Coaching, Podcast, Training

Training Talk with Jacob Tipper | EP#345

 July 4, 2022

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Jacob Tipper EP 345 - That Triathlon Show

Jacob Tipper is a coach of athletes across the spectrum from track sprinters to triathletes, and he is also a great track and road cyclist himself. Jacob was the person tasked with putting together Alistair Brownlee's team for the Sub7/Sub8 project (discussed in detail in EP#344). This week we talk generally about Jacob's perspectives on coaching and training.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Jacob's overarching coaching philosophy
  • Perspectives on intensity and volume
  • Developing fatigue resistance
  • The benefits of training in a group
  • Psychological aspects of being an endurance athlete

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Jacob's coaching

03:18 -

  • The freedom of entering the sport as a sports scientist allows you to transfer between modalities, have a good understanding of different disciplines and break down how they work.
  • If you only have a road cycling background, transferring to other sports is not as easy. 
  • I work with a variety of cyclocross riders, and of course, Dan Bigham and Ben Healy.
  • They are two different athletes. With Dan, we have this fun problem solving with the hour record and the different ways we could do it.
  • We have a group chat with Mehidi Kordi and Johnny Wale to pull out ideas on how much quicker Dan can go.
  • When you have other people and coaches involved, it makes it more interesting. We also listen to podcasts and can always have good discussions and find better ways to do things. 
  • I am not a super coach, but I can't entirely agree with what coaches comment on some of these podcasts.
  • For example, if someone comes up with the idea that only one methodology is the best way to train, I can't entirely agree with that and will research more on the topic to see if I can find reasons to improve my knowledge.
  • Coaching is an extensive experience where you have all these athletes and try to work the best method for each individual.
  • With experience, you learn to understand that athletes deal with the same procedures in different ways.
  • There are some athletes which I still do not understand why they adapt so well to some stimuli that papers suggest would not work.
  • Despite not knowing the reasons, we have to adapt and confirm that with this specific athlete, we have to work differently.
  • Most athletes I coach are not full-time, so I need to work with them to see what fits their schedules and needs. For example, with Dan, I have to understand what he likes and what training he best manages, considering all the trips he has to do with his working life.
  • There are rules that overall work for most people. For example, no one does HIT 7x a week. It is regular training but adapted to different people.
  • Some people like doing chain gangs (group rides), and there is no study on that. But if that works well for you, you should do it.
  • We should be mindful of the different physiologies of each individual and apply a scientific mindset to training to evaluate what works and what does not.

Applying a scientific mindset to training

12:10 -

  • We have to be aware of the scientific research done in the area. For example, Seiler investigated the effects of 4min, 8min and 16min intervals, and 8min was the best.
  • However, there are outliers in the study that do not respond as well as everyone else.
  • I am a "sprinter endurance athlete." My sprint power is around 1600 W, and I do not adapt as well as John Archibald (diesel engine) to the same training he does.
  • So, I have to consider that the participants in the study might not reflect your physiology.
  • Of course, we should investigate what others are doing and trying out, but if it does not work, try something else because different stimuli work for different people.
  • I cannot apply the same training principles to all athletes, and we should not follow only scientific research and expect it to work for everyone. Therefore, you should investigate which ones work, and forget those that do not work, even if research tells you otherwise.
  • Moreover, you might not even like a session, and as a coach, we have to consider the mental side as well.
  • Some specific sessions work with most athletes and tick all the boxes, but some athletes do not like them.
  • You have to be a happy athlete and avoid doing things you do not like to do. If you do that, you will be on the road to burnout.
  • I have books and research papers on my desk, but as a coach, we must understand that there are other things.
  • I have an athlete that raced West Midland Championships, a fantastic event to attend that I also won in the past. 
  • The difference between this year and the others is that the guy is now happy. He was disappointed with the team last year and could not use the equipment he wanted or respect/treat him well. 
  • This year's training is similar to past years, where he sometimes misses a few sessions and feels tired. But he is in a better mental state this year.
  • If you have life stresses, it will be challenging to perform, and sports will be a way to move around those stresses but not perform optimally.
  • Last year, a close friend passed away, and we could notice that in my racing last year.
  • Therefore, you have to focus on things you can do where you can enjoy yourself and choose the path to be happier.
  • I might not do the best job of showing my athletes this importance. You should enjoy a ride with your mates during the weekend if you want to do it.
  • It is not only about a strict training plan you must always follow.
  • It might be more optimal to do 4x8min intervals than going out with your mates, but in the big picture, it will be better for you to enjoy cycling than optimising every single session.
  • If you strict yourself too much, you become less consistent because it will feel like torture.
  • There will be days when you will not want to train and eat like crap because you are not in a good mental space.
  • Of course, you cannot ride unplanned every day of the week and be happy with that.
  • There is a delicate balance because endurance sports are demanding, and you have to find enjoyment where it is available.

Group environment

21:44 -

  • In my early season, I was on an investors camp, so I spent a week with the Brownlees in the South of Spain and doing the training they were doing.
  • This experience opened my eyes because while these athletes train so many hours and train hard, it is much easier to do when you are with your friends.
  • For example, when you are swimming in the morning, your mates might be giving you splits and improving your session, but they also motivate you to pump up the session and do it until the end.
  • It is challenging to go alone to a public pool at 6 am, knowing that you have to work after that.
  • These athletes can do 30 hours of training per week, but doing them with a group is considerably more manageable.
  • After training, they can enjoy themselves and relax a bit.
  • For example, I spoke to one triathlete who joined the Leeds Centre, saying he has not trained alone ever since. He has good swimmers, runners and cyclists to train with every day.
  • You almost forget that you have to make strenuous efforts or go out in the rain.
  • Sometimes you return after 30min-1h of training in the rain, feeling miserable, but with mates, it would be much easier.
  • Even if you do the session considerably slower, you have it done and enjoyed it.
  • You might do the sessions and achieve the correct power targets, but you might be mentally burnt.
  • So, for example, you could do two hours with a group and two hours with your intervals.
  • I made the mistake of being too critical of myself and not enjoying it more.
  • People understand that you need to be consistent, but it is not something easy to achieve. It is also about finding ways to help you be consistent.
  • Maybe have swim groups that start at a specific time and do them.
  • I cannot tell how often I started a turbo session and did not finish them. But, for example, Swimming with a group of people helps me go through the session and not think twice about going out early.
  • Therefore, try to find a group to train with often, or if it does not work, do not beat yourself up because even professional athletes fail to do sessions.

Jacob's training general principles

27:32 -

  • There is not a formula that I apply to every athlete. I place significant importance on working on your limiting factor.
  • For example, if the swim is the modality you are weaker, it is the one you should pay more attention to during training.
  • I like to list what is stopping you from being successful. 
  • Cycling is more manageable because if you are a sprinter and can do 1600-1700 W, but you cannot get to the end of the race to use those watts, there is no point in working on your sprint even more.
  • My limitation was never my ability to sprint but the ability to get to the end of the race to apply those power outputs.
  • Therefore, I never worked on sprinting because I would only win the sprint of the gruppetto.
  • My training focuses on working the aerobic power, threshold and climbing. I am not a climber to be good enough to go over them and sprint at the end.
  • Therefore, I try to work on these limiting factors to use my strengths.
  • Volume is something that people could improve on but not overdo. For example, you should not lose sleep to do more training.
  • I coach some teachers and increase volume when they do only a few hours of the day.
  • Moreover, riders doing some higher volume weeks (for example, around Christmas) could be beneficial.
  • However, you can only do as much as you can recover.
  • Listeners of this podcast can train for many hours despite all the life-stress factors. (16-18 hours per week)
  • People have to consider that they might find two hours extra to train and extra time to recover. You can try to do more intervals or volume, but you must check if you can recover from it.
  • It could be that you are not recovering enough from all your training. People can wake up 1h30 before work to train.
  • However, it would lead to additional stress that you would not gain anything from the extra training.
  • After training for 4-5 years, you will not see performance improvements as quickly as in the beginning.
  • You will still do the same work as you did initially, but you will not get the same rewards from that training.
  • Many people struggle with this point, which isn't easy to manage. I have gone through many years without seeing improvements.
  • Therefore, it was nice for me to see improvements in Swimming and running.
  • Consistency at this phase and enjoying it is crucial. It would be best if you had patience and confidence in yourself, your coach and the training plan. Sometimes you have to be realistic and understand you will not train as you used to in the past, but you will try to continue improving.

Fatigue resistance

36:45 -

  • Some studies show that under-23 cyclists have the same power profile as professional athletes for up to 20 minutes.
  • The difference between the world-tour cyclists and the under-23 is that they can make those efforts after 3000-4000 kJ.
  • Regularly, the ability to do 6 W/kg is less important than making the same effort after two weeks of racing. 
  • Part of that improvement comes with age. The differences in professional athletes come from improved efficiency.
  • For example, Paula Radcliff's studies show that she did not improve her VO2 max after her early 20s, but her economy improved to start breaking world records.
  • These topics are things that athletes cannot measure. For example, if you manage your improvements with 20-min power tests, it will get to the point that you will not keep improving. 
  • However, it does not mean you are not developing. Joe Skipper is not the best runner or fresh marathoner in the world, but he is fantastic at running the marathon at the end of an Ironman.
  • It would be best if you ran as best as possible to succeed at the end of a race.
  • I do not do it often, but you can try to measure this by making efforts in a new and tired state. Ideally, the power dropoff at the end will decrease over time.
  • However, these tests are messy, as you can stop, or the intensity between tests might differ. Also, the weather conditions can affect the results.
  • Muscular strength is essential to improve fatigue resistance, so athletes (especially age groupers) should do gym work.
  • No one needs to push volume during the week, but I think one long ride per week has some advantages.
  • The duration of the long ride will depend on your condition. We do not want to smash ourselves on a ride. If an average person does a 6-hour ride, they will be tired until Thursday, so I would not prescribe such long rides.
  • If you do a 3-3h30 ride, it is something manageable if you do everything else right. (nutrition and hydration) If you do not consider other factors, you will struggle in the end, and it will not help you much during the ride.
  • These longer days are great for practising race-day nutrition.
  • I did a 7-hour ride recently; it was the first time I fell apart.
  • However, I did some nutrition prep rides (100 grams per hour) leading into that event to ensure the last two hours were not horrific.
  • The guys in the sub-7 project were doing 100 grams per hour, but I heard of triathletes doing much more than that. However, you have to train that.
  • Therefore, these long rides are perfect because they will help you get through them and adapt better.
  • Many athletes reply to me saying that doing long rides well-fueled is a game-changer.
  • A partnership with a nutrition company a few years ago that focused on high-carb drinks made me realise that the tired feeling after a long ride is not from muscle damage but from not eating enough.
  • Moreover, it is different to train to consume 100 grams of carbs for one hour or 4-5 hours.

Over-gear work

45:16 -

  • There are many ways to do it, so I leave it to athletes to see which ones work best for them. 
  • First, I like making 30s big gear all-out efforts. However, it would help if you were careful when doing it.
  • Another is 2-5 min at 50 rpm in zone four and pressing the pedals for that period. Nevertheless, 50 rpm will feel super low.
  • When we do this work, the efforts should feel relatively maximal. We have to stress the muscles to get some adaptation.
  • Other coaches do much time in zone three with low gear.
  • The idea is that you are producing "above-threshold" torque. Therefore, you are working aerobically but stressing the muscles as if you were producing much higher power.
  • You are recruiting fast-twist muscle fibres in an aerobic zone. This approach works well for some people. (Sebastian Webber and Tony Martin's training)
  • Therefore, it comes down to the athlete and the belief in their training because it will create a positive mindset concerning training.
  • We are more aware of the athlete's mental state and go through times when we feel down. It isn't straightforward to get an adaptation when you are in that mode.
  • For example, last year, I was upset that covid ruined my year again and was down because of the lack of racing.
  • I was still training, but in my head, I checked out, and I put in my head that racing did not matter, and my performance dropped significantly.
  • I went to a team training camp, which wasn't very good. I put on three kilos from eating my regular diet, and my power dropped despite the same stimuli I had done in the past.
  • If people believe in each training session, you can almost "create those gains and adaptations".
  • Therefore, communication with coaches is crucial because you have to sell athletes the dream and explain the benefits of each session.
  • If they do not do it, they will not switch on and have the same adaptations.

Intensity control

52:29 -

  • With all the current information available, it isn't effortless to point out the best training distribution to apply to each athlete.
  • Coaches will be under a lot of pressure because there are many opposing views on training and how athletes should train.
  • In my coaching, we have two weekly interval sessions; the rest is mostly volume. We have five days per week in which you train.
  • We do regular intervals on Tuesday and Thursday, an easy on Wednesday, and longer training rides at the weekend.
  •  Saturday's ride might have intervals depending on the period of the season.
  • From this basis, we will adapt to each athlete. Some athletes will respond well to three hard sessions per week, while others only two.
  • I also think that this distribution might change with time and the goals. It may be the case that the polarised or pyramidal might work in different periods. We have to be open-minded about the different perspectives and methodologies.
  • Two of the hard sessions will be above MLSS/anaerobic threshold/LT2/critical power, and for example, the Saturday ride will focus on riding at the threshold.
  • I think tempo riding is a grey zone. Once you reach 90 % of the critical power, you enter lactate clearance.
  • So, I do not usually put a lot of mid-tempo work. However, for some people, that works well.
  • I met Stephen Seiler when we were working with Uno-X, and in podcasts, he has to explain the benefits of polarised training, but he is fully aware that there are caveats and that there might be other things to consider.
  • Moreover, we tend to forget that there are people that understand all the science behind the sport, listen to podcasts and read all research, but they might only have 30 minutes to train, so it makes sense to smash on those 30 minutes.
  • Not everyone has 1h30 to train in the evening after work. If you only have 20 minutes to train, you should not try to train like a professional.
  • You have to be open to changing your training accordingly because something that might work initially might not work in a later phase.
  • Finally, no one knows how we should train because if we knew, we would all train similarly. Science is only the most accepted view at a precise moment about a specific topic, and you apply that to yourself the best you can.

Athlete/coach relationship

1:01:14 -

  • A massive part of this is just empathy.
  • Any coach that has spent years in the sport understands this, and the best athletes often do not make the best coaches because the best athletes respond well to any training and do not have many setbacks.
  • Whereas I have been dropped more times than the races I have won, and it helps to understand when an athlete is feeling down or not enjoying it.
  • You can relate to that and understand their frustrations and mental state. I had races where I would drive 400 km, get dropped after 10 km, return, stop at a Burger King, and feel awful about the race and my "unhealthy" habits.
  • Athletes are emotional. We put so much effort into the sport that it is not something easy to deal with, as is the case with other sports.
  • You can attend other sports, train once or twice during the week, play a game on Sunday, and blame many others for failures or losses.
  • Athletes have to train for triathlons many hours per week and invest a lot in equipment. However, The race can still not go as planned.
  • Being there in those challenging moments is crucial as a coach because our sport has more lows than highs. If you can get through those lows, you will be successful.
  • There will be times when you will not improve, and athletes will not understand why. However, motivating and supporting them during these phases will allow them to succeed.
  • Some people treat athletes as if they were robots. But people forget that our society is intense at the moment.
  • I greatly respect people who can train and live in the city because it is challenging to train or cook meals when time is a limited resource.
  • For these people, we must work on improving recovery, training, and understanding the reasons for their current fitness level.
  • We all know we have to eat healthily and sleep at least eight hours per day, but as a coach, you only give athletes the tools to succeed. It would help if you did not dictate what athletes should do but educate them on how to do things to succeed.

Three pieces of advice to improve performance

1:07:56 -

  • Even if you succeed in an event, check what you could have done differently. Moreover, it is a fun process, but you need to be realistic. 
  • Then, have a scientific mindset where you try to apply science and logic in the best way to achieve better results because there are no "one-size" fits.
  • Finally, do not beat yourself up with a bad result and try again next time. It is not easy, but try to control this as best as possible.
  • One of the best races I have done in the last three years was an MTB race that I had not planned. I am not a lousy MTB rider, but I had so much fun because even though I was not good, I was racing with my local chain gang mates, and we had a good battle throughout the race.
  • So, try to do things that keep you happy.

Rapid-fire questions

1:11:00 -

What is your favourite book, blog or resource?

Scientific Training for Endurance Athletes by Dr Philip Friere Skiba

What is an important habit that benefited athletically, professionally or personally?

A good sleeping pattern helps me a lot, even though I have an unhealthy one. If I could add a nap, it would be even better, but I cannot do it often.

Who is someone you have looked up to or who has inspired you?

Dan Bigham. Having someone on a similar path as you of trying to improve constantly and proving his craft gives you the confidence to go out there and prove your theories. If your training partner goes well in sports, you will tend to go well.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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