LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:
Björn Andersson is a Swedish triathlon coach coaching both age-groupers and professionals, including Patrik Nilsson. Björn is also a former professional athlete himself. In this episode we discuss Björn's thoughts on training and coaching, and tips and advice geared towards both age-group athletes and professionals or aspiring professionals.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Björn's coaching and training philosophy
- Differences in training, coaching, and knowledge now vs. "then" (when Björn was racing professionally until 2011)
- Key tips to improve your swim, bike and run training, respectively
- How to execute your best on race day
- How age-group athletes can fit in training and adapt to it into already busy lives
- What does it take these days to race professionally
The finest triathlon wetsuits, apparel, equipment, and eyewear on the planet. Trusted by Lucy Charles, Javier Gómez-Noya, Flora Duffy, Mario Mola, and others. Visit roka.com/tts for 20% off your order.
The ZEN8 Indoor Swim Trainer is a tool for time-crunched triathletes looking to improve swim specific strength and technique. Trusted by BMC PRO Triathlon Team, age-group triathletes, coaches and physios around the world. Visit zen8swimtrainer.com/tts for 20% off your order.
- I started getting involved in triathlon at a very young age, in the early 1990:s, and was active as a professional athlete from the beginning of the 2000:s until 2011.
As a professional athlete I had both a bit of success but also a few ”dips” throughout my career.
The reason for why I eventually ended my own professional career was mainly due to overtraining, and because of this, I can recognize the early synoptics and signs of overtraining in my coaching and hence avoid having my athletes going down the same path as I did.
- Following my own career as an athlete I went into coaching, as I at this point had accumulated plenty of knowledge within triathlon training, both from my own experience and by taking classes in exercise physiology.
I currently coach a few professional athletes, among them Patrik Nilsson, and several age groupers.
- I also perform plenty of bike fitting, as this is a great interest of mine as well.
- Achieving consistency is the overarching principle that pretty much outweighs everything else in terms of importance.
Especially for age group athletes, making sure to have a high level of consistency over a long time is extremely important and can be very difficult to achieve in reality.
For instance, many age groupers are highly motivated and want to see progress quickly and often take themselves ”water over their head” in the beginning (training too hard and/or much without allowing enough time for recovery), which almost always leads to substantial setbacks in the long run.
On the other hand, if one allows for a slow process, then this almost always generates great results in the long game!
- When it comes to more specific training philosophy I don’t have a certain plan for everyone, it depends quite much on the physiological profile of the athlete.
In my experience, some could benefit quite well from including a bit of intensity in their training while others typically need very little intensity.
Differences between triathlon training in the early 2000:s to nowadays
- When I was active, it was basically ”all about volume”, and the more you trained, the better it was…
Today, the training is more balanced and intensity does also play a fairly important role in the training plan.
However, the kind of workouts, like endurance rides and longer tempo/sweet spots intervals, are the same, but the volume is not as excessive.
- Everything is also done on a much more professional basis and scientifically oriented, which in some way has to with the introduction of power meters on a broader scale and the kind of analyses it enables.
- Once again, consistency is crucial in order to be able to swim well, especially if you are a late onset swimmer (which is typically the case and makes things difficult).
You basically need to swim a lot and with a rather high level of frequency in order to develop the necessary skill set.
I also don’t believe you should swim too much with a pull buoy or neoprene buoyancy shorts as you need to learn how to swim without these kind of tools.
- Moreover, I do believe it is important to include some easy swimming as well as you must be able to learn to operate within all intensity zones.
It is also important from a physiological/metabolic perspective as it increases the fat oxidation capacity, which always is important for IM performance.
- Finally, I would like to stress that a very hard swim in an IM can be very detrimental for the following bike and run performance so it is very important to learn how to pace yourself well on the swim.
- In order to develop a strong capacity on the bike, you normally need a mix of different stimuli: endurance training, tempo/sweet spot and in some cases some high intensity as well.
- I like to keep the structure of my bike workouts simple so that the athletes are allowed to respond and adapt accordingly.
It also makes it easier to follow progress and calculate how much stress the workouts are creating on the body.
- For most people, I use to prescribe more intense training during the build up towards the season, starting off with VO2max oriented work, which later translates to threshold intensity, which in turn translates to sweet spot/tempo and finally race specific work.
I have found that many people can translate the benefits from higher intensity training into gains around race intensity, and that is what I am trying to capitalize on.
- Another key concept is to work on each athlete’s weaknesses, for instance does Patrik Nilsson have a rather flat power profile and hence he would benefit from raising his top end power.
Other athletes may already (by genetics or from training) have a rather high anaerobic work capacity and that system needs to be highly suppressed in order to ensure a proper development of the aerobic system.
- In regards to testing, I normally just look at the power profile of the athlete and by that I get a good idea of what the athlete needs in form of type of training stimuli.
At this point, I do not see a dying need for more intricate testing than doing a proper analysis of the athlete’s power profile.
- On the run, consistency is maybe even more important than for the other disciplines.
You typically don’t need much ”quality” training in order to perform well in an IM run as an age grouper, and hence you should avoid it as it massively increases the injury risk.
Therefore I try and build the run volume up very slowly for most of my athletes as I have found that this creates the desired resilience required for an IM marathon.
- For professional athletes, a little bit of speed work needs to incorporated but it doesn’t have to be excessive in any way.
I like to prescribe workouts of 12-18km of total ”interval distance” that is performed at 70.3 or a stand alone full marathon race pace.
- It differs a little bit between age groupers and professionals.
I use to encourage age groupers to really stay within themselves in the beginning of the race and start off much easier than what they might think that they should, as this use to lead to greater performances by the end of the day.
- For professionals it is a little bit different as you’re sometimes required to take some chances in order to try and win the race.
- It depends bit on the individual athlete.
For an athlete who does not train an excessive amount of volume, a too aggressive taper is not needed.
- I usually taper my professional athletes 2-3 weeks prior to the event and most age groupers (who train fairly much) 1-2 weeks before the race.
But this is also very individual, some people do not perform very well after a too aggressive taper and that must be respected.
Tips for age groupers
- I do believe that the most important aspect for age groupers is to have realistic expectations and not stress the process.
Like I said before, moving too fast forward will almost always lead to major setbacks but taking it slowly and steadily will almost certainly yield very good results in the long run!
What it takes to compete at the highest level in IM racing today
- Nowadays, everything is done at such a high level of professionalism, and hence, the room for error is much smaller.
You cannot really have any major weaknesses like you could before and in order to not lose any time, you must pay attention to all details (like aerodynamics on the bike - helmet, suit, tires etc.!).
Tips for aspiring professional athletes
- You need to really like the life style of being a professional athlete and also have realistic expectations in form of expected earnings etc.
It’s not always as glamorous, but it can ve extremely fun and rewarding in very many ways!
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book blog or resource related to endurance sport? Scientific Training for Triathletes by Phil Skiba.
- What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? As training tool, the power meter.
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? My stubbornness (but it also became my downfall so it’s a two edged sword!).