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A Weekend of ‘Brain Washing’ Ilawa, Poland

A Weekend of ‘Brain Washing’ Ilawa, Poland

The original article appeared in Triathlon Academy. Translated by Rafal Medak.

Many say that Brett Sutton is a controversial coach. However, if someone produces such stars like Chrissie Wellington, Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf consistently over 25 years his training methods and triathlon philosophy must be working pretty well. Last weekend we had a privilege to host Brett in Ilawa. 25 participants took part in our 3-day workshop, including 11 coaches from Polish Triathlon Federation. I believe that even those who may not fully agree with all Brett’s methods benefitted from his advice and experience. Brett repeated a number of times that one of keys to success is the intuition of the coach, understanding of his/her athlete’s mentality and abilities, as well as facilitating the training, encouraging the athlete rather than hindering or getting in the way. However, this is only one component of the success, the second is simple hard work and dedication. When the athlete is given a swim session with a main set of 40x100m in the pool or 50x200m fast intervals on the track, he/she should not be surprised.

Before I summarise our weekend with Brett, I’d like to thank Rafal and Alicja Medak.  They both train with Brett and both participated in Ironman World Championship in Kona 5 times. In one of her Ironmans in this season Alicja had the fastest run from all female Age Groupers. Rafal’s help with translation of Brett’s lectures as well as interesting comments from his own training and racing were invaluable. Big Thanks.

medak_trisuttoRafal and Alicja Medak at Kona 2015.

However, if it wasn’t for the help of two participants who knows how the workshop would have finished!?  Brett came to Poland with a bad tooth infection which became much worse during the flight. When we were about to launch a ‘Project Dentist’ and started searching for a doctor in Ilawa it occurred that among the participants we had not one but two dentists! (Grzegorz Witkowski and Karol Sujka).  They quickly organised for Brett a sightseeing trip to Olsztyn (around one hour drive each way) and a long visit in a dental clinic. Big Thanks for help and organising everything so quickly and efficiently!

Our 3-day workshop was very fruitful.  It was a very busy time for all and we were working hard from early morning to late evening. Except two swimming training sessions our work could not be called hard training.  I would call them more ‘cat walk’ sessions aiming for assessment of our running technique, bike set-up and cycling technique as well as effectiveness of our swim technique.

medak_sutton_swimDemonstrating Total Body Force swim technique.


When it comes to the swim technique I’d summarise the approach in one sentence: ‘It does’t matter what your arms do above the water, as long as it has no negative impact on what is happening below the water’.  Brett was proving in different ways that you can do different things above the water, even silly ones during the recovery phase as long as you do 3 things below the surface correctly and efficiently with the most important phase being the push which is the key component of propulsion moving you forward. A significant part of the swim training consist of swimming with paddles and pull buoy.  When Brett noticed my massive paddles he could not believe it that I was swimming with such a huge size. Over next 30 minutes Brett explained what equipment should be used by whom.  We were explained how different size and shape of paddles impact the traction of the hand in the water, which are too large or too small or have a wrong shape for individual athletes or are just not designed for front crawl.

lapki_suttonSwim equipment on display.

In my case (here’s a piece of advice for strong, muscular swimmers with a poor technique and no feel for the water) paddles of a large size are really not ideal. They not only ‘swim for you’ but also further engrain your mistakes and bad technique. Only after explanation by Brett I understood that such a big paddle (on the picture the black one with blue straps in the middle) was swimming for me.  For 100m I was able to swim 15sec faster with my paddles than without them!  Even worse it was propelling me forward during first two phases of the swim, placing and pressing (or as others call it catching) but not when it was supposed to during the push phase when I should be working the hardest. Moreover, during previous training with paddles I subconsciously felt something was wrong, but since I had read that we should be swimming with paddles I started swimming with them without thinking which ones are correct for me.  My choice was the bigger the better.  All participants of the camp were explained which paddles are correct for their individual stroke and how they will be correcting their mistakes. You should also think about choosing the training equipment that is correct for you.

IMG_2033Real time feedback with the age group participants.

I think for a number of participants the swim lecture was revolutionary. I will not repeat all the pieces of advice because it would probably take more than ten pages but also due to the reason that each piece of advice was very individual.  Every person was individually assessed and received personal feedback. As Brett repeated few times, everything is individual and different things work differently for different swimmers.


Running technique proposed by Brett is also known as quite controversial, although not as much as his approach to other two disciplines. He was trying to explain to us that the running technique in triathlon, especially in longer distance races should more resemble 50km walkers who cover the distance at an average pace faster than the Ironman runners using the marathon runners technique. Summarising such a technique is far from running on the front or even mid foot. According to Brett this is not the most effective technique for Ironman runners. Long distance athletes should run more on the entire foot or even strike with the heel. Among others we analysed the running technique of Daniela Ryf and Jan Frodeno, who run in an Ironman differently than in short distance races. During second day we did a simple running test showing us how wrong most of us were approaching running in Ironman.  We were told tu run 8 short loops including a 100m uphill section. Most of us trying to impress the Coach were trying to run on our toes, and probably the runner trying the most was ME. My technique looked like Usain Bolt’s during his 100m sprints. After running the incline section we would run a 200m short section back to the bottom of the hill and during this run back most of us run completely differently, with a technique that was more natural for us. When in the evening we were shown a video of us running we were explained the ‘other way’ and why the front foot running is not the best way when one tries to cover a marathon in an Ironman.

runsuttonCampers preparing for the run set.


The lecture about riding a bike was also very comprehensive. We covered not only the peddling technique but also the set up and the position on the bike as well as the choice of the equipment. I will concentrate here on the principle of riding with slow cadence. Brett argued that in his view that fast cadence may be a wrong one for a number of riders, in particular those who do not come from a cycling background and started riding late. Their bodies and in particular the euro-muscular system are not conditioned the such a riding style. Lower cadence translates into lower heart rate and this helps to start the run in a much better shape. During the run the heart rate will naturally go up so it is better to save the heart for the demands of the marathon rather than tire it unnecessarily during the bike leg.  In addition during and after finishing the swim our heart rate will be the highest in the whole Ironman, not only because the impact of the adrenaline at the start but also the faster pace wiring first few minutes, exit and run between first and second lap as well as changing the body position to horizontal after finishing the swim leg. Even before I start the swim my HR is usually well above 130bpm. All this forces the cardio system to work really hard. It is a much better and sensible approach to allow your heart to work less during the bike allowing it to rest a bit during the bike and preparing for the run. Of course each of us must find the optimal cadence suitable for an individual athlete during which our pace is the highest at a given heart rate. It should all be caveated that such a racing approach and bike technique must be trained and it may take months to master it and get used to the muscular pain associated with it. Different TriSutto athletes ride with different cadences generally ranging from 75 to 85 rpm.  Few of us were shocked the Rafal confirmed that during his Ironman and Half Ironman races this season his average cadence was approximately 67-68 rpm!

We have also spend few minutes talking about the cleat position and the benefits for some athletes which they have achieved moving the cleats backwards. Such an approach allows for reducing the impact on the calf muscles.  Here we also heard some criticism relating to the ‘cyclists’ approach to the peddling technique riding ‘in circles’.  Such technique does not allow for any relaxation during the bike leg, again something that is a norm in cycling that may not be the best approach in triathlon.


Finally, one of the key messages that Brett was trying to instil in the participants was that triathlon is one sport and not three separate disciplines and it should be trained as such.  The key is to get as fast as possible to the finish line covering each of the three disciplines in a different way. Sutton’s training and racing philosophy is based on such a ‘common sense’ approach: use arms during the swim, during the bike use the big leg muscles but save the heart and during the run apply a running technique that will allow you to cover all the distance in a steady pace.

I hope that each of the participants learned something that will allow them to become a better athlete. We were given a brilliant lecture about the sport, I have to admit some of messages were very different and sometimes controversial, however the feedback from the participants was great and that we will try to organise another workshop with Brett and his TriSutto team again next year.  Very interesting were not only our main lectures but equally interesting were our discussions between the athletes and coaches.  Once again I’d like to thank all participants and Rafal and Alicja and I hope we will meet soon again during another training camp or a workshop.

loza-tricampMichał Siejakowski, Piotr Netter, Czarek Figurski, Artur Bilewski, Paweł Barszowski – Radek Burza and Tomek Kowalski.

Learn more about our Camps here.

Fair Starts and a Fair Go

Fair Starts and a Fair Go

2014 Hawaii World Championships. Photo: Triamax

For the long-term viability of the women’s sport something has got to change. Soon.

Unlike what many may think, I actually take no joy in criticising the WTC and would prefer to be working with them for the benefit of the sport rather than be harping from the sidelines.

Criticism of Ironman puts my athletes in a tough spot, and as a coach it means the message can too easily be dismissed as bias.

But on some issues, coverage by mainstream triathlon media is either so deficient or understanding of the of the sport so limited that it needs to be set straight.

So for now, please ignore the fact that I coach Daniela Ryf, last week’s winner and presumptive favourite for this year’s Kona.

Fundamentally Unfair

The 2015 European Championships at Ironman Frankfurt were an unacceptable farce. Totally unacceptable. The congested start times denying the women any chance at all for a fair race.

Frankfurt follows a complete farce at Ironman 70.3 Cairns where the female leaders were again penalised for catching up to the men, and will be followed by another farce at Ironman Zurich in a couple of weeks.

The Angry Bird being impeded on the bike.

Here we see the Angry Bird putting the hammer down passing a pro male (and nearly giving him a cold in the process). This is the bird in her groove and looking to go to work. But is she able to keep her rhythm as she looks to put time into the other women? Of course not. She runs into another pro male, then another, then another, the entire race. I encourage all serious observers of the sport to re-watch the women’s bike in its entirety to get a sense of the problem.

When you have Ironman’s own commentators explaining how the leading women are having to ‘sit up and light pedal’ to avoid penalties after catching the men, surely it must be obvious to all stakeholders that we need to work together to sort this out.

Caroline Steffen being checked by male pros on the bike.

Nor am I complaining because my athletes are the only ones affected by the race situation. All the strong swim / bike women are. Here we see Xena (Caroline Steffen) being similarly stuffed around on the bike when she should be using her weapons to put time into the speedy runners being dragged up in a peloton of fast age group men.

Before people say, ‘yes, it’s bad. But it affects all the women equally’. No, it does not.

The leaders are coming into male riders who are slowing them down. The chasing women are being caught by fast age group males who are speeding them up. And while the general triathlon public may not understand it, all the top women do.

Here is Caroline’s reaction after IM 70.3 Cairns a few weeks ago:

It’s just not ok, it’s not ok. How many times do we have to say it? We as females need a fair race. We need a separate race. We caught a male in the swim already and they mix up our race in the first five minutes. It is not ok.”

Annabel Luxford also weighing in:

That’s actually the first drafting penalty of my career, I’ve been doing triathlon for quite some time. I guess we are seeing it quite regularly and it’s a shame it’s happening too much. I pretty much rode that entire bike on my own and got caught up with an age group man that came past in a narrow section they called me out for not dropping back quick enough.”

Before the race Michelle Vesterby tweeted this:


After the race the fifth place finisher tweeted this:

Ruth Brennan

I’m not sure that any of the above athletes have received an apology or an assurance that it won’t happen again.

‘Your athlete won so why do you care?’

I have been campaigning on this even since the days of Chrissie winning, because the situation we see today has been so easily foreseeable.

I now have to instruct my strong swim / bikers NOT to push on the bike because there is no advantage over others sitting in and running with fresh legs. Julia Gajer in her post race interview said she felt Daniela was just warming up the first 90km. 100% true. Because there is no other choice.

Coaching wise I now have to change my focus towards a run approach. I can do that, but don’t feel I should have to in the first place. Some athletes like Daniela are good enough to be able to adapt and win on the run. But not everyone is.

Last year at Ironman Zurich I saw one of our developing long distance athletes and uber swim / biker Celine Schaerer ridden down by a pack of riders. Some of whom I know (because I see them on a day to day basis) could not get within 10 minutes of her on a fair ride. I subsequently had to advise her to stick to ITU racing, because at least there you have the safety net of the federation funding.

Is that a good situation for Ironman and developing athletes?

No. The start times need to be addressed for the future of the sport.

We do not have a fair Women’s World Championship at Kona.

Yet the mainstream tri media are either too scared, too much in awe, too ignorant, or too apathetic to come out and say it.

Let me preface my comments below by saying it is absolutely not the fault of the slower swim athletes that the race infrastructure gives them an unfair advantage. Neither are they in a position to stop the motorbikes accompanying fan favourites through the field and providing a massive advantage along the way.

For all the attention and coverage of Kona last year I did not see one commentator or article accounting for the anomaly of how Daniela Ryf was able put so much time into Rinnie (Mirinda Carfrae) during the first 90km on the bike (from memory 9+ minutes), but so little for the remainder.

The extent of the analysis being ‘Daniela must have got slower.’

Yet have any of the Angry Bird’s undefeated string of five victories since suggested that she gets slower on the bike?

No, the fact is there is a problem there, which WTC have conceded by pushing the age group start times this year a further five minutes back. A step in the right direction and one they should be applauded for making.

But it is the close start times between the pro men and pro women that are also a huge problem. It has already cost Caroline Steffen a World Championship at Kona. I guarantee you if it is not changed soon it is going to cost more.

I am asked regularly now about how the nature of women’s Ironman racing will change when Olympic medallists Nicola Spirig and Lisa Norden (and no doubt more) start going long. The honest answer is that I don’t know. I do know under current rules it will get messier and uglier.

The Tri Equal movement should be supported. But it should also not be up to them or grisly old coaches to point this out to the tri world. It’s time for a transparent dialogue between WTC and the triathlon public about why or why not the women can’t have their own race or fair start times. We appreciate there are difficulties logistically, but don’t tell me they are insurmountable.

If the pro women continue to be ignored and told ‘there is no problem’, then athletes should start taking matters into their own hands, first off by refusing to compete at IM Frankfurt if this is not resolved or at least improved next year. No-one wants it to happen, but that’s a conversation that should be happening for the long term credibility of the sport.

Top Gear: The Bike Cadence Debate Continued

Top Gear: The Bike Cadence Debate Continued

Daniela Ryf ahead of Challenge Dubai, 2015.

I’m very pleased that our last articles on bike cadence have been able to generate such positive and creative debate. I would also like to thank the Angry Bird (Daniela Ryf) for so helpfully demonstrating the effectiveness of using low cadence training at Challenge Dubai last Friday.

With that, since my original post it is obvious that some have either misunderstood or are confusing my position on low cadence training to undermine what I believe is sound advice, backed up by science and results.

So that our followers are able to make clear judgements about my perspective on bike cadence I’d like to clarify some of the myths around ‘big gear’ racing.

Here is the opening line to my original blog:

Since we’ve started selling training plans on I have been asked frequently about bike cadence and why I’m such a proponent for age-group and pro triathletes from non-cycling backgrounds using low cadence training:” (emphasis added)

I most certainly do believe in the effectiveness of low cadence training and my reasoning for this is explained here. This however, does not commit me to a ‘big gear, low cadence’ model for ALL athletes racing across ALL distances.

On the contrary, my entire coaching philosophy revolves around a very simple principle – what works for the individual is what is right.

Cherry picking individual athletes who have had success as ‘high cadence spinners’ and then using these examples as ‘proof’ that Trisutto is wrong on big gears doesn’t repudiate our coaching philosophy, it vindicates it.

Bianca-van-WoesikMany similarities between Bianca van Woesik and Chrissie Wellington. Here with an up and coming Michelle Jones.

Belinda Granger, an eventual 15 time Ironman winner came into my squad after years of triathlon. Her cadence, even though one would think it would be low given she was a strong and powerful girl, was not changed. Yes, we did train in the big gear and yes I tried to get her to push a bigger gear at just below her normal race cadence. But as she was tearing everybody apart on race day there was no 66 or even 76 cadence – it more like 90.

Lisbeth Kristensen, one of our coaches, won the 2002 World ITU Long Course Championship with a blistering bike split to devastate the field. Her cadence? 100. In Lisbeth’s first Ironman she broke 5 hours on the bike. Not bad for a spinner.

All those who trained with Nicola Spirig in the lead up to the Games know full well I was barking at her every fast ride to ‘lift your cadence’ if she wanted to win the Olympics.

Same deal for individual men. Craig Walton was a bike monster and a huge guy, but when he was destroying both ITU and Middle Distance races he wasn’t pushing slow cadence. In fact Craig was around 86. Similarly with AJ (Andrew Johns), a former ITU World Number 1 for two years, he rode with a high cadence and will attest that while we trained for specific strength on the bike with low cadences, was never told to push massive gears race day.

So you may ask, why did I train these guys to push higher cadences but at the same time have other pro athletes and most of my age group athletes going down the road in cadences between 66 and 74? Because what works for the individual is what is right.

It was my coaching decision that the above athletes had the ‘feel’ for the pedals in some form or another, so why would I tinker with their technique when the higher cadence was working for them? Instead we would strengthen their pedal stroke in training, while in races they would use that training strength through their own cadence.

There is no contradiction here. It’s called coaching.

However, there are subtleties within such an approach. Many people ask ‘so why was Caroline Steffen pushing such a big gear with you when she was an experienced pro cyclist who could ‘feel’ the pedals?’

Yes, Xena can ‘feel’ the pedals and cycles absolutely fantastic at high cadence. But only for about 120 km before blowing up. We went to work on changing that, just as we did for T-Mac (Teresa Macel), who at the end of her career went from being a ‘good’ biker who faded in the run, into a swim-bike monster that could put 12 minutes into most fields. She took an unbelievable 4th at Kona where again she smashed them on the swim and bike, but this time could hang on to a best ever run to go with it. Forcing her into a lower cadence and not getting out of the saddle gave her the missing piece in her Ironman jigsaw.

LAVA_excerpt“Most triathlon experts” will keep Trisutto coaches in business for a long time.

Chrissie Wellington? Yes, she is probably the most famous example of pushing the big gears.

Chrissie’s cycle technique owes a lot to the similarities (technically and physically) she had with fastest woman bike rider I have ever trained: Bianca van Woesik. Not many of you will know Bianca (multiple Australian Champion) but you only need to ask any Australian pro athlete from the 90s about what kind rider she was. Like Chrissie, who because of a limited cycling background was not great technically, Bianca was able to most effectively harness her raw power by using a low cadence technique (around 60) that didn’t rely on changing gears. I can’t remember more than three sessions where she failed to break 40km for the one hour Time Trial and on a non-technical course was capable of riding her way through an entire field. On a straight, flat course the pro men’s field were all in serious danger of being ‘chicked’.

In conclusion, if you are a coach it is inevitable that you will come across athletes, perhaps a majority, who just can’t and never will be able to ‘feel’ the pedals. Does that mean you shrug your shoulders and say ‘you just don’t have it’ before moving on? No, you have to work with what you’ve got and try everything until you find the breakthrough that makes the individual faster. That is what we drill into our Trisutto coaches each day.

By all means use the coaching manuals to help your athletes, but if at times the coaching manual would be best used under the front wheel of the turbo while your athlete cranks out the big gear sets – then that’s where it should stay.

Read The Great Cadence Debate article by Coach Cam Watt here. triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.


Using Cycling to Cross Train for Running

Using Cycling to Cross Train for Running

Why I use cycling as a way of Cross Training for the runners I coach:

Cycling is an excellent way to cross-train for competitive and casual long distance runners. Training with a bike can build endurance, muscle strength and leg movement, which all improves running times. It can provide a break from regular running workouts and lessen the chance of injury from running.

The fact that cycling works the front leg muscles which are not stressed in running helps balance leg muscles and reduces the chance of injury. It also helps stretch out leg muscles and gives the feet and ankles a break from the pounding of running. It is also excellent rehabilitation from injury or recovery from an intense or long run.

Bicycle training improves cardiovascular fitness because a cyclist is able to work for longer. Three or four miles of cycling is the equivalent of about a mile of running, so a cyclist keeps the heart rate and lung function at high levels longer. Longer workouts build endurance and can also help with weight control because longer periods of exercise burn more stored fat. I believe that’s the reason why some elite triathletes are able to run so well with only 3 run workouts a week. Whereas a 5-hour ride is normal for a serious cyclist, in contrast a 3.5 hour run is a very, very long run that needs a lot of recovery afterwards in comparison. Cycling wears you out less, which means you can go for hours and hours without causing too much muscle damage.

Complementing your run workout program with two one hour sessions a week will help you raise your performance. The sessions don’t need to be complicated, just holding 70% of your maximum for an hour 2 times a week will help. For better impact on your running keep varying your cadence throughout the workout.

I remember when I was in College in Florida two of my running team-mates went to Europe for the summer and toured Europe on bicycles. They were pedalling smoothly around four hours a day, but did no running at all. When they came back they were skinnier and stronger than ever and had the season of their lives. After observing that… what else can I say? It has worked ever since.

Training In The City

Training In The City

This article originally appeared on the Triathlon Academy ( website on the 11th of February, 2015.

Over last few months I’ve been reading a number of articles about the supremacy of bike training on the road compared with training on a trainer.

This has prompted me to share my own experience of bike training in winter. Together with my wife, Alicja, we live and work in London. We work around 8-10 hours every day and during the week we are not able to ride outside. Moreover, training on the roads of London is not only logistically challenging, but potentially dangerous. Four years ago during one of my training rides I was hit by a car on a roundabout. Luckily enough my quad muscles softened the impact and doctors concluded that well developed muscles protected my femur from breaking. My bike was less lucky though, with the frame being a complete write-off.

The sustained bruising and road rash meant I couldn’t run or swim for almost a month. It was at this time I decided enough was enough and finally bought a turbo trainer! It wasn’t anything expensive, one of the basic models with no power, no connection to the internet and no other gadgets. It only had speed and cadence readings along with a few levels of resistance. When I told my coach (who was one of Brett’s former athletes) he got very excited. Since we started working together he strongly recommended I buy one, but I wasn’t convinced and kept finding different excuses for not having one yet.

At the end of the day we all race on the roads, right?

To be honest with you this purchase was probably my best investment in any training equipment I’ve ever made and has greatly contributed to my subsequent improvements in bike splits. I started training on the turbo 3 times a week. The sessions during my first winter of indoor training were not long, most of them 45-90 minutes but designed in a way that they were stimulating different systems improving not only my strength, but also endurance.

As an example I would be doing a set or 10 x 3 minutes of big gear, high resistance and low cadence working on my strength. A second session would be 6 x 5 minutes going hard at a race cadence so that my heart rate would go close to what I think my maximum is. The third type of session was more a mini endurance set, but as you would expect being trained by someone from the Doc’s school not neglecting the other aspects – 30/30/30 set – 30 minutes at moderate, 30 at medium and 30 at mad effort. The famous MMM about which those of you who follow Brett’s blogs may be familiar with by now.

Of course these are only examples of my trainings. During the winter and early spring the sessions varied but the stimulus and the types of the workouts were similar. After my first few months of my bike training, mainly indoors, I started to worry about my first race of the upcoming season – 70.3 Mallorca in May. Before the race I only had a chance to do 3 or 4 ‘longer’ rides outside and the longest of them was less than 3 hours. To add to my worries, I hadn’t done any climbing specific training and the course had a nice 7 or 8km non-stop uphill section. The coach seemed very relaxed and confident that I was ready for the race. He just said ‘let’s surprise ourselves with what you can do after spending the winter in the guest room.’ Or rather our bike room that my wife started calling the ‘performance center’.

The race plan was simple:

  • Go hard on the swim, which is not difficult for a non-swimmer like me, just completing the distance of 1,900m is hard enough;
  • Start the bike at a medium effort for first 15km or so, until the beginning of the climb and then go all out with a time trial to the finish line;
  • Don’t to worry about the run, the legs will be there. I was told that even if my legs are dead at the end of the bike I should still be able to run at a reasonable pace.

The objective of the race was to check if the training on the trainer works for me, or rather, as I was told after the race, to show me how well I can ride on the back of such training.

The result? I surprised myself, I wasn’t expecting that the legs would be as strong as they were on the day. I felt strong all way and nobody overtook me on the climb, not a single person! Despite the fact that it was getting really hard towards the end, my time of 2:35 was really good. I was only 2 minutes slower than Marek Jaskolka [Polish Olympian from Beijing and London] and I completed the climb faster than him, this is a good scalp to have! The running legs were also there, although when I jumped of the bike I could hardly walk. It wasn’t my fastest run but only a couple of minutes slower than my 70.3 PB at the time, another surprise.

I really didn’t expect such a good result after the winter in the guest room and not on the road. Since this race I have my bike set up on a trainer all the time and I do the whole bike training during the week on the turbo, every month, every season. The bike is only taken off the trainer for longer weekend rides, training camps and for racing. The results of such training, especially for time-starved age groupers, cannot be questioned.

In my view a turbo trainer allows not only for an effective training but also helps to save a lot of time. If I finish work at 6:30pm (we only live a 10 minute walk from work) I can be on the bike at 7pm starting my training and by 8pm I’m already taking shower. If I wanted to ride on the road just getting dressed and taking the bike outside would take me at least 30 minutes. Both of us (as I’d imagine for the majority of age group athletes) have very limited time for training and we try to maximise the effectiveness of how we train during this limited amount of time.

One may ask where does this effectiveness come from? The turbo is not the same as a bike. Well it is not the same, I think it is better for specific sessions. Where can you find an unobstructed 20 kilometres of road where you can do 30 minute time trial effort pedalling non stop? Definitely not in London. I have tried though. I found a 5km quiet loop with very light traffic especially on Sunday morning, but the intensity of such training wasn’t the same. Maybe it is just me after the accident but I can’t seem to replicate TT efforts on the road. I look back to see if a car’s approaching from behind or I slow down going through junctions and roundabouts, not mentioning the potholes… It’s not as controlled training environment as in our ‘performance centre’. As few coaches say: “Champions are made when no one is watching”.

If I haven’t convinced you these are some examples of my better bike splits on the back of 80-90% of total bike training volume on my turbo trainer and I have no cycling or any other endurance sport background. My last ‘major’ effort before I started playing with triathlon was a cross country regional race in Poland in February or March 1985, almost exactly 30 years ago:

– Kona 2013: 5:00:49

– Ironman Arizona 2013: 4:49:51

– 70.3 Mt Tremblant 2014: 2:20:45 – 1 minute slower than Daniela Ryf and 1 min slower than Ritch Viola, who won my AG in Mt. Tremblant and in Kona in 2014.

Rafal_TrainingTurbo training in the ‘performance centre.’

I’m often asked about the boredom of training indoors, ‘surely all the time you’d be looking into one point on the wall?’ I don’t think it is as bad as people who never tried think it is. You need to improvise a bit as I agree that looking at the wall is not fun.

We have a TV and DVD in front of the trainer, sometimes we connect the laptop to the TV. When we train we like watching sport as it does not require too much focus like when trying to watch a film. We watch a triathlon or a cycling race and if there is nothing live we find something on YouTube, the choices are endless. During winter we watch mainly winter sports, cross country skiing and biathlon are our favourites and we would be supporting our national hero Justina Kowalczyk or the female biathlon team (our men are not even close as good as ladies). During our time trial efforts we hope we give as much as them, but we don’t fall down when we finish as they tend to after crossing the finish line. Although a few times I’ve been pretty close!

I hope this article is interesting for the readers who have just started their triathlon adventures to understand better how we incorporate training into our lives. How after 9 years in the sport and 7 years racing Ironman we still enjoy it (well above the average, which according to Ironman’s own research lasts just over 2 seasons in Ironman racing). We both work full-time and need to share our time after work between often demanding training, friends and family. It is training through a lenses of an ‘experienced’ age grouper.

I would like to add that for some time we have been working with coaches trained formally by Brett Sutton and since November 2014 by the Doc himself. I also helped (and am still helping) a few friends and colleagues with their training plans and advise on healthy lifestyle, whether they prepare for an Ironman or they want to break 30min for 5km. It is very rewarding when you see that someone whose first training was a set of 10 times (jog 2 min, walk 2 min) after 6 or 7 months can not only complete 10km but break the ‘magic’ 60 minute mark. Maybe when I retire I will more seriously think about coaching age groupers. Having worked with a number of coaches from different backgrounds over last 10 years and based on my own experience I believe that more could be done to improve the understanding of how to incorporate the age group training into their day-to-day lives, how to adapt the training principles for pro/elite to amateurs with full time jobs, families and friends and only limited time for training. Age groupers should enjoy the sport and the healthy lifestyle for a number of years rather than getting burned out after 2 or 3 seasons and turning their back to the sport they once loved.

All the best to the readers until the next blog.


Come in Spinner: The Bike Cadence Debate

Come in Spinner: The Bike Cadence Debate

Nicola Spirig racing Ironman Cozumel.

Since we’ve started selling training plans on I have been asked frequently about bike cadence and why I’m such a proponent for age-group and pro triathletes from non-cycling backgrounds using low cadence training:

My view is that if an athlete has not had the advantage of a competitive cycling background then the ability to learn how to ‘feel’ the pedal stroke, which enables a rider to spin effectively, is lost to all but an exceptional few.

Indeed, many professional cyclists who train between 750km to 1200 km a week never acquire the ability to use the high-cadence technique effectively. So if professional riders spending 6-days a week training a minimum of 4-5 hours a day are not able to find it, then what hope does someone with no cycling background putting in a maximum of 200km have of mastering the ‘Lance Armstrong high cadence’ model? In my experience very little.

Yes, there will be exceptions, but how many do you think? I tend to train not for the exception, but instead make adjustments when they come along every generation or so.

Many field and lab tests have attempted to show that high cadence spinning is more efficient to the newcomer than just stomping the big gear. Yet the results in nearly all cases only serve to prove that the exact opposite is true.

In fact most tests show that subjects from a non-cycling background produced more power and sustainable speed at cadences between 60 (yes, 60!) and 70 cadence. Any higher and the efficiency was lost. I’ve seen studies from USA, Australia, England and even France that all come with the same conclusion. Over 70 cadence and the subject’s watts-to-power endurance was significantly less than those under 70 cadence.


A common theme across all studies is that the heart rate began to climb at the various cadence levels and that once the riding novices were asked to hold 100 cadences not only did their performance diminish, but also their heart rate rose to levels approaching 15 % below maximum for the entire tests. The data on this is pretty clear cut and I would hope to any reasonable person not a debatable point:

Cadence_2One of many studies demonstrating clearly the benefits of low cadence training. Thanks Jordan Rapp.

So how does this knowledge inform my opinion on using low cadence work?

In triathlon we have to train not one, but three disciplines and our actual bike hours are limited for training compared to cyclists.

Most, if not all triathletes are not ex-professional cyclists with an innate feel of the pedals. Thus the style of spinning may be detrimental to them riding to the best of their ability.

In triathlon the race is not over once the bike leg is finished. Riding with an elevated heart rate close to one’s anaerobic threshold is not advisable if one wants to jump off and run at an optimal pace.

Hence the reason I advocate using high gear, low cadence training. Over the years experience and results have proven my judgement correct as all age-group athletes I have worked with have gone on to make rapid and sustainable gains on the bike.

At we’re about function over form. What works for the individual is what is right.

Watching a 100kg athlete spinning down the road at 100 cadence makes me want to cry. As does watching certified level coaches teaching 50kg, 5’2 females how to swim like Michael Phelps for their upcoming tri races. It is not right. Phelps is 6’6 and has the wingspan of a small jet. What works for the top 1% of athletes at the top 1% of their sports is not the model that is going to improve your triathlon.

So take my tip: If you want to run to the best of your ability off the bike and get the most out of it while you’re on it, then lower cadences will produce for you.

Read The Great Cadence Debate article by Coach Cam Watt here. triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.