the zone 5 work after coming of a focused zone 5 block, going in to a, for example, more zone 4 specific block. But I think you answered that and more. The table 2 was very good and informative! Thank’s!
And if I could sneak in yet another question:
For some reason I’m under the impression that you shouldn’t mix zone 5 and zone 4 work, let’s say in a given week (or block). That they in a way will cancel each other out a Little bit. Or is this totally wrong? I’m thinking of the block periodisation episode. Or was it mixing aerobic and anaerobic work that wasn’t optimal.
Happy new year!
Ok, now I see what you mean, I didn’t directly answer the residual effect question. This is just my personal opinion mind you, and art more than science, but I think you have to have the courage to let some systems go a bit during some periods or blocks of the season. Even if it means a slight and slow decay in e.g. VO2max. As discussed, for some athletes Z4 training for example can increase VO2max, so it should definitely be enough for these athletes to just maintain VO2max gains, and even for advanced athletes I feel that it would contribute to maintaining VO2max, even if it doesn’t work as well for improving it. Also, bear in mind that perhaps the biggest factor behind VO2max is total training volume. If you have enough training volume in your program, that too can work as maintenance. For example in reverse periodisation you might first do a lower volume of training with a lot of HIIT, that improves VO2max. Then you gradually increase volume and reduce intensity, but that increased volume would be another stimulus for VO2max, so hopefully it would at least maintain VO2max.
For the second question, no that’s not the case at all. You’re second suggestion is closer to the truth, there are definitely careful considerations that need to be made when combining anaerobic and aerobic training, but Z5 as you know is aerobic (although there will be an anaerobic contribution in certain sessions, but that’s a side effect, not the main focus of the training), so doesn’t fall under this scenario. Of course, the individual athlete just need to make sure that they can manage the load of both Z4 and Z5 workouts and elicit positive adaptations from it.
Thank’s Mikael! Great answers.