Q. Hi Gale, I am in week 8 of your 27 week plan for the Half-Ironman training program. I tested this week and have made noticeable gains in both swimming and running (my limiters, so this was a big positive!). However, my T1(5) biketesting ended up with identical #s from my first test 8 weeks ago. Conditions were the same, on an indoor trainer, didn't feel tired, ate well, etc. Avg. watts 277, HR avg. 142, total time of 14:30. Any thoughts as to why or what I should do differently? I have not really skipped any workout to date and have clearly made progress in the other 2 disciplines. Thanks - S. T.
A. Hi S.T.~
Thanks for using my training plan to help you succeed - and - congratulations on the swimming and running improvements! You mention those are your limiters so I suspect you are a very strong cyclist.
If that is the case, you require higher intensities to make improvements on the bike. But - you may not want to add that level of intensity as I suspect you'll trade swimming and running performance. Since those are your limiting sports, holding cycling steady isn't a bad thing right now.
I also suspect that as you progress through the plan and intensity increases, cycling should show some gains. Since you are already strong there, the gains may not be as much as swimming and running though.
Let me know if my assumption is true (strong cyclist) and keep me posted to the changes as you make your way through the plan. If you do decide to increase cycling intensity, monitor your fatigue. You may need to just keep cycling in a maintenance mode until you get stronger in the other two sports.
A. Thanks Gale! Good advice and insight--cycling has been my strong suit. I will hold steady on that for now and let my swim and run 'catch up' before increasing bike intensities. I'll keep you updated; thanks for the plan--it's helped immensely so far. S.T.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon andcycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlonplans found here.
Q. Hey Gale ~ I just read an article about training like the pros. The column was basically about high volume and high intensity training. I read another column that emphased high volume and low intensity. Finally, I read another column about time-crunched athletes doing low volume and very high intensity. I’m so confused. Can you help? I trust your advice because of your long track record of working with all types of athletes. Thanks ~ B. F.
A. Hello B. F. ~ I’ve used the different types of training formats you describe in your note. The short answer is the type of training you should use depends on your athlete profile which includes sport experience, available time to train, recovery time available and your endurance goals to name a few key areas. The mix of workouts within any training plan should be aimed at achieving your goals – not a random mix of workouts tossed together for fun. That is, unless your primary training goal is fun and variety.
With two to four key or stressful workouts in the mix each week aimed at improving your performance limitors, the remaining workouts need to be recovery and/or technique oriented.
Then you need some patience. Stick with the training strategy for at least three to six weeks to see if you are making progress. If progress is not being made, make plan adjustments. Generally, most people associate plan adjustments with more volume and/or intensity when they really need more recovery.
A fellow coach, Steve Diggs, sent me the link to this research paper. Several years ago, Steve and I had a discussion about high intensity training (HIT) programs that other coaches were using, as well as repeated training for Ironman distance events. The short of the discussion is that we both had a gut feeling that there is some top limit for the volume of HIT and overall volume of endurance training where if you go over that limit, it is harmful to your health.
Now there is research that is backing up our gut feelings. Here are a few key plucks from the research paper:
· Mohlenkamp et al studied 108 middle-aged German long-term marathon runners and compared them with matched nonrunner controls. They observed a greater atherosclerotic burden in the marathoners as documented by higher coronary artery calcium (CAC) scores.
· Indeed, long-term sustained vigorous aerobic exercise training such as marathon or ultramarathon running or professional cycling has been associated with as much as a 5-fold increase in the prevalence of atrial fibrillation.
The conclusion of the investigation follows:
In some individuals, long-term excessive endurance exercise training may cause adverse structural and electrical cardiac remodeling, including fibrosis and stiffening of the atria, right ventricle, and large arteries. This theoretically might provide a substrate for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias and increase cardiovascular risk. Further investigation is warranted to identify the exercise threshold for potential toxicity, screening for at-risk individuals, and ideal exercise training regimens for optimizing cardiovascular health. For now, on the basis of animal and human data, cardiovascular benefits of vigorous aerobic exercise training appear to accrue in a dose-dependent fashion up to about 1 hour daily, beyond which further exertion produces diminishing returns and may even cause adverse cardiovascular effects in some individuals.
While it currently appears the researchers are saying “some individuals” – the endurance sports and intensities that some of us do repeatedly “may not” be good for overall health.
If it turns out that anything over an hour a day is bad for you – will you give up doing the distances and intensities you love so much?
Or – will you say everyone must die of something and if doing endurance sports year after year does it, I’m okay with that? (Comments can be added on Facebook. )
Note: Find the full article here, including a video interview with the author. The short video is worth watching.
Detailed off-season plans for triathlon and cycling, along with event-specific running, cycling and more triathlon plans found here.
A triathlete that I’ve coached for years (one-on-one personal training, then consulting/advising him on self-coaching questions) wondered what’s next after Ironman? He told me he needs a new drug. Maybe you need one too?
USA Cycling time trials in your area?
How about long distance cycling goals? (Bike tours or long-distance events.)
I like your book Workouts in a Binder. I am now entering offseason and will only be swimming twice a week. The book is set up for three to four swims per week. How do I use it with only two swims a week. (i.e. still follow the suggested workouts in order?) not sure.
Hi A.C. ~
Thanks for dropping me a note about Workouts in a Binder. I'm assuming you're a triathlete using the training plan on page 17.
That written, most triathletes have decent endurance and could work on gaining some speed in the off-season. Consider keeping the Endurance workouts shown on Saturday as one of your two workouts. For the second swim - consider replacing the Tuesday Form or Speed workouts with cards from the Anaerobic Endurance set. When the AE card says "fast" - I'd like you to really go FAST! No holding back and don't worry if speed fades during the set. Over time, you'll gain more endurance at the faster speeds.
I love to get these notes. It feels great to know I can helppeople meet their goals.
Dear Ms. Bernhardt:
I'm writing to thank you for the great training program you outlined in your Training Plans for Multisport Athletes book for the 12 Week Program for a Sprint Triathlon. I successfully completed my first Triathlon yesterday. It was fun. It was exciting. And it was a major accomplishment for this 54 year old male.
I've never taken the time to write to an author before but I found your program informative, easy to understand and a real confidence boost to make my participation a reality.
I'm looking forward to setting my next fitness goal.
All the best,
I'm A. Carratta from Italy,
I wrote you in November about a swim question and after the email I bought thebook with the swim work-out.
I follow your table "26 Weeks to IM" and now I'M AN IRONMAN!!!
Swim : 01:50:57 ( I'm not aswimmer and my first IM without wetsuit was terrible and infinite! ) Bike: 06:41:27 ( explosion oninner tube and mechanical problems ) Run : 04:13:38 ( i think to doin 3:45, but the hot temperature .- 40° - was terrible and i relax myself) Final :13:06:05 ... I WASN T TIRED AND I FINISH WITH A BIG SMILE!!!!
Now I'm following "13 weeks to 70.3"
Thanks A. Carratta
I've used a number of your training plans for successful IM and 70.3 races. I finished the 2012 IM Lake Placid in 11:08 and would love a plan that can get me in under 11 hrs.
I was invited to attend a think-tank group at Specialized headquarters last week. It was a half-day session focused on women’s products in the triathlon and road cycling market.
There were three other women in the same session as I, and two more women were to come to an afternoon session. Each of us had different backgrounds and athletic experiences which added to the richness of the session.
We met with the designers involved in all things cycling and triathlon – bike, shoes, gloves, saddles, graphics, etc… I was really impressed with the passion of the design team. They are driven to design the best (fastest, most functional, most aesthetically pleasing, etc.) products on the market. It’s fun to meet the brains behind the products that end up on the shelves.
Opinions and ideas filled the room. It was exciting to be involved with the group.
They did bring out a recently released triathlon shoe – a rear-entry shoe. It’s a great example of thinking outside the box – or – perhaps following the phrase on the wall in front of the tandem time trial bike “innovate or die.”
It’s no surprise that I often get asked the question, “How can I get faster?”
The short answer is, “It depends.” (Those of you that know me well, know this is my short answer for 90% of the questions I get asked.)
Though the precise answer depends on a lot of things, I can tell you that there are eight major training principles that affect all training – no matter if you want to go longer or get faster. Those training principles include overload, volume, duration, frequency, individual response rate, intensity, specificity, rest and recovery.
In the next few blogs, I’ll take at least one of the principles and give you a couple of things to consider when applying that principle to your training. Know that these principles are discussed, and applied, to the training plans in all my books.
Let’s begin with overload.
Taken from my book, “Individual and progressive overload must be applied to achieve physiological improvement and bring about a training change. A widely accepted rule of thumb is to increase annual training hours, or annual volume by 10 percent or less.“
If you’ve looked at any of my training plans, you’ll quickly notice that I increase weekly volume by more than 10 percent in most all plans.Why?
I’ve found that short-term overload can be increased by more than 10 percent if adequate recovery is included in the plan. When I work with athletes over the course of a year, annual volume is typically increased by around 10 percent. There are, however, exceptions.
What’s the biggest mistake I see self-coached athletes make with training overload?
The biggest mistake I see is the ever-increasing-by-10-percent overload. In other words, people increase weekly volume each and every week, week after week, by 10 percent. This eventually leads to an overtraining situation. This mistake becomes the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
On August 6th and 7th, the ITU World Championship series heads to London. This is a critical event for many countries, including the U.S.A., because members of the 2012 Olympic team will be selected at this event.
For U.S.A. athletes, a good performance means automatic selection. The two highest placing U.S.A. athletes, one male and one female, will make the team provided they finish in 9th place or higher. Because this is a test event, or dry run, for the Olympic organizers you can count on a highly competitive field. All countries want to have a look at the Olympic venue and they will be sending their top athletes to the event.
Best wishes to all athletes for a great race – all you can do is your best on that day.
Last week I had the privilege of being one of the instructors at an ITU Level II Triathlon Course held in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. The course was weighted heavily on student-based activities and a facilitative instruction technique by all instructors.
Additionally, the coursework was geared toward independent coaches and national federation coaches that work with Junior or Under 23 (U23) athletes in the Olympic pipeline.
I told coaches at the course that great athletes will not emerge without great coaches in today’s competitive environment. Talented coaches are absolutely essential to long-term athlete success. Part of becoming, and remaining, a top-level coach is continuous education.
The coaches that attended the course worked on multiple projects that included sport skills and drills; individual workout design concepts; weekly planning; and long-term strategies and planning for world-class success.
Some of the most valuable features of the course included the multiple problem solving sessions and round-table discussions held each day. Many coaches commented that it was an invaluable experience to be able to participate in a multi-national think-tank of coaching expertise.
Multiple coaches applauded ITU for acknowledging that strategic coach development is key to athlete development.
I couldn’t agree more.
Coaches working on classroom problem solving. Greg Mueller (USA), Larry McMahan (Canada), Ricardo Gonzales (Mexico), Sergio Borges (USA), Philip Gaskin (Barbados), Libby Burrell (ITU Sport Development Director), Gustavo Svane (Argentina), Kevin Clark (Canada), Loui Lopez (Puerto Rico), Luc Morin (ITU Sport Development facilitator), Susan Yackulic (Canada), Brett Petersen (USA)
Ricardo Gonzales, Susan Yackulic, Philip Gaskin, Greg Mueller, Angie Anderson
Some athletes struggle with balancing life responsibilities and athletic goals. When the dreamy world of training like a professional athlete collides with the reality of life, it can be disappointing.
I’ve found that the more stress an athlete has in his or her life, the less training volume and intensity they can handle. Too much of either volume or intensity and there is a higher risk of illness or injury.
This stress scale estimates the likelihood of illness based on the number of stressful events in your life. If your score is 300 or more, you are at a high risk of illness. Scores between 150 and 299 indicate a moderate chance of illness (50-50). Scores 150 or below indicate a slight risk of illness.
Keep in mind this scale was designed for “normal” people, not those aiming high for athletic accomplishment.
When you find your stress scale is on the increase, consider reducing the amount of volume and/or intensity in your training.
The extra rest just might keep you healthy and make you a better athlete as a result.
Q: In my training I usually keep a weight training routine (usually following what's in your training plans). One of my friends said that her trainer recommended that she not do any weights. For me it's beneficial because it maintains a base strength. I just change it to match my goals. Any thoughts?
A: For strength training, I too use the routine from my books and it seems to be affective for me and many of the athletes I coach. I keep one day of weights in my routine throughout the summer, changing the sets and reps and noted in the training plans. I’ve tried seasons without weights at all and I thought I lost power and speed because of it.
The summer routine, as you know, lightens the weights some, changes set numbers and repetitions to keep from having the gym affect your endurance work.
All that written, I do have some athletes that stop weights in the summer. They run and/or ride enough hills that it doesn’t seem to make a difference – best we can tell.
I think keeping strength training in a summer routine, or not, boils down to:
Training time available
Individual response to strength training
It seems you respond well to strength training and you have the time to do it. If it helps you and doesn’t negatively affect your swimming, cycling or running; it appears to be a good investment of your time.
Thanks to reader feedback, here are the improvements we’ve made:
BIGGER PRINT and improved color schemes that are easier to read in the pool.
Just over 20 new workouts including 30-minute sessions for the time-pinched athlete and workouts specific to open water.
We’ve improved many of the old workouts by modifying sets and distances to more accurately accomplish what we wanted from that particular workout.
We’ve added illustrations for drills.
There are now three swim training plans for triathlon, with specific card numbers (not just categories) in the plans.
To celebrate the release, we’ll send a book (anywhere in the world) to the first person to answer three trivia questions. We’ll have three sets of trivia questions so if you don’t get the first one, don’t despair. We’ll take the first correct set of answers logged here on this blog. (Don’t use Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc.)
Round 1 Trivia Questions:
1. 1. Nick Hansen was head swimming coach at which University?
2. 2. The first president of the International Triathlon Union, Les McDonald, was born in what city and what year? (Hint: found in a history column that I wrote.)
3. 3. Name the year of the first Olympic Triathlon and members representing the USA Team.
It seems that a current thread among many cycling and triathlon discussion boards is to stop strength training because strength training does nothing to improve performance. If it doesn’t improve performance, then it is obviously a waste of time.
I pulled three studies from the medical research journal PubMed. The three studies and the conclusions are below. Additionally, I pulled a paragraph from a recent column. After you take a look at the information (be sure to make it to number 4), we’ll continue the discussion of whether or not you should give up strength training.
1. Koninckx E, et al, “Effect of isokinetic cycling versus weight training on maximal power output and endurance performance in cycling.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Jul;109(4):699-708. Epub 2010 Mar 7.
In conclusion, at low cadences, maximal sprint power output improved in both training groups. However, in the isokenetic training group, a disturbed pedaling technique compromises an improvement of maximal sprint power output at high cadences. (Note: this study was done on 18 “trained” cyclists.)
2. Levin GT, et al, “Effect of concurrent resistance and endurance training on physiologic and performance parameters of well-trained endurance cyclists.” J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2280-6.
In conclusion, although concurrent resistance and endurance training in well-trained cyclists enhanced 1-repetition-maximum strength, it did not improve overall cycle time trial performance and in fact was shown to reduce 1-km final cycle sprint performance compared with a control group performing their normal cycle training. (Note: this study was done on 14 well-trained male cyclists.”)
3. Bentley DJ, et al, “Correlations between peak power output, muscular strength and cycle time trial performance in triathletes.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1998 Sep;38(3):201-7.
CONCLUSIONS: Peak power output and WDmax (a power measure not defined in the abstract) are useful variables in assessing cycle performance in triathletes. However, the importance of muscular strength of the lower limbs may be minimal in overall cycle performance during a short course triathlon race.
4. Exercise training helps stop muscle strength and endurance from slipping away. But it seems to also do something else, maintains Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (who also happens to be a top-ranked trail runner). Resistance exercise in particular seems to activate a muscle stem cell called a satellite cell. With the infusion of these squeaky-clean cells into the system, the mitochondria seem to rejuvenate. (The phenomenon has been called “gene shifting.”) If Tarnopolsky is right, exercise in older adults can roll back the odometer. After six months of twice weekly strength exercise training, he has shown, the biochemical, physiological and genetic signature of older muscle is “turned back” nearly 15 or 20 years. (Excerpt from “The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian”)
In just four examples, you can see the information is conflicting. Conflicting information and advice can be very frustrating. As with any self-care or self-coaching recommendations given in the media – you have to decide what to do. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to strength train:
Yes, consider supplementing your endurance training with strength training if:
You have an upcoming hilly event, but you live in a location where there are no hills.
You are an ectomorph (thin body type, small muscles, low strength) looking to improve sport performance.
You are an athlete over the age of 40 that has trouble keeping body strength.
You have had past injuries that need a strength training maintenance program.
Your sport performance is negatively affected by stopping a strength training program.
You feel your overall quality of life is positively affected over the long haul. (For example, once per week strength training can prevent some athletes from having nagging problems with knee and back pain.)
Consider eliminating strength training from your endurance sport program if:
You are under the age of 30.
You supplement your endurance sports with power or impact sports (basketball, hockey, soccer, etc.)
You live in a hilly location that allows you to do sport-specific strength training.
You are hard-pressed for time and can barely manage to get in the endurance training required to complete your goal events.
You have added a strength training program (one that is appropriate for endurance athletes and not body builders) in the past and found it didn’t improve your sport performance, quality of life or provide any injury prevention benefits.
As we head into the last quarter of the year, some triathletes are racing while others are taking a break before beginning a new training block. Those that are taking a break will often ask, “How can I keep some of my hard-earned speed, while still taking the break I need to allow my body to recover?”
No one, not even the world’s top athletes, can maintain race form all year round. Though you can’t keep top form all year, you can minimize fitness losses. One way to keep some speed work included in your running, without doing mentally and physically exhausting intervals is to include race-pace, or slightly faster, running in their program at least twice per month. Some will include these intervals once per week.
You can do this on the road if you have a monitor that displays pace or you can go to the track. After a good warm-up, do 3 to 6 fast run segments that are 20 to 60 seconds long. Make the fast segments at race pace or slightly faster.
These short, fast run segments keep your legs and head used to the feeling of running fast without the fatigue of interval sessions reserved for race season.
When you go to add speed work back to your training mix, you'll find the time required to feel like running fast again is significantly reduced, compared to when you spend your off season running slow, easy miles.