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Reverse Periodisation and the New Way Forward

Reverse Periodisation and the New Way Forward

1985-86 Swim Coach of the Year.

One of my first observations on joining triathlon in the early 90s was how outdated and neanderthal the mainstream coaching methodologies were. In fact I couldn’t believe my luck.

‘These guys are decades behind swimming, I could be at the top within years.’

Seeing the opportunity I worked and worked to produce the best squad I could as fast as I could, driven in part by the belief that the other coaches would soon catch on and my advantage would be lost.

I got the first part right. Within two seasons we had one of the strongest triathlon squads in Australia.

However, I would have never imagined that over a quarter of a century later, over 1,000 professional race wins later, that I would still be shaking my head at the backwardness of advice being pedalled in mainstream triathlon.

Traditionally it didn’t bother me so much as we ran an elite squad. However, since focusing on our age group coaching we now receive nearly daily emails about articles or advice that conflict with our own training programs.

The most recent being from this Triathlon Magazine article about the use of periodisation.

In the 1960s Russian physiologist Leo Metveyev and Czech sport scientist Tudor Bompa, regarded as the fathers of modern periodization, organised the basic sport training periodization model to which we still refer. Since the 1960s, other coaches and exercise physiologists have created and modified periodization models, though the scientific basis for periodization remains a common ground.

If it is common ground, it is commonly wrong.

Conventional endurance training wisdom has indicated using your winter months for base and strength, transitioning into slightly sub-threshold training focus in the spring, and finally emphasis on work at, and above, threshold as the athlete enters into the competitive season. 


This is still good basic advice, particularly for Olympic or Sprint distance athletes, or the well trained athlete preparing for half ironman distance, where pace at threshold is a fundamental pre-indicator of race performance.

No, it is not. It is bad advice.

We really need to break once and for all this dogma of doing ‘base miles in the middle of winter.’

You don’t have to do it. Never had to. I can tell you right now that we have more results than the top 10 coaches who espouse this philosophy put together.

How far back does reading articles like this take me?

In 1986 I was awarded New South Wales (Australia) Swim Coach of the Year and promoted to the coaching staff of the Australian swim team. Within three years the Wales Swim Club had gone from 51st to the top ranked Swim Club in Australia. Following the award I was asked to be keynote speaker at the Australian Swim convention.

My topic headline?

‘Why Periodisation as we know it is dead. Reverse Periodisation and the new way forward.’

In my introduction I spoke about how Tudor Bompa theories were no longer relevant in my team and how they wouldn’t be for others as swimming progresses to the new age.


So you’ll understand my frustration when 30 years later one of our athletes sends me this asking for my thoughts as we prepare for a season that starts in May.

Wales Swim Club1National Champions. Coaching staff included father, John Sutton (far left) and brother, Brian Sutton (far right) who would later be National Swim Coach of Australia.

What makes it worse is that swimming or running usually taper for a big event only once a year. Twice at the very most. So if one was to use this broken down periodisation theory it would work best in those sports. Not in triathlon that sees its competitors usually racing two times a month over six months.

I don’t mean to attack the mainstream Tri Mags, but the truth is the demands of the modern economy mean the need for content often comes at the expense of quality, common sense advice.

When Multisport magazines first started I remember them coming out once every two months. Then they moved to a monthly version. There were also a few books published by the best athletes at that time, so not much harm in terms of training advice.

However, now it would seem we have daily posts about training and tips as magazines go digital. The need for new or rehashed content is so all consuming that every aspect is taken and regurgitated in 20 different ways – 19 of which are usually conflicting or counterproductive.

So once again please take this as your pass to not go out and try to brave the winter elements with long, slow training. Arrange your training and race schedule to suit your program and available time.

If you are in Europe or North America and plan to go on a warm climate camp to escape winter, please don’t think 40 hours of training for one week in January, February or March is going to help you in Kona in October. It won’t. Campers coming to our Gran Canaria camps should take that as a warning also.

We do work in the off season, but it’s short and sharp. Nicola Spirig just got back into work and here is a taste of three main workouts we’ve used over the last 5 days of work.

Swim: 1 hour. 30 minutes of 25 m fast, 25 m easy.

Bike: 1 hour. 20 x 1 min fast, 1 min easy.

Run: 1 hour. 3 sets of 8 x 50m fast, 50m easy recovery.

I have little doubt you will be seeing her name on a couple of Ironman 70.3 podiums in the early season, and with a bit of luck the podium again at the Olympics.


So if I entrust this methodology to the Olympic champion, you too should be brave enough to not burn yourself out with cold, long junk-mile workouts in the depths of winter.

Instead, look at your season and decide: ‘am I only going to complete in one or two important races in 2016? Or, am I going to enjoy my sport and race once a month or more?’

If your answer is the latter and you don’t want to crash and burn after 6 weeks of racing season, join the Angry Bird, Nicola and the rest of the crew by keeping winter short, sharp and enjoy not trying to work out how you can train when it’s awful outside.

Tudor Bompa first espoused his theories in the 1960s, well before triathlon was even on the scene. If you’re still referring to his periodisation model now when for the past three decades we’ve shown incontrovertibly dominant results within triathlon doing completely the opposite, then that’s for you to decide. We’ll just keep winning and you’ll just keep thinking how unlucky you are.

During the winter keep fit, but keep it short and keep your speed. Then as the weather starts to get bearable add the aerobic work in the mix and watch your performance fly in the race season. And be ready to be shocked, the consistency will be there all season. Not just one or two races.

You can bet on that. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.


Race Recap: Off-Season Run Races

Race Recap: Off-Season Run Races

Another PB for Melanie Baumann.

A short before recap as my athletes compete in ‘fun’ races ahead of the Christmas break. The squad have been focusing on shorter running events over the off-season so that they can stay motivated, while also improving their speed for the upcoming 2016 season.

Here is Melanie’s report from her recent 10km in Zurich:

The 10km run in Zurich was my last race of 2015 and I ended this year the best way I could, with yet another PB. Didn’t have the best start though, got stuck in traffic a lot on the first of 4 laps, ranking 85th overall, but starting the 2nd lap I got into a really nice rhythm and ran the remaining 3 laps at a fast and consistent pace, moving up to 36th place overall out of 3149 and 10th out of 924 in my age group! 40:14min and almost 5 minutes faster than last year! Really happy!!!

Huge thanks to Lisbeth, coaching me to a series of new PB’s from the very first to the very last race of this amazing and fun year! No reason to stop here 🙂 Merry Christmas and a happy 20PB to everyone!

Race Recap from Coach Susie Langley:

Scott and SergioScott McGrath, Sergio Silva and friends at the Ted Corbitt 15k event in Central Park New York.

With the triathlon season pretty much over in the northern hemisphere, we turn to run and duathlon races to keep us motivated over the Winter. Sergio Silva had a solid hit out in Central Park with a 15k race run by the New York Road Runners. 5k jog to the start, 15k race, 5k run home makes for a great start to the weekend!

Kim Kilgroe competed in another 5k race in LA over the weekend, once again chipping some more seconds off her PR.

Ingrid Kidd fronted up for the first round of the ABC Monikie Park Duathlon Series in Scotland. The conditions were cold and icy but the racing was fast and exciting. Ingrid crossed the line third overall for the women and after being only 15 secs off first place, she all ready has some extra fire in the belly for the next series race early in the New Year.

Race Recap from Coach Robbie Haywood:

Scott McGrath ran a fun 15km at the Ted Corbitt road race in Central Park, New York for Scott with friends and other Trisutto athlete Sergio. A fun welcome home and start to the weekend after a couple of weeks away traveling with work.

Larry & Rocket Thompson both ran the Dallas Half Marathon, with Larry finishing 5th in his category.   Marking the end of the season for Larry, in which he has overcome injury and qualified for 70.3 World’s in Mooloolaba in 2016. Rocket had a good training day as she prepares for the full marathon in Dallas in 5 weeks time.

Race Recap from Coach Brett Sutton:

Nicola_DanielaDaniela Ryf and Nicola Spirig at the Credit Suisse Awards.

No racing this weekend, but a couple of our Swiss stars attended the Credit Suisse Sportsperson of the Year Awards. It’s a big deal here in Switzerland, with members of the press and public voting for the biggest star of 2015.

For those in any doubt why Daniela and Nicola were nominated, a short list of their ‘top’ achievements in 2015: European Games Championship, European ITU Championship, World Ironman 70.3 Championship, Ironman World Championship.

Daniela was chosen Swiss Female Sportswoman of the Year, with French Open Winner, Stan ‘Stanimal’ Wawrinka winning the men’s.

Daniela Ryf and Stanislas Wawrinka are Swiss Sports people of the year. Photo: Photopress/Dominik BaurPhoto: Photopress/Dominik Baur

Congratulations to all our athletes competing this weekend. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

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. Partners With On Partners With On

Nicola Spirig and Jane Fardell warming up for the Zurich Marathon. Photo: Chris Godfrey.

It seems funny to be writing a press release announcing our ‘new’ working relationship with the Swiss manufacturer of On shoes.

Why? Because it has now been over 5-years that I have worked with the team at On, starting officially when they first signed with TeamTBB and more recently sponsoring the Olympic Champion Nicola Spirig for the last two.

During this time I have seen the company’s rise and rise into the big time of athletic shoe manufacturers.

However, for me the On story goes back much farther as the co-founder of On shoes is none other than the 8 times winner of the Powerman Zofingen and Swiss Ironman legend, Olivier Bernhard.

Innovative performance shoe.

Apart from his great racing exploits, early on after his retirement he caught my eye with a developing shoe I had seen at the Ironman Zurich expo. It intrigued me at first and after studying it for an hour at the booth had me admonishing myself for ‘why didn’t I think of that!?’.

The uniqueness of this shoe design has morphed into the On brand and Cloud technology called CloudTec® we see on the shoe today.

So I find it ironic at Camps that I’m asked about why I’m now involved with this upcoming brand On? I feel as if I’ve watched the shoe grow from its very inception.

My support of the shoe and concept is easy to explain.

I think they help athletes and are superior to normal running shoes in three areas:

1) As a performance shoe I believe it’s faster. The CloudTec® concept and the transfer of kinetic energy is just superior to normal shoes.

2) They have a remedial impact second to no other brand. It has been my personal experience to deal with ex-athletes who have stopped running from knee, ankle and lower back pain. I have guided them into the shoes saying “Give them a try and if I’m wrong what do you have to lose?” To see so many of these guys not only actually running again, but enjoying running pain free is a personal achievement for me.

3) The everyday walking sneaker is so comfortable, it’s like walking on air. As the squad will testify (and to the relief of many) it’s the only shoe that’s been able to get me out of wearing ugg boots trackside.

On Shoes

So yes, and On are the perfect fit.

And when one turns up at Camp and sees Nicola Spirig, Mary Beth Ellis, Ritchie Nicholls, Jane Fardell and many of our development squad running around in On’s you now know why. Within our training group we see every day the benefits of running on clouds.

To view the range of Shoes available with On click here.

Race Recap - HoTPractice what we preach. On shoes being worn by the squad.

World Runner: Lemawork Ketemas

World Runner: Lemawork Ketemas

Special race report from Harald Fritz, who attended one of our training camps as a coach earlier this summer. A very talented multi-sport coach in his own right, Harald gives us some insight into  his own athlete, Lemawork Ketemas’, preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

After winning the Wings for Life World Run globally this year for the second time in row – running 79.9km in little over 5hr with an average pace of 3:46km – Lemawork Ketemas’ preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 started with a full test of High Altitude Training in Kühtai /Austria followed by acclimatisation in Rio before the 2015 Marathon. Our goal was to test everything in the way we will do it next year before the Olympic Games and see if it works out.

Lemawork still has troubles with an old injury and while we have used a lot of physiotherapy to make it better, he still unfortunately is not at 100%. Despite this, we made a calculated judgement to start anyway and give it his best shot. The race developed in the way we anticipated. Beginning as a group of around 8 Elite Runners who stayed together for the first 20+ km, the attack started at the second climb. The end of the attack saw Lemawork together with a Kenyan runner. They ran at a good pace – the fastest kilometre was at the 31km mark (2:57/km) until around kilometre 34. Unfortunately from there it developed into a tactical race between the two where neither wanted to take the lead and therefore the pace dropped.

Lemawork2The breakaway: On the way to Rio course records.

At the end both athletes ran new course records, Lemawork finishing second in 2:14:23, two seconds behind the winner. Sub 2:14 would have been the Austrian qualification limit for Rio 2016, which unfortunately we just missed. Anyway, we now know a lot regarding the best preparation for 2016 and after another planned Training Camp (this time in Kenya) in September I am very sure that Lemawork will run a very good marathon in Frankfurt in October.

Lemawork3Well done Lemawork and Coach Harald.

Water Running for Triathlon

Water Running for Triathlon

Coach Susie Langley with Corinne Abraham doing some water running.

Way back in 2003 I remember watching Wazza, one of the guys in my triathlon training squad in Brisbane, put on his run shoes, promptly jump in the pool and start running up and down the lane.

“Crikes, that’s a bit weird’ was my initial reaction.  I had only ever previously seen water running in deep water, sometimes with a floatation belt; the ‘tea-bag’ water run appeared to be more popular amongst age-groupers with injuries.

Over the years on the rare occasions I did resort to water running, I always ran in deep water and did always struggle with it.

I found I had to lean forwards at such an angle to stay afloat that it didn’t even slightly resemble running. I also had to use a somewhat sculling motion with my arms. I didn’t own a floatation belt, and it was labelled ‘cheating’ and out-of-the question by my triathlon squad at the time!

At the completion of my ‘run’, I didn’t feel at all that I had simulated a run workout… often leaving the pool feeling dissatisfied and that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.

Since coming on board at, I have become reacquainted with Wazza’s water running style. Now after trying it myself, I can see and feel the benefits.

Firstly, we can more readily simulate our normal running position in the water. Running in waist deep water (with maximum depth being chest deep) we still make contact with the ground but unlike ‘tea-bagging’, we keep some loading on the leg muscles and tendons.  Not too much though as the water takes some of the weight; a somewhat cheaper version of running on an alter-g treadmill!  When running we adopt very short strides with fast cadence.

After the completion of the workout, I actually feel I have completed a run.

It is important to wear shoes.  Old (clean!) running shoes or shoes which still have a reasonable grip to ensure we do not slip when our foot hits the pool floor, therefore avoiding foot related injuries.

Whilst most of us tend to associate water running as a substitute workout when injured, we also use it for injury prevention and additionally for easing an athlete back into their run program after injury.

It is an effective way to extend our long run without putting as much strain on our body, even more so for larger athletes.

Splitting the long run in half as land run first immediately followed by water run, recovery is enhanced, enabling us to back up and train again the next day.

Does it work?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  In Cozumel in 2013 I observed with interest as Mary Beth Ellis completed all her running workouts for 4 weeks straight in the swimming pool.  Up and down, up and down… She was on a mission!

After just a couple of runs on the land, she went straight to a 70.3 in Florida where she won the race, followed by Ironman Nice where she broke the course record.

Yes it works. Water running is a useful, yet often overlooked, training tool to help us achieve our goals.

Susie_Corinne Water Run1