Cycling, Podcast, Running, Swimming, Training

9 of the best workouts you probably aren’t doing | EP#34

 June 22, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

9 of the best workouts you probably aren't doing | EP#34

These 9 swim, bike and run workouts are very effective, and I find myself going back to them time and time again. But since they're less well-known than your typical "6 x 3 minutes" or "20 minute tempo run", you've probably never heard of most of them, let alone used them in your training.

Feel free to steal them and incorporate them into your program!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • "CSS rest cutdown", "Mixed pace progression" and "Open water beach start" workouts for swimming
  • "Criss-cross", "Multiset VO2max", and "Power sprint" workouts for cycling
  • "Squires long run", "Hill sprints", and "Hudson 1-2-3-2-1 Fartlek" for running


​Listener question

01:12 -

From Joseph Gopez: “I ran a 1:29 half in January and then a 3:20 full marathon in March. If I use training paces from the full it’s too slow, but it’s the most recent race. My goal is to get to the Boston Marathon. Any tips on which paces I should be aiming for?”

  • This is a great question. When Joseph writes that he has been using training zones from the race, he has probably been using online calculators to get those zones. I mentioned a couple of really good ones in​ Episode 30: Training Zones part 3: Running
  • One good thing that you can do with these calculators is also get equivalent race times. So I took Joseph’s 1:29 half marathon and plugged it into the calculator to see what the equivalent full marathon time will be, and that was 3:07. Now remember, he actually ran a 3:20 full. So, considerably slower than the equivalent from the half marathon time. In other words, he performed much better in his half than in his full which he has correctly written in his question.
  • Even so, it’s not an easy question. There are a lot of factors that come into play. What I would ask you Joseph is, do you feel that you underperformed in the full marathon and that your fitness was actually better than that or did your fitness actually decline between the two races?
  • If it’s the former and you underperformed compared to your fitness, then definitely I would say that it’s completely fine to go ahead and use the training zones based on your half marathon time. But if not, if you did perform to your potential then zones based on the full marathon result is actually what you should train with, because that would be your current fitness level at that point in time.
  • But you can obviously go out and do field tests like the 20 minute time trial that I talked about on Episode 30 to get exact paces at your exact fitness level at this moment.



All of the workouts here should be scaled to your current fitness ability.

However, the relative intensity level should be the same no matter what your fitness level.

If it is a VO2max workout, it should be VO2max whether you’re a beginner or advanced athlete.

But the number of repetitions and total length of the workout are things that you can scale. So shortening the workout, reducing the number of reps and so on, so that it matches your ability.

For swimming

1. CSS rest cutdown

04:43 -​

  • CSS is critical swim speed. I talked about this in​ Episode 27 - Training Zones part 1: Swimming. This is essentially your threshold pace for swimming.
  • An easy warm up for 5-10 minutes depending on how time crunched you are.
  • If you're time crunched, this is what I like to do for warming up. It's a 300 meter warm-up in total, but scale up if you have the time, or scale back if you're a beginner to swimming.
    • 100 easy freestyle.
    • 4x50 build with 20 seconds rest
      • Build meaning an acceleration going from slow to moderate to fast over the course of the 50 meter rep.
  • The main set, again to be scaled to your ability.
    • All 100 meter repeats and they should all be done at CSS pace or faster.
    • If you’re an intermediate or advanced swimmer do 4 x 5 x 100, where the rest/recovery time decreases within each set.
      • After the 1st 100, take a 20 second rest.
      • After the 2nd 100, a 15 second rest.
      • After the 3rd 100, a 10 second rest.
      • After the 4th 100, a 5 second rest.
      • After the 5th 100 of each set, no rest. Jump straight into the first 100 of the next set.
  • Then cool down 100 meter very easy swim.

2. Mixed pace progression

06:37 -

  • Use four different paces: aerobic pace, medium pace, medium fast pace, and CSS pace.​
  • The idea here is that you do this over the course of 9 weeks and you do one version of it for the first three, then for weeks 4-6 you do the 2nd version which is slightly progressed. And then for weeks 7-9, you do the 3rd version which is further progressed from the 2nd version.
    • Do a 10 minute warm-up. For an intermediate swimmer:
      • 100 meter free.
      • Then put on your fins. Fins are great for technique work. So do 100 free again but with fins and focus on technique.
      • Then do 50 side kick drill which is my favorite drill with fins.
      • And then 50 free again with fins just focusing on technique.
      • And then back to 50 kick with fins.
      • And then finally, another 50 free without fins.
      • This would be a 300 meter warm up in total.
    • Pre-main set. If you’re a more beginner swimmer then do this 2 times and if you’re intermediate or advanced, do this 3 times. The idea is to get to 8-10 minutes for this.
      • 4x50 meters on 10 second recoveries. This is to get your paces set and really try to get the feel for the paces that you will be using for the main set.
      • 1st 50 meters - Aerobic pace: CSS + 8 seconds per 100 meters. For example, your CSS is 1:40 minutes per 100 meters, your aerobic pace is 1:48 per 100.
      • 2nd 50 meters - Medium pace: CSS + 4 seconds per 100 meters. From the example, it would be 1:44.
      • 3rd 50 meters - Medium fast pace: CSS + 2 seconds per 100 meters. From the example, it would be 1:42.
      • 4th and final 50 meters - CSS pace which would 1:40 per 100 meters basing from the example.
    • Main set. You repeat this 2 times if you’re a beginner and 3-4 times for intermediate or advanced swimmers. The idea is to get in 25-35 minutes.
      • ​All reps are followed by a 20 second rest.
      • 150 meters at aerobic pace. CSS + 8.
      • 100 at CSS.
      • 150 at medium pace. CSS + 4.
      • 50 at CSS + 2.
      • Then repeat with no extra rest between sets for 2-4 times.
      • As you progress, in weeks 4-6, you would do the same amount of aerobic but increase the CSS amount from 100 meters to 150 meters. Decrease the medium from 150 to 100 instead and keep the other ones.
      • In weeks 7-9, instead of 150 aerobic, 100 CSS, 150 medium, 50 medium fast. You would do 100 aerobic, 200 CSS, 100 medium and 50 medium fast.
      • It gets progressively harder and you still keep the same number of sets and rest/recovery.
    • Speed set. This is 8-10 minutes.
      • 2 or 3 sets of 3 x 50 meters which you do as 25 meters fast (95% effort), not fighting the water but still maintaining control but really fast. Then 25 easy then rest of 15 seconds. 15 seconds recoveries between reps and 1 minute extra recovery between sets.
    • Cool down with 100 meters easy.

3. Open water beach start workout

10:57 -

  • Race warm up which is short because in many races you will only have very little time to do warm up.​
    • 2 x (10 strokes easy, 10 strokes hard, 20 strokes easy, 20 strokes hard, 30 strokes easy, 30 strokes hard, 20 easy, 20 hard, 10 easy 10 hard).
    • 30 seconds recovery between the 2 sets.
  • Main set. You should scale the number of intervals depending on your ability and also your goal race.
    • For an intermediate triathlete targeting an olympic or half distance triathlon, 8-9 x 200 is a good amount. 40 seconds recovery between each rep.
    • The idea here is that you start on the beach. You run into the water and you swim towards a buoy or a landmark 100 meters away and come back to shore and you run up onto the beach again as if you’re exiting the swim of the race.
    • Rest and go into the next rep in the same manner.
  • Good navigation and good open water technique is key in this entire workout.
  • Cool down is just 100 meter easy.
  • Tips when running into and out of the water:
    • Focus on running out with high knees and strong knee and arm drive and dolphin diving if possible so that you jump in and out of the water as you see triathletes do, at least towards the front of the pack in races.
    • Use a high stride ride when running out and also a high stroke rate when starting swimming to simulate a race start.
    • Use drafting. It’s great if you can get a group together to do this workout.
    • When running out of the water, you should up stand up when you feel your hand brushing against the bottom of the lake or the sea not before this.

For cycling

1. Criss-cross​

13:23 -

  • ​This is a continuous main set but let’s start with the warm up.
    • Do your regular 15-20 minute warm up. Include building into Zone 3 - tempo zone as we talked about on Episode 29 - Training Zones part 2: Cycling. I would usually do this between 10-15 minutes.
      • 5 minute tempo segment.
      • 5 minutes easy from minutes 15-20.
    • Main set scaled to your ability. For example, 35 minutes as 7x5 minutes. It’s always a multiple of 5 minutes.
      • 1st rep - zone 4 effort, threshold zone.
      • Odd ones should be a zone 4 effort.
      • Even ones will be in the zone 3 tempo zone.
      • Depending on where you are in your season, you might also want to focus on specific points within the zone. For example, at the start of your build or towards the middle of your base phase when you start doing this kind of work, you would do your zone 4 efforts at slightly below threshold. But then as you get fitter, you would increase it to threshold. And then you may even go above threshold -102-105% of your functional threshold power or heart rate.
      • For the Zone 3 reps (your "recovery" between zone 4 efforts), it would be mid zone 3 towards the beginning of your training phase and then as you get fitter they can become high zone 3.
      • At peak fitness, you would use 105% of FTP as your zone 4 effort and very high zone 3 (sweet spot) as your recovery.
    • After this 35 minute segment, it’s really great to do a brick run.
      • 10-15 minute brick run in zone 3.
    • And then you can come back and cool down on your bike again if you did it inside.

2. Multiset VO2max

16:24 -

  • With multiset VO2max workouts you can get more time at VO2 max which is really great. You can get close to 30 minutes or even get to beyond 30 minutes if you really want to. It will be tough but it gives you such a fitness boost that is really amazing.​
  • Do your regular warm up for a hard effort like this.
    • 15-20 minutes.
    • 3 short 1 minute burst of intensity starting at low zone 4 for the 1st one, then going to threshold for the 2nd one, and above threshold for 3rd one with 1 minute recovery in between.
    • Some additional recovery, just easy spinning, 5 minutes before the main set starts.
  • Main set. 2 examples:
    • 3 sets each.
    • 1st example:
      • 3 x 3 x 2 minutes at VO2 max intensity, so zone 5. (Check: Episode 29 Training Zones part 2: Cycling)
      • Recoveries between the 2 minute intervals will be 2 minutes.
      • VO2 max intensity is 120% of your FTP if you’re using power, RPE of 9 if you’re using rate of perceived exertion.
      • Between each set of 3 intervals you recover for an extra 6 minutes and then you go back into 3x2 minutes intervals, 2 minute recoveries.
      • 3 sets of these, a total of 18 minutes at VO2max.
    • 2nd example:
      • 3 x 3 x 3 minutes of VO2 max.
      • You can slightly decrease the percent of FTP to 115% and get 1 minute extra recovery. So 3 minute recoveries between intervals.
      • But again 6 minute recoveries between each set.
  • And then do a short cool down.
  • VO2 max workouts are great. But you can get a little bit extra time at VO2max in and make sure that you do quality intervals by separating them into multiple sets like this. This is something that I’ve found that works really well.

3. Power sprint workouts

18:29 -

  • Research has found that 30 second sprint workouts can give you as much boost to your performance as threshold and VO2max interval workouts can. So this is one of those kinds of workouts with 30-second sprints.​
  • First, as usual the 15-20 minute warm up. You can use any of the ones I mentioned in the previous workouts. But include some build of intensity into zone 3 or zone 4.
  • Main set to be scaled to your ability. But examples are:
    • 6x30 seconds all out sprint. Keep your cadence high, 95 rpm at least. Advanced athletes can go up to 12 or more intervals.
    • 4.5 minutes easy. So each set of the exercise is 5 minutes, but just 30 seconds is an all out sprint and a whole 4.5 minutes is recovery.
  • Then a 5-10 minute easy cool down after the main set.
  • In addition to working your energy systems and everything that you physiologically would work on in a hard workout like this, it really helps prime your neuromuscular system and the way your nerves, brain, and muscles cooperate. It also helps you activate all the muscle fibers that you can in cycling and help you optimize them in that way.

For running

1. Squires long run

19:59 -

  • This is named after Bill Squires​ who is a legendary running coach from the Boston area, coach of among others Bill Rodgers, who won the 1979 Boston Marathon.
  • The idea of this workout is a series of surges inserted into the middle portion of a long run.
  • The surge can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 12 minutes. But the shorter the surge the faster the pace that you run the surge at and the longer the recovery you have.
  • For example:
    • 15 minute easy warm up, easy jog.
    • 6x2 minutes at 5k effort and 8 minutes easy jog. So that’s 6 times 10 minutes in total and of that hour you will do 6x2 minute at 5k effort.
    • Then a 15 minute easy cool down, for 90 minutes in total.
  • You can progress this as you get closer to your race. Your training should become more race specific. That 5k-pace example is something that you would do pretty early in the season but you can progress the main set as follows:
    • 6x4 minutes at 10k effort with 6 minutes jog recovery.
    • 6x6 minutes at half marathon effort with 4 minutes jog recovery.
    • 6x8 minutes at marathon effort with 2 minutes jog recovery.
"The closer in time you get to your race, the more like the race your training should become." - Joe Friel
  • That’s an exact quote from Joe Friel from Episode 1 of That Triathlon Show.
  • Keep this in mind, do the hard intense surges early on in your training cycle and then later on you would go to the longer surges that are at a slightly lower intensity but obviously with less recovery.

2. Hill sprints

21:51 -

  • This is an easy regular jog that you would do just like any other easy run that you would usually do.​
  • 20-40 minutes depending on where you are in your training cycle and your fitness level.
  • At the end of the workout - here is the thing that you don’t probably do - you would do anywhere from 6-10 x 10 second hill sprints
  • Or they might be even shorter, 8 seconds, or slightly longer, 12 seconds. But usually not longer than 12 seconds.
  • The hill that you run up should be fairly steep, 6-8% grade is ideal. But not too steep so that you can’t maintain a reasonably normal stride.
  • The sprints will be at maximum effort, but don’t take this as an interval workout!
  • You must take full recoveries between each sprint. You should stand and have a short few seconds of rest after each sprint and then walk down slowly to your starting position and complete a full recovery at the starting point.
  • I would advise at least 1 minute between the start of each hill sprint but you can take more if needed.
  • You should be able to perform each hill sprint as well as the one before. This workout shouldn’t be taxing on your body even though you’re working at maximum effort for those short few seconds.
  • Don’t try to make the hill sprints any longer because that won’t make it a better workout, it will actually harm it’s purpose.
  • You’re working on your neuromuscular system, just as in the power sprint workout above, when doing hill sprints.
  • This is great for injury prevention and for running performance because you learn to activate your muscles better.
  • Here's a good video showing you how to do hill sprints.

3. Hudson 1-2-3-2-1 Fartlek

23:46 -

  • I really love fartlek workouts because there’s so much that you can do with them and get creative in different ways.​
  • You get a massive fitness boost because - don’t get me wrong - they are hard workouts. But you don’t have the same pressure to hit very exact times that you would do in a track workout.
  • Brad Hudson is the one who came up with this workout, and he's the author of the book, “Run faster from the 5K to the Marathon", which is a great book which I highly recommend.
  • The idea of this fartlek is that it's a multi-pace workout just like we had in the Mixed pace progression on the swim side on things.
  • This will really teach you how to pace yourself. And you can scale it to your ability, not only in the number of reps that you do or the length of the actual fartlek portion, but also where you start, how hard the hardest intensity is.
  • In this case that’s ok even though I said at the front of the episode that’s usually not what you should do. But some slight scaling on that front is okay in this workout.
  • The workout:
    • Do a 10-15 minute warm up with an easy jog.
    • Then a 1 minute run at 3k race pace and a 1 minute jog recovery.
    • Then a 2 minute run at 5k race pace and a 2 minute jog recovery.
    • Then a 3 minute run at 10k race pace and a 3 minute jog recovery.
    • Then go back down to a 2 minute run at 5k race pace and a 2 minute jog recovery.
    • Then a 1 minute run at 3k race pace and a 1 minute recovery.
    • Then you can repeat again, go back to 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute.
    • This is where I usually stop to work out. If you’re really advanced, you can go even further.
    • You can also stop after climbing the pyramid once and going back down.
    • You can also, instead of starting at 3k race pace which is really hard, you can start at 5k and the next would be 10k and then half marathon if that much intensity feels too much for you.
  • This might not sound like a hard workout on paper actually. But trust me it gets harder and harder and it gets especially hard if you run too aggressively out of the gate. 1 minute is not a long time to run a 3k race pace so it’s tempting to run faster but it is a long time when you get only 1 minute to recover from that and then you need to run hard again. So, you can quickly dig yourself into a hole if you don’t pace yourself well in this workout. And that it just one of the reasons that it’s such a great workout but obviously in addition to learning how to pace yourself, you get a massive fitness boost because you get a lot of running at high intensity. So this is really a great workout that I enjoy.


27:02 -

For swimming:

  1. CSS rest cutdown​
  2. Mixed pace progression with aerobic, medium, medium fast, and CSS paces
  3. Open water beach start practice

For cycling:

  1. ​Criss-cross
  2. Multiset VO2max workout
  3. Power sprint

For running:

  1. Squires long run
  2. Easy plus hill sprints run
  3. Hudson 1-2-3-2-1 Fartlek​

Links and resources

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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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