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David Tilbury-Davis has been coaching professional and age group athletes since 1995, helping them achieve 3 World titles, 11 National titles, 3 Ironman Regional Championship titles, and numerous wins, podiums and personal bests in various races. In this interview, David discusses his coaching philosophy and his perspective on a number of fundamental training-related questions. This is part one of a two-part interview.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- David's coaching philosphy
- Volume and intensity
- Workout prescription and execution
- I have been an active coach since 1995/1996, over the years I have been based in the UK, Spain, USA and currently I am living in Finland where I have a young family.
I both coach my athletes remotely but also travel a lot to see them in person.
General coaching philosophy
- My general approach towards coaching is to try and see every individual and their strengths and weaknesses and from that basis try and make them as good as they possibly can be given their ambitions and prerequisites.
I try and stay up to date with current knowledge about exercise physiology, coaching, technical aspects and basically everything that impacts performance in some way.
- One could say that I serve as a ”BS” filter to my athletes, a lot of people claim to have been discovering the whole grail of training methods etc. and I try to be there for my athletes and filter all the information in a sane way.
Speaking of things that actually have or have the potential of changing the conditions for athletes in a substantial way, I think heart rate variability is such a metric.
- Around 80 % of the training I structure and prescribe is based on current knowledge of exercise physiology and long term coaching experience (evidence led approach).
Of the remaining 20 %, 15 % is more about testing the limits for where that specific individual can go in a certain way but without going overboard and 5 % is a little bit of qualified ”guess work”.
- The basic frame work I use to structure the training for my athletes is simply divided into one block of ”quality of movement” oriented training, ”intensity” oriented training and ”race specific” oriented training.
The lengths of these blocks depend on the specific athlete, what time of the season it is and nearby races.
For the ”quality of movement” oriented block, in the run I use to focus on doing short intervals, which aren’t that demanding from a cardiovascular perspective, on the bike I focus on being able to operate on a broad variety of cadences and on the swim it is more about making the athlete aware of what happens in the water.
In the swimming I prefer to put the athlete in a as race specific situation as possible and force the athlete to try and figure out how the movement pattern should be executed in this specific situation, if one instead targets a technical weakness by drill works, all the athlete is going to learn is how to perform this drill as perfectly as possible and not know how to implement that movement pattern in the race situation.
- Triathlon and specifically the Ironman distance is due to its such a long duration of hard work an extremely unique race form, which you cannot really ignore.
Consequently, this requires me as a coach to think a little bit outside of the box in terms of that I cannot only look at how swimmers, cyclists and runners train and implement their strategies.
One must have a holistic approach across all three disciplines at pretty much all the time.
- I think that it is possible to develop all three disciplines at pretty much the same time, but this vary greatly depending on the specific athlete (weight of the athletes for instance impact running volume and intensity that can be tolerated) or weather he or she comes from a swimming background or not (swimmers can usually handle harder and long swim sets better).
- If one takes the run discipline in an Ironman as an example, for most pro athletes that I coach, the pace that they need to hold would not be that challenging if this would be a stand alone marathon race, so what the run training for an Ironman should be focused on is to be able to hold good form and fueling during the whole marathon, and this is very different from what single marathoners focus on in their training.
- I definitely think there is a significant cross-over effect between cycling and running, especially the aerobic capacity that is being built up in the legs is well transformed from the one discipline to the other.
What on the other hand is not transformed is resilience, which means that this needs to be trained separately in each discipline.
In general, I would say that the cross-over effect from and to swimming from cycling and running is far less than between cycling and running.
Increase expressiveness of central capacity
- If you are limit on the run (perhaps due to injuries), then you can compensate run training by doing plenty of aerobic volume on the bike, but if you don’t have the time for that, the most important run sessions would be those that to stress your body to deal with different kind of cadences and muscle recruitment patterns, which one can achieve by running on trails.
- To increase muscle endurance in the water, long sets such at moderate intensity, such as 10x200 or 6x400 with very little rest would be way to go, to increase your speed, one can instead consider a set of 10x100 with plenty of recovery to be able to hit your 1000m best time average.
Volume and intensity
- I don’t think it has to be either way, there is definitely a balance between these two factors that needs to be found.
To this topic, one also must consider if the athlete gets enough time for recovery and have the ability to fuel properly after hard sessions.
- In days like these, one should also consider the immunosuppressive effects of plenty of high intensity training.
- Looking at different training intensities and the amount of stress they put in the body, one can see that given the same amount of work, being in the threshold zone will put the most amount of stress to your body, and this is something that one needs to consider when prescribing sessions.
- I think there is a danger by chasing metrics (for instance TSS), often the correlation to performance is quite poor.
Instead I use different type of tests or recurrent sessions to measure improvement, this could for instance be 6x100m swimming with a fixed recovery, if the times are getting faster, then the athlete is developing!
- My favorite way of validating that an athlete is improving is to look at how they are performing and experiencing different recurrent workouts, this could be that a certain power level feels easier to hold or that the pace is higher on certain intervals etc. or by different tests that are performed every couple of months or so.
- I think that pace, power, HR and perceived effort all have their place.
Sometimes I like to put in some specific words like ”threshold” or VO2” and see how the athlete associate with those terms, this provides me as a coach with a lot of information about the athlete.
I also want my athletes to be well acquainted with their own body and effort, and that’s why I fairly often let my athletes control their intensity over intervals themselves.
Strength and conditioning
- I definitely think that extremely many athletes would benefit from strength and conditioning work.
- Strength and conditioning is also one way to achieve a higher expressibility of that central capacity that we touched upon earlier, many athletes have a ”motor that can outrun the chassi” as I would say and one way of getting the car more uniform is to implement strength and conditioning.
- The minimum of strength work I prescribe to my athletes would be around 3x30 min per week.
- In regards to more heavy lifting there is definitely plenty of evidence to support that it could increase running economy etc. but to me this is very much depending on the athlete type, for a more muscular male athlete that can lift plenty of kg:s and produce a lot of energy a gym set would put much more strain to his body that may not been worth the benefit, this can be compared with a less muscular athlete that cannot produce as much turnover energy, in his or her case, the benefits could then outweigh the cons of such training.
- At the moment I am a big fan of power and base plenty of my training prescriptions on power.
I think that HR is a useful tool but realizes its limitations and I rarely let HR dictate intensity.
Fundamentals of training
- Triathlon training is very much about doing the basics right, and that is essentially doing plenty of aerobic work, there is no way around that.
Moreover, to this one can add specificity in regards to what race the athlete is targeting and what type of terrain the race takes place in.
- When I plan a season for one of my athlete it always starts with pick the races and then build a plan towards that race.
The plan is based on that in order to pull off the performance that we want, then the athlete needs to be able to run at this pace for this long and be able to hold that kind of power for a specific duration etc. etc.
Following that, we estimate the current level of fitness and analyze if the current target is reasonable and if it is, then we set out milestones along the way so that we can be diligent about how things are progressing.
- Generally there is not much variation within the different blocks I was talking about earlier (”quality of movement”, ”intensity” and ”race specific”) and this has to do with the fundamentals of training and doing the basics right.
- However, there must be some flexibility in how the frame work and training strategy is planned and executed, the current climate with the ongoing pandemic is an excellent example of an uncontrollable factor that one must be able to cope with.