Podcast, Training

Training talk with Björn Geesmann | EP#291

 June 21, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Björn Geesmann is a triathlon and endurance coach based in Hamburg, with a degree from the German Sport University in Cologne. Björn coaches world class athletes like Patrick Lange, Katrina Matthews and Boris Stein.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Björn's coaching philosophy
  • Being a mental coach as well as a sports coach
  • Tips for effective triathlon swim training
  • Tips for effective triathlon bike training
  • Tips for effective triathlon run training
  • An argument for doing a minimal amount of training at intensities higher than threshold

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03:30 -

  • My name is Björn Geesman and I am a cycling and triathlon coach.

    My background is as a sports scientist and since 2012 I have my own coaching business, which is oriented towards human performance, bike fitting, aerodynamic testing.

    At first I merely coached age group athletes but has steadily moved on to coach professionals.

    Some of the most renowned professional athletes that I coach are Daniela Bleymehl, Boris Stein, Patrick Lange and Kat Matthews.

Coaching philosophy

09:30 -

  • Generally speaking I try and connect the science of sports physiology with the more ”softer” features such as human interaction in my coaching.

    I base the science part of physiological profiling and in fact, it has turned out that this part of the coaching side has been the easiest!
  • The psychological aspect has been much more difficult to master, and hence I further educated myself within sports psychology during a year in order to get better at this part of the job.
  • I let all my athletes undergo a psychological test quite early on as I take them on as athletes, and the results of the test play a quite large role in how I then approach them in my coaching (both psychologically but also physically).

Swim training

24:00 -

  • For a professional athlete, one must swim at least 4 times per week (5 is even better, some athletes require 6 times) throughout the year including off season in order to get the consistency in.
  • I do believe that many triathletes (mainly age groupers but also professionals) focus too much on technique and not enough on developing a solid swim fitness.

    Of course, technique is important but the overall accumulated distance does matter so it is important to make sure to swim at certain amount of meters during each session (they add up over time!).
  • In terms of intensity, I do believe it is important to differentiate between different intensities so that one is not always swimming at a ”medium high intensity”.
  • For professional athletes, I do think that around two swim sessions per week should ”quality” sessions, but this doesn’t mean that the intensity must be super high (generally I am not a too big fan of high intensity training even though swimming requires a bit higher intensity than cycling and running).
  • For age groupers training 3 times a week, my greatest tip is to try and find a good group to swim with, I would recommend one session to be ”intense”, the second session ”medium high intensity” and the third swim more endurance oriented (maybe OW).

Bike training

34:40 - 

  • I am a strong believer in training ”power based”, i.e. training with a power meter and base your training on physiology (which can be done indoors as good as outdoors).

    But, it is also in my opinion very important to not loose track of specific cycling skills (gearing, cornering etc.), which you can only achieve when you ride outside.

    Therefore it is essential to include a fair amount of outdoor riding in the training schedule.
  • Physiological wise, cycling training is pretty easy…

    There are basically two physiological parameters that are of interest for cycling performance: VO2max (aerobic metabolism) and the lactate building rate (anaerobic metabolism, VlaMax).

    You want to have a VO2max that is as high as possible and simultaneously a low lactate building rate (as this corresponds to a great fat oxidation rate, which is essential in order to save carbohydrates during the course of a race).

    In order to know how to train, you do a physiological profiling of the athlete, which determines what kind of training he or she shall conduct.

    Generally, high volume leads to a fairly low lactate building rate.
  • In order to increase VO2max, I am a big fan of prescribing threshold intervals as this does not generate nearly as much stress on the body as intervals conducted at a higher intensity than threshold.
  • To track training stress, I’m am a big fan of using total expenditure as the primary outcome measurement.

    This is a very straightforward measurement and lacks any biases.

    On the bike, the best way of track energy expenditure is through the power meter (counting hours or km is not relevant as too many factors play in to those parameters, and in the swim and run, energy expenditure is fairly linear to the covered distance.
  • When it comes to bike training for age groupers, since they cannot train the same volume as the professionals, I think it is necessary to have at least one session per week where the athlete make sure to train with low glycogen stores.

    This can primarily be achieved by manipulating the nutrition but also through training (e.g. make sure to have a fairly intense ride or run prior to an endurance session).

    To train with low glycogen stores forces the body to utilize fat as an energy substrate, which brings the anaerobic metabolism down (lowering the VlaMax).

    And in my opinion, it is vital that age groupers conduct such targeted training as the total volume they train is not enough to bring down the lactate building rate to the desired level only through regular aerobic training.

Run training

01:12:10 -

  • Run training is slightly more complicated than bike training since there is yet another very important aspect that needs to be taken into account despite the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

    In terms of aerobic and anaerobic capacity, the principles are basically the same as in cycling - you have an aerobic system that you want to have as high as possible and an anaerobic system that you’re trying to suppress almost as much as possible.

    When it comes to professional sports, my impression is that the VO2max and VlaMax for running among top pro triathletes do not differ that much, they all have a fairly low VlaMax and a rather high VO2max.

    The parameter that separates the really good athletes from the average ones in their run performance is in my opinion running economy.

    The gains you can make in running economy can have a far greater impact on performance compared to the gains you can achieve by manipulating the VO2max and VlaMax up or down respectively.
  • This leads to the question how you’re supposed to improve your running economy.

    For fairly inexperienced age groupers, increasing/accumulating milage is in most cases enough to see gains in running economy.

    However, as you’re reaching an average weekly run milage between 40-50 km (plenty of running for age groupers in my opinion), then you can start by thinking ”outside the box” on how to further improve your running economy, which can be achieved by introducing intensity, plyometric work, strength training etc. (a coach would be very helpful at this point).

    In professional sports, it is in most cases not enough to simply increase weekly run milage to see improvements in running economy.

    This area needs to be adressed in a more directly targeted way, I have for instance worked to improve Patrick’s running economy by plenty of functional strength training, plyometric work etc. as well as making sure that he always runs with a good form during his run sessions.

    In total, I don’t believe Patrick has averaged more than 50-60 km of running during the final 6 months leading up to his victory in Tulsa.

Rapid fire questions

01:33:00 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sport? Louise Burke’s book about nutrition in sports.
  • What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? My road bike.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve? To do whatever I want and to have fun!


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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