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Ironman Training – Time to review and listen to your body

Alun “Woody” Woodward, Coach,

As the New year is well under way its a great time to take a step back and review where you are with your training. We all get over excited with the start of the new year and push harder in training with the prospect of racing again now much closer!

While the race season is indeed approaching rapidly in training terms it is still quite a way in the distance and now is not the time to be training all guns blazing with the end goal in sight! Most of you will be training for a major Ironman race mid summer which is likely to be around 5-6 months away still and right now your focus should still be on building the base of speed and strength before any major endurance work begins.

While speed and strength is what we are looking to build at this time of year we must remember that this building process has to be a step by step, imagine building a house we have to go one brick at a time in order to have a well structured house. The new year always brings that little bit of extra enthusiasm in some athletes and at the same time fear in others that forces us to push a little bit too hard and try to rush the gains in fitness. The results of this enthusiasm are clear to see with the body, if we are pushing too hard then breakdowns will start to occur. These breakdowns can be in the form of illness due to a compromised immune system or small niggles or injuries from pushing the muscles too hard too soon.


Illness is inevitable at some point, there is no way we can avoid this but if you are constantly falling ill every 2-3 weeks then this is a sign your immune system has been comprised. When we train we are putting our body under stress and this stress is needed in order to stimulate progress in fitness. If we do not allow the body enough recovery when training then stress levels build up and the result is a compromised immune system than is not able to ward off sickness as easily as normal and so we end picking up more infections.

Our training programs are designed with recovery build in but if you start pushing a little harder than planned in your sessions then the recovery in that plan will no longer be sufficient to the work load.

So if you have found you are getting sick more than normal recently maybe its time to review your training plan and check you are training at the right levels and not pushing too hard. Pushing too hard is not only something that occurs on your hard key sessions but more often than not it is the long easy endurance sessions that are designed to be slow and steady that end up being done with too much intensity that lead to breakdowns.

I find this is a major problem especially with runners who come to triathlon with the mentality that long runs need to be done at marathon pace, we have to remember that we are triathletes and we have residual fitness coming from 3 sports so the specific requirements of certain sessions to a single sport athlete are not always the same to us! The long run in our programs is for many an active recovery session designed to deliver more oxygen to tired and recovering muscles and speed up recovery from the intensity of previous sessions.



If your training and have a little injury or niggle going on then now is the time to get this looked at and do something to remedy the problem, all too often we think these issues will just go away and we ignore and train through the pain. What happens when we do this is not only do we make the existing injury worse and delay any healing process we also invite compensatory injuries to take place. For example of you have a sore hip going on when you run, if you do not fix this problem and keep on training your running mechanics will be altered to compensative for any lack of movement in this area and resultantly you can expect to start developing tightness in your legs and this can eventually lead to further injuries.

Pain when you move is not normal and should not be ignored, seeking professional help at the time of injury can get you back on track very quickly whereas waiting until the pain is so bad you simply can’t train anymore before seeking help will put you out of action for a long time. It may be a case of simply getting some massage or changing position on the bike so seek help and make sure you do not lose precious training time.

We all watch and read about the stars of our sport and how they train and we can read about amazing swim, bike and run sets but what we rarely see is the little things they do on the side of their main program to keep there bodies in one piece and maintain training consistency. We all tend to develop little issues such and a tight back, achilles pain, knee pain etc. These are most often caused by muscle tension brought on by slightly off perfect mechanics. The more you train the more these issues are highlighted and the more problems exist, successful athletes are not the athletes who have perfect mechanics and do not get these issues they are the athletes who make sure they look after the side effects of these poor mechanics regularly with stretching, foam rolling, massage or corrective exercises.

Patience is key right now, great results and breakthrough performances do not come from big sessions and pushing harder in certain sessions they come from consistent training over long periods of time, always remember consistency is key and sickness and injuries are the two major obstacles to your consistency.

Enjoy your training.

Train with ironguides!

Download our free e-Book “Triathlon Secrets” – Training methods of olympic medalist, ironman and world champions revealed

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

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Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

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More info at

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An Example of Progression via The Method

The Method sets up a training plan for your ability level and provides a framework for your consistent improvement over time. The program’s structure and specific order means athletes improve aerobic conditioning quickly while also training more specifically for the demands of triathlon — which are different than swimming, cycling and running as individual sports. Here’s a little insight into what an athlete is telling me, and why his improvement demonstrates exactly why The Method is so effective:
• Sustainable training over time
• Framework for monitoring response to changes in life circumstances (sleep, work, travel, etc.)
• Realistic comparisons of efforts over short and long term mean it’s easy to track progress
• Focus on the current workout only lightens “thinking” overhead and reduces stress
• Framework that enables monitoring of increases in training load — no random changes to the schedule, no random “new workout” — just gradual additions, slight changes, shifts in emphasis between the Five Systems as training phase demands.
From an email:

Swim: Generally going well, on Monday I improved my 40x100m time again – 1:09:01, didn’t swim on Tues as had to travel. On Wednesday I did only three long efforts in the pool and was feeling really tired during the third one (probably travel and lack of sleep). Yesterday I was good again swimming with the club and during 8x 100m set on 2min I was swimming comfortably around 1:31-33, on last rep we were supposed to push harder and I did 1:19 and it didn’t feel that hard. I couldn’t even break 1:30 last year!!

Bike: Long ride in again windy East London – first 2 laps felt hard despite I was going easy but than it was OK, last 2 laps (hard) I was going quite fast and on the last one I improved my pb by some 20sec. Run off the bike was feeling at the beginning (first 2km or so) hard on legs but not lungs/heart but than it was much better and last 3 km I run between 4:20 and 4:30. Didn’t do the Monday session as had to go to the airport but yesterday’s session was feeling comfortable.

Run: The hard rep session on the treadmill – you should like it – completed again but faster, at 13.2 kmph. I started with longer warm-up – 30 min and continued running at this pace for another 10 min after completing 8% 2 min rep – including warm down I spent 2 hours on the treadmill and run 25.3km – I was v happy when I finished this set. I did the intervals in Como and ran each one between X and Y time – started a bit too fast at X but then settled for comfortable Y – HR around XX and YY. On Wednesday did the descending split session and run at 13.5/14.0/15.5kmph – was feeling much easier than last week. Also did some weights but not too much.


NICE WORK on that long treadmill session!!! 🙂 That is what we like to see — listening to the body, pushing it as you can and coming out of it with a best-ever effort. A great week, all in all. Note how the work is getting harder – but you are still getting faster.

What are we learning here?

Answer: That motor skills overcome aerobic fatigue.

And on race day, what will you be experiencing?

Correct – a lot of aerobic fatigue late in the race. And what’s going to carry you through then?

Correct – motor skills!

Summary: You will be very aerobically tired late in an Ironman REGARDLESS of your training – everyone is. The winner is he or she who slows down least. But if you enter the race ill prepared having fixated only on aerobic conditioning, you will not have the motor skills late in the race to translate that conditioning into improved results. Instead of training yourself in one dimension only, you can train using The Method to train multiple dimensions of fitness simultaneously.

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)


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Recovery 101 for Beginner Triathletes

This article is for the newer triathlete and runner who has got bitten by the bug and is starting to train every day. As your training volume increases to 8 – 10 hours or more a week, and you are getting familiar with mixing up your perceived effort levels, the issue of recovery becomes important.

Flushing the legs

A relatively hard bike or run session; for example speed-work at the track/ power intervals on the bike trainer/ tempo runs or long bike and run sessions, produces metabolic waste, that, if not cleared from the legs, will sit around and impede the body’s natural process of recovery and adaptation.

The principal behind “flushing the legs” is to move the deoxygenated, low nutrient, ‘stale’, blood back up through the venous system for filtration through the liver, where the waste products are removed, and through the lungs, to re-oxygenate the blood. ‘Fresh’ blood, full of oxygen and nutrients is returned to the legs, thereby setting up a good physiological environment for the muscular rest and repair.

The following practices are good ways to do this –

1)      Propping your legs up against the wall, preferably with your feet at a level above your heart.  Just lie back and let gravity pull the stale blood out of your legs. This technique works best if you leave them up for at least 20 minutes. Simple, effective and free.

2)      An ice bath is a great way to refresh the legs after a particularly long and/ or hard session. The cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict, squeezing the blood out of the limbs back up through the venous system.

3)      A good massage also has the same effect of flushing the legs. This can be as simple as a quick 5 min rub down in the shower post training or a 20 min session on the foam roller. The gold standard is of course an hour sports massage because on top of flushing the legs, a good massage therapist will also knead out all the tight knots and realign your muscles.

4)      If all else fails and you do not have the luxury of time then squeeze into a pair of tight, full leg compression garments and get on with your day!

7 mins to squeeze into these!

7 mins to squeeze into these!


Eating for Recovery

Most of you will know that 40 – 60 mins post training is the best time to top up the gas tank of your triathlete bodies. During this window, they are like a sponge that will soak up whatever you put into them. Pushing out a solid training session is not a good reason to stuff your face with your favourite decadent unhealthy treats – Save that for a weekend treat.

Your body is literally going to repair itself with whatever you put into it at this time. So if you want to keep putting out quality training sessions you owe it to your body to put in all the right stuff.  A clean and well- balanced meal of quality, fresh ingredients that are easily digested and absorbed is the way to go.

Emma demonstrates good recovery habits

Emma demonstrates good recovery habits

Carbohydrates are not the enemy. In fact they are an essential part of the recovery meal.  Carbohydrates are the raw ingredient for your body to produce and store glycogen which is the main source of fuel used, and used up in, endurance training.  The important thing with carbohydrate intake is to time it right. For the purpose of recovery, get it in right after training. A light carbohydrate snack is also useful to fuel up before a session and carbohydrate sports drinks are useful to get you through the long endurance sessions. *A poor time to have a large portion of carbs is a few hours after your training and/ or late at night before going to bed.

Make sure your post training meal also contains:

1)       A moderate amount of protein- The cleaner the preparation the better.

2)      Loads of colourful vegetables to replenish vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals.

If a suitable recovery meal is not available then a recovery drink which includes both carbs and protein is a useful and easy fix. You can use any one of widely available endurance formula recovery drinks or simply get in a decent sized cup of Chocolate Milk in.

Pretty decent meal served up by the hospital after my 1st run after my second baby : )


Many athletes learn about the importance of adequate recovery the hard way- after getting injured or following a bout of feeling flat and over-trained. While it may not always be practical to factor all of the above into your busy multisport lives, all of the time, putting these principles into practice whenever you can will increase the quality of your training sessions and your ability to handle that extra little bit of training.

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12 Weeks to Your First Triathlon

There are many ways to combine three sports and train for a triathlon. Whether this is your first race or you have already a few seasons under your belt, here’s a simple approach that will ensure you’re ship shape in twelve weeks, without resorting to expensive tools and leaving room to mix it up from week to week

Week 1-3: Studies show that it takes 21 days to build a habit, so weeks 1-3 are all about building the routine of your training regime. Don’t think past Day 21 and focus simply on executing each day’s training to your best abilities.

  • 1) Aim for 4 – 5 short, easy training sessions per week.
  • 2) If you’re new to swimming, keep your efforts short, but with many repetitions and lots of rest in between.
  • 3) Establish a routine that ensures you don’t take two days off training in a row.
  • 4) Each week, add a little volume to each session so that by the end of Week 3 you are roughly at the maximum time limit you want to consistently spend in the next 9 weeks for that session on that day.
  • 5) Use the tools available at your gym (treadmill and spin bike) to help ensure consistency if the weather is bad.

Weeks 4 – 6: Now that you’ve established the routine and structure of your workouts, let’s add some triathlon-specific workouts to the mix.

  • 1) On the day you have most time, include a transition workout in your training: Either go for a bike ride and a short jog after to get used to running off the bike (can all be done indoors), or head 2) to the pool and immediately after your swim, do an indoor or outdoor cycle or run. Both sessions will teach your body to make the switch from one sport to the next on race day.
  • 3) Use the tools at your disposal! Hop on a spin bike once a week and crank out a set of very short (one minute) but very hard efforts with low cadence (pedal turnover) and equal rest. This builds 4) your cycling strength quickly.
  • 5) Use a treadmill and focus on running at a high stride rate (steps per minute, per leg). Aim for over 90 steps per leg per minute. This way you teach your triathlon legs, already tired from cycling, to “break up the work” of the run into more but smaller pieces. You can focus on this outdoors, too.
  • 6) In your swim training, start using some very small paddles (size of your palm) to build strength in your swim muscles. And yes – DO use a pull buoy, especially if you are a weak swimmer. Swimming is difficult enough when you are new to it, and a pull buoy helps you position yourself properly in the water, without additional effort, so that you can focus better on your stroke. Finis makes some great “finger paddles” for neophyte swimmers.


Weeks 7 – 9: Let’s spice it up a bit! You’ve got six weeks of consistent training under your belt, so now it’s time to throw in a little higher effort.

  • 1) Once a week in each sport, add in some hard efforts to your training mix.
  • 2) In the run, aim to complete a set of 60-90 second efforts with equal rest, making each one faster than the last. Stop and cool down when you can no longer hold the pace of the previous effort.
  • 3) On the bike, ride the final third of your transition bike hard – as if you were racing. Then do your run after at a moderate pace. At the end of the three weeks, run the run hard.
  • 4) In your swim training, start adding a set of short, fast efforts with short rest to the mix. Keep each effort only as long as you can hold technique. Rest only long enough to feel recovered to do it again. Try to make the total volume of this set equal to the length of the swim at your goal race.

Weeks 10 – 11: You’re in the home stretch. Let’s make sure you’ve got all your equipment finalized by the time you enter this phase. You don’t want to try anything new on race day.

  • 1) Familiarize yourself with the course and try to simulate in your training rides or on a spin bike or windtrainer what to expect from the hills.
  • 2) You don’t need to “go the distance” at race intensity before race day – that’s what race day is all about after all! But if it helps you build confidence, go for it and simulate a moderate effort triathlon of the same distance 2-3 weeks before race day.
  • 3) Keep up the consistency of your training. Build up the duration of your intense efforts and reduce the duration of your rest. Avoid the temptation of long, all-out efforts in training. Always leave something in the tank.

Week 12: Race Week! This is it, race week! It’s time to rest up and put the finishing touches to your preparations.

  • 1) Contrary to popular belief, don’t over rest! If you have been training on a moderate volume, keep up the frequency of your training but reduce the volume and greatly reduce the intensity.
  • 2) Look back on your training and be honest about how consistent you were. If you were ill or took time off, you need to taper (rest) less for your race than if you trained hard these past 12 weeks.
  • 3) The weekend prior, just train easy – but do train!
  • 4) Three to four days out from the race, take one or two days off, depending on how hard you trained over the past months.
  • 5) On the days prior to the race, train very, very easy in each sport. You only need a total of 30 – 45 minutes total training time each day to keep yourself limber and loose for race day. Hold yourself back and think of just “keeping the engine turning over” to keep your body systems prep’d for race day.

That’s it, you’re all set for race day: Put it all together and enjoy the experience! Nice work!!!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

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6 Tips to Race Well Early in the Season

By Vinnie Santana, Coach,

Taking a break at the holidays season and end of year is normal but this puts you in a very unique situation, you do want to race well early in the season, but feel a little out of shape from the lack of training and weight gain from the holidays.

The 6 tips below will help you handle this situation better and make the most out of your early season races

1.All athletes are on the same boat

Taking an yearly break (passive or active) is something every athlete should be doing, it gives the body some healing time and will boost motivation for the upcoming season. Even professional triathletes may take a few weeks of very little training every year.

Certainly, there’s always someone who will be targeting that early season race and will prefer to have their off-season in the middle of the year, but that’s usually not normal and you will then have an advantage over those athletes later in the year.

If you are a competitive triathlete, most of your competition is on the same boat as you at this time of the year.

2. Ignore most early season training indicators  

You must understand that you don’t need to be at peak shape early in the season and most athletes tend to compare their current fitness only with their best past performances. If you have a key workout that you do year around, for example a 20km time trial on the bike, and early in the season your performance is 10% worse than what you were able to do at the end of last season, this may hurt your confidence leading into your events, but what you don’t remember are the other not so great sessions you had later in the season. Most athletes can only remember the great days and tend to benchmark against them. While in reality, on average you may be only 3-5% slower than your past average performance.

Your training goal at this phase is to build a good consistency and manage training while fatigued, this can result on a slower than normal training speed, but it’s the most effective way to get in shape in the pre-season.

3. Race Day Benefits: Build experience, gain motivation and race fitness

Have you noticed the boost of motivation you get immediately after you sign up for an event? This is a great way to kickstart your season and get you training harder and with more discipline earlier in the season which will get you stronger to your key events later in the year.

To get some races under your belt early in the season will also provide you a real race-day feedback on your fitness and may expose some weakness that you weren’t aware of, you will then have plenty of time to fix these before your main events later in the year.

Race day experience is also never a negative thing, the more races you do, more your ‘learn’ how to race, from handling pre-race pressure, to dealing with traveling and race day pacing. Better you will perform at the key events.


4.Race day: Low risk, high returns strategies 

With very low race day expectations you will find yourself with two options when it comes to race day strategies:

a. If your goal is to use the event to build your fitness and acquire more experience, opt for a more conservative strategy and aim to negative split each discipline, start out slow and finish stronger. This is a bonk-proof strategy and will help you achieve your goals.

b. Another option is to use these events to try different things that you wouldn’t normally risk on major events. For example, if you know you can run well after a conservative bike split, but have always wondered how much slower your run would be after riding hard, a low key race is a great option to test this. Try pushing and doing things on race day that are the opposite to your usual strategy. Other than an intense training day, this may also provide you feedback (either from a good surprise or a terrible blow up) on your ideal race day performance.


5. Schedule events that will build your fitness to your key races 

Sign up for smaller races in the pre-season that will serve as stepping stones and build your fitness and develop you to the key events later in the year. The best way to achieve that is going from general fitness to specific racing, also known as ‘reversed periodization’.

For example if your targeted race is an Ironman or Ironman 70.3, sign up for short course races early in the year as they will provide you enough speed and strength allowing you to focus on the more specific work later in the year.

If your key race is in a short course format, then consider doing a long distance race early in the year as this will also provide you several benefits that you won’t get from your short course racing, for example pacing and nutrition will be essential for your ‘training race’ success.

The key rule here is to understand that ‘base’ training means going from general to specific fitness, not necessarily the traditional long and slow to fast and short (Bompa prediodization), this idea was created on single discipline sports that are very quick, such as pool swimming events and track running.

6. Experiment with different mental strategies

Now that we’ve discussed several opportunities for your body to perform better on race day, it’s time to also experiment with something new but for the mindset. It is normal that you’ve developed a certain pre-race routine and that some stress comes with the main events of the year, people react differently to this and if you are under-performing on your key events, the culprit could be the mindset.

Many athletes have never been able to race compeltely stress-free and using low-key events early in the year is a perfect opportunity for this. Enter race week with absolutely no expectations for race day other than do a ‘brick session’, avoid using a watch, GPS or powermeter, go ‘by feel’. You may find yourself not only enjoying the race a lot more, but also having a great performance as a result of such a relaxed state.

Enjoy your training.

Vinnie Santana

Vinnie Santana

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)


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Tips to Kickstart your 2018 Triathlon Season

The New Year and the Holidays had just passed and too much merry making has somewhat made you feel guilty about your current state of triathlon fitness.
Don’t over-react and suddenly do a 120-15k brick on your first day out of the year. What you will need to do is to sit down, relax, and reflect on what have you done on your off-season.
If you have been very diligent on your plan to having a great year, we sincerely hope you have followed the tips on having a very good off-season.
W certainly hoped that you had done your homework and accomplished this:
• Addressed your weakest discipline from last year.
• Improved technique
• Gained strength and power on the gym/did functional strength training
• Recovered mentally and physically from last year’s race season
It is ok to step in to the new year with some added weight, and don’t beat yourself up mentally with it. With this kickstart plan, and a sensible nutrition adjustment, you will be on your way to losing it gradually as you go along.
Triathlon events are more popular than ever, and so are the long-distance events like Ironman. To enjoy the season, one must plan accordingly to avoid burn-out, injuries and reach your “A” race in the best possible shape.
Here are the tips to kickstart your season and bring your triathlon performance to the next level:
1. Train to start Training
You bungled your off-season and overdid the Holidays. You are 10-15lbs overweight and felt slow and lethargic. You go out on your first week of your “comeback” by doing a long ride and a long run on the weekend. Stop right there. Your body is not capable of doing the punishing stuff yet. You got to train your body first, before you go into some heavy training loads.

That means continuing the form/technique work and the sessions in the gym. From a non-structured off-season, you got to train yourself mentally too to having a structured plan now, early in the season. This will prevent you from digging up your own hole if you let the off-season attitude creep along.

2. Plan/Set your Goals and Register your Races
Sit down and it is time to look at the Race Calendar and plan your season. Pinpointing your “A” races and the training races you will build around it will be all the motivation you need to gradually start training properly. Instead of saying “I want to do a marathon this year..”, go use that credit card and actually register for an event.

Also, it will be more motivational and challenging if you put some performance goals in all your planned races. You can strive for these goals in your B and C races as way to prepare you for that Big A race.
3. Think short and fast on your first month.
Instead of doing an early season marathon, where you will be instantly forced to churn up long miles in your training, why not sign up for a 5k or 10k run event. If you had a good off-season, it’s a good time to test the enhanced technique you have done in all those drills. It is not impossible to have an early season PR if you aced your off-season.

If not, the short 5-10k run event will be a good test to know your current threshold. And this will be the basis for your current fitness level.

Missed doing triathlons? A sprint triathlon or an Olympic distance event for more experienced athletes is a good way to end your first month in training. Don’t expect to have a good performance, but instead take this opportunity to assess your early season fitness. This will be a good gauge on how well you did in the off-season practicing the techniques, and if you addressed your weakest discipline.

4. Buy Something New
Investing in new gear means you are pretty excited to use it and even brag about it to your triathlon circle of friends. If it’s a new bike, it means you gotta go to your LBS and require a good bike fit too. If it’s a new gps watch, it means you have the early January and February to familiarize yourself with the new features and settings.

The point is, buying new gear means you have that added excitement and motivation to get you out of a rut and out to train. It might also be practical as you might get some inventory sale before the new year models comes out.

5. Commit to a Training Plan
You do not go battle your training months ahead your “A” race if you do not have a training plan. It is just indispensable. Securing a training plan means you have to work for a particular goal, instead of guessing what workout you will do the next day. That just does not work at all in the long run. It also gives you measurable goals and you learn how to track performance.

Also, as age group triathletes try to balance work and family, and a training schedule gets disrupted, you have a ready advice in the form of that plan to get you up and running again.

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Power Meter for Dummies

By Shem Leong, Coach in Singapore,

Do you have a power meter but isn’t quite sure on the best way to use it? Are you considering buying a power meter? Are you getting burn out from all the data oriented training your training have became since you started using the power meter? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is for you.


This article is addressed to 2 groups of people; 1) Triathletes toying with the idea of getting a power meter and 2) Triathletes with access to power data either from a bike mounted system or on a turbo  trainer/ spin bike but have no idea how to interpret it.

You’ve read about how power data is more accurate than speed and heart rate and that using power data to pace yourself is like ‘cheating’ on race day. You’ve no doubt heard the Fast Guys shooting off about their FTP and So-and-So’s power to weight ratio, their scary ‘Ironman Watts’ sessions that have been built according to Training Stress Scores and so on. Current power meter manuals will also instruct you how to use power data in many ways, including:

  • Simple ‘zoning’ of effort levels as a percentage of Functional Threshold Power (FTP – more on this below)
  • Pacing over the various distances of triathlon
  • Gauging fatigue levels and predicting the arrival of your physiological peak.
  • Determining what type of cyclist you are and your strengths and weaknesses
  • Aerodynamic testing

While all this is good and to true, most everyday triathletes will struggle to use this information meaningfully. All you know is that the harder you pedal, the higher the power readings climb.

If, however, you’re an advanced athlete that has already mastered the finer points of using power data, I urge you to move swiftly on from this very rudimentary approach to utilizing what is, at its full potential, a very sophisticated and refined training platform.

Instead, this is article aims to give the reader a simple way to start using power data so that it is relevant to your daily training and that does not require the plotting and analysis of any graphs by you or a power meter expert. The methods underlined below are basic, not technical and obvious. In fact, this article simply reflects how I, a strictly ‘Perceived Effort’ kind of guy, have started using power data in my own training and with some of the athletes that I coach.


Spend a few weeks rolling around with the power meter to get used to the relative magnitude of ‘a bunch of watts’. Note your typical range while riding at different perceived effort levels (Easy/Moderate/Moderate Hard/ Hard/ All Out) through various riding situations; Climbing, Descending, Sprinting, Time Trailing, Sitting in a draft, Riding into a headwind, Taking a pull, etc.  Don’t rush into it; give yourself time to get familiar with a brand new currency.

The scope of this article will only require you to broadly grasp 2 technical aspects of training with power.

  • Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – is defined as the highest sustained power a rider can hold for 40 – 60 mins.

Essentially, a rider’s FTP is a point of reference for their current level of bike fitness. For the beginner, raising your FTP is a good starting point – a tangible and quantitative goal to work towards. Knowing your FTP will also allow you to ‘zone’ different effort levels according to the ‘percentage of FTP’ that you are working at.  Current literature has defined 7 separate training zones but to keep this article simple, I only refer to the Lactate Threshold zone, which is most beneficial for increasing FTP.

*Down the road, as you become familiar with training with Power, FTP can also be used to benchmark a particular point in your bike fitness. For example, if your FTP was 240 watts at your fittest just before an A race, and you are coming off an off season break with a current FTP of 200 watts, then you know how much room you have to improve before approaching race fitness.

While there are several widely accepted procedures of obtaining FTP, the one outlined below is my preferred method. It is a relatively simple, albeit strenuous, procedure. Mount your bike on a trainer and complete this session as follows:

Warm up:

20 mins full warm up done as:

3 mins easy – mod build /3 x 1 min very hard, 1 min easy/ 4 mins easy

Main Test:

30 mins best effort Time trial

  • Perform at the cadence that allows you to put out and hold your best effort.
  • For most triathletes, this will be in the 75 – 85 rpm range.
  • Lap the Power Meter at the start of this section.
  • Start slightly conservatively and build through the whole 30 mins
  • Beak it up mentally as follows
    • 0 – 10 mins @ 7/ 10 perceived effort
    • 11 – 20 mins @ 8 / 10 perceived effort
    • 21 – 25 mins @ 9/ 10 perceived effort
    • 26 – 30 mins @ All Out, empty the tank.
    • Finish with a very easy spin cool down

Your FTP is the wattage from this Time Trail. Armed with this knowledge, you will now be able to perform a variety of training sessions at the right intensity to elicit certain physiological adaptations.

  • Normalised Power (NP) is the second concept that you need to understand. In simple terms, a rider’s NP is the average power, but adjusted for the range of variability (starts, stops, climbs, descents) over the course of a ride. Basically, it’s a more accurate reflection of average power when collecting data from longer rides out on the road. We can also use NP for tracking efforts on the trainer.




Power meters will be most useful for athletes that have already incorporated interval training into their weekly schedule. While it matter less where you do them (on the road or on the trainer), than that you do them, I believe that the quality of training you get from bashing out a set on the Turbo exceeds what you can get from doing a similar set on the open road.

For the purpose of this article, I will highlight the 2 most important types of sessions for triathletes and how to use power data to get the most of out of them.

  1. Bike Tolerance

Lactate Threshold sessions, done regularly, are designed to increase your FTP by developing both your cardiovascular tolerance (the ability to hold your effort at ‘redline’ for an extended period of time) and your neuromuscular skill (the ability to pedal at ‘race cadence’ in smooth efficient circles by training your muscles to fire in a coordinated fashion).  With a power meter, the intervals can be done at the prescribed intensity of 91 – 101% FTP. This will give you real time feedback within the session, if you’re pushing too hard or not hard enough or just the right amount.

For Example:

4 x 12 mins at 91 – 101% FTP / 4 mins easy spin off recovery between efforts

Your power data can help you ‘fine tune’ the execution of these types of session. The goal for a rider with an FTP of 240W is to perform each of these intervals is between 218 and 242 watts. Say the 1st 3 intervals go according to plan at 220, 228, 234W but he fades on the last one and despite his best efforts is only able to put out 196W. We can deduce that if he had held back a touch on the 2nd and 3rd efforts, this would have improved his chances of getting that 4th interval within the prescribed 91 – 101% FTP.

Without power data, the same session would be written as follows:

4 x 12 mins hard / 4 mins easy spin off recovery between efforts

While the results would have been very similar, the athlete without power data would need to reply on ‘perceived effort’ to adjust the intensity of the intervals in the following week in order to put out a ‘perfect’ session. But because he still reaps the physio-mental training stimulus of performing the session, his time on the turbo has not gone to waste. The addition of power data simply helps him to learn how to execute this session better. Of course, we assume that the athlete is teachable and thoughtful and indeed adjusts his efforts the following week(s) to finish the set ‘perfectly’.

A stubborn athlete on the other hand, no matter what the power data tells them, will charge headlong into the session and execute it in exactly the manner, producing exactly the same result.

The second way to use this data, is for the athlete to track their progression by comparing the average Normalised Power across all 4 efforts from week to week. An athlete without power data would need to rely on their own sense and feel as to whether they were getting better at this set of intervals or not.

  1. Bike Strength

Excluding non- swimmers, the biggest gap for new and intermediate athletes is often their strength on the bike.  This issue requires immediate attention and the best remedy is to introduce a healthy dose of big gear work on the trainer. This involves working your legs against a much heavier resistance than you would normally encounter while riding steady on a flat road.   Think of this as doing cycling specific weight training. I start beginner athletes on 1 minute intervals done at 50 – 60 cadence.

For example:

20 x 1 min All Out / 1 min very easy spin off recovery

  • Maximum Cadence of 45 while @ maximum effort
  • Resistance on the recovery is as easy as you need it to be.
  • The more experienced athletes can go down to 30 cadence on longer intervals once the supporting structures in their legs and back have adapted to the higher load.

When doing big gear work on the trainer, pushing very hard against a very high resistance will yield lower than expected power figures, relative to the level of exertion, because the resultant cadence of these types of sessions is so low. Therefore, in terms of matching perceived effort to power output, it is NOT useful to plug in a %FTP training zone, when doing Big Gear strength work, because the power figures, will not feel as though they match the effort you are putting out.

Furthermore, pacing your efforts throughout the duration of Strength sets is not important at all (compared to Tolerance sets where the goal is usually to churn out paced power across all intervals). Strength sets is usually done pushing each effort as hard as possible (All Out) without regard for the next interval. As a result, the power figures from each subsequent interval should decrease as you progress through the set as your legs fatigue. In fact, I would be concerned that you were not pushing hard enough if you were able to hold the same watts over a whole series of strength intervals. After all, the main goal of this kind of session is to end with rubber legs!

Instead, the average Normalised Power across all the efforts, ignoring the data from rest intervals, can be tracked each week for significant increases in strength over the course of a 6 – 12 week block.


As an athlete approaches Race Day, their long rides should start to closely resemble their race day efforts, in terms of Nutrition and Pacing and Power. With the lack of long continuous unbroken bike routes in Singapore, using multiple laps of a ‘low traffic, low stoppage’ loop will go a long way towards dialling in an athlete’s race day effort. The same looped effect can be achieved on a straight forward single out and back route by lapping the unit at predetermined points in the ride (every 15/ 30 / 45 km) depending on how you structure the ride.

For power data collection on a race simulation, I like to break the ride into laps because:

  • It allows me to negate the first and final 20 – 30 mins of warm up and cool down riding to and from the start of the looped route.
  • It allows me to mentally break a long ride into shorter sections for better focus and pacing.

With the exception of some of the hilliest half and full Ironman distance races, the best strategy is to ride at your best even paced power across the whole distance. This is where athletes with a better ability to gauge perceived effort will have an advantage over those that don’t. At the start of the bike, on fresh legs, your perceived effort will be lower than for the same power output in the middle of the ride as fatigue starts to build. Perceived effort will be higher again that tail end of the bike ride as the rider’s legs are already shot. Therefore, in order to ride an even paced bike leg, the athlete will need to control their effort continually and carefully, starting at a lower perceived effort and building naturally to a higher perceived effort to account for the accumulated fatigue as you progress through the ride.

For athletes that are poor at intuitive pacing, a power meter can be a useful tool to help rewire the ‘Brain-Body Connection’ that controls pacing. Much like how data was used to perfect the set of Tolerance intervals mentioned above, so too can the power data on a lapped long ride help to accurately match perceived effort and power output across the duration on the long ride.

For example:

Using 12km loop done 6 x continuously (effectively a 72KM time trial) for 6 – 8 weeks leading up to a Half Ironman, is a nice way to replicate the race day scenario. Lapping your power meter after each lap will allow you to view your Normalised Power for each lap.  Here is an abbreviated set of data pulled from a longer 8 week progression of race simulation rides.

Lap / Week L1  L2  L3  L4  L5  L6 Notes Ave NP
Wk 1  124 132 127 129 133 5 laps / group effort/  some drafting/ whole ride fasted / Full ride done big gear easy  129W
Wk 3  120 132 133 153 153 160 6 laps /group effort / some drafting/ 1st half fasted / Full ride done big gear easy  – mod  142W
Wk 6  162 168 206 174 176 143 6 laps /solo effort / Poorly paced/ 1st half fasted/ Full ride at race cadence  172W
Wk 8  164 176 182 176 180 186 6 laps / solo effort / Well Paced/ race day nutrition/ Full ride at race Cadence  177W


Charting the data this way allows an athlete to cross-reference how hard they feltthey pushed against a set of data telling them how hard they actually pushed.

For example on Lap 3 on Week 6, the rider went for a ‘hot lap’ to test the consequence of a 20 min surge in preparation for such an occurrence on race day. While he was able to recover at race pace through Laps 4 and 5, his legs were too fatigued to hold this effort on the last lap, where his NP dropped significantly.

After numerous weeks of ‘race-simulation’, and making the necessary tweaks to efforts and nutrition over the distance, taking the average Normalised Power across all laps, on a well-paced and well – fuelled ride (Week 4) gave this rider an NP of 177W that he can aim for in his coming race.

The attentive reader will infer that the power data collected over this period has only played a partial role in his arrival at this level of race preparation. It was vastly more important that the rider was;

  • consistent with this weekly Race Simulation long ride
  • continually fine tuning his nutrition plan
  • controlling the training conditions to replicate race day conditions (i.e. drafting and cadence)
  • aware of the changes in his perceived effort as he progressed through each ride.

All these elements that go into perfecting a Race Simulation are achieved without, and can sometimes be disrupted by the addition of power data. This athlete’s arrival at his NP target of 177W on race day is simply the ‘cherry on the pie’; a cherry that he could easily do without on Race Day, if the Race Simulation Progression was indeed completed in a satisfactory manner.


A Power Meter is not essential or even necessary to improve on the bike. In fact, the majority of beginner to intermediate triathletes out there would benefit more from simply committing to:

  • Repeating, at least, 1 set of bike intervals a week –Spin Class does not count!
  • Executing their Long Rides, especially in the 8 weeks prior to an A race, in a structured, thoughtful and focused manner with an emphasis on race specificity.
  • Adjusting and fine tuning their effort levels purely according to feel

Personally, I believe that Perceived Effort is a more intuitive way to train and develops a superior Brain-Body Connection; that understanding of what your body is capable of at its current fitness level. This is a critical and elementary skill that should be nurtured in all athletes at the earliest stage of their development because it gives them confidence in making training and race day decisions.

For newer athletes, that have not yet learnt how to listen to their body, a Power Meter could in fact sabotage this learning process and cause confusion and frustration along the way. Consider these 2 scenarios:

  • While pure road cyclists can boast that they accurately track their level of fatigue and the onset of an approaching physical peak with power data derived Training Stress Scores, the Triathlete’s fatigue is a comprised of the sum of their swim, bike and run training loads. Currently, there is no simple way to quantitatively and accurately track the Stress Scores of swim and run training. So for triathletes, it is much better to be aware of your personal fatigue levels at any point in time, than to rely on a ‘bike only’ stress score.

Rodolfo Oliari

For example, a Power Meter will tell you that you are not meeting the prescribed wattage for a particular set of intervals but it is only the Brain-Body Connection can attribute this decreased performance to the tough long run that the athlete battled through on the day before, or a poor nights rest or a dehydrated state or whatever combination of the above.  Without the Brain-Body Connection, the athlete would start questioning their ability and get frustrated at their apparent lack of improvement. On the other hand, the enlightened athlete would be content and assured to simply tick off that session and get on with taking the remedial steps to ensure that the next day does not become another ‘off day’.


  • Using a power meter to pace over long rides is one of its key selling points; just find your NP over a certain distance and plug in and play, right? In theory this is how it is supposed to work, but the ‘on-road’ reality plays out differently.


On even a slightly rolling route, it is difficult to generate enough power while descending to match the rider’s target NP so we’re told to push over target NP on the climbs preceding them to compensate for this. While there are guidelines on how to handle various gradients and lengths of climb, I would go so far as to say that it would come as second nature, and be handled better by an athlete with a sound ‘Body – Brain Connection’.

Don’t get me wrong, for all the power meter bashing that you may think I am doing, I do believe that a it can be a worthy investment if you are already fulfilling the training criteria above and are looking for a means to track your training quantitatively and to motivate you to producing and then subsequently building on that ‘perfect’ set of intervals / Race Simulation long ride, week after week.

In the end, all I am saying is if you buy a power meter, or already have one; learn how to use it simply before getting bogged down with the advanced jargon and tricky functions. K.I.S.S!



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Shem Leong is our ironguides coach in Singapore. He has been hooked on triathlon ever since winning his age group in his first Olympic-distance race. Many top performances later, Shem still enjoys the challenges of training and racing at a high level, while balancing this with work and family. He is a firm believer in the benefits of an active lifestyle and loves being able to positively affect his athletes’ lives in this way. In the four years that Shem has worked as an ironguides coach so far, he has helped more than 60 athletes achieve their goals. They range from newbies hoping to complete their first sprint race, to 70.3 podium contenders, to seasoned Sub 10-hour Ironman athletes. Shem’s care for his athletes and his attention to detail set him apart. He completely understands the varied pull factors of life’s demands as well as the fiery motivations that drive everyday age groupers and is able to craft sustainable, effective training plans for their time-crunched schedules. An Honour’s Degree in Health Science has given Shem the knowledge to explain and expertly administer The Method. This, in turn, helps his athletes understand how each session contributes towards their ultimate goal; as a result, countless personal bests have been improved upon as his athletes continually get fitter and faster.


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