Podcast, Racing, Strength training, Training

Training, racing, and metabolic testing with Val Burke | EP#290

 June 14, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Val Burke is a New Zealand based triathlon and endurance sports coach with a background in exercise science and physiology, coaching among others pro triathlete Braden Currie. In this interview, Val shares her expertise on a number of topics related to both training and racing.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Strength training for triathlon
  • How to improve your triathlon cycling
  • Metabolic testing, and how to effectively use metabolic test results in training
  • How to find your race pace for long distance triathlon races

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04:15 -

  • My name is Val Burke and I am originally from Canada but currently live in New Zeeland.

    In my youth I did all sorts of sports and in collage I played basketball.

    After collage I studied biology and later I took a master in exercise physiology.
  • Over the years, I have had many different roles and occupations within sports, but currently I am focusing on my own coaching business as this is where my greatest passion is.

    Of athletes who I coach, Braden Currie is probably the most notable within long distance triathlon.

Top three pieces of advice to age groupers

13:05 -

  • Find a good coach, put trust in your coach and follow the program.
  • Make sure to ”book” the recovery into your training plan your meals properly.
  • Strange and range can be a game changer for many athletes.

Strength and range work

14:45 -

  • Strength and conditioning work is somewhat of a speciality for me.
  • For triathletes, I focus on exercises targeting the glutes, hamstrings, calfs and quads.

    Examples of exercises that I use to prescribe are goblet squats, regular squats, box jumps, romanian deadlifts (very good for running), split squats, hamstrings kickback and different variations of nordic curls (for cyclist I also always implement leg press).

    I pay very close attention so that the glutes are highly activated during basically all exercises.

    Also, I always make sure to do specific strength work on the bike (strength intervals) and in the run (hill reps, sprints etc.)
  • I usually periodize strength work over a season, starting with lighter weights and more repetitions leading up to heavier weights and fewer repetitions.
  • To avoid soreness from strength training, it is important to implement the strength work regularly (typically 2 sessions every 7 or 10 days depending on what type of cycle you implement).

    After a few week/cycles of regular strength training, basically non of my athletes report soreness.

    However, if you skip strength work for 10-14 days, the soreness after the first session will typically come back.
  • My strength sessions are usually between 30-45mins long.

Top tips for biking

34:35 -

  • When I try and improve an athlete on the bike I am really digging deep into how much he or she is actually training, and at what intensity level the training is conducted at.
  • I have found that many athletes need to increase their volume on the bike in order to see a performance gain, 10-12h of biking each week will for most people almost certainly lead to a performance gain on the bike (even though the gains might first be visible after 6 months).
  • I try and see what the athletes’ strength and weaknesses are, is strength or being able to operate on a higher cadence the living factor?

    This will in turn decide what type of training the athlete should do.

Physiological testing

40:00 -

  • I have done plenty of different tests over the years and developed a test protocol of myself based on lactate testing.

    The tests are all incremental tests were the power or pace is being increased every five mins (in order to achieve a steady state lactate level) and lactate is sampled by the end of each stage.
  • On the basis of my test, I have developed a five training zone model, which is:

    1. Under lactate threshold 1 (aerobic threshold/LT1)
    2. Starts at lactate threshold 1
    3. Tempo/strength endurance
    4. Anaerobic threshold
    5. Vo2max
  • For athletes that do not have the possibility to do massive volume, I use to prescribe plenty of training in Zone 2, which is a very big zone.
  • I think that doing a lactate based test instead of just simple field tests do have plenty of benefits, especially as I can base the training on the test results, which I have plenty of good experience over the years of doing.


50:00 -

  • I think it is very important to fuel properly before and during sessions and don’t play the ”low carb game” too much (or at all!).

    I do see many potential risks with having a low carb approach to training, especially as the benefits appear to be slim.

    The quality of the training seems to suffer rather much if you don’t have enough carbohydrates at your disposal and it is then difficult to do quality training above zone 2 (or sometimes even do training in zone 2).
  • In regards to race nutrition, I have found that this is highly personal but generally, the more ”recreational” of an athlete, the more solid food (a mixture of fat, proteins and carbs) can he or she take in and the more ”serious” of an athlete, the race nutrition must be more solely carbs (preferably liquid carbs).

Race execution

59:30 -

  • I have found that most athletes can race a 70.3 within the zone 3 (power and/or HR based) and for an IM the upper spectrum of zone 2.

Top tip to my 10 years younger version of myself

01:03:30 -

  • I was probably too focused on the sports science back then, now I am trying to focus more on the coach-athlete relationship.

Rapid fire questions

01:04:25 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? Joe Friel’s ”Training bible”.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? My Specialized mountainbike.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? Attention to details and being an over achiever.


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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