Podcast, Training

Training Talk with coach Emma Carney (double ITU World Champion) | EP#276

 March 8, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Training Talk with coach Emma Carney (double ITU World Champion)

Emma Carney is a double ITU World Champion, World Triathlon Hall of Fame inductee, and dominated women's triathlon in the mid-90s. She retired from racing in 2004, and is now coaching at both high performance and age-group levels.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Emma's main coaching philosophy and training principles
  • Tips for developing your swim, bike, and run
  • Key workouts in each of the three disciplines
  • Training periodisation, workout execution, and more...

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03:40 -

  • My name is Emma Carney and I am a former elite triathlete and currently a triathlon coach.

    During the 1990:s I had a great ”run” as a professional triathlete, winning several world championship titles.
  • As an elite athlete I think my strengths were my race tactics (developed through my years as a track and field as well as cross country runner)

    In regards to the mistakes I did as an athlete, I was probably a little bit impatient and could have taken a few more rest days, on the other hand, this impatience may be what got me so good…

    Unfortunately though, my career as a professional triathlete got a very abrupt ending as it was discovered (post a sudden cardiac arrest) that I had a serious heart condition that made it impossible to continue to do sport at an elite level.

    This was a very hard period for me as triathlon for the first time would be part of the Olympic games (which also were going to be held in my home country, Australia).

    Also, I would have like to have moved on and tried the long distance game as well.
  • It was first until years later I started to coach athletes, both amateurs and developing professional athletes, and really found joy in that.

Coaching philosophy

15:10 -

  • If one wants to keep things really simple, consistency over all three disciplines is crucial.
  • To me, triathlon is about improving or at least maintaining your strengths and simultaneously make your weaknesses as strong as possible.

    Since triathlon is three sports, one is always going to have weaknesses and strengths and it’s about being able to utilize one’s strengths and minimizing the weaknesses.
  • If one looks at the respective disciplines, in the swim having a higher swim volume and weekly consistency is more important for weaker swimmers.

    One of my favorite swim sets is 3x400m at ”cruising pace”, 5x100m ”hard” and 12x50m ”sprint”, which is all repeated three times.
  • For the bike, I think it is really important to develop a very strong fitness foundation, which you primarily do by riding in hilly terrain.

    I don’t believe in that you should race with a high cadence in order to ”save your legs”, I think quite the contrary instead, it’s better to race with a little bit of a lower cadence (although not too low) in order to be as fresh as possible for the run.
  • For long I have gone against the idea that ”if one cannot make the front pack in the swim, then the race is over”, I strongly believe that with a strong bike and run, you can make up for a weaker swim, and also, I have frequently seen evidence of that you can perform extremely well on both the bike and run in the same race.
  • On the run, my philosophy is that you should train very much like a middle distance runner as an Olympic distance triathlete, because if you train like a 10k runner, that will be too much volume combined with all the swimming and cycling.

    I often use middle distances up to maybe 5km at most as tests in order to track progress, this is because I believe speed is very important on the run and this tends to emphasize this.

    Many of my key run sessions that I prescribe are very intense (over race pace) in order to develop the speed component.

    Also, I basically never prescribe runs off the bike because I believe that it tends to teach the athlete to run poorly, I have found that if fitness is good, my athletes can run well off the bike without practicing it.

    Moreover, I try and have my athletes to run on trails as much as possible.
  • When I structure a training program, my base is a middle distance running program from which I add swim and bike sessions (as well as a little bit of strength and conditioning work).
  • On average, my athletes run between 60-70km, swim 20km and bike around 200km per week.

    As long as the athletes keep improving, I would not add more volume than this.



  • How I periodize the training depends on the discipline and of course also the individual.

    However, in both the swim and run I think it is important to maintain speed during all phases of the year even though it is more focus on volume during the base phase even here.

    On the bike, I have more of a traditional approach with plenty of base milage during the pre season and more race specific work closer to the race season.

Executing workouts

46:45 -

  • Normally I prescribe workouts based on RPE rather than pace or power, for me it’s often about ”time on the legs or in the saddle”.

    However, I like to add some speed or at least fluctuations in the pace towards the end of a session (especially long runs), as the body tends to adapt very well to what it is exposed to and that’s why I believe it’s good to spice things up a little bit towards the end of a session.


55:20 -

  • I am generally a little bit skeptical to testing and how to implement them.

    However, I do tests like VO2max with my athletes but to be honest it’s quite hard to know how exactly how I should use the results of them.
  • In order to track progress I like to look at benchmark sessions and race results.

Coaching amateurs

58:50 -

  • My best advice to age group athletes is to do their training (the key workouts) in the morning as family-work life tend to come in between if the training is being conducted in the evening.

    In terms of similarities between elite triathletes and age group athletes, I still believe speed, endurance and form is very important for both.

    For age groupers, the weekends become really important for training as this is where time for training is available.
  • For age groupers targeting an Ironman event rather than an Olympic distance event, the time requirements for training are much, much bigger and many people should be aware of.

Rapid fire questions

01:12:30 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? My own book: "Hard Wired: Life, Death and Triathlon."
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? My bike, a Canyon Aeroroad.
  • Who is somebody you look up to or has inspired you? Never giving up and never accepting a no.


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

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