Dan Lorang - coach of Jan Frodeno, Anne Haug and Bora Hansgrohe pro cycling team | EP#175
Dan Lorang is the coach of triathletes like Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug, as well as a high performance coach and Head of Innovation of the Bora Hansgrohe professional cycling team. In this Training Talk we dive deep into a variety of topics on training and performance, in particular as it pertains to long-distance triathlon.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- The training bull's eye: maximising adaptations.
- How to structure your training over an entire season (e.g. leading up to an Ironman) as well as on a weekly level.
- Bike training structure.
- Swim training structure.
- Run training structure.
- The importance of heart rate.
- The importance of physiological testing.
- There is a difference between how much of the stimulus turns into a result in different athletes.
- When you train you want to build performance and get the result you're looking for.
- It depends on where the athlete is in their career, their physiology, their past.
There is a certain amount of impact that he can transform into performance, but more than that would cause fatigue.
- If you work over your level for weeks or months you start to risk over training, which we don't want.
- I try to find the right amount of training that is close to the limit, but also considering how much of this impact is necessary to reach the performance build up.
- For example: considering oxygen consumption.
There is a certain amount of oxygen you can use per week to build up something. This amount of oxygen is linked to your VO2max, and how much training you did in the past.
- There must be differences in the first weeks of training compared to the middle of the training period.
Otherwise you will end up overloading at the start.
- There is no book that tells you how to plan this perfectly. It's something that you try to measure in training.
One parameter could be aerobic decoupling.
Looking at power and heart rate over an easy two hour training session. When you see the heart rate going up suddenly, this may be the point where you see the stimulus limit.
- Some people use HRV during training to plan effective training zones, but it's generally quite hard to find this.
- It's not that we're just training a lot, we want to have the maximum adaptation possible at different phases during the year.
To find the right amount of training at these times is a key to building an athlete up over the years.
Macro level limit finding
- This is a big part of doing years of coaching with different athletes, and paying attention to what they did in the past.
When I work with a new athlete I want to know all the training they've done in the past, as well as their metabolic profile (e.g. VO2max).
- The problem is that the different systems of your body (muscular, cardiovascular, nervous) react differently.
It could be that your cardiovascular system can handle more training, but your muscles are at the limit.
- It's about getting feedback from the athletes about these different systems to help identify aerobic decoupling.
You can use things like heart rate and speed, but also verbal feedback from the athlete or others in their team (physiotherapist).
I try to find the combination between technical parameters, support staff, and the athletes own feedback.
- From this you can assess if the feedback matches to what you hope to achieve in training.
- For example if I prescribe a three week training block with increasing load each week.
After the first week if the athlete is feeding back that they are very tired and their muscles are stiff, and support staff are saying the same and noting his mood is low.
This is not the goal of the first week so I can make appropriate adaptations.
- If you can be on deck with the athlete everyday that's the best solution, but if not you need a good combination of athlete feedback and measurement.
Comparing a young athlete with an older, more experienced athlete.
- If an athlete can show you what training they did in the last year, this is helpful to judge what load the body has had in the past.
You would also talk with the athlete about their experience.
- For example, did the young athlete previous train 30 hours a week, but have phases where they were extremely exhausted. Perhaps they had episodes of injuries or illness.
From this you can see the gap between what is good for him, and what he's done in the past. You can then make the necessary adaptation.s
- With older adults you usually expect a high training level. Looking at the past data you can usually see things you can take forwards, and things that perhaps went wrong.
- My goal is to make the athlete understand what has happened in the past - why he was successful, or not successful, and then show him how we want to continue.
- For example I had a new cyclist athlete who had been successful the previous year, and he told me he was used to short and hard training.
This had been a game changer for him and he felt it improved his performance.
We had to analyses this and found he did have reduced volume in his past training. You also then bring in your knowledge that this works for short time periods but can affect the metabolism in the long run.
The athlete needed to go back to increasing the hours to help them continue on their career level. I explained this in detail to the athlete because he has to believe in it.
- With a 30 year old athlete who has a lot of experience, you may need to explain more to convince them about the areas you want to change, compared to a 20 year old athlete at the start of their career.
Maximum adaptations for age group athletes
- Most age groupers don't have as much time to train, which needs to be considered when you build up training plans.
- You always have to monitor stress factors around the sport.
- For high performance you need consistency, so with some age groupers it may be better to train a little less to avoid getting unwell and ruining their consistency.
- It is more difficult to find the right load with age groupers because you need to consider family/work/training as they all influence performance.
- With elite athletes, when their sport is their job, it can be much easier.
- When age groupers go to training games generally their training volume increases.
It's okay to increase the volume as the body can compensate to a certain point, but it's important not to overdo it and make sure you can still recover.
If you become unwell because you overworked as soon as you get home, this will impact your consistency.
- You cannot go to the maximum limit and not expect your body to react in a negative way.
Structuring training for an Ironman over a season
- The priority at the start of the season is on technique.
Then we work on speed, strength and finally economisation.
- During the technique phase the athlete would be getting back into regular training and building the muscular structure to get them ready for the season.
- In general we'll be working on oxygen uptake so we have some VO2max sessions.
- If you're working on VO2max intervals in the run we'll do hill reps or do speed work on the flats.
- Then we have a long period training strength, and strength endurance.
- Finally, 8 weeks before the main competition you should use what you've built up and try to make it economic.
- There will be some differences from athletes who are naturally stronger, or faster, or struggle with economy, which may mean you shift the phases a little.
- I don't necessarily do it from day 1 to race day, but we'll repeat these cycles several times in the preparation for the Ironman.
- We'd probably use two 70.3 races in the lead up to the Ironman and do one of these cycles each time.
- In the economic phase we do race pace training and sweet spot training.
To train fat oxidation we do long runs and rides where you teach your body to use the energy from fat acids.
It's good to teach the muscles to work for a long time in this intensity zone, but it's also not too stressful on the body.
- When we're talking about long distance training, the metabolic impact of race pace training is not as high as that for shorter distances such as Olympic.
- The length of the phase changes during the overall season.
At the start, the length of each phase is longer. Technique usually starts at 3-4 weeks, speed is 3-4 weeks, strength is 7-8 weeks and economisation also 7-8 weeks.
- After the first competition, the length of the phases get shorter.
E.g. Technique - 2 weeks; Speed - 2.5 etc.
- It could also change if there is a deficit in a specific area - if you have an athlete that has enough speed but not enough economy, you may change the phases.
Structuring run training
- Building up an endurance run: 10 minute warm up, then technical exercise - firstly done at a low speed, and then increase this, then you continue with the easy run.
- We use this run to focus on technique and to break the rhythm with exercises.
- There will be a general topic for the run (e.g. keep your hip straight), and the techniques are related to this.
- We will be working with short intervals - 50-100m where we're teaching the body to run fast but on a very short section.
You are teaching your body to use a good technique to run fast, and the intervals are short so there is little possibility for injury.
- Hill reps are good here.
- For example: 30 seconds up hill, 30-60 seconds easy.
Doing 3 sets of 8 x 30 seconds uphill runs. Trying to reproduce the same effort for each one.
- If you are doing these on the flat or the track, you will also be working on speed.
- For me it's important to carry over the technique from phase 1, and keep this a priority.
- If technique gets worse we would stop the session, and give the body the chance to adapt.
If you can keep the technique for 2 sets but not yet for 3, you wait until you can complete them all with good technique.
- One session here would be long uphill runs - for example 4-5 x 2km uphill. Intensity just below threshold, trying to keep the body stable.
- You don't want to be going into high intensity here.
- You need to build this up! You start with 2-3 repetitions and then increase.
- It's a good session to do on the treadmill as you can recover for 4 minutes easy by making the treadmill flat.
If you're outside you'd need to run down the hill which is more impact than the treadmill.
- Downhill training can be used later in the season to adapt muscles as well.
- This phase is about long runs - for example a 25km run with 1km easy, 1km race pace.
- For the run it's important to be aware of injury risk, and manage the load around this.
- It can help to work with support staff such as physiotherapists to stay fit and well.
- You cannot increase run training as quickly as the bike otherwise it significantly increases the chance of injury.
Building in recovery
- I have athletes where we follow a clear structure - for example 2 weeks of workload, 1 of recovery.
With 1 week recovery I mean 7 days with lower volume. The first part of the week would be low intensity and volume, and in the second part will be technique and speed work but with low volume.
The quality of the speed goes up in the second part of the week.
- For other athletes, we may do recovery when needed.
We might have a big 6-8 week training block, and when we see that the athletes feeling does not correspond to what we expect in training, or he's far away from performances we'd expect, we implement some days of easy training to recover.
We adapt to how the body is responding.
- This is only for very experienced athletes who know their body well and can give good feedback, and usually who I've coached for years.
- When I start with new athletes I always start with a standardised structure of loading and recovery, and we may then move over the years to a looser structure.
Structuring bike training
- The phases I previously mentioned would carry over to the bike as well.
- The advantage of bike training is that you can do a lot of aerobic volume without having high injury risk.
- If I have an athlete who has previously dealt with lots of running injuries, you can use the bike to compensate for some aerobic training.
- In general, my training approach is building the three disciplines at the same level and having a parallel approach.
- When the athlete gets tired during training we may reduce the run or swim and still do a good session on the bike, but the general aim is to train them together.
- With bike training we start with short rides with some kind of cadence work. Working in high cadence/low cadence/cadence changes.
We work on one leg exercises both outside and on the indoor trainer.
We are giving the brain a bigger range of what it can do so there is a higher possibility of it using this in competition. It's about making new connections in the brain.
- We then do some speed work - short efforts in training during easy rides - e.g. 60 second sprints every 20 minutes.
- Sprinting activates the fast twitch muscle fibres. When the slow twitch fibres get tired, you engage these muscle fibres, so you need to train them too.
You want them to get used to load too, particularly after 4-5 hours on the bike as they may get activated at this time in a race.
- Oxygen uptake increases during these brief efforts, and it then sits a little higher each time. It's a good method for increasing efficiency of long aerobic endurance rides.
Strength/force endurance phase
- The first part is doing short efforts in anaerobic zone.
For example 2-5 x 1 minute big gear over threshold.
- The next step is to do the classic efforts of low gear work over a longer period:
e.g. 3-6 x 10 minutes 5 big gear, around 40-60 cadence, intensity just under threshold.
This is working on endurance strength and reducing the lactate breathing rate.
- If we're talking about strength, we need to consider how much of their total strength is activated.
When working with a cadence of 80, you are often not doing strength training and changing the muscle fibre. You are just changing how the muscle fibres are working.
- It's not that 40-60 is better than 80, but every training has a different adaptation and it depends what you are aiming for.
- You can measure the torq when going 80rpm at threshold, and 50 rpm at threshold, and you will see the difference in strength they produce.
You can select torq as a data field on your bike computer usually.
- You can then evaluate this in Golden Cheetah - compare when you go at threshold and check the torq. Some coaches use critical torq in their training.
- We observe what happens at different cadence, and often the athlete self-selects the right cadence that allows them to work economically.
- When an athlete comes from short distance triathlon and changes to long distance, they may need to lower their cadence.
High cadence can be really good for short distance but it may use too much energy in long distance.
- If we are doing race pace intervals, e.g. 6x10 minutes race pace, we may try to do each one at different cadences while measuring lactate, heart rate, speed, and athlete feeling.
This helps us identify the right race pace for each athlete - we try to find the individual cadence.
- When we do these different phases, it doesn't mean we aren't using other training sessions during these times - in this section it won't all be speed work, but this is the development goal for this phase.
- We are trying to develop a better use of the lactate breathing race during this phase.
- In this phase we go to race pace efforts to try and use the capacity we have built in the weeks before.
Volume vs intensity debate
- I don't want to go into either of the fields because I believe they are both important for training adaptations.
- It depends on which sort of adaptation you want to have, and where your athlete is at.
- When we take the aerobic and the anaerobic system, you need to map where the athlete is and then establish which system you need to work on.
We know that the systems are working against each other at some points.
- It's not just about short training with high intensity OR long training with low intensity, it's about which one you need at the moment to get the improvements you need.
- I don't think either is better, you need both at different times.
- If you have an athlete who has previously training low volume high intensity, and you change them to low intensity high volume, they will get better because it's something new and so the body reacts.
The opposite way round would also be true.
- The body will respond well to a new stimulus as long as you don't over do it, particularly in age group athletes.
Structuring swim training
- Swim training is the most technical of the three disciplines.
- I cannot always be on deck with my triathletes, but if I could choose one session to be at it would be the swim session as it's so technical.
- The swim session is also easily affected by the other disciplines. For example if you're fatigued, you will have a different position in the water and it makes the situation much worse.
In that situation it makes more sense to stop the session and continue tomorrow.
- Compared to running and cycling, you only have 1 hour of the competition spent on this discipline.
Due to this you don't want to focus all training on this - you need to find a balance between what is necessary and what is enough.
- It's important that your swim training is efficient.
This doesn't mean low volume high intensity, it means having technique that makes the distance you are swimming efficient.
Also focusing on the stuff that is important in the session. You don't have the same time as a swimmer to focus on tiny details.
- Try to have a good coach on your side, or go to a swim group where you get feedback from someone watching you, rather than swimming alone.
The biggest improvement will come from external feedback on your technique.
- Similar to the run, there are so many technique exercises you can do in the swim.
- It's important to focus on what will be important in the competition - it's open water so it's not all about having the best position in the water or putting the hand in the water exactly right.
It's about understanding what you are doing - you want to produce an effort that brings you forward, which involves pushing a lot of water backwards.
You want to do exercises that help you feel the difference between going slow versus going fast through the water.
- Exercises with paddles can be helpful - but not all the time.
They help give a feeling about different pressures in the water.
- You also need to be able to swim short fast intervals.
- Paddle work has a good impact with a lot of people, but you have to be careful that your technique does not suffer.
You need to still be able to do the movement right and have a good arm stroke.
It should be up to the coach to help with this.
- There are other methods to work on strength, e.g. using parachutes or pants in the water.
- I like to work on strength by starting with short intervals, e.g. 20 x 50m with a short 10 sec rest.
Focusing on pushing away as much water as possible.
- Here we are working with longer intervals, e.g. 400-800m with short recovery.
These would usually be done with effort/speed progression - 3 x 800m is a setup we use frequently with progression.
- With some athletes we use a 1-hour swim with no recovery.
It's used as a reference but also for the mind to do this type of long swimming.
It's nice to do it in the lake but it can also be done in the pool.
- It's nice for athletes to see their improvements in endurance, but it also helps see any changes that occur to their stroke over time.
For example stroke frequency or speed, and the impact fatigue has on these.
- I want to keep it simple in the swim - simple training and repeating sets so you can compare your times.
- The training is transparent, and it's great if you can see the improvements throughout the year.
- Sometimes the benefit can just be to keep the same pace but when you are fatigued compared to when you are fresh.
- I have a good situation where some of my triathletes have swim coaches on deck and I can communicate with them.
Typical training week
Professional long distance athlete
- They will have 4-5 swim sessions per week depending on the period.
- In general they will have two days where they do less training.
- A general week would be swimming Monday - Wednesday, Thursday off, Friday and Saturday swimming, Sunday off.
- From these 5 sessions, 2 would be shorter (4km) focusing on the goal of the week - e.g. VO2max.
- Quality sessions are generally on Tuesday and Saturday, easy sessions on Monday and Friday.
We may do a long swim on a Wednesday depending on the phase we are in, which would be around 6km.
- We would have around 6.5 hours swimming each week.
- We generally have 5-6 bike sessions per week.
- Generally an easy ride on Tuesday, quality session Wednesday, long ride on Thursday, easy ride on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday either a long ride or a quality ride.
- We would generally have 2 quality sessions per discipline per week, but sometimes we'd have 3 on the bike or run per week, depending on phase.
- Quality doesn't always mean 'full gas' it means there is some kind of tempo change - something more than just easy.
- On the bike we spend around 14 hours a week.
- The distribution of time would depend on how much the athlete can run.
Some long distance athletes cannot handle more than 60-70km per week.
- For the run we'd spend around 6-7 hours per week, sometimes a little more.
- Athletes will also be doing some strength training with weights and core training each week.
- This usually brings it up to around 30 hours of training each week.
Age grouper long distance athlete
- Imagining the athlete is training for approximately 15 hours:
- I would give them 2 swim sessions - spending 2-2.5 hours swimming.
We tend to cut it to 2 swim sessions when athletes are time crunched because you get less from the session and it takes a lot more effort (going to the pool etc).
- For the run, 3-4 runs, spending 4-4.5 hours running.
- For the bike, 3 sessions, spending 8 hours.
- If you're testing, you need to be using the information to have an influence on the training - there's no point doing it just to do the test.
- It should have a consequence on what you are doing in the future - it helps plan your next step and see if your plan is working.
- We often don't see where performance comes from - how much is aerobic and how much is anaerobic.
Therefore you can't say what is getting better.
For performance it doesn't necessarily matter, but for a coach it's important to know so you can appropriately plan training.
- It's important that the athlete understands why you are doing testing, and they can always see the link to their training and performance.
- At the start of the training season it's always good to have a starting point - for both age groupers and professionals.
- You can then test again at some point in the season and gain information about how the training is going.
- It's very useful, but it's not the main thing. Sometimes it's more useful than investing in expensive kit/equipment.
- It can help you learn for the next year and perhaps understand why performance wasn't what you expected.
- Nutrition definitely has an important place - you have two sides:
The strategy for training and racing, and the strategy for recovery and wellbeing.
- If you are following a certain strategy (e.g. low carb/vegetarian/etc) it's always beneficial to discuss with a nutritionist who knows this area well.
There is no other topic around where there are so many changes, and so many myths than in nutrition.
- For example, people write a lot about no carb and we've now seen how much athletes have ruined their metabolism with this.
Low carb can be used as a strong stimulus in training, but if you go really hard during training it can make you sick. The body doesn't have what it needs to bring that effort and recover well.
You could then put a lot of effort into your training but not get the reward because you're not giving your body what it needs.
- There's quite a big danger with what you can do wrong with nutrition.
- Often athletes try to do low carb to lose weight, and which they do lose weight they often find their muscle mass also reduces and their fat mass increases.
- Carbohydrates are necessary for high intensity.
- For long distance it's obviously important that your body uses fat oxidation and save the carb stores, but that doesn't mean you don't need carbohydrates.
You have to have a strategy that you've done alongside a nutrition professional.
- You should use low carb during different periods - e.g. going the first 1-2 hours on a ride with low carb, then starting to eat carbs but fixing the amount you take per hour.
It's a training tool, and during this time you aren't doing threshold or VO2max intervals.
- It works well as a tool in the economisation phase during long runs or rides, and you can see significant improvements.
- If you go on a long ride full or carbs and continue eating carbs, your body will not learn fat oxidisation so you need the low carb here, but you need a specific plan for it.
- It needs to be used in the right dose and not overdone.
- When looking at a cyclist or runner, the watts/power are what the athletes gives, and the heart rate is the reaction.
- In the swim it's harder to get it but it can still be done.
- When the heart rate goes up, there's a reason for this.
E.g. if their heart rate is high because it's hot, that means higher stress for the body.
- The heart rate is important to see how the body is dealing with the load.
- For example, you go out for an easy ride and have the first 20 minutes with an average HR of 120, if one day it's 130 you know something is going on.
You can then decide whether to continue with the session or go a little easier.
- The athlete may be able to identify an explanation - e.g. drinking more coffee in the morning, and the session can go on.
- There are few parameters we can measure as easily as heart rate that give as much rich information.
- I would always recommend having both watts and heart rate on the bike, and if you had to choose go for heart rate.
- For the long runs or when you have constant effort, heart rate is a good parameter for giving information about the impact on the body.
- With short intervals the heart rate can't react as fast so it's not as useful.
- It's not that the athlete needs to always focus on their heart rate during the session, they just need to monitor it so their coach can then see what was going on in their session.
- I rarely prescribe sessions by heart rate, I would usually say to just go on an easy run/ride, and look at their heart rate after.
- When you are measuring heart rate in general it's correct, whereas with power meters there's 2-7% difference between power meters.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or endurance sport?
- What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point during your career?
- I'm happy with my career! As a federation coach I would have maybe followed my own view on coaching more.
- Who is somebody in triathlon and endurance sports that you look up to and admire?
- I really like some coaches who are very successful but remain down to earth. Joel (Filliol) is one of them. It's more a respect for the success and the work they're doing, and they have great personalities.
- It's not so much look up, but more respect.
- Dan had four different phases to the season that he cycled through multiple times:
Repeating after each big race (e.g. 70.3).
- You need to think about what maximum adaptation is for you, and work with your coach to change your training appropriately.
E.g. if technique is difficult for you you may extend this phase.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Dan Lorang
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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