Podcast, Training

Björn Geesmann | EP#426

 February 29, 2024

By  Mikael Eriksson

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

426 Björn Geesmann

Björn Geesmann is the coach of Patrick Lange and Kat Matthews, and the CEO of HYCYS and The Aerow wind tunnel. He returns to the podcast for a long discussion on a number of training-related topics.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Psychology in training, racing and coaching
  • Run training and running economy
  • Considerations for how to distribute volume and intensity within and between swimming, biking and running
  • Tapering
  • Listener questions
  • ...and much more

Sponsored by:

Precision Fuel & Hydration
Precision Fuel & Hydration help athletes personalise their hydration and fueling strategies for training and racing. Use the free Fuel & Hydration Planner to get personalised plan for your carbohydrate, sodium and fluid intake in your next event. That Triathlon Show listeners get 15% off their first order of fuel and electrolyte products. Simply use this link and the discount will be auto-applied at the checkout.

Zen8 Swim Trainer Logo

Zen8
The ZEN8 Indoor Swim Trainer allows you to improve technique, power, and swim training consistency. You can target specific aspects of your stroke, like catch and pull-through, work on core activation and body position, and make sure you stay consistent in your swim training even when you don't have time to go to the pool. Try the Zen8 risk-free for 30 days, and get 20% off your first order on zen8swimtrainer.com/tts.

Shownotes

Björn's background and current work and projects

02:06 -

  • I'm 36 years old from Hamburg, Germany. 
  • I studied sports science and work in triathlon as the coach of a handful of pro triathletes. 
  • We have an institute with three locations called Hycys, which caters to amateur and professional athletes with coaching, bike fitting, performance diagnostics and aero testing services.
  • I also run a big community coaching project with the German Triathlon Magazine called Power and Pace.
  • And we are building a wind tunnel in southern Germany exclusively for cyclists and triathletes.

Psychology

04:36 -

  • I once realized when I started working in professional triathlon which is very intense with a lot of close contact that I had some limitations in so-called “soft skills”, related to e.g. motivation, anxiety, calming down, and activating the athlete.
  • I did a degree in mental coaching, which firstly helped me to get to know myself better than before. I then started asking myself how my actions were or were not helping the athlete from a psychological point of view, and how my actions were related to my personality. I realised I could do a better job trying to match the athlete’s personality and finding better solutions that way.
  • Typically these situations would be related to not fully understanding why a certain challenge is such a big problem for the athlete. So trying to understand the problem from the athlete’s point of view, what he or she needs, and open up for a discussion. This helps reduce conflict situations in the coach-athlete relationship.  
  • For real trauma or bigger psychological challenges I always recommend my athletes visit an actual psychologist. 
  • The race itself and days before the race mental skills and teaching mental skills also helps. Activating and motivating, calming down, reducing anxiety, preparing for certain race situations that might come up and how to react mentally. 
  • One common issue is impatience and acceptance. For example, when you get ill or injured almost every triathlete is in some way impatient with that. The question is, how strong is the impatience? Can you accept that you are ill and you know you'll have to wait, or is it something that really impacts your mood to being very bad and ruins your days and then you’re not only ill but also grumpy, sad and maybe developing anxiety. You can choose to be grumpy now that you are ill, and it might last several days, or you can try to accept the situation andconcentrate on other stuff, enjoying things you can still do when you are ill, maybe some good food and a glass of wine, and have a better mood due to your acceptance of the situation and better confidence that it is ok to be ill now and it won’t ruin your whole preparation leading up to the race. The best example of not having accepted the situation is starting too early and then have a setback and be ill for even longer and make it worse than it was before. 

Run training and running economy

18:58 -

  • Running economy is probably the biggest black box we have in training. The tools you can use for improving your running economy range from running volume, running intensity, strength training, plyometrics etc. So tons of tools you can use and all totally different to one another.
  • The main for me is that if you want to improve your running economy, at first you need to know what your running economy currently is. Then use trial and error in training, and test again. Then you can see what really helped to improve your running economy.
  • For example, for Patrick (Lange) neither running volume nor plyometrics helps his running economy. What I know works for him is to have lots of quality kilometres, well-fueled with very specific intensities, and then a lot of stuff going on next to running itself. Like visiting his physiotherapist twice a week and doing a lot of athletic training and stability work. 
  • Patrick’s running volume is around 55 km per week on average, and he doesn’t do any very long runs. In the last 4 years he has done a two-hour training run maybe 4-5 times, and there probably will be at most one in the 2024 season. Normally his long runs are up to one and a half hours at most. 
  • I look at the right volume as something you can really be 100% sure of that that's your average over the whole preparation for the upcoming season, and not get injured. Patrick has missed maybe 3-4 days due to running injuries since I’ve been working with him, so he has been very consistent with his 50 to 60 km per week.  
  • I look at the risk vs. reward of running volume. Often the 20 to 30 km more per week athletes are doing might not really help them run faster, but it increases risk. Instead, they could reduce the volume nad spend that time on other things that might help their run performance with less risk, like plyometrics, stability work, athletic training, technique work, and then measure it and see if it worked or not. 
  • For intensity I mainly use three different kinds of intensities which is endurance base 1 (normal endurance running), endurance base 2 (~85-95% of threshold pace), and then everything around your threshold pace (95-105%). Very rarely do I use anything more intense than this. 
  • In the training, pure Endurance Base 1 runs are pretty rare. At a minimumI like to include some running around 80% of threshold pace, for example 3-5 times 800, 1000 or 1500 metres within an Endurance Base 1 run. 
  • Normally I prescribe 4 runs a week. 5 is the absolute maximum. 
  • You always have to consider the context of each run, and how that influences stress and adaptation. Did you have a long, intense ride in the morning before your afternoon run, or is it an is it a “fresh” run after breakfast? Is this the third consecutive day you’re running, with threshold work on day 1, Endurance Base 2 on day 2, and Endurance Base 1 on day 3? That is different than Endurance Base 1 without the two preceding days. 
  • As the zones are pretty wide (e.g. 85% of threshold for somebody with a threshold of 3:00 / km is very different than 95%) it is important to educate the athlete and that the athlete learns to decide based on his feelings and fatigue how to adjust within a zone and still achieve the goal of the session. 
  • I think the development of your running economy can be really effective in Endurance Base 2. You'll spend a lot of time of your 50-60 km running per week with a really good intensity, not too low, not too high. You can handle it for quite a long time without being afraid of risking any injuries. 
  • You could also replace some Endurance Base 2 with training around threshold, but again it is a risk vs. reward thing. The development of your VO2max is probably even better with this higher intensity running, but how often can you do threshold runs, and  how well recovered do you need to be for it? 
  • With running economy there is a familiarisation effect. For example, a classic marathon runner who trains a lot at their comfort zone close to race pace, but never doing threshold intervals. They can have a good running economy at race pace, but a really bad economy at threshold, because the never get to practise the neuromuscular aspects of running at threshold, or the respiratory system at that intensity. You can’t only train at one intensity and do some plyometrics and then hope to have good economy at a different intensity. You need to train at or around that intensity. 
  • For Patrick, one of his four weekly runs would have the goal of increasing his VO2max, and for that we use threshold intervals. For example, he just did a 23 km run with 4 x 1 km at threshold. We will increase this over time to 6-8 x 1 km but not longer than that because of the risk vs. reward. And a minimum of two of the other runs will have some Endurance Base 2 work, four example 3 x 8 minutes, 4 x 12 minutes. I like to use the range of this zone, for example prescribing one interval in the middle, one at the upper end and one at the lower end of the range. And then one single run is just a typical endurance (Base 1) run without any intensities. Sometimes just with some neuromuscular activation, like two to four times 6-8 second acceleration. But even here I would be careful and only add this in the right context of the training program. 
  • With Patrick and other athletes they have the great privilege of having a physiotherapist they see very regularly to find individual challenges and opportunities, like imbalances and so on. With this you can make your athletic training really individualised. 
  • I would say four times 1-1.5 hours per week is planned for what we call athletic training (training outside of swim, bike run training). But this is really training, not a massage. The massage is extra, outside of the actual training volume.  
  • Core training for example is very important, for swimming, cycling and running. If you’re not in the luxurious position of having your own physiotherapist to train with, at least doing some general core training a few times per week. I’m a big fan of TRX bands and TRX training for example. Don’t make things too complicated, it always makes sense to spend 3 x 20 minutes per week on TRX or some other core training. 
  • It also makes sense to visit a physiotherapist regularly, because they can tell you where your potential imbalances are and then you can adapt the core training accordingly. 
  • Weight training is something I wouldn’t necessarily recommend for everybody. You want to make sure you have really good technique if you are going to do that. It’s best to do it if you have someone around watching you and correcting your movements. The reward is not as big as the risk of injury if you do it wrong. 
  • You could combine core training with something like yoga however. If you do core training and yoga three times a week it would be perfect. You can do a one-hour session with 45 minutes core training and 15 minutes of yoga. 
  • If I have to rank core training (e.g. TRX), plyometrics, weight training, and mobility training (e.g. yoga) as general advice for an age group triathlete I would say
    1. Core training
    2. Mobility training
    and forget the rest. Just focus on those two. This is very general advice, but also to keep things simple, because core and mobility training you can do basically anytime, but if you do weight training you have to really think about when it should be done in your schedule, you can’t just do it at any time.

More about the overall training structure for professional triathletes

1:05:45 -

  • When I write the program for somebody like Patrick I start from some fixed points in the plan that I think are mandatory parts of a triathlon professional triathletes training plan. 
  • The most important one is a rest day. You can do nothing at all, or something light like an hour of easy riding on the rest day, or swim for 2-2.5 km. But the definition of a recovery day is that in the morning of the day after, you feel way better than on the morning of your recovery day. You can even do a longer ride if you feel good, it makes you feel better the next day, and you fuel the ride well. But I would absolutely not recommend a run on the rest day, not even a 20-minute run, because of the impact of the run and the biomechanical stress. 
  • Mandatory is also that there is a certain volume in all three disciplines. For swimming for example you need to have four to five workouts minimum. Four is fine if there's some travel or other special circumstances but normally I would say five is the number that has to be in your plan.The volume of a single session starts at 4 km, usually they are 4-5.5 km, so overall we’re looking at 20-25 km of swimming per week. If you then look at the intensity, athere is everything from threshold to high intensity to going long in endurance base 1. 
  • For biking, I don’t count the ride on the rest day as a training ride. But then, unless there is a second rest day in the week, I normally give 6 actual bike rides in the week.
  • I’m not a fan of the really intense sessions on the day after the rest day, so normally there can be a moderately intense bike session on Tuesday (if Monday is a rest day) and then the most intense session on Wednesday, and another moderate one on Thursday. Friday can be an endurance ride, and the main focus of that day is on swimming and running. Saturday and Sunday you might again have a bit more intensity on the bike.   
  • On training camps I prefer to think in four or five-day blocks. So you would have some moderate intensity on day one, higher intensity on day 2, maybe some strength endurance on day 3, and then endurance rides on days 4 (and 5). 
  • How you choose the intensities to work on within these sessions in swimming, biking and running in the end is all about the physiological profile you have in each discipline. Your VO2max, economy, and anaerobic metabolism and which one is the limiter to your performance. 
  • For example, if your VO2max on the bike is to low, you have to choose whether to improve your VO2max by high intensity, threshold intensity, zone 2 or just endurance training. It is for sure not just endurance training, but then for the other options it’s always a distribution of intensity and volume, how high do you want the intensity and how frequently do you want it. In cycling I am definitely using intensities above threshold regularly, because in cycling it has way less risk of injuries than in running. I think it’s important to do your hardes sessions in a somewhat recovered state, so for example on the second or third day of your training block, and not at the very end, as I think being recovered helps to not just get through the session but actually adapting to it. 
  • On the other hand, if your anaerobic metabolism is high, you probably want to lower it, because it uses carbohydrates for energy conversion, and you want to be able to spare the carbohydrates better. For the training to lower the anaerobic metabolism it makes sense to do them not on day 1 or 2 or 3, but on day 4 or 5 in a training block, when your glycogen stores are probably already a bit depleted anyway. 
  • For athletes with maybe 10 hours of training time per week I would consider doing deliberately fasted or glycogen-depleted training, but never in my current context of coaching professional triathletes training at a very high volume, up to 35 hours per week. These athletes are often training with somewhat depleted glycogen stores anyway, there’s no avoiding it. However, with more time-crunched athletes, you still have to be very careful with energy availability and bone stress injuries, so I would definitely use low-glycogen training in cycling, in triathlon you have to consider the injury risk of running. 

Tapering

1:24:52 -

  • I don’t have a fixed approach, it depends on travel time, jet lag, circumstances at the race venue like media appointments and the race schedule. For example, did you race Nice the week before PTO Ibiza? That will for sure have an impact on tapering compared to not having a race the week before. 
  • I'm increasingly becoming a fan of of not lowering volume and intensity too far ahead of the race. If the athlete flies to the race a week before the race, I’m now starting to give them some good recovery the last two days at home instead of big days of training before travelling, and then just staying in the normal training rhythm with a minimum of two time one hour of training per day in race week. As a pro triathlete, you are used to training so you can deal with 15 hours of training in race week compared to your 35-hour training weeks. So I would say that maybe this wouldn’t look like a typical taper week from an outside perspective. 
  • I do want one day two or three days before the race that is really, really relaxing, with probably only 45 minutes easy riding and 1-1.5 km of swimming. And then after that one or two days of activation before the race, with the day before race day being something like 1.5 hours of riding and a 30 minute brick run, with moderate intensity, and a bit of threshold work, to get the whole metabolism and respiratory system running. For example, you might do 3 x 3 minutes of threshold work on the bike, and on the run 2 x 5-6 minutes at race pace.

Heat preparation

1:30:51 -

  • The main approach I have to heat preparation is to be at the race benue for a hot race early enough. For Kona for example, I would say be there at minimum 10-12 days before the race, plus spending your last training camp somewhere in hot conditions. In the last years we did this in The Woodlands, Texas. Then you get the heat prep, and also the time zone change is only around 4-5 hours. Then in the final 10-12 days in Kona you also adapt to the humidity. 
  • I’m never using things like hot water immersion, sauna or things like that. I always think that you will never really be able to simulate the race conditions like that. For example, even in a hot and humid sauna you don’t have to deal with the sun exposure of a hot race. I prefer warm training days in the Canary Islands, or even in the summer in Germany, being out in the sun. 
  • I also never really use overdressed active heat training on the treadmill or bike trainer. My athletes are used to hot conditions from January on with training camps in for example Fuerteventura, so they spend way more time in the heat than at home in the cold central Europe. 
  • The thing that is important when you go to a hot race is to use some common sense in how much time you stay out in the hot and humid conditions. So at first, get used to the conditions when they are not as bad, by training in the morning, and gradually start doing more training in race day conditions, around midday for example.

Sports tech and “pet peeve topics”

1:39:49 -

  • There are a number of things I would like to be able to measure accurately and in real-time and see trends over time, like sweat rate, core temperature, lactate concentration, glycogen stores, oxidation rates of exogenous carbohydrates and so on. So we have lots of questions that I would like to be able to answer with future developments in sports science and technology. 
  • A pet peeve on mine is the discussion about the long run. Why would it have to be 30 km, or two and a half, three hours? What happens physiologically, mentally, biomechanically in a single session that is so essential you can’t skip it. 
  • A second pet peeve is that I think in long-distance triathlon we are often too heroic when talking about training volumes and sessions, and we are not setting the best examples for age-groupers. I never see the best athletes doing these hero weeks or hero workouts. 
  • I'm a fan of not making triathlon too complicated. You do not need to be the one with the most training volume, and you do not need to be the one with all the gadgets. In the end, it's about basic work in swim, bike, run, run and probably the off-bike training and that's it. And you can also do it with your two grand bike that you bought on Ebay and still be a fantastic triathlete and be successful in your age-group. Don't make it too complicated and don’t look at Strava. Let's all take it a little bit easier, but focus on the basic stuff we need to do right.

Aerodynamics and the Aerow Wind Tunnel

1:48:07 - 

  • The main thing I want to say about aerodynamics in triathlon is that your whole position, you and your machine, is a big thing. You can lose a lot of time by not having a good position and you can gain a lot of minutes by having a really, really good position.
  • And my key point is that everyone should think of his position, not first from an aerodynamical perspective, but more from a comfort and biomechanical perspective. If you have any issues, get yourself a good bike fit first, and maybe work with a physiotherapist. 
  • Get yourself a stable position first because every movement you have on your saddle will get exacerbated the more fatigued you are. In a race, the less you move the more stable you are and especially the more relaxed you are for example in your your shoulders, and this will also have an impact on your effective CdA. So a stable, comfortable, relaxed position is more important than wheels, hydration systems, 3D-printed cockpits etc. 
  • Do these basic things right first, and then you can come to the wind tunnel and we can find you a lot of watts to save. 
  • We decided to build the Aerow Wind Tunnel in response to the demand we saw from not just professional triathletes but also age-group athletes for bike fits and aerodynamic services, so we think there will be market for this, as there aren’t a lot of options out there for age-groupers to get into a wind tunnel or onto the velodrom. This will be a more accessible option than most in central Europe. 

Listener questions

1:53:02

  • Are differences in optimal training for women and men on average? Yes. 
  • Do you consider VLaMax a valid and useful metric? Yes, if you do the test correctly. This is also true for other physiological markers like VO2max. Looking at just one metric is always a bit limited, but as part of an entire physiological profile it can be a very valuable parameter of an athlete. 
  • What is the rationale of using longer than typical rests between sweet spot/FTP intervals? Rest times between intervals, if it’s somewhat reasonable, is not a thing I think is very important. There can be a lot of flexibility depending on terrain, traffic, and so on.

Björn’s Olympic Podium Picks

1:56:36 -

Women:
1. Beth Botter
2. Cassandre Beaugrand
3. Laura Lindemann

Men:
1. Alex Yee
2. Kristian Blummenfelt
3. Tim Hellwig


LINKS AND RESOURCES:


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.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

ReCENT EPISODES:
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Explore our products and services

>