‘Coach, what about racing in other sports?’
The Northern Hemisphere season has kicked off and one of the most asked questions is ‘Coach, I’ve got time before I do my main race. Can I do a race in another sport?’
My answer changes depending on the sport, the amount of time before the main race, and the possibility that doing that race could cause injury that will impact on the main goal of the season.
Let’s start with an open water swim race. The answer is nearly always a yes, great idea. Any time we get to practice open water in a real race scenerio is a big positive for me. If it is not the day before the race I’m more than happy to give it the big thumbs up.
Let’s move to the run race scenario. Again, I like this as a training aid to a better triathlon run. In saying that, we break it up into two categories:-
- To help improve speed, choose a race that is much shorter than race distance. If one is racing Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, then a 3 to 5 km road race is a great stimulus for future.
- To help improve race pace for long course / Ironman athletes, then races from 10 to 21 km are ideal. My favorite is around 15 km, as I have found it gives a great stimulus of both above race pace and endurance, but without flattening the athlete, or interrupting too much their training due to needing a longer time to recover. When attempting this style of race we insist it must be done negative split, or as a build run. This ensures we don’t build up a lot of unnecessary lactate during what is a glorified training session.
Running Races can compliment our triathlon training well.
I left the bike to last, as when an athlete tells me they would like to join a cycle race, I ask if they would like a broken collarbone before their main event of the year?
In a perfect world I’d love to say yes, but rarely does this occur. Safety must be the ultimate decider of bike racing, and I just don’t see pack riding being beneficial to an Ironman racer. If they ask can I do a time trial race, I’m the first to say ‘what a great idea’.
Let me be clear, if someone asked me to pick between a 1 hour criterium or a 1 hour time trial on a turbo, I would say there is no comparison. (I have only seen one, no two athletes fall off a turbo – but that is for another story!)
Racing other sports I find to be a great benefit if you put them in context with your long term goals, and can help you enjoy your fitness without breaking the bank – financially, or physically.
Get out there and give them a go!
The terribly sad events of the past days are once again a reminder of the ever increasing dangers when training on public roads. It is worth reminding ourselves that the single most efficient and result producing tool for triathlon cycling improvement is the turbo trainer.
Discussing training with age group athletes at our training camps, I observe that so many who already have a busy work and family schedule are also spending so much time ‘commuting’ to training, or engaging in activities that our Trisutto pro (non-working, no kids) athletes do not have time to do!
A lot of the programs I see incorporate gym strength training, which is a waste of valuable time in pursuit of sports specific strength, and also will not develop your specific skill level in any of the three disciplines. Instead we incorporate strength work directly into the disciplines of swim, bike and run.
The reasoning is simple, but very effective:
What we’re trying to do is engage and strengthen the muscle groups that actually perform the discipline while using the correct skill technique for our sport.
Riding a turbo is far superior to road riding if you wish to become a bike monster! It can be controlled, it can be monitored and through smart training I’ve seen the turbo turn many a poor cyclist into a good one. For busy age group athletes, riding the turbo is also time efficient, with no commute to get to training routes considered safer for riding. Instead just hop on, and ‘give it a tonk’!
Always have and always will be a fan of the turbo.
In my earlier days a turbo set was an every second ride occurrence, however with the onset of ITU legal draft races I let it go. With the last years increasing focus on Ironman I reintroduced it as a big part of what we do. Athletes don’t have to work on if it is not to their liking, however let me be clear:
It is the key to opening the door to time-trialling success, and is at the core of our TBF (Total Body Force) method. The turbo:
– Addresses time management issues (no commute, no gym).
– Better promotes strength acquisition within the specific cycling muscles
– Addresses safety concerns of training on public roads
– Is suitable for all weather conditions (too hot, too cold, too wet), seasons, daylight or nighttime hours.
Efficient, Sport specific and Safe Bike Training
Interval training at Jeju camp earlier this year.
One of the many questions coaches and athletes ask when using Moderate, Medium, Mad as a perception of effort level, is why we also advise that at top speeds to hold no higher than 95% effort. Is this not contradictory?
I want to clarify that I believe this is an essential ingredient of building performance but also maintaining it over long periods of time.
Here are three reasons to explain my thinking:
1) Holding manageable technique:
Speed as well as endurance comes from holding a manageable technique under pressure of effort.
Very early on in my swim career I heard from a wise old coach that tough is not how much you can hurt or be hurt, but is Technique Under Fatigue – TUF. This has been pivotal in my success.
You may notice I say ‘manageable technique’, rather than good technique. If you can’t handle the technique and be able to replicate it over the duration of the race distance then it’s not manageable. When technique is not manageable, the performance breaks down with the degrading of the technique as you fatigue.
Many a world champion has had questionable techniques in regards mechanics, but have been able to control their particular technique for long periods under fatigue – as well as pressure of competition.
This is manageable technique.
When going all out, and giving it every physical exertion, one tends to tighten up and lose the fluidity and thus control of their natural technique. This applies to each discipline – swim, bike and run. I have found over years of trial and error just taking that perceived 5% off from giving everything allows the athlete to hold their stroke or stride while under high exertion. This impacts performance in a most positive way.
Speed and all out effort, and not distance is the main instigator of over training.
One can with proper training travel prodigious distance with little or no negative impact on performance, however, short efforts done too frequently bring on massive fatigue very quickly. Placing the 95% target in the minds of athletes alleviates that possibility somewhat. Thus, I see it as an important part of the overall picture of controlling the efforts to allow longer seasons of high performances.
Being at the very best speed one can achieve heightens the risk of injury by a huge amount. The 95% mantra again puts a small insurance policy of control within the “mad ” part of the preparation.
I hear some ask what about the absolute speed training?
Here is something to think about for you coaches. We have seen in all disciplines that I emphasise shorter distances, with many repetitions to develop speed. I do this using the principle that it’s the acceleration to top speed that is the primary source of improvement in speed. I am absolutely certain of this.
Science may not have yet caught up with it, but like most other innovations we have followed before they were accepted, this too will be agreed to in the future by the sports scientists.
Our results are proving it yearly. However, for now I can only add that the firing of the muscle cells to accelerate, is the most important recruitment for improvement. Not the amount of time spent at that maximum speed.
Max speed or all out effort, can be self defeating. Mad is about controlled top effort. To go 95% is certainly very uncomfortable – but it is controlled. It is TUF (Technique under fatigue).
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Thomas Schafer doing what he does best on a bike: hammering.
Since Brett’s (Sutton) initial blog on low cadence there has been a lot of discussions on the right cadence for special events and different athletes here on Trisutto.com.
One of the questions asked was: ‘What would you recommend for mountain biking?’
Now this could seem to be a little bit off topic for a squad that is highly specialised on triathlon performance. But it’s not. Not only because we have both a bunch of XTERRA athletes and a bunch of pure cyclists among our athletes. This questions goes to the heart of our individual approach. There is no one size fit’s all recipe. Every coaching decicion consists of weighing different aspects against each other. And this is exactly what the answer to that question shows.
Cadence is always a compromise of different things:
First the energetic demands – where generally a lower cadence is more efficient and burns less energy, and the muscular load, where higher cadences are easier to handle and less tiring. The higher your power, the higher your cadence needs to be. For triathlon, especially Ironman racing, power is very low compared to for example a TT stage in road racing. This is why triathletes are better off with a low cadence, but the Cancellaras of this world do their 6,5W/kg efforts at a cadence of well above 100. They couldn’t generate and sustain a power this high with a 50 cadence. Cam Watt layed out this aspect precisely on his latest cadence blog The Great Cadence Debate.
Trisutto.com athlete Guy Evans competing in XTERRA.
Next you have to consider race situation: Do you have to do sprints, counter surges or attacks, move with a peloton? If in such a race situation you’re stuck at 60 cadence your competitors will be gone before you even could shift into a smaller gear and speed up. This is one of the reasons why road racers have to ride in a relatively high „stand-by“ gear to be able to act or react immediately.
And finally you have to consider the physical make of the athlete. Is he a „born“ sprinter of nature, who has more fast-twitch fibers and is generally better suited with high cadence (and shorter racing) or has he a built-in diesel engine with lots of slow-twitch fibers, an endurance monster with a monster gear?
Triathletes and XTERRA athletes also have to be able to run off the bike. That also makes for a different riding and cadence compared to a pure cycling race.
Considering all these aspects is what goes through a coach’s mind. Depending on your kind of racing and race distance, one has to find the right balance of all these aspects.
But back to mountain biking: Off-road one cannot chose cadence as freely as in road racing, or even more freely in triathlon. On the mountain bike, cadence is to a very high degree dictated by course profile and race situation. The shorter and faster the race, the more difficult the course, the less room to think or even choose cadence. You simply have to react. So it’s very unrhythmic racing, with lot’s of short burst, extremely high spikes, and a lot of out of the saddle action. That’s a very different dynamic to triathlon where you can ride one and the same cadence for literally all courses out there, not being bothered by terrain or competition. You do your thing and nothing should disturb you.
In off road racing cadence is dictated by course profile.
Not so in MTB racing: Traction and keeping the momentum plays an important role in steep and difficult gravel sections. Riding a very low gear will cause the wheel to lose contact. So a higher cadence is needed to keep the momentum and make it up steep ramps smoothly. On the other hand, you cannot ride a 100+ cadence on rough terrain or standing standing on the pedals.
Also, you are very limited in big gears with the gear ratio in modern MTB – you simply lack big gears when it comes to flat stretches of racing. So quickly you will end up with quite high cadences for those sections as there simply is no bigger gear available. This was a bit different in the old days, when you had triple rings at the front, but therefore all that shifting hassle as well.
In terms of racing needs and race cadence, MTB racing is generally in between triathlon’s low cadence (even power / low, aerobic load) and road racing’s high cadence (big jumps in power, all kind of surges and bursts, lots of VO2max riding).
MTB racing is much closer to road racing than to triathlon.
Mountain biking, especially the short racing, has an even bigger range of power distribution than road riding. A lot of extremely short, extremely high spikes in power. And if you have a closer look, also extremely high spikes of force (power = force x distance) not seen in road racing. Theortically those power spikes would need a very high cadence to smooth out the force spikes and make the effort more sustainable – but at the same time, you’re limited by terrain and out of the saddle action in high cadence. In MTB racing, there will be always more intensity than in triathlon and always more muscular load than in road cycling.
But, hey that’s also, what it makes different and entertaining!
So to break down all theat aspects in a simple summary:
Cadence in triathlon is easy: You chose the most efficient range which is between 60 and 80, depending on athlete and distance.
Cadence in road racing: You chose on race dynamics and high intensity which gives a cadence between 90 and 110.
Cadence in MTB: MTB racing is much closer to road racing than to triathlon, as you have also high race dynamics and power loads, but at the same time you’re much more restricted by terrain (which makes for lower than “ideal” cadence) and gear ratio (which makes for higer cadence than “ideal”). So the range is much wider and a bit lower than in road racing. However, the longer and more steady your race is (MTB marathon) the more that range will narrow and shift to the slower side 60 to 80.
In 2015 Jo Spindler coached over three professional Ironman winners.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Team Budget Forklifts in action at the Shimano Super Criterium. Photo: Korupt Vision
In late 2003, my then triathlon coach (Brett Sutton) told me to meet him down at the local track on the Gold Coast where we would do many of our bike sessions. He was wielding a pair of cable cutters this day which I thought was weird.
“Today is the beginning of turning you into a decent rider, I can’t stand to see you ride like a pussy any longer.”
He declared in a way only Brett can. Then he bent down and cut my rear derailleur cable in half, and with that turned my 20 geared bike into a 2 speed. 53×12 or 42×12.
“I want you to keep it in the big ring, other than the most severe inclines.’
I didn’t question it. Why would I? I was weak and had just spent a season in Europe with Brett taking me to races every weekend showing me first-hand how weak I actually was. With my perfect pedal stroke, spinning away at 95 cadence with all the gear imitating the cycling superstars I watched on TV… Only to see French and Swiss bike-animals blow my doors off turning these massive gears and me helpless as I watched them ride off into the distance.
Brett had decided my way forward – forced strength training on the bike with an extreme method. This is not to be copied blindly, but it fit my situation perfectly as we were looking for extreme improvement. Six months of exclusively riding 53×12 gearing and the improvements were massive. Not long after that, I didn’t have any problem riding with or away from the best in the sport. 2009 being a case in point: In 3 Ironman and 4 Ironman 70.3 events around the world I was first off the bike in all but one.
Was I the best? No way. But I have a pretty decent grasp of the demands of a long course triathlon bike leg.
First off the bike: Racing big gear with TeamTBB.
Since that time, I have worked in the world of professional cycling, managing and directing a UCI team (Team Budget Forklifts) which contained numerous World Champions, Olympic Medallists and a current World Record holder. It was very early on in my time in this job after intensely studying and observing this different sport I realised that there were only very few aspects of riding bikes in Road events that we could take and use in Long Course Triathlon. The ones that do, I’ll save for future blogs.
But having spent 5 years within the elite cycling world my old Coach contacted me to say,
‘I’m waiting for you to come back… Are you done with cycling yet?’
I thought well, I’ve achieved all I set out to in cycling. I’ve seen it all and I’m happy to move to next phase. So I’m on my way home to back to triathlon – my sport for over 23 years and with that I have come on board as coach with Trisutto.com!
I’m back, yet I see the debate is still raging. What is the most ideal cadence for long course triathlon?
Let’s look a little deeper.
Think of it as a see-saw, on one end is your heart and a lung, the other end is your legs. The higher the cadence the more effort is required by your heart and lungs. The lower the cadence the more effort is required by your legs. Choosing an ideal cadence is about tipping that see-saw so that it will give you the best balance for YOUR chosen event and YOUR specific needs.
The higher the power, the higher the cadence needs to be. Raising your cadence is all about spreading out the load (pedal force – newtons) into more revolutions for a given power output (watts). In long distance triathlon, the force levels are so low that there is no need to break it down into so many revolutions as it comes at a cardiovascular cost and with that an elevated heart rate that will cost you by the end of the bike leg, or most definitely the run leg.
Some examples of varying cadences specific to different events:
The shorter the distance and the more power required for the event, the higher the cadence must be to deal with the enormous peak forces that come with such high watts.
For example, a 1km TT on the velodrome takes roughly 1min for the elite:
60sec @ ~1000w requires ~130rpm.
If we go up in distance to 4km Pursuit on the Velodrome that takes roughly 4:20min for the elite:
4:20min @ ~500w requires ~115rpm.
Let’s go right up to a World Class male Time Trialist over 40km:
50minutes @ 400w sweet spot is around ~95rpm.
Now to Triathlon…
Elite Male Ironman bike leg: 4:20hrs @ 300w the sweet spot is around 80rpm
Age Group Ironman bike leg: 5:20hrs @ 210w the sweet spot is around 72rpm
The reasons to choose a given cadence is very rarely discussed in depth and within triathlon is often like all other techniques taught by so-called triathlon coaches… Through imitation.
They have no understanding of the reasoning behind the techniques they are pushing onto their athletes, other than they saw Chris Froome or Lance Armstrong doing it on TV. Athletes without an extensive background in cycling, a lower cadence helps smooth out the athletes pedal stroke, allowing them to apply force earlier in the stroke (1am to 3am) which is another positive benefit.
For long distance triathlon, the average power output is so low that it is unnecessary to break up the peak forces with a cadence similar to a 50min Professional Time Trialist.
You can make massive gains by bringing your cadence down to 75 and benefit by the reduced heart rate especially for the upcoming run. It is much more trainable at an amateur level with time restraints to get “bike strong” than build the massive aerobic capacity to deal with spinning 100 cadence for literally hours and hours on end, then run off the bike.
‘But won’t the bigger gears destroy my legs for the run?’ I hear many ask. Without the proper adaptation and specific on bike strength training – of course they will! But that’s the point. It is a far more time effective method than trying to spin your way to improvements, which take years and thousands of dedicated high rpm training sessions.
If you are looking for the fastest and most effective way to improve your bike / run performance lowering your cadence is the best bet.
Coach Cam Watt is the former Manager and Director Sportif of UCI Cycling Team Budget Forklifts.
Trisutto.com triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
List of achievements as Director Sportif with Budget Forklifts Team:
Australian National Road Series
- 14 Overall Tour GC victories
- 34 Stage victories
UCI International Tours
- 4 Overall Tour GC victories
- 9 Stage victories
- 2 National Elite Titles
- 7 National Elite Podiums
Coach Mateo in the turbo room with UCSB Squad.
I’m at my best in warm weather – the hotter the better. I come to life when I arrive in a place like Kona. Just a few breaths of that tropical, humid, salty air, and I’m a new man.
I did my time with winter as a kid on the Jersey Shore. Winter swim season, running on ice, and trainer rides. I moved to California to make winter a thing of the past.
Having lived in Santa Barbara for nearly 15 years, I’ve had the luxury of swimming and cycling outdoors throughout the year without much concern for rain or cold. I put my bike trainer away. Unfortunately, in doing so I put away an incredibly powerful tool for the development of strength, speed, and mental toughness on the bike.
One serious conversation with Brett Sutton this fall changed that. To that point I had simply seen trainer rides as a way to manage during the dead of winter. I’d known the value of the trainer, but because I was in sunny California, I’d always had my athletes riding out on the roads. I had seen the trainer as something that occasionally had to be endured during cold or rain rather than as an indispensable asset to be woven into the year-round program. Humility and a willingness to learn and grow are essential for the coach as well as the athlete.
Applying new found turbo power to the road: Training conditions in Santa Barbara.
Brett and I had a discussion about the fundamental principles that he employs when writing trainer sessions. Since that talk, I’ve done virtually all of my sessions on the trainer, structuring sessions to put those principles into action, experimenting on myself, and getting a good feel for the power and value of this tool. After two months of masochistic research I can tell you that there is a particular quality of pain that can only be administered on the trainer.
The trainer provides constant resistance – momentum doesn’t carry you on the trainer. If you soft-pedal on the trainer your wheel slows down and it takes considerably more watts to get it going again. Cycling uphill is the most comparable parallel on the road.
Trainer sessions are time efficient since there’s no stopping for traffic or lights, no slowing for corners, and no coasting. This means that you can crack out a very high quality session in less than two hours. Riding a trainer is also a heck of a lot safer and less stressful than doing battle with cars.
My sessions emphasize muscular intensity by focusing on cadence and effort. These sessions are strength training on the bike. Legs, core, and body are trained for strength with specificity on the bike. Strength training on the bike helps to maximize time management and efficiency for the time-crunched athlete.
These sessions can also help to build and reinforce mental toughness. Trainer sessions eliminate many external stimuli from cycling – no cars, potholes, or scenery. The sessions come down to you and the efforts. Where your head goes, the quality of your focus, self-talk, and attention are up to you and your coach. These are dimensions of your mental game that you can always bring into your training, however, on the trainer you have a unique opportunity to work on mental focus, self-talk, attention, and self-regulation without the typical distractions encountered on the road.
Trainer sessions also build confidence, and mental toughness. The grit that it takes to crush a session, and the inner strength that’s built as a result of nailing workout after workout, contribute to the self-confidence that will take your training and racing to their highest levels.
Bottom line, trainer sessions are tough. By taking them on with passion and purpose you’ll be tougher too. Now go get your headphones, crank up the music, put your head down, and make it hurt!
Trisutto.com triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
UCSB squad in action.