Training talk with Mikael Eriksson and Menachem Brodie | EP#200
Menachem Brodie interviews Mikael Eriksson on The Strong Savvy Cyclist and Triathlete podcast in an extended training talk covering many different aspects of training and practical advice for triathletes and endurance athletes.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- The importance of building a strong aerobic base.
- Seeing the big picture and setting long-term goals.
- The correct execution of low- and high-intensity workouts, respectively.
- An example training week for somebody training ~8 hours per week.
- How to keep your training sustainable for the long term.
- How to create a purposeful and deliberate training strategy that you can stick to by "motivating the elephant, directing the rider and shaping the path".
Mikael's transition to podcast guest
- That triathlon show has grown slowly but steadily since February 2017 when it was launched.
- I always want to improve the reach that it has, and being interviewed on other podcasts has been a great way to do that.
- It's part of the networking effect!
Mikael's progression through triathlon
- I started triathlon before the podcast, but I'm still relatively new to the sport - I'm now four years in.
- I did used to run recreationally 4-5 times per week, and my first marathon was just under 4 hours.
I've now got down to a 2:50 marathon after many years of training!
- I got more and more into endurance sports through the running, but I was picking up a lot of injuries which is how I transitioned into triathlon.
- I started reading classic running literature fairly early in my career as I was always fascinated with science and training - I was an engineer.
I took that attitude into triathlon as well.
- I trained and raced for the first couple of years, getting used to the sport.
I had been coaching a bit in running so once I felt that I had learnt triathlon to a good enough level to coach I began unofficially coaching people.
- Around the same time I started the podcast, and since have become more serious about triathlon.
- In October 2017 I quit my engineering job, moved to Portugal and became a full time triathlon coach.
- I'm not a professional athlete at the moment, and I'm not currently considering the pro card because I don't want to compromise my coaching development and career for my athletic career.
- I love my coaching role and it allows me the flexibility to train as a sub-elite triathlete which I really enjoy.
How to build the aerobic engine for endurance sports
- For me personally, I found consistency over time is by far the most important driver of improvement in endurance performance.
- You want to look at your yearly training volume, and now focus on the few weeks before the race.
You need to take the big picture view.
- I've previously got in the cycle where I've trained hard for six months and then been injured for six months!
It's better to take time off when it's planned time off.
- I've previously reached overtraining and I've then had to take time off from that, which has been difficult.
- You need to have an idea what your long term goals are, and if you can't currently reach them you need to have a certain amount of training which you can apply consistently over months and years.
This will make the biggest difference, we all need to be a bit more patient.
- For me my main goal is the 70.3 World Championships in Nice, but I'm still constantly thinking about how this applies to my triathlon career in 3 years, or 5 years etc.
- This has helped me as an athlete and coach, to challenge the boundaries but not push them too much
Beginner - training on 8 hours a week
- Athlete example: Training for an Olympic distance race, hoping for a 10% reduction in previous time and have approx 8 hours a week to train.
- Triathlon is difficult to train for because we have three disciplines to train for but time is generally at a premium.
- For a beginner to intermediate, you want to focus on frequency across the workouts.
I think a long ride, run, and swim are key workouts for each week.
- Other than that, there isn't anything that is really too short - e.g. a 20 minute run off the bike is a great way to get in some more frequency on the run.
Once you get used to this routine you might be able to push it to 25 minutes.
- You learn to appreciate your training time and be effective with it, so what initially seems like a lot may not seem too bad after a while.
- Try to do at least three workouts per discipline if you have eight hours to train, that should be doable.
They won't all be very long but you'll still be getting frequent, consistent aerobic training.
- If you have three hours for running for example, it's more effective to have one 1.5 hour run, and then two that are 45 minutes.
Or one 45 minute run with intervals, and 45 minutes left for two brick sessions.
Having the longer workout will stimulate some adaptations that you'd get from a one hour workout.
You may at some point want to push your run to 1hr 45, and then remove one of the brick runs to re-distribute your time.
- Another alternative would be to do one hour each run, but you don't get the same frequency, which is has an association with improved economy.
- In swimming, it's particularly important that if you swim more often it's easier to improve your technique.
- This does still apply for cycling, but to a slightly lesser extent.
Breakdown of an 8-hour training week
- If you're about the same level across all disciplines, cycling can take 40-50% of the training time, particularly if you're looking at performing in a race.
- You'd be cycling for 4 hours, and running for 2:15-2:30, and swimming for 1:30-1:45 each week.
- If you have 8 hours, it should be possible to get to three workouts per discipline per week, which is a great benchmark to shoot for.
- If you have 6 hours a week you might need to do 2 sessions in each discipline.
- For cycling, one of the rides would be an intense ride, and as you get closer to the race you would add some intensity into the other rides.
For most of the year, 2 two hour ride and one of the 1 hour rides would be used for aerobic development, so going really easy.
- On the run, if you have 2.5 hours I would do one run that is 1hr 15, and a second run that is 45 minutes - quality with intensity, and a 30 minute stand alone easy aerobic run.
The 30 minute run could also be a brick run, which would be easy for most of the year but could add some race intensity closer to the race.
- For the swim, we had 1 hour and a half but that's not a lot to distribute over three workouts.
I would simplify it down to one swim that is 50 minutes and one that's 40.
- If the athlete is good technically I might include intensity in both of those swims.
If they're not, one would be completely focused on technique and aerobic endurance (easy swimming), and the other would be technique and intervals.
- If it's difficult to swim easy it would be solely focused on technique, it would depend on the athlete.
Varying intensity for the athlete
- This depends a lot on the athlete, and it's where the self-coached athlete needs to do some self-reflection:
Am I someone who is no pain no gain in training, or do I struggle to push myself?
- The approach that I take as a coach, if I coach the no pain no gain athlete, it becomes as much about holding them back as training them.
No single workout is as important as a big block of training, do you don't want them going too hard in each workout.
- With this type of athlete they are often trying to beat their pace/power from last week and they can get quite hung up about this.
For those athletes I want to make them more intuitive and get to know what the feel of a certain intent of the workout is.
- E.g. if I give a threshold workout, they should learn what it feels like to train at their threshold, and they should be able to do just as good a workout if their devices all break down.
- With the other type of athlete, who has difficulties pushing themselves and who don't know if the exertion is okay or if they're injuring themselves, it helps to have paces and power as a guidelines.
It helps them hold themselves accountable.
- For me as a coach it's important to give them pace and power guidelines that are achievable, otherwise you risk bringing their confidence down more.
This helps them learn that it's possible to reach those levels, and it improves their ability to tolerate.
- I use Training Peaks, and I get all my athletes to rate the session RPE on a scale of 1-10 after every single session (10 is max).
- I then see what numbers are coming in, and educate them on what I want the certain types of workouts to feel like.
- Usually most high intensity workouts I want to feel like 8-9, and low intensity to feel like 4 or less - it's not a problem if they feel like a 1.
- I think the higher the volume that you're training at the more you're low intensity workouts should feel super easy.
- When I rate my workouts, there are a lot of 1-2 in there, and 8-9 for the hard workouts.
I almost never go to a 10 and I don't really want my athletes to do that either.
- The only workouts that really end up in 5-6 zone are your long workouts.
They're at long intensity but because of the duration of the workouts they're at moderate RPE in total.
- That's the main tool we use for improving your feel for certain workouts.
- On the run, especially brick runs, I have them tape the display of their watch and run on feel.
This is often a good race simulation too because it can be difficult to go off at the right run pace after the bike.
- Also on the swim you don't get any immediate feedback so it really is about RPE.
If you're doing 4 x 500m, you've already done a quarter of your main set when you get the first bit of feedback after that interval, so you can't get that first one wrong either.
It's good to take that feedback after each set, as this is how you learn pacing with time.
- In cycling, I would be completely for taping the display of the bike computer and going on feel, but I haven't actually used this too much.
What we do mostly is have discussions about how hard the workout should feel.
- Comments can indicate if the athlete is going too hard or too easy, and we can discuss around those perceptions.
- I rely mostly on performance data, be it races, time trials or inside performance test.
You should know what your VO2max efforts feel like, and you have a power range, you can feel if the session is too easy or too hard.
You can then adapt the workout while you're in it to make it more effective for you, as long as the RPE is staying where we want it. This happens when performance improves.
- We can also see it in the heart rate for the long sessions - when that goes down on the same course.
- The happy-frown faces in Training Peaks are so helpful too.
It's normal to have bad days and very exceptional days, but most days are neutral days and that's fine.
This is when you know you're striking the right balance of volume that's right for you.
- If you are constantly getting happy faces and every workout is a new PB, you might need to push yourself a bit more in terms of total chronic load by increasing the total training volume.
- I prefer to look at duration rather than chronic training load.
CTL is sensitive to thresholds being correct, and other things.
- You can get artificially high TSS, which can then lead athletes to underestimate frequency of training.
If you do a low intensity ride or run it'll give you almost low TSS, but this is the kind of thinking we need to get away from.
It's more about frequency, and these are more valuable key performance indicators.
- This is particularly relevant for self-coached athletes.
- TSS obsession leads to mistakes in executing the workouts properly.
A low TSS isn't reflective of how valuable that session might be for building the endurance engine.
Low intensity workout execution
- Starting with low intensity workouts, I do use training zones: power, pace and heart rate zones.
I think you can have everything and look at them all together and assimilate that information.
- On the low intensity side, heart rate is valuable and underrated.
You're not looking to go at a specific speed or power necessarily, you're looking to get the work done and spend time in the discipline, doing that at an intensity that is not taxing your metabolic systems.
You want to build the endurance without causing stress that is harder to recover from.
- I use heart rate and/or power depending on who the athlete is.
With a low confident beginner I may feel okay giving pace zones, especially if they do the runs on flat roads.
Whereas the athlete that always wants to push power and pace numbers I might give them limits.
- For somebody who has been in the sport a while and they're training for a 70.3, the bread and butter 1-1.5 hour workouts that are meant to be easy would be done on RPE.
If you're struggling in the session, go easier, those workouts shouldn't feel hard.
That's going to add a mental stress too, so it's important to give your coach honest feedback about this.
- The important thing is to not blindly follow the power zones, particularly if it's hard as you might move into non-functional overreaching.
This has happened to me which is why I think the integration of all the different data is really helpful.
- Training adaptations happen outside of the hard training that you're doing.
- It can be helpful to try and see what you can do with breathing or losing your muscles etc when you're doing the easy sessions.
You're still doing quality work, even if it's not really hard.
To give an example of how easy easy can be, I did a 70.3 race where I finished 5th overall.
My bike training involved 5 rides a week - I'm a high volume athlete usually around 20 hours per week.
2 of those rides each week would be a 1 hour ride really easy, ~150 watts when my threshold is ~300 watts (at 67kg).
My heart rate was down to 100, and in the last couple of weeks before the race my average heart rate was 97.
This is compared to when I do hard intervals and I'm pushing it into the 150-160's.
- Super easy is still valuable, and for me the big low intensity volume is what helps me be a great athlete.
- Check the ego at the door and leave it out of the training equation.
Social pressure on athletes
- It would be great for an athlete to write down their long term goals, and I'm currently considering implementing this with my athletes.
We currently discuss the goals of the season and based on that we come up with season objectives.
- For example, my season objective this season is to train on average 18 hours per week.
Based on what I've done previously it's a bump in volume and should be enough of a stimulus that I improve.
At the same time, it's not a jump that is so big that it'll cause over-training or injury if I do it right.
- If you have long term goals and season goals, as well as long term objectives and season objectives, it can be really helpful.
- An example of an objective would be how many hours you're trying to train this year.
You can then break it down into smaller parts - e.g. if you need to train 500 hours this year, what does that mean for month and weekly hours.
Also consider your off season, and recovery weeks after races.
- It's difficult and it takes deliberate thinking about the long term goals.
- If you have a coach and you trust them and the plan they've laid out for you, it should be easy to go out each day and follow it.
- If you don't, you need to have that discussion with your coach.
Ask them to explain the purpose of the sessions they're setting.
- I read a book called Switch - How to Change Things when Change is Hard and they talk about three concepts of changing habits:
Analogy with an elephant rider - controlling the big strong animal, but if the elephant changes their idea the controller is powerless.
If you want to change a habit you need to motivate the elephant (analogy for primitive emotional parts of the brain) so you can use emotive goals such as having photos of your A race up where you train.
Controlling the rider - you need to understand the purpose of your session and use this to drive you. If you're self-coached, you need to be clear of what you're hoping to achieve with the program and take the big picture view.
Pave the way, which is about setting up your environment to be successful. For example, put alerts on your Garmin for a heart rate cap on easy sessions. Another change is to remove your Strava account - I think a lot of athlete may benefit from that!
- For me personally, I've stopped doing group workouts because I was consistently killing myself on swim and track workouts when I was racing others.
I now do most of my training solo and this has been really beneficial for me, I'm now hitting 8-9 rather than 10's.
- Strava is the bain of most triathlete existence because we are naturally competitive!
If you don't want to delete it, try to ignore it. Let your races speak for themselves.
If your goal is to get some Strava segments, you can train to get KOM's on Strava which is fine - but your training will then be focused on that and you'd try to peak for the performance.
In training, you still need to be disciplined.
- If you have a long bike ride and you do most of it in zone 2, but you then have a couple of Strava segments that you like to push it hard for.
Every time you do that you use your anaerobic system to push those power numbers, as well as your aerobic system and it produces lactate.
This goes into the aerobic system to be used in aerobic oxidation.
Lactate is a good thing and can be used as energy, but when it gets into the aerobic energy system you end up using a lot of carbohydrate as the metabolyte in the aerobic metabolism rather than fat which you could be using.
- The goal as an endurance athlete is to use a lot of carbs and a lot of fats - you need to use a lot of energy.
But the goal of low intensity sessions is to improve your fat burning, by training at the correct intensity.
If you do those Strava segments, you'll have a significant amount of lactate in your bloodstream which will be preferentially used in the aerobic metabolism and you'll rely more on carbs than you need too.
You then won't get the same benefits as you would had you done the whole session at zone 2 as planned.
- This shows the importance of instructing the rider.
Managing expectations on athletes
- Prescribing small ring easy bike rides can be another way to pave the path for athletes and make sure the easy work stays easy.
- Expectations and social media/Strava etc play a huge role on athletes training, particularly those training in a group environment.
- It can be difficult because athletes want to train with their friends, but if they're slightly different pace levels they can do it but it won't be optimal.
- It's often not even an ego thing, but it's a good time to spend time with friends which they otherwise might not get.
We tend to say it's okay to go a bit harder to keep up with a friend if they won't slow down, but we need to be aware that it'll compromise and slow down improvement.
The choice is up to the athlete as long as they're aware of the risks.
- For many self-coached athletes the training becomes like a Frankenstein's monster - it's the result of articles from Training Peaks, training plans from google, the workouts they got from previous coaches, and what everybody else says they should be doing.
It's not ideal - there is so much information out there but the athlete needs to be critical of information they consume.
- It's also important to understand when and how to integrate new information because you can't use everything.
When in doubt, simplicity is usually better than complexity.
Common behaviours in athletes that affect progression
- Over reliance on things like the Performance Management Chart and Crticial Training Load on Training Peaks is a trend that I see.
- Also a rigid approach to metrics such as power numbers.
I think power is fantastic and we'd be nowhere near our ability to train as effectively as we do without power meters.
But when you get guidelines, you need to accept that they are guidelines and not the be all and end all.
- Race pace is a perfect example, not everybody should be between 80-85% of FTP for their 70.3 race power, but it's what everybody thinks because some high ranked google articles say this.
They are not rules set in stone.
- One positive trait is that athletes who have long term goals are the ones who do better, and they manage to stay consistent much more.
- Another positive trait is having a great enjoyment for the sport and for the process.
Not putting too much pressure on yourself to beat the performance in training from the last week, but going out and enjoying it.
- Time management is another key positive trait, and creative use of time.
For example, athletes spend a lot more money on gear which could maybe be better spent on getting a cleaning lady or getting a babysitter every now and then to give more time to training.
Prioritising is really important.
- Plan in advance, let your coach know when you'll be travelling for work and you can plan these things in to keep consistent.
- Being coachable is also important, but it doesn't mean you rigidly follow everything your coach says - you can question it and have a discussion around it!
Communication between athlete and coach is paramount.
- With one of my athletes I really wanted to work on his VO2max, and we agreed this would be best for his development.
We did weekly, sometimes two weekly VO2max sessions, a lot of high volume and a weekly long ride (4-5 hours).
After a few weeks he came to me and said I'm not enjoying these sessions and I don't think I'm adapting to them as well as I did with sweet spot work, can we try sweet spot sessions again.
In that situation, it wasn't a difficult decision to switch because he's a knowledgeable athlete who knows his body.
- It's about being flexible both as an athlete and a coach, having good communication and being open minded to suggestions from the other party.
- INSCYD training is something I used, and with the above example it was the reason for choosing VO2max.
But in the real world it didn't work for this athlete, and I know he's an experienced athlete so I trusted his judgement to go against the physiological testing suggestion.
- This is the 'art' part of coaching!
The art and science of coaching
- The biggest influence for me is all the interviews I do for my podcast, and interviews I listen to on other podcasts.
- People do things so differently, and coaches will do things differently with each of their athletes.
There is no formulae that works for everybody.
- Even though there may be stronger evidence for one thing, it doesn't mean it's necessarily the best thing to do for the athlete in front of you.
- Focus on the long term if you're planning to be an endurance athlete for a long time.
Realise that nothing is as important as frequent training over time with great consistency.
- One of the best ways to improve is having the right amount of training, and increasing your amount of aerobic training.
Most of your training should be low intensity, and you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to beat previous numbers with high intensity work.
Execute your sessions well.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Menachem Brodie
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 criticism
- 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!