Cycling, Podcast, Training

Smarter Triathlon Bike Training with Magnus Bäckstedt | EP88

 December 28, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

Smarter Triathlon Bike Training with Magnus Bäckstedt | EP88

Magnus Bäckstedt is a former professional cyclist (and Paris-Roubaix winner) turned cycling and triathlon coach. We discuss some evergreen triathlon bike training questions, as well as how he managed to improve his swimming and running so quickly that he qualified for Kona within 8 months of starting triathlon.

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and triathlon bike training in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 
  • How much threshold training do you include in your training program? If you feel stuck in a rut with your triathlon cycling, maybe follow Maggy's lead and include a bit more of it in your program?
  • Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Indoor vs. outdoor cycling in triathlon training
  • Intensity vs. Volume
  • How important are power meters and if you don't have one, can you get by on heart rate?
  • Mistakes triathletes make in their bike training
  • Rapid swim and run improvements with no background in the sports

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About Magnus Bäckstedt

3:30 - 

  • Magnus "Maggy" Bäckstedt is a cycling and triathlon coach from Sweden who is now based in the UK
  • He is the head coach and founder of Bäckstedt Coaching
  • Magnus won the 2004 Paris-Roubaix. He has also won stages of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia among many others.
  • He is also a Swedish Road Race National Champion
  • He qualified for Kona as an age-grouper within a year of even starting out completely green in triathlon.
  • Magnus also does bike fitting

Indoor vs. Outdoor Bike Training for Triathletes

7:10 -

  • Outdoor training provides real-life scenarios (including the feel for the outdoors & the development of riding technique) that will be helpful in an actual race.
  • It is the athlete’s choice whether they prefer to train indoors and outdoors. Safety, however, should be a major consideration especially during the winter season when roads and terrain are wet, icy and slippery. At this time, you can skip outdoor cycling to keep yourself from getting injured.
  • Indoor cycling has many benefits. It is efficient in keeping your cycling progress going when you can't cycle outdoors. And it's easier to do very specific sets on an indoor trainer.
  • What's important is that the athlete enjoys the training and they are well-stimulated. When an athlete enjoys his/her training and is getting progress from it he/she will be able to perform better in an actual race.

Key takeaway

  • Including both indoor and outdoor training is ideal. This gives you the ability to both perform very exactly prescribed training sessions indoors, but also mix it up with very race-specific riding in a real-world environment out on the roads.
  • To what extent you lean towards one or the other depends on what you enjoy doing, safety concerns, and time constraints.

Intensity vs. Volume

11:43 -

  • To push your threshold, be mindful of "junk miles". Your training should both get you some mileage and build you up with intense training.
  • Training sessions that factor in the need for both volume and intensity allows you to practice the proper distinction between the recovery and intensity parts of your ride. This allows your body to adjust in a way that it knows when to rest between rides so that you are well-recovered and you can perform better once you are back on the road.
  • For time-constrained athletes, training for an hour within your threshold zone, for example 4 times 12-minute threshold intervals with 2 minute rests in between will be a very good workout during the week.
  • Try to train longer during the weekend especially when you are aiming at long distance races.

Key takeaway

  • Don't fall into the trap of no man's land training that's moderately hard all the time. When you go hard, go hard, and when you go easy, go easy.
  • However, easy doesn't mean just sitting on your bike. Stay in Zone 2 on most of your easy rides.
  • Intensities right around your Functional Threshold can be extremely beneficial to push that threshold up.

How important are power meters for triathletes? If you don't have one can you get by on a heart rate monitor?

18:00 -

  • Power meters eliminate guesswork in training. These tools enable triathletes to actually gauge their training effort vs their progress.  
  • Power meters also allow time-constrained athletes to gain quantifiable insights into their training, so they'll be able to find ways to get the most of their training with the limited time they have.
  • They also allow athletes to properly pace themselves.
  • Heart rate monitors make a decent substitute for power meters. Especially when an athlete has been recording heart rate for a long time. The info it provides still gives an idea of how the the body responds to the training.
  • The catch: there are a lot of factors that determine a person's heart rate other than the intensity of his or her workout. For instance, doing the same workout in a location with higher temperature and altitude can significantly increase one's heart rate. Level of physical fatigue prior to the workout can also be a factor.

Is there anything in your road cycling career that has influenced your time trial and triathlon training methods?

25:15 -

  • Over the years, I have taken snippets from all the coaches I have worked with. And I have noted what has worked for me.
  • I also listen to people around me and to current professional cyclists for the updates in the sport.
  • All this information is important for me to know what is required of athletes today and how these come into play so that I evolve in my training and coaching down the road.
  • When I coach people I try to understand them as an athlete on a very deep level so I can actually help them in the specific area that they are training for.

Training Frameworks For Different Athletes

28:40 -

  1. Beginner athlete training 2 times per week on the bike for a shorter race (Sprint or Olympic)
    • 1 session off threshold efforts. This is to put the athlete’s body at work on less impact at a high pace. Such workouts will be beneficial for both cycling and running.
    • 1 session of shorter sprint-type efforts
  2. Athlete training 3 times per week on the bike for their first Ironman
    • 2 session for workouts involving longer efforts over a longer period of time around the athlete’s functional threshold.
    • 1 long ride where they train on the bike for a longer period
  3. Athletes on intermediate-advanced training for an Ironman
    • Most athletes are advised to do the same training as above. Just a bit more of it so you push your threshold and increase your FTP.
    • To prevent hitting a training plateau, it is important that the times and the intensity is pushed and the athlete's ceiling is raised so the athlete gets better over time. Such training involves a session of VO2max training and some top-end stuff.
  4. Advanced athlete training 4 times a week on the bike for draft-legal sprint and Olympic distance races
    • A lot of top-end training, a lot of VO2max efforts to make sure that the athlete is well conditioned to the shifting of paces.
    • Training that involve technical drills in order to build efficient racing techniques.

In your Ironman career, what was your ability when you started to swim and run?

35:23 -

  • In swimming, I could swim but I recruited the help of a friend who was a very good swimmer and was also a triathlon coach to improve.
  • My advice is to find a very good swim coach right away.
  • In running, I had to learn how to work with its impact on my knees and joints. I worked with a running coach so I can learn how to run without any physical issues such as damage to my ligaments.
  • I took the time to learn from professional runners. I learned how to correct my stride, my stance and I learned how to allow my feet to properly hit the ground when running. Eventually, I was able to increase mileage.

Listener Question #1: Do you have an opinion on the potential benefit of oval chainrings?

40:46 -

At the moment, it is hard to quantify if there is any benefit to oval chainrings. In my personal opinion, if you need to go oval you need to go extremely oval for it to have the proper benefit.

Listener Question 2: Do you have any tips for marginal aerodynamic gains?

42:13 -

  • The best way for you to make your biking aerodynamics is to consult with someone who has a really good understanding of aerodynamics.
  • Finding a good bike fitter will be beneficial to your efficiency as well. Getting well-fitted can shave off a lot of time for your races.
  • Remember that at the end of the day, it is the guy riding the bike that has the biggest drag factor. You have to keep your riding position in check too.

Key takeaway

  • Before looking for super marginal aero gains, make sure you are 100% confident that your position on the bike, which accounts for the majority of the drag, is optimised.

Rapid-fire questions

Favourite book, blog, or resource related to triathlon or Cycling:

Cycling News for Cycling and various different ones for Triathlon

What personal habit has helped you achieve success?

Stubbornness and I never stopped looking for the next thing that’s going to help me improve. There is always a way to improve. Nothing is ever perfect.

What do you wish you had known or done differently at some point in your career?

Being a bit more patient as a cyclist when I was injured. I reckon I would still have been racing until a couple years ago if I had been doing things smart (proper rehab, getting back to a certain level of fitness instead of getting back to cycling as soon as I felt I could.)

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Magnus Bäckstedt

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

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Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy!

How much threshold training do you include in your training program? If you feel stuck in a rut with your triathlon cycling, maybe follow Maggy's lead and include a bit more of it in your program?

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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  • I found Maggy’s comments about how beneficial he finds threshold training the highlight and gem of this episode. It’s always great to hear what other coaches tend to gravitate towards, and this was no exception.

    What were your main takeaways, and how did you find this episode overall?

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