Indoor training

Coach Tom's journey to Ironman 70.3, Indoor training, Training and nutrition, triathlon

Ironman 70.3 New Zealand, the FSA Way – Blog 3

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In the third installment of coach Tom’s blog series on using the FSA Coaching principles to train for the Ironman 70.3 NZ in March, we look at the use of intelligent and targeted training to make the most of the time and the tools available to you.

Fitting in a high intensity bike session after the kids have gone to bed…

You’re all busy people, right?  You’d love to have 35 hours a week to train, just like the pros do.  Heck, you might even be as good as them if you trained that much… 

But anyway, in the real world you’ve probably got about half the time that you’d really like to train and even then it’s early in the morning or late at night when all the other priorities are sorted.  And that’s OK.  I totally get this.  There are those who are lucky enough to be in a position to put their training above everything else in there life.  For the rest of us, we have to make our training and race work as part of our wider life and responsibilities.

We want to get the most bang for our buck and that’s where intelligent and targeted training comes in.  Intelligent and targeted training, in this context, means:

  • Training at the right intensities (which means a bit more testing than you might like…)
  • Using training time efficiently and effectively
  • Tracking progress and using feedback to tweak and refine
  • Using (but not being a slave to) gadgets, tech and data
Tracking progress with good, old-fashioned data

Here at FSA Coaching, we’re big on the use of data, feedback and testing to get the most from our training. We use TrainingPeaks, which is a fantastic tool for planning, monitoring and tracking progress. It allows our athletes to track their training, see what they’ve got coming up, make sure they’re training at the right intensities and, probably most importantly, provide a subjective comment on how a training session felt.

But as with any data-driven method, the outputs are only as good as the data you put in.  And that’s where the testing and intensity-setting comes in.  As part of any well planned training programme, it’s critical to test regularly to see how things are going and to tweak training intensities.  We try to test every 4-6 weeks (maybe a little less frequently for FTP testing – it hurts…) as part of a regular cycle of periodised training.  Tweaking intensities makes sure we’re always pushing the ceiling up a little higher.

  • We regularly test our athletes for:
    • Critical Swim Speed (CSS);
    • Functional Threshold Power (FTP); and
    • Threshold run pace.

In my build up to Ironman 70.3 NZ in March next year, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’ve been swimming my 3x300m CSS tests in the pool, suffering through the FTP test on Zwift and running threshold tests at the track.

FTP testing….brutal

With each test, I’m using the feedback to amend my training zones (hopefully upwards…!) for swimming, biking and running.  I’m using the cold, hard facts of the results from my training and testing to build confidence that the training is working and I’m heading in the right direction.

In the next blog, I’ll update you on some of the early season events I’ve been using to tweak and refine the race plan before the big race goals later in the summer.

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Indoor training, Training and nutrition

Get your (right) gear on

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Anyone that’s watched the Tour de France will have noticed that some cyclists turn their pedals much faster that others.  Scapegoat for a generation, Lance Armstrong, was notorious for spinning a low gear with lots of revolutions.  Chris Froome is the modern day spinner.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jan Ullrich, always pushed a big gear.  For our younger readers, Frenchman Damien Gaudin is the quintessential big gear pusher, with pretty good effect (just watch some footage from this year’s Tro-Bro Leon to see what we mean…)

So why do different riders favour different cadences, and does it matter to the everyday triathlete looking to maximise their performance in the local club race? (The answer’s yes).

What is cadence?

Quite simply, cycling cadence is the number of revolutions of the cranks per minute and is expressed as revolutions per minute (rpm).  Put your bike in a lower gear and you will need to spin the pedals more times to achieve the same distance than if you were riding a bigger gear.  In the higher gear, less revolutions will cover the same distance but more power will be required.

Pedaling dynamics

AA_Wattbike_Polar_View_(539x421)Of course, there’s a lot more to efficient pedaling than finding the right cadence.

We don’t really want to get in to the finer details of pedaling efficiency and technique here.  There are lots of studies and advice pages and forum posts and on and on and… that cover this subject and for now we’ll leave it at that.  If you’re interested, have a look  here or may be even here!

Finding the right gear for you

No two cyclists are made alike.  That’s why it’s important to find the right cadence for you rather than trying to emulate your personal hero (even if your hero is still Lance…)

There is no perfect cadence.  A cadence of 80-100rpm is usually quoted as the normal range.  And most cyclists will spend the majority of their ride time in that window.

In the example below, you’ll see that one of our FSA-coached athletes completing an over/under gear session was working 3-4bpm harder for the same normalised power at a cadence of 75-77rpm when compared to a cadence of 95rpm.  Keeping a lower heart rate to achieve the same power output is obviously the goal here so efficiency-wise this athlete is going to do better at the higher cadence.

These are 4min reps alternating overgearing and undergearing (with 4min recovery). For the same normalised power (260 watts – 95% of threshold for this athlete), heart rate is consistently 3 or 4 bpm higher for the overgearing reps.

Experimenting in your training to see what works best for you is the best way to work out the cadence range that suits you best.  Having power, cadence and heart rate data can really help with this, but it’s also just as worthwhile recording how things feel at different cadences.

Having said all that, training at different cadences will benefit most triathletes by preparing you to cope with a range of terrains, conditions, road surfaces and race situations.  Big gear intervals will develop strength.  Small gear or single leg intervals can help to improve pedaling efficiency.

Other factors

There are a few physical factors, like getting the right bike fit and crank length for your body shape, that also influence pedaling cadence.  That’s a topic for another blog.

Is it different for triathletes?

Cyril-DesseThere is one big difference between cadence for triathletes and cyclists.  At the end of a bike ride, a cyclist will usually hit the cafe for an espresso.  A triathlete has to get off their bike and run anywhere between 5km and 42.2km as fast as they can.  Does this make any difference to what sort of cadence a triathlete should be riding?

You’ll get lots of advice to spin the last few kms of the bike leg to “flush the lactic acid out of you legs“.  I haven’t seen any studies that confirm this and, in all honesty, I have absolutely no idea whether you’re flushing anything by doing this, but I do know from years and years of practice that animating the legs through a higher, easier gear will get them turning over better at the start of the run.

For the majority of the bike leg, I’ve yet to see any real evidence that a higher or lower cadence is really any better for triathletes (when compared to cyclists).  Looking at pro triathletes, you see just the same range of cadence styles as you do in the pro peloton.

Suggested sessions

Here are a couple of sessions that will help you work on your cadence:

Session 1 – High cadence intervals (60 mins)

This session is designed to work on high cadence for an improved pedal efficiency

  1. 10 min easy warm up
  2. 15 minutes as 1 min right leg only; 1 min left leg only; 1 minute easy spin
  3. 2×10 minutes increasing cadence with 5 minute recovery (start at 75rpm and increase by 5rpm every 2 minutes)
  4. 10 minute easy spin cool down

Session 2 – Over and under gear intervals (90 mins)

This session is designed to work on a range of cadences to build strength and efficiency

  1. 15 min warm up – increase effort every 5 minutes
  2. 8x(4min hard; 4 min easy).  Alternate the hard efforts as  odds overgearing <80rpm; evens undergearing >90rpm)
  3. 12 minute cool down – decrease effort every 3 minutes

Get in touch if you want either of these workout as TrainingPeaks or Zwift workout files.  I can e-mail them to you.


Working on optimising your cadence may sound like something only the pros need to worry about, but any triathlete can get benefits from working on building pedal efficiency and strength at a range of cadences, whilst also experimenting with different cadences to work out what just feels right.  Here at FSA Coaching, we can help you with a range of sessions, skills and drills to build your pedaling strength and efficiency.  Get in touch if you’re keen to work with us!

And check out this video from the guys at GCN for some great insight…!

Indoor training

Go indoors for a power boost

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This Winter and Spring I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on Zwift.  I was a bit late to the Zwift party but have been playing catch up big time over the last few months.

For those that don’t know, Zwift is an online gaming platform that takes your dull indoor training session to the next level.  It’s social, customisable, competitive, fun and a whole heap more.  In my view, it’s a real game-changer for indoor training.  By gamifying the experience, it’s taken what was a dull necessity and jazzed it up into a fun, immersive experience.  And if you’re into this sort of thing, there are real performance benefits too.

IMG_1442Set-up is pretty straightforward.  With a basic turbo trainer, a laptop and an ANT+ dongle, you can get into it.  With a controllable smart trainer and the iOS or Android phone app, you can take things to a whole new level.

For $15 US a month ($10 if you’ve been on the platform for a while), you get a full experience IMG_1426that allows you to race some pretty strong riders (and let’s face it, a few cheats too…), complete structured workouts, group rides, hill climbs and on and on.

There are some great resources on the web to get you going.  Zwiftblog is an awesome source of information, ZwiftPower is where you’ll find all your race results, if that’s what you’re in to.  It’s not my intention to reproduce stuff others have already written about Zwift (there’s a lot out there).  From my perspective, here are a few things I’ve learnt from a Winter and Spring of riding around Watopia, London and Richmond that’s relevant to triathlon coaching and triathlon training:

  • I now want to ride my turbo trainer (I never enjoyed it much before).  I find myself looking for reasons to ride indoors (the kids are asleep, it’s a bit windy, the traffic is bad, blah blah blah…).
  • I’ve had to rein myself in from racing too much on Zwift.  It’s a really tough workout and you can find yourself poked for the next training session if you go too deep…  I tend to stick to structured workouts (either group workouts set up within Zwift or, even better and more Untitledpersonalised, I use FSA Coaching  workouts built in TrainingPeaks and import them directly into Zwift).  This is one area where FSA Coaching can really help you with your training – we develop our workouts in TrainingPeaks and they can then be imported directly into Zwift (or to your head unit if you’re heading outside for that matter) and you can get on with your session with clear, on screen instructions.  Get in touch to learn more.
  • I do race on Zwift every now and again, and it’s a fantastic way to do a maximum effort session.  We would always IMG_1381schedule a race with an easy day following.  You will go deep in a Zwift race…
  • I have seen significant FTP gains over a Winter and Spring of consistent indoor riding.  It really is a great performance tool.
  • And what’s the best thing about Zwift?  It’s the only time I’ll ever ride with a pair of Zipp 808s, or be able to change my bike every ride.  It’s the only time I’ll ever look good with a moustache. And it’s the only time I’ll ever wear the polka dot jersey.  Very compelling reasons to get on the Zwift bandwagon!

FSA Coaching can help integrate your training with a range of online tools and platforms – there are lots of others available (Sufferfest, TrainerRoad).  We are most familiar with Zwift but our training programmes can integrate with all of these platforms and we can help you get the most out of our indoor training.  The turbo session will be dull no more!