Podcast, Training

Joel Filliol | EP#409

 September 25, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Joel Filliol - That Triathlon Show

Joel Filliol, coach of the #JFTcrew (Katie Zaferes, Vincent Luis, Vasco Vilaça, Jelle Geens and others), returns to the podcast to discuss training, performance, and the ever-increasing level and demands of short-course triathlon.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • How has triathlon and the demands of the sport developed in the last few years?
  • The impact of the Olympics and the phase of the Olympic cycle on training and racing planning and periodisation
  • Learnings and discussion points from the Paris Test Event
  • Being consistently good, not over-emphasising peaking
  • Tapering protocols
  • Technology and science - what's the signal and what's the noise
  • The importance of psychology
  • Tips for age-group athletes on how to improve their swim, bike and run training

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Joel's background

03:37 -

  • I began my coaching career in Canada around the year 2000, right around the time when Simon Whitfield achieved the first gold medal in the Sydney Olympics.
  •  My initial foray into coaching was through an online coaching enterprise, which might not have been as common back then. However, that's where my coaching journey began.
  • After Simon's Olympic victory, my big break came when I was invited to Victoria, British Columbia, to work as an apprentice coach. 
  • This marked the start of my real coaching career from 2001 to 2008. During this time, I held various coaching roles in Canada and Victoria. Eventually, I had the incredible opportunity to serve as the national and Olympic coach for the Beijing Olympics, where Simon won a silver medal.
  • After that, I moved to the UK and worked with British Triathlon for two years. 
  • Following the London Olympics, I established my squad, which we named JFT Crew. This venture has continued to thrive, with many successful athletes joining our ranks. Notable members include Tommy, Mario Mola, and Richard Murray, who all joined early on and have achieved great success through the Rio Games and Tokyo.
  • During this period, I also took on the role of Olympic performance director for Italy for four years. My journey then led me to Australia for a two-year stint. 
  • Throughout these adventures, I've been fortunate to have the support of my squad, even when I've been in different locations and engaged in various types of work. Drew Box, a former athlete I coached for a few years, also became a partner in the squad and has played a pivotal role in keeping things running smoothly.
  • I am based in Europe, with my sights set on building towards the Paris Olympic Games next year. It's been an exciting and rewarding journey through the coaching world, with many memorable experiences.

How triathlon demands evolved over time

06:49 -

  • Course Variety: Different triathlon courses, such as those in Rio, London, Tokyo, and the recent Paris Test event, have presented unique challenges. These courses vary in terrain, elevation, technicality, and other factors significantly influencing race dynamics.
  • Changing Bike Demands: Over the years, the demands of the bike leg have evolved. While flat courses with few laps characterised some early draft-legal races, many courses now feature numerous corners, creating more stochastic (unpredictable) racing. This evolution requires athletes to recover from repeated sprint efforts and develop advanced technical riding skills.
  • Impact of Carbon Plate Shoes: Introducing carbon plate shoes has been a game-changer in triathlon running. These shoes, often overlooked in discussions about run times, have a significant impact, especially considering that triathletes are already tired from swimming and cycling. It's worth noting that not all athletes are affected equally by these shoes.
  • Technical Bike Courses: More technical bike courses demand higher skill levels and concentration from athletes. Gone are the days of solely focusing on the wet run, which was once a stereotype of early draft-legal races.
  • Increasing Running Standards: The triathlon running level has consistently risen over time. Athletes are now expected to have both speed and endurance in their running abilities.
  • Shifts in Race Dynamics: Race dynamics in men's and women's triathlon have seen interesting shifts. Men's races have seen fewer breakaways and packs staying away, whereas women's races have often featured small group breakaways, possibly due to the high demands of the swim and technical skills required.
  • Impact of COVID Break: The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted triathlon, disrupting athletes' training and competition schedules. Some athletes missed crucial years of development, while others found the timing of their ascendance to the sport's top coinciding with the Tokyo Games.
  • Coaching and Training: The evolving nature of the sport raises questions about coaching, programming, and training. It's crucial for coaches and athletes not to become complacent and to continually adapt to the changing demands and circumstances.

The increased importance of the bike split

12:13 -

  • It's clear that the dynamics in triathlon races, especially on the men's side, have been evolving. Last year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Final, we witnessed a break from staying away in the men's race, ultimately leading to one of the athletes winning the world title. 
  • This shows that the sport has become more competitive, and athletes are pushing harder than ever.
  • As individual performances improve, it becomes challenging to work as a team. 
  • This phenomenon is similar to what happened with the Spanish men when Javi, Mario, and Fernando peaked. 
  • When everyone is at such a high level, it's difficult to employ a team strategy; it often ends up being three individuals racing.
  • The recent test event had a unique dynamic because athletes were primarily racing for selection standards, which might have affected their willingness to take risks. 
  • However, the overall trend in the sport is clear: athletes invest more in swimming, and the gaps between competitors are narrowing. Triathlon has become fiercely competitive, with even more minor differences significantly impacting race outcomes. This shift reflects the increasing level of competitiveness in the sport.

The introductions of other racing opportunities for athletes

14:14 -

  • Introducing the mixed relay as an Olympic event and an event that can drive investment and funding has had a significant impact on triathlon. 
  • There's an ongoing debate about how athletes prioritise relay events, especially when tagged into World Series races. 
  • One concern is the potential impact on athletes' health and injury resistance when they race in the relay and then again the next day, mainly when it involves different distances, such as a standard distance and a relay.
  • The idea of specialists for the relay was considered initially, but because both athletes in the relay team typically have to race all distances, specialisation has been limited. 
  • Triathlon includes a range of distances, from super sprint to standard distance, and it's essentially an aerobic sport regardless of the distance. 
  • Many coaches and athletes believe that athletes can adapt to racing shorter and longer distances without specialised preparation with the correct training methodology.
  • Regarding preparation, it often depends on an athlete's priorities, with the event often taking precedence. 
  • While a relay medal is significant, triathlon is inherently an individual sport, and athletes tend to target individual events as their primary focus.
  • The introduction of mixed relay has also affected the dynamics of national sports federations, giving them more influence in team composition and strategy. 
  • Evaluating mixed relay performance can be challenging due to the limited number of standalone super sprint races where athletes compete head-to-head. However, it's generally observed that the best individual performers make the best relay teams.
  • Statistics show that many athletes on medal-winning relay teams have previously won individual World Series medals. 
  • This suggests that individual solid performances often translate into success in relays. However, there can be differences among younger athletes who might excel in shorter races but have yet to mature for standard distance events.

Coaching aspects Joel adopted over time

19:40 -

  • Over time, there has been a growing emphasis on prioritising the technical aspects of triathlon, particularly in shorter distance races that often take place on compact and challenging courses. 
  • For instance, events like the Super League races in Toulouse and London feature bike courses that are less than 1 km in length, which demands a high level of technical skill.
  • The technical aspect of biking in triathlon is an ongoing challenge, especially for athletes who may not have a strong background in this area. 
  • These athletes must learn to apply power while navigating tricky courses effectively.
  • Balancing preparation for specific race courses with a season-long strategy is essential. 
  • Some races may be less technically demanding, like the test event in Paris, which can influence an athlete's preparation. However, in triathlon, success requires a diverse set of skills. 
  • Athletes must be strong on the bike to handle demanding courses and perform well in the subsequent running leg.

Coaching remotely

21:35 -

  • Working with a dedicated on-site coach like Drew can be immensely beneficial. Triathlon has a history of remote coaching, but it presents its own set of challenges. 
  • Being on the ground allows for better observation of an athlete's body language, informal communication, and recovery status. This proximity aids in fine-tuning the training plan to optimise recovery, absorption, and adaptation. 
  • Remote coaching, though effective, can sometimes feel detached from decision-making. I've come to appreciate the value of being physically present in the coaching process. 
  • It's a more optimal way of working, even though it's not always possible.
  • Remote coaching during situations like COVID or due to scheduling conflicts can be challenging. 
  • Communication becomes a hurdle, and making real-time adjustments crucial for preventing injuries or optimising training loads is harder. 
  • While remote coaching has its merits, being on-site is generally considered a superior model. 
  • These past years have highlighted the importance of refining the remote coaching process and identifying essential information when athletes are not physically present. 
  • I value seeing, feeling, and hearing firsthand how athletes are doing.
  • When it comes to remote communication, I find that verbal exchanges are invaluable. 
  • Hearing tone and mood provide context that text-based messages can't quite capture. 
  • While text communication has become more prevalent, it's important to remember the richness of voice communication.
  • In training load management, I've learned to build a buffer. 
  • This means allowing for a margin of safety below what an athlete can handle. 
  • This ensures that if things don't go as planned, there's room for adjustment without pushing them too close to their limits.
  • Timely feedback about physical issues is crucial. Even if an immediate change isn't needed, it's important to register any discomfort or tightness so that it can inform future training plans. 
  • I also like offering alternative options in advance, primarily if an athlete trains independently. 
  • This way, they have a plan B ready if the original plan doesn't feel right.
  • Knowing the athlete well allows for a more precise approach, but regardless, I make it a point not to overestimate what they can handle remotely. 
  • I've learned from experience that being too aggressive with training programs can lead to issues. So, I aim to leave enough space for the natural variations that athletes go through in a given training period. 
  • This ensures a more sustainable and adaptable approach to training.

The impact of the Olympic cycle on periodisation

28:12 -

  • The first point I'd like to make is about the impact of the shorter Olympic cycle, which is now just three years since Tokyo. This change removes the usual building-back year that athletes typically have. 
  • This extra year is vital as it allows athletes to take a break, assess their focus, and potentially decide if they want to pursue longer or different events. It also provides time for rebuilding and recovery.
  • The Olympic triathlon qualification period starts shortly after the previous Olympics and lasts two years. 
  • While top athletes may not solely rely on rankings, they still play a significant role in the qualification process.
  • Looking ahead to the next 12 months, it's important to note that the test event doesn't align perfectly with the Olympic calendar.
  • The Paris Olympics next year will be held at the end of July, a bit late in the season. This timing impacts an athlete's choice of races leading up to the Games.
  • Regarding race scheduling, this season focuses on qualification, leading to internal battles among athletes. 
  • Some prioritise the test event, skipping races in June and July to prepare adequately. Finding the right balance is crucial, as the series still holds importance.
  • The professional dynamics differ for athletes, with larger federations offering more support and resources, allowing some to focus solely on the Games. 
  • However, the allure of the Olympics often leads athletes to choose the event over higher professional earnings.
  • Regarding the relay, the opportunity to race in events like Sunderland is appealing, and it's a factor that needs to be considered when planning the race calendar.
  • The timing of the last race before the Olympics is a critical decision. Some athletes choose not to race in the weeks leading up to the Games to minimise the risk of injury or illness. 
  • Finding the right balance between maintaining form and minimising risks is essential.
  • Reproducing performance under the Games' pressure, expectations, and unique conditions is the ultimate goal. 
  • Many athletes struggle to replicate their previous success, even those capable of winning medals. 
  • The challenge lies in managing energy expenditure, interviews, and distractions while focusing on training and recovery.
  • Having a buffer and keeping something in reserve during the Olympic year can be a valuable strategy, as it accounts for the extra demands and energy expenditure associated with the Games. 
  • This approach helps ensure consistent peak performance when it matters most.
  • In any major athletic event, it's common for athletes to push themselves to the limit in their preparation. However, this can sometimes lead to problems. 
  • Many athletes have experienced their best races slipping away before the big day due to overstretching during training. 
  • This drive to excel comes with risks, and what can derail an athlete's performance in significant events are issues related to their physical well-being, such as injuries or niggles. 
  • These injuries can take out contenders and decrease the competitiveness of the event. Illness is another significant factor; some are preventable, while others are more challenging to avoid. 
  • When athletes push themselves to their limits in training, managing stress, recovery, and life stress becomes crucial. 
  • The closer athletes operate to their physical limits, the more susceptible they become to these issues.
  • Even in more minor sports like triathlon, where media attention may not be as widespread except during major events like the Games, there is still external pressure from sponsors, federations, and media to be as visible and active as possible. 
  • Some athletes thrive on this attention, finding it energising, but for others, it can be exhausting and potentially detrimental to their performance. 
  • Understanding the individual athlete's needs and preferences is essential. Coaches and support staff need to strike a balance between allowing athletes to engage in external activities and protecting their focus on the essentials: eating right, getting sufficient rest, training effectively, and maintaining their concentration. 
  • This balance ensures that athletes are prepared for peak performance when it matters most.

Takeaways from the test event

36:32 -

  • Before discussing the race, there was some uncertainty about whether a swim would occur due to varying conditions. While elite athletes managed the swim, Para athletes could not complete it, raising concerns. 
  • Notably, the sand's behaviour in the water was a topic of discussion.
  • The swim segment of the race was more selective than usual, with more significant gaps between the front and the rest of the field. Tristats.com provided valuable data, showing that the swim led to more spread-out groups and a more distinctive second group.
  • The strong current, with speeds of up to half a meter per second, created a fast-paced swim.
  •  Athletes faced challenges coming out of the water, and some appeared unable to recover, given the gap from the front. 
  • The men's race, in particular, saw a negative racing dynamic, with athletes hesitating to work together.
  • Although generally smooth, the comprehensive course allowed for a fast bike segment, with power outputs lower than on more technical courses. 
  •  The women's race had a clear split between the front group and the rest of the field.
  • The transition congestion was a significant factor, as starting in a massive group meant a considerable gap to the back. 
  • Despite the large field, there were internal races within the event. However, it was noted that the Olympic Games might have a different dynamic, as athletes can influence the race's demands.
  • Due to the limit of three athletes per country, the smaller field at the Games was mentioned. Qualifying three athletes has become more challenging due to ranking criteria changes, resulting in a broader range of athletes competing at the Games than other events.
  • There are several key takeaways from our findings. To generalise, it's clear that being an excellent swimmer and maintaining a high fitness level in running is crucial. 
  • This is similar to what's required in a standard World Triathlon race. However, it's important to note that our observations revealed differences, particularly in the cycling component. 
  • Some races may have demanding bike courses with steep hills or other factors that significantly impact training and preparation, which might not be as relevant for the Paris Games.

Bike courses that allow for a break to stay away

42:58 -

  • U-turns in racing aren't ideal for creating separation due to the dynamics involved when you're carrying higher speed into a turn. Nowadays, the hills need to be significant to separate the field. 
  • These athletes are all extreme, so it's rare for someone to be left behind solely because of a hill. What plays a role is the combination of corners and hills, especially in races like Bermuda, where the hill might be only a minute or a minute and a half. 
  • Pretty much anyone can handle a hill like that. However, it becomes a different story when you have to navigate eight laps and other technical and fast corners (not U-turns but other types of corners).
  • An interesting example is the World Cycling Championships in Glasgow. 
  • While it's a much longer race, it had around 20 corners per lap. Listening to the road cyclists discuss how to race a criterium-style race with hills and corners was fascinating. 
  • The unique demands of such courses led to many athletes falling behind. While this isn't a direct comparison to our races, it highlights how different types of courses can impact race dynamics.
  • Ideally, a course with short hills and technical corners that aren't 180-degree turns will most likely create separation. 
  • But it's important to note that the athletes themselves significantly influence the race outcome. 
  • Often, we witness a group break away right at the start of the bike leg, even if it didn't seem likely after the swim. This is because they race aggressively and commit to riding at maximum effort for the first lap or the initial five minutes. 
  • Multiple athletes need to share this commitment for a successful breakaway.
  • However, it's a delicate balance, as it only takes one or two athletes not pulling their weight to disrupt the dynamic. Making such a breakaway work depends on the athletes' strategies, and they often have different priorities. Some may conserve energy after swimming, while others want to follow wheels. 
  • When a breakaway does succeed, it usually starts forming right at the beginning of the bike leg, with a gap quickly opening up. This happens because everyone in the breakaway is equally committed to the effort, and there are very few passengers. 
  • Typically, a group of more than six or seven athletes becomes challenging to manage, as you inevitably have people missing turns or not pulling through, affecting the race's dynamics.

Peaking for a race

46:35 -

  •  My philosophy has evolved in peaking for top-level races. While achieving one's best performance of the year, known as peaking, has its merits, I've come to believe it might be overrated as a concept or objective. 
  • Instead, I've embraced a consistency-based approach, especially relevant in events like the Olympic Triathlon, where success is determined by the four best races plus the final.
  • Consistency throughout the season has been a primary goal for our training group. This means striving to maintain a high level of performance not just during peak events but also during various points in the season. 
  • Achieving this consistency involves effective periodisation and load management. We aim to be competitive in races held early in the season, such as in March, and sustain that competitiveness through to events in August or September.
  • Our approach includes periods of training load management, followed by retraining or rebuilding phases. It's important not to cling to the specific training and competition phases for too long, as this can become unsustainable due to the intensity and recovery demands. 
  • Prolonged periods of lower chronic load can lead to a decline in fitness over time.
  • One common periodisation mistake is entering the competition phase of specific training too early and attempting to maintain it throughout the season. Instead, I focus on how to build up to a high level of performance and then strategically rebuild during the season. 
  • This approach could be seen as multi-periodisation, emphasising consistently high performance rather than a rigid periodisation model.
  • For significant events, our goal is to deliver a predictable performance based on similar past experiences. We believe that by planning and preparing effectively, we can achieve this level of performance multiple times throughout the year.
  • This approach not only improves performance but also builds athlete confidence steadily. 

Chronic load throughout the season

51:04 -

  • In terms of managing the training schedule, it largely depends on the time available, often dictated by the calendar. However, my approach is to manipulate the intensity. 
  • We may need to reduce the intensity of race-specific training to build up chronic load. We can decrease the need for such specific preparation as the season progresses. Confidence plays a crucial role in this process, knowing that as time passes, we can focus more on basic aerobic training or sub-threshold work.
  • One common mistake is revisiting a similar race-specific training block as earlier in the year during the break between racing periods. 
  • This approach can lead to burnout, as it becomes challenging to sustain the high-intensity workload. Instead, we prioritise a recharge of lower-intensity volume work. 
  • This helps build the capacity needed to compete again or to rebuild the foundational capacity for racing.
  • As the season unfolds, specific training phases become shorter. For example, in the period between the test event and the Grand Final, we reduce specific work and opt for a shorter, more focused block closer to the final event. 
  • This contrasts with the earlier part of the year when we might have dedicated several weeks to specific training after rebuilding aerobic foundations.
  • The key is to balance race-specific intensity and foundational training throughout the season, adapting as needed to ensure athletes are prepared and motivated for peak performance.


53:18 -

  • The length of our taper leading up to a race depends on the previous training block's duration. 
  • For example, we might need a longer taper if we've had an eight-week training block before our May races and considering the current World Triathlon calendar with its gaps between top-level races. 
  • This taper typically spans about 14 days, during which we gradually reduce the intensity volume while maintaining frequency.
  • During race week, our approach varies depending on travel and time zones. However, we aim to maintain some consistency for predictability. 
  • We follow a seven-day microcycle for our training, which simplifies our planning. When faced with races that don't align with the usual weekend schedule, like test events, we must adjust and plan to create a similar race-week pattern despite the unusual race day.
  • For most of our races, typically on weekends, our Monday-to-Friday routine remains quite similar. 
  • We might make minor adjustments based on the chronic load leading up to race week or the two weeks prior, but these changes are relatively minor and involve the volume and intensity of training.
  • Our race-specific sharpening work varies depending on the taper's length. In a longer taper, we incorporate shorter, race-specific sharpening sessions. 
  • In a shorter taper, we extend these sessions. The goal is to maintain a sense of predictability in our performance.
  • Interestingly, we've experimented with minimal tapering for minor races, such as the French Grand Prix, and found surprisingly strong performances. This has led me to reflect on whether we often overthink race-week tapering. 
  • Excessive tapering might negatively affect athletes who aren't pushing their training load to the maximum. 
  • They might report feeling flat, having only one gear, or feeling sleepy during races, which indicates something was off – perhaps they were over-rested or under-recovered.

Factors for "over resting"

57:50 -

  • I've observed different approaches and preferences when managing athletes' training leading up to a race. Some athletes are concerned about feeling tired during race week and tend to reduce both the intensity and volume of their training. This can have a double impact on their training stimulus. 
  • However, I've learned that this approach doesn't apply universally.
  • Over time, I've noticed that some athletes respond positively to significantly reducing training stimulus, bouncing back and feeling fresher. 
  • However, this doesn't hold for everyone. In my experience, only a minority, perhaps around 20% of my athletes, benefit from such a substantial reduction. Most fall into the middle category—they benefit from reduced training load leading up to the race week. We typically start tapering before the week of the race, manipulating the training loads to gradually decrease. 
  • It's common for athletes to wonder why they don't feel great immediately after tapering begins, but it's important to emphasise that recovery doesn't happen overnight.
  • I believe in individualising and understanding each athlete's unique needs. We try to gauge their response in previous races during the buildup to determine the best tapering strategy. 
  • Additionally, athletes often come to us seeking improvement and change. We discuss their previous tapering approaches and consider what a standard approach might be. Then, we experiment and adapt based on their specific context.
  • Factors such as athletes' typical training load and how much they can tolerate significantly determine the optimal taper length. Sometimes, it becomes clear that an athlete performs significantly better a week after the target event than expected. 
  • In such cases, we assess the context and consider how to adjust our approach in the future individually.
  • Ultimately, the date and demands of the event remain constant. We have control over the individual factors and aim to produce a predictable and peak performance based on those factors.

Training during taper

1:01:11 -

  • During race preparation, the training volume is strategically adjusted to optimise performance. Typically, we taper the training load in the week leading up to the race. For example, if we usually have a long run or session on Saturdays that can last from 75 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, we'll reduce it to around 60 to 75 minutes the weekend before the race. 
  • Similarly, if we have bike sessions on Sundays, ranging from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the training cycle, we'll cut that in half the week preceding the race.
  • Once we enter race week, the overall training pattern remains consistent, following our usual weekly template. However, the critical difference is the weekend's training volume. 
  • This reduction is because race distances are generally shorter than what we typically train for. The race involves less training volume, even in standard distance or longer races. Therefore, the training volume during race week might seem deceivingly low, but this is a planned adjustment.
  • Throughout race week, we aim to maintain the same pattern of activation. Consistency in the activation frequency helps athletes maintain their rhythm and momentum as they approach the race. 
  • This structured tapering and maintenance of training patterns are crucial for peak performance on race day.
  • For example, if I typically have a 45,000-meter swim in my training routine during race week, I would reduce it to around 3,000 meters or something similar. The same principle applies to running sessions; they become slightly shorter. 
  • For instance, if I usually do a 75 to 90-minute run on a Tuesday during race week, it might be reduced to 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Reducing the volume serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it has a psychological aspect, signalling that something is different, and it helps mentally prepare me for the race. 
  • Secondly, it acknowledges the practical challenges of race week, such as potential travel. Even short trips to the race venue can consume a significant portion of the day. Therefore, reducing training volume ensures I have enough energy to cope with these additional stresses and perform at my best on race day. 
  • This approach effectively manages the recovery process and builds a buffer to account for the unique demands of race week.

Gear & Technology

1:04:30 -

  • Sports nutrition products and a better understanding of carbohydrate intake have positively impacted athletic performance over the last decade, particularly in race fuelling.
  • The proliferation of wearables and devices in recent years has been noteworthy, but it's crucial to maintain a discerning approach. It's easy to become overwhelmed with data and distracted by the latest technologies.
  • Making sense of the vast amount of data generated by wearables remains a challenge. Some devices may not be as accurate as we assume, and their usefulness in real-time decision-making is sometimes limited.
  • Dr. Sean Allen's analysis of sleep trackers highlighted issues with their accuracy, often revealing retroactive information rather than aiding in proactive decision-making.
  • The quote "bad data is worse than no data" resonates with the scepticism surrounding some of the data generated by wearables. It's essential to avoid making training decisions solely based on wearable data, as athletes' subjective feelings and moods also play a significant role in performance.
  • Integrating psychology into training is fascinating, particularly in understanding the psychological factors that influence training decisions and performance.
  • Maintaining a critical filter when evaluating new technologies and data sources is crucial, as it helps prevent overreliance on potentially flawed data.
  • In the triathlon world, interest in lactate testing has been resurgent, indicating a renewed focus on optimising training and performance.
  • This isn't a new concept, as athletes have been using lactate testing for over two decades, starting with capillary tubes and evolving to modern blood drop devices. 
  • However, when considering the cost and complexity involved, I've often found it challenging to see the added value in these tests, especially in a group training environment.
  • A particular image is associated with high-performance sports, where you must extensively use sophisticated testing methods. 
  • I've observed athletes taking photos of their lactate meters, almost as if it's a status symbol. This trend raises questions about its underlying motivations.
  • I remain sceptical about the value of many of these tests, even though I'm open to different methodologies. Over time, I've appreciated training basics, such as run speed, distance, and bike power. 
  • We collect many data points weekly from our athletes, but the critical question is: What can we influence, and what helps us make better decisions?
  • Despite the proliferation of testing gadgets, my approach focuses on what truly adds value. There's often a rush to market with these devices, and it's essential to consider the algorithms they rely on. 
  • For instance, some devices measure skin temperature and use algorithms to estimate core temperature. While these may be somewhat accurate, they aren't a direct measure of core temperature.
  • Another example is Garmin devices that provide acclimatisation and recovery information. 
  • While these might be helpful for newcomers to the sport, experienced athletes often question their accuracy. As you progress in your athletic journey, you question the real value behind these features and whether they truly align with your training needs.

New devices used

1:14:00 -

  • Regarding new advancements, we've experimented with accelerometers and other devices to measure swimming technique. 
  • However, I must admit that I've encountered challenges in finding something convenient and applicable based on the data from these devices. 
  • We've tried various approaches, but extracting meaningful insights from the data remains challenging.


1:15:25 -

  • Building an athlete's confidence is an integral part of my training approach. I believe it should be integrated into the training plan immediately. Rather than emphasising extreme challenges or situations that might lead to failure, I aim to design training plans that maximise the likelihood of the athlete's success. If an athlete struggles with a session, I consider it my responsibility to re-evaluate their recovery and capabilities or better understand their feedback.
  • I operate under the assumption that athletes genuinely strive to complete tasks to the best of their ability. They trust that I have tailored the plan according to their capabilities. 
  • If they face difficulties, they may begin to doubt themselves. I actively seek to avoid this situation.
  • My orientation is to consistently build confidence by successfully completing training objectives and anticipated intensities. 
  • This can involve expanding the acceptable range of performance metrics like threshold values, recognising that they can vary day-to-day. 
  • It's crucial to understand that athlete development is a multi-year process. It's not just about prescribing training; it's about working with individuals and their motivations. 
  • Athletes in our field are typically highly motivated and voluntarily committed to improving their performance. Our role as coaches is to guide this motivation in a way that prevents overtraining, going in the wrong direction, or chasing confidence.
  • One recurring challenge, especially in elite sports, is athletes being influenced by others' performances. 
  • This can lead them to chase training volumes or intensities that might not suit their current level or needs. With the advent of social media and platforms like Strava, athletes often see impressive training sessions without understanding the context, which can affect their confidence and decision-making.
  • It's essential to emphasise that the proper training for each athlete at a particular moment matters most. Comparing oneself to others, especially those currently winning races, isn't productive. 
  • Even the best athletes can fall into this trap of external influence. 
  • Our job as coaches is to reinforce patience, emphasise the process, and avoid getting caught up in the ego-driven pursuit of performance.
  • We must be vigilant in identifying self-sabotaging behaviour in athletes. Some might push themselves too hard in training, thinking it will lead to better results. 
  • This can create a vicious cycle of overtraining and underperforming. Coaches need to intervene by offering perspective and objectivity beyond just the numbers. 
  • It's not merely about prescribing training; it's about how we communicate, what we reinforce, and what we don't.
  • One common pitfall for coaches is getting overly excited when athletes exceed their training targets. 
  • While it may look and feel good in the short term, it's crucial to consider the long-term impact. Over time, consistently overshooting training goals can decrease recovery capacity and potentially necessitate extended rest periods. 
  • Our role is to maintain a balanced and sustainable approach to training that prioritises an athlete's long-term development and well-being over short-term performance gains.
  • In triathlon training, it's essential to avoid overdoing any one discipline, as it can negatively impact performance in the others.
  • Triathletes need to excel in swimming, cycling, and running, so prioritising one discipline excessively can be counterproductive.
  • Effective coaching involves designing training programs and using the right words and psychology to motivate athletes.
  • The way training is discussed and thought about can impact training outcomes significantly.
  • Integrating psychology into coaching is crucial, especially with advancements in training science and growing awareness of physiology.
  • Coaches should focus on developing their skills in understanding and managing athletes' psychology.
  • Athletes with low confidence or a series of underperformances may need special attention and strategies to regain their confidence.
  • A negative mindset can lead to a vicious cycle of poor performance, so breaking this cycle is essential.
  • Strategies like participating in smaller races or using tools beyond traditional periodisation and physiology planning may be necessary to boost athlete confidence and performance.

Tips for age group athletes

1:26:34 -

  • When it comes to improving your swimming, I can't stress enough the power of frequency. Swimming more often, even for short sessions like 15 or 20 minutes, can significantly accelerate your technical learning, especially if you don't have a swimming background. 
  • Adding a quick swim to your routine after a bike or run session can make a noticeable difference. 
  • Although the benefits may plateau after swimming around four times a week, adding an extra swim can be a game-changer for those swimming less frequently. Just being in the water regularly can work wonders for your swimming skills.
  • Shifting to cycling, consider the terrain you train on. If you have access to hills, use them to your advantage. Incorporating hill training into your cycling regimen can be incredibly effective. For example, when we train in mountainous regions or at altitudes, we often benefit significantly from the added climbing without necessarily doing more specific training sessions. 
  • This principle can apply to training camps or when you choose venues. Opt for routes with more elevation changes if possible.
  • Also, pay attention to your riding position. Avoid spending all your time on the hoods of your handlebars. Learning to ride in the aero position and generate power from there is crucial. 
  • Many athletes experience discomfort, sore backs, or tight hamstrings post-race because they didn't practice and maintain this position. Even in races where aero bars aren't allowed, we practice riding with our elbows down and in the drops to close the hip angle. 
  • This skill is crucial when you're facing wind resistance. 
  • While it might seem obvious for long-distance races, I often see people cruising or riding casually in the aero position, which can limit their performance.
  • Finally, for running, use terrain to your advantage, especially hills. Whether it's an overpass or a treadmill, hill training can help you develop your posterior chain and improve your ability to push up inclines. 
  • This technique can also benefit your flat running performance.

Hill running

1:31:01 -

  • Incorporating hilly long runs into my training can be highly beneficial. 
  • These runs provide a combination of uphill and downhill terrain. Even when running downhill at an easy pace, eccentric loading can help strengthen muscles.
  • I tend to keep things relatively flat during the initial stages of the training cycle, especially when transitioning from the off-season. However, I gradually introduced hills as I progressed through the training plan. This hill training isn't limited to general runs; it extends to basic runs, including long runs.
  • Moreover, hills become a crucial component of specific sessions. Before moving on to other workouts like fartleks or track sessions, starting with hill workouts can be incredibly valuable. 
  • Hills are both a technical tool and a means to enhance power transfer. They also contribute significantly to improving running mechanics and skills, making them hard to beat in terms of their overall impact on training.

Performance factor that most athletes can optimise

1:32:19 -

  • Regarding athletes, a recurring consideration for me is understanding their optimal training load and how this evolves. 
  • This is especially apparent in my work with athletes at various stages of their careers. 
  • Some are just starting, while others are approaching the end of their Olympic cycles or competitive journeys. I've observed how the specific training requirements can vary for athletes with extensive experience. 
  • Due to their accumulated expertise and muscle memory, they often need less focus on specific aspects. This confidence in their foundational abilities significantly influences their performance.
  • A striking example is when seasoned athletes face a forced break due to injury or illness. Surprisingly, they often return to form more swiftly than anticipated. 
  • This is a testament to their wealth of training experience and muscle memory. Many individuals may find themselves in similar situations due to a hiatus for various reasons or simply needing a confidence boost. 
  • Knowing that you've accumulated significant training miles can be a powerful asset, influencing what is optimal for you at any given stage.
  • However, I've noticed that some athletes become fixated on their past routines, which can hinder performance. What once led to success or peak performance in their triathlon journey may need adjustment over time. It's almost certain that these approaches will evolve. Some athletes hold onto the speeds they achieved in their youth, which can be counterproductive. They often don't require the same stimulus level as they did earlier in their careers.
  • This is an aspect I've been pondering and managing. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer, it's a pertinent and timely consideration in maximising the potential of each athlete I work with.


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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