Training ideologies with James Teagle and Lachlan Kerin | EP#212
Scientific Triathlon coaches James Teagle, Lachlan Kerin and Mikael Eriksson get together to discuss different training ideologies. What are the pros and cons of each, for whom might each be more or less relevant, and what are common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid when it comes to training ideologies?
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- The Lydiard model.
- The interval-heavy model.
- The threshold-heavy model.
- The Kenyan/Canova model.
- The Trisutto model.
- The polarised model.
- The sweet spot heavy model.
Positives and negatives of using ideologies
- All these ideologies do work for different people, but for one person it might work and for another it might not.
- It's important to still consider the individual person.
- You need to think about how long the person has been doing the sport, whether they have the capability to train in that way, and also whether they have the time available.
- Ideologies are good because they provide structure and have research behind them.
- You can also see many examples where each one has been successful.
- You also need to consider that they may not apply to triathlon, as this is three sports in one.
- However, it is important to remember that some are quite old - the Lydiard method is 50 years old and information is constantly evolving.
- It's good though that they'd been around for a long time because you can learn from others mistakes.
- I agree with James that treating every athlete as an individual is the most important approach with training.
Trying to pigeonhole someone is not necessarily the most helpful thing.
- You could put someone into a particular ideology and see results, but it may not be optimal.
- We can take certain things from these ideologies and use them, while negating some of the other things.
- Some of these ideologies are directly opposing on certain issues so it should be decided on a case by case basis.
- A lot of these ideologies were developed before GPS watches and power metres so they're often based on feel.
For triathletes, they are not necessarily well versed in this so diving into these ideologies without knowing your body in that way can be a little bit dangerous.
- One negative is that as athletes we may be tempted to look at the abstract of the ideology, without looking deeper at all that it involves.
For example, runners often say they are Lydiard runners and they run massive volume, but forget about doing enough strength work and hill work, or the bounding the build the bone strength.
The Lydiard model
- Lydiard starting doing this 50 years ago, and it's your classic big volume during winter then sharpening during race season.
- It does require a decent amount of volume and you need a decent base to develop into race season - there's no point starting with the sharpening part.
You need the time to dedicate to this kind of training because the volume is high.
- Athlete stamina develops first and speed second, so as long as you've got the time and capacity to do this then it's okay.
- It does require a bit of hill running so if you don't live somewhere near some hills it'll be a lot harder to do.
- One of the things I think people don't understand is that Lydiard wasn't running really fast but they weren't running really slow either.
The long run was run at a steady pace, not a recovery pace.
- The athletes Lydiard was working with were already well trained, so they were able to jump into the programme.
- Looking at Lydiard you have to consider the fact it's a running based ideology and he spoke of 100 miles a week.
This is around 11-12 hours total for our athletes, so it's probably not that much for triathletes on an hourly basis.
However, implementing Lydiard across all three triathlon disciplines would be interesting.
- On the bike, it might be 70-75% threshold, which might require athletes to ride at a fast pace.
If they're doing that 20 hours a week, and running 10 hours a week you're already at 30 hours of training. For an age grouper this might not be feasible.
- When you break Lydiard down, it's basically training at LT1.
- For Lydiard it was long periods of LT1 work, which can be psychologically difficult because it's not too engaging.
- It's key to note that the sharpening phase was really fast running, and it required resilience from the base.
This is why they had so much hill work in the base phase, to build that strength.
- The difficulty for a triathlete implementing this is you might not be doing base training at a hard enough intensity.
Also you may not be able to do the amount of work, miles and strength work to be able to do the high intensity phase close to racing.
The interval heavy model
- Interval based training has very high prominence, and should do in triathlon because it allows you to train at a specific pace for longer than you'd be able to if you were to just run it alone.
For me this allows greater training stimulus.
- For example, if you go to the track to run 5K that's great, but if you break it into intervals you could maybe make it a 7K session with rests in between.
- It's also great for beginners, particularly those who don't have the aerobic capacity or strength yet.
- Combined with high volume, you can't beat the effect on the VO2 from interval training.
- The negatives are when you take it to bigger sessions, people often do it too fast.
It's important to keep it to race pace, as Emil Zatopek did with his training.
- People often add in intervals too much, too soon because it's quite easy to do compared to longer threshold work.
This does negate the injury risk because you're not doing as much high intensity all at once.
However if you do too much interval work, that injury risk and burnout risk comes back.
- Recovery time between intervals can be so precious, as it can help allow you to be more fresh for the next session.
- Intervals are good because they can help prevent injury by allowing the neuromuscular recovery between sets.
Especially in swimming, it helps you hold better form.
- Volume trumps intensity when it comes to improving VO2 in itself, but if you have a time starved triathlete there's definitely a place for interval training.
- High intensity intervals have their place within a programme of an athlete, and it's helpful to get that stimulus of all the energy systems too.
- We're always searching for the minimal effective dose, which is key with intervals.
- When we are looking at things like Master swim squads or spin classes, which predominantly use intervals, they do get fitter.
- You can do intervals every day if you pace yourself a little bit.
The session RPE and physiological response may be more advantageous than doing a hard long run.
- However, Zatopek was revolutionary in his time and not a lot of others were doing intervals.
Other runners started copying him and made improvements.
However you don't know if Zatopek could have been even faster if he included some more volume in his training.
- We can learn from these programmes that there may be periods we can do a lot of intervals and adapt positively to them.
The threshold heavy model
- Coach Bob Larson was someone key to this model, and revolutionised the American running boom with his San Diego runners.
Lots of coaches then started following him and using long runs at what is now known as threshold.
- People were doing a lot of intervals at the time, and then Larson bought in threshold work as he saw people were struggling at the end of a race which is when you need to run fast.
- For me, it requires a lot of good training to be able to run at a decent pace at threshold.
This type of training is great once you have a good base of training behind you.
- It does allow you to be competitive at the end of a race if you get it right, and it builds a great aerobic base.
- Larson combined a number of methods, and that's why it was so effective.
He looked at what Lydiard did and what Zatopek did and combined it, and it clearly was effective.
- There's drawbacks in needing a significant aerobic base to do it.
- If you're going to train by this ideology you need to check your ego at the door.
It's key to not train too hard and recover properly between sessions. If you train too hard you won't be training the right energy systems.
- It has a high toll on your recovery so you need to be aware of how you're structuring your week.
- I often use heart rate with the athlete I'm training with as there is often a bit less ego involved than when you're chasing power.
I also sometimes tell my athletes to cover their power metres to help this too.
- My issue with training at threshold is that it's not a static point, and we often don't consider this in training.
If your threshold today is 260 watts it might not be the same tomorrow.
At the end of a long ride when you have slow twitch fibre fatigue, your threshold will drop as you're starting to recruit some fast twitch fibres.
- To do a lot of training at threshold really does require you to have fibre fatigue resistance.
- Looking at what the Norwegian athletes do, they regularly measure lactate which is a way to ensure you are actually training at threshold.
To do it off feel can be quite difficult in practice.
- It requires a mature athlete who has put a lot of time into learning their body to implement this well.
You don't want them going out and implementing RPE's of 10's every day.
This can end up being the case if you don't monitor it very carefully.
- Considering this across three sport and often training twice a day, you have to be careful with how you implement this type of model.
- I would argue that doing it off feel is one of the best ways to do it.
Having a static number also doesn't work, because it's not about running at a certain pace or biking at a certain power, it's about going for a certain distance or duration.
- For example, of Monday it might be 6 miles, Tuesday might be 8 miles, changing between hilly and flat routes and different conditions.
You want to do this fast and hard but sustainable, and this is where being in tune with your body comes into play.
- Using RPE, the sessions should be an 8 or a 9.
- We always want to see our thresholds go up so often this pushes people to work too hard, which can become a slippery slope.
- The threshold training was a reaction to lots of interval training and it did seem to reduce injuries.
This may have been partly due to a change in terrain, but also possibly having less impact in running was kinder to the body.
The Kenyan/Canova model
- This is speed endurance focus, but not always speed.
The whole ideology is about increasing volume a the same speed.
- If you want to run 5km at 20 km/hour, then increasing it 3/4/5 km at 20 km/hour.
- It ties in with sweet spot training and it allows athletes to run at their race speed which means by the time they get to the race they know they can hold it for the time.
- Looking at the athletes it's working for, especially Canova's athletes, are probably already at 90% of their 100% potential.
The speeds they want to run at are already so high, they already have a high maximum lactate steady state.
- One of the most important things when looking across any training ideology is the ability to do it consistently.
With triathlon, you can't hide from needing to do a decent amount of volume.
Having the ability to run the runs as Canova recommends is hard, if you can't do it consistently this isn't the training model for you.
- These athletes are training so that a marathon doesn't feel like a super long race - they're training for 42km.
- They do big long runs and race pace efforts, which do work but they impose a lot of stress on the system.
Implementing them for an athlete who is racing an Ironman and is on a limited budget, doing a 40km run is a huge toll on the body.
This might require one week recovery, which is not ideal for triathletes.
- The minimum effective dose for improving at the level Canova's athletes are at is a lot higher than what is required for a lot of age group triathletes.
- One thing you can take from this model that works well for half and full distance triathletes is that it is pyramidal.
It's about building the base and pushing the threshold from below, but still doing work slightly above threshold regularly.
This tends to work well for long distance triathletes.
The Trisutto model
- This is a strength approach that's famous for pull buoys and paddles in the swim, low cadence on the bike, hilly running etc.
- He's had results with it so it's hard to argue with that!
- Brett Sutton does use reverse periodisation, so training high threshold in the winter and then layering on aerobic volume closer to race season.
This has real positives, especially if you're living somewhere in the Northern hemisphere as you can improve FTP and make sure of daylight hours in the summer.
- When you look at the approach, you are quite fit quite soon so there's a chance of mental burnout because you could peak too early.
- Cycling at 60-70 RPM to improve your torque makes sense in practice, but it might have too much muscular fatigue for athletes running off the back.
- Paddles in the pool has a lot of benefits as it keeps your form.
He doesn't waste time with the kick as he says, and not a lot on technique if it's not related to triathlon which is quite different and interesting.
- I think Brett asks the athletes not to question his approach because they should believe in what they're doing, but I personally like athletes asking me so they know the purpose of the session.
It depends on the athlete whether they like that approach.
- His approach is definitely trying to lower VLA max.
- Sutton anecdotally saw it working as I think it's been in cycling for a long time as has achieved results.
We now know it does help in reducing VLA max when doing tempo effort.
- However, the approach is very hands on with the athletes. The athletes do a lot of volume but they do have periods if very light training when the coach sees fit.
You get your training on the day, rather than planning far out in advance for the athlete.
- As coaches I feel we are trying to make ourselves redundant to the athlete eventually, I want my athletes to learn and know as much as I do in the long run.
- The evidence shows the best way to improve running economy is to run more, and run more volume over time.
Any approach that allows you to run more will be good in terms of building economy.
- I read a while back that females can recover a bit better and Brett has addressed this with having more success with them too.
- I attended a seminar with Brett Sutton and it was very interesting.
- He does ask athletes not to question him and that's a big reason for why in the last 15 years he's had most of his success with female athletes.
He commented that they were better at trusting the process and the coach, whereas men questioned things more.
- Also Brett said that female athletes respond better to higher intensity than male athletes and males respond better to a volume based approach.
The allocated this to the effect of testosterone on different types of training.
- It is a day to day based environment because he's with the athlete which is obviously a positive.
- Strength based stuff tends to work really well for long distance which is why it's been a cornerstone of world tour cyclists.
- For short distance triathlon, his approach might not work as well and he hasn't had as much success in this area.
You are limiting how much you can improve your top end speed with this type of training.
- For long distance athletes on the run training, they're never doing all our running which is good to reduce injury risk.
You can get your running strength and endurance up without doing the really long intervals.
- Brett spoke about Daniella Ryf's win at Kona last year, and up until 8 weeks before the race she hadn't done a ride longer than 2 hours.
So clearly there are days with low loads, as well as high volume.
The polarised model
- Esentially there are three zones:
Zone 1 is up to first threshold.
Zone 2 is first threshold to second threshold.
Zone 3 is above second threshold.
- Seiler says you do 80% of training in zone 1, and 20% in zone 3.
- For me, when you look at the research he's done a lot has been on cross country skiiers.
It's worked for athletes who have a lot of time to dedicate to it - volume does yield results.
- You can get improvements from doing a large amount of high intensity training over a short period but you will stagnate.
- My problem with this approach is the research is often on more intense sports of a shorter duration, which is quite different to triathlon.
For triathlon you might want a more moderate approach: 80/13/7.
We compete for a longer time and we need energy systems that aren't quite threshold - we need fat adaptation and we need the ability to go in the middle ground sometimes.
- In general I do think it works, but you need the ability to train in the middle zone.
- Also if you've only got 9 hours a week to train it can be difficult to distribute your time so 80% of your training is in zone 1.
- You can move your VO2 on without doing VO2 max work.
Working one system will have an effect on another system.
- If you combine a decent amount of volume and combine it with high intensity work, you'll likely have decent results.
You need to work all the energy systems, and you will be working more than one at the same time a lot of the time.
- I think it's probably one of the most poorly understood models in terms of how we define 80/20 and what the grey zone is or when it's used.
- One difficulty is the training that is sub LT1, how hard are we doing that? There's a big difference between training at LT1 or at 50% of VO2.
Once you go over LT2 there's also a big range there as well.
- Another question is whether the 80/20 is a time base or is it sessions - i.e. 2 hours out of a 10 hour week, or 2 sessions out of 10.
- When looking at elite athletes where the volume is high, the time collected at or below threshold plays a very big role in terms of VO2 max development.
When we look at a polarised approach people get drawn into the high intensity work as being key, but actually work collected at or below aerobic threshold is critically important.
- It's also important to note that the break down of intensities is never static, it'll change throughout the season.
- The body likes different stimuli over the course of the year and that helps you improve.
- Basing the 80/20 on the number of sessions is difficult and I can't find much evidence for it being the case.
- I recently looked at cross country skier lecture series and there was more high intensity than just 20%.
- In terms of time, the 80/20 approach is true in most endurance sports.
- Anecdotally, 80% might be too much low intensity for really time starved athletes.
- For triathletes it's almost impossible to adhere to the session based approach as we need high intensity in each of the disciplines.
The number of sessions you'd have to do on top of this at LT1 to match the 80/20 rule would be very high and completely unrealistic.
- A big amount of low intensity training is definitely important, it's just what to do with the remaining time.
- For more intense sports with a large anaerobic contribution - such as cross country skiing or draft legal triathlon - distributing more of the remaining time at a higher intensity is likely to be beneficial.
For longer distance triathlon which is more steady state and staying below threshold, a more pyramidal approach is going to be beneficial in many cases.
- Your goal and physiological make up will determine what the best combination is for you.
E.g. if you have a high VLA max and you're training for long distance triathlon you will likely benefit from more time at moderate intensity.
Vice versa if your VO2max is your limiter, the remaining time may be better spent at high intensity.
The sweet spot heavy model
- This is a lot of intervals between FTP and VO2 max. A lot of high intensity and sweet spot as the base.
- This is a model that a lot of people are using and it does elicit results.
It builds good glycogen adaptation and gives a lot of bang for your buck.
- One of my concerns with it is that it doesn't elicit as much fat adaptation that you might want if you're doing a 6-hour long cycling race.
- Also you need to consider the long term adaptations, which may not be as good if you do sweet spot training alone.
- It's important to consider your personal circumstances, as with all of these ideologies.
- The best way to measure FTP in my opinion is the hour of power, and I get my athletes to do this.
- With TrainerRoad, my athletes do use it but I often suggest reducing the FTP by 5%.
- Technology is always evolving, so these things are definitely beneficial, but it is worth bearing in mind it may be an overestimation of the FTP.
- Sweet spot training compared to pure threshold training may be better in terms of minimum effective dose, and it's easier to recover from so it may be better in this way.
- It's very time effective and this can be a big benefit.
- You can fall into this trap of doing sessions where you are striving to feel like you're smashed at the end of a session.
We don't need to finish every session feeling like this!
- People lean to the testing protocol that suits them - e.g. someone who is anaerobically stronger will lean to a ramp test, whereas for me doing a ramp test is so much lower than what I could hold for an hour.
I have some athletes that I coach that if they do a ramp test it'll estimate their FTP far higher than what it is in practice.
Similarly with a 20 minute test those who are aerobically strong will perform better than those who are less so.
- Using a 20 minute test as an estimate for FTP is easy to implement so I still do use it because it's repeatable and we can assess progress, but it probably doesn't actually tell us much about what you could do for an hour.
- There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that this model works well, particularly from elite cyclists who do a lot of this.
- My main issue with this approach is what the elite cyclists call sweet spot is at a much lower RPE and relative power than what most age group athletes are doing.
- I'm concerned that a lot of athletes end up training more or less at threshold and going too hard in those intervals.
- Time Cusick did a good job of explaining how he uses a sweet spot based approach, it's about building your ability and building your accumulated volume within a session and a week.
It should be something that is sustainable.
- In terms of TrainerRoad as a software it's good, but I think their training plans are too intense with how they measure threshold and set the relative intensities.
People tend to get 'vanity FTPs' which leads to every session becoming slightly too hard.
- Sweet spot training is a type of training where you can accumulate a lot of load.
If you measure this in terms of a training stress score, it tends to generate a bit of a dependency on if you're building a high CTL, accumulating a high TSS will get you fitter and faster.
We tend to forget about adaptations - there's no scientific evidence that TSS is related to adaptations.
Take home messages about ideologies
- Underpinning any training you do has to be volume and frequency because they have the biggest impact.
- Looking at ideologies you need to consider who it was aimed at, what was the objective and what were the results.
- You can do high intensity training but if it isn't underpinned by a good amount of consistency and volume to get the aerobic base you won't see results down the line.
You need to build the pyramid from the beginning.
- It depends on your objectives though - if you want to get round a crit it might not be the best approach.
- Consider the minimum effective dose and what you can actually do.
- Something that I advocate to all my athletes is learning to train at conversational pace.
This is important to learn how to do.
- If you're doing every session at a 7, 8 or 9 out of 10, learning how to train easier is a really worthwhile thing.
- Even though we have labelled things here, there are a lot of similarities and overlaps in some models.
- It's important for each individual athlete or coach to not fall into the trap of labelling things and saying you're just doing that one type of training - don't be married to the methods.
You should be concerned about the outcome of the training and you don't want to constrain yourself to any given method.
- If you take some positive aspects of certain ideologies they can be very useful tools, it's just important not to be dogmatic.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
- The Trisutto Way of Triathlon Training with Carson Christen | EP#140
- Polarised training with Stephen Seiler, PhD | EP#177
- Run training of Kipchoge, Farah and Rudisha with Matt Fox of Sweat Elite | EP#195
- Structured, power-based cycling training with Chad Timmerman | EP#38
- Base training: off-season do’s and dont’s with James Teagle and Lachlan Kerin | EP#201
- Fatigue management with James Teagle and Lachlan Kerin | EP#204
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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