Nuts & Bolts

The background concept for this post is covered in The Advantages of Limitations. Now it's down to the details of optimising training.


  • Volume: both overall and individual session
  • Order of sessions: dictated more by available time, facilities and access
  • Lack of frequency: there are gaps of more than two days for disciplines at times

Training articles/advice usually mention that you need to get the most out of every training session. This is something I believe is rarely achieved. We find ways to get a lot from the training, but it is only occasion do we get close to the most we can. One way to make up for this short fall is by increasing the overall training volume.

High volume training being a commodity I no longer have means a change of tact. In fact there are several advantages to limited volume. Now I feel obligated to get the most I can out of each training set. Also it is now easier to do so. The overriding monotony that so often accompanies endurance training is less likely to appear. The added mental break from training means it is easier to keep my head in the game during training sessions. Less wandering thoughts, more focus and therefore better quality training.

Gone are most of the junk miles (check an old post Quality, for further thoughts on this topic) as I no longer have the luxury to have them in my training. Along with the loss of monotony is also the loss of that incessant fatigue that accompanies high volumes and puts a ceiling on training intensity. Now I can keep the intensity and quality up for longer in each individual session. I can go harder as I now have more time for passive recovery.

How It Really Works?

There is a rough pattern that balances out stimulus versus recovery.

  • 1-2 days easy/recovery
  • 2-3 days hard
  • 1-2 days easy-moderate
  • 2-3 days hard

The natural variability of changing disciplines allows for even further specific recovery and cross over effect in training. The inherent variety coupled with low-moderate volume relieves most risk of chronic overuse injuries. Taking advantage of this cycle and variability (which mainly comes about due to my work roster), and the extra time between repeating the same type of session allows me to go that extra bit harder in individual sessions. The recovery of cost, or the effect on the following few days training is now not much of a concern.

For example, I can now afford to really dig in during a hard interval set on the run, without compromising the next couple of days. Even with fatigue and soreness, it is still possible to ride or swim hard or long the next day. The components of the musculature for running are not specifically addressed until some repair has taken place.

No Longer Boxed In

The training intensity is no longer dictated by specific heart rate zones. Instead I am now training on feel and to the limits of my technique. This is more holistic, takes into account fatigue and current recovery levels, and frees me up to get the most out of a training session. For example I may need to really focus on my pedalling technique on the bike as I may be splaying my knee out to the side across the top of the stroke. To achieve this I might have to drop the cadence and therefore overall intensity to ensure the knee stays in proper alignment. This would result in a much lower HR. However if on a long ride, I incorporate intervals of this focus within the time constraints I am more likely to achieve a better overall training adaption than if I just aimed to hit a certain HR zone.

As a further example, when out on a long run a more race specific technique for running uphills may result in a significantly higher HR. The peaking of HR would be acceptable to allow for the better power and technique enhancement from running strong on the hills instead of dropping back to a shuffle.

To ensure progression a good record of HR, paces, distances and other parameters of training sessions needs to be kept. Checking that I am achieving more each week from each type of set is paramount. For an interval bike ride of 6x5min with 1min recovery on the turbo trainer I may hit each interval on a set gearing/resistance at 85-90rpm one week. The following week I might be able to hit 90-95rpm on each interval. This is progression and overall work output, but may or may not be reflected in HR changes.

Strong and Stable

Over the last few years my core training has slipped down almost being an afterthought at the end of the rest of my training. Trying to get away with the minimum has resulted in a gradual loss which has clearly shown up in my initial swim and cycling efforts. Plus if I really take note, there are some postural issues and mild back discomfort that's crept in recently. A change was required.

The result is putting the focus back on creating strength through stability, making core training a priority instead of an afterthought at the end of a weights session. The basic premise are two strength training session per week. The session involves the following:

  • Leg exercise 3x6-15 (squat or deadlift)
  • Push 3x6-15 (press or bench)
  • Pull 3x6-16 (pull up, chin up, row variation)
  • Remedial/Corrective exercise
  • Transverse abdominus/Multifidus stability work 2x10-30
  • Twisting/Oblique stability 2x10-30
  • Back extension/Lumborus strength 2x10-30
  • Rectus abdomis strength 2x10-30

This gives compound, whole body strength work, some corrective exercises then complete core stability/strength training. On top of this I will endeavour to add in 10-15 minutes of core stability work on a few other days.

Race Skills

You don't improve your skills if you don't practice and critique technique. Therefore I will incorporate plenty of focus on these skills. Transition training (usually incorporated into brick sessions) will be very race specific. Practise the movements during warm up and raise the intensity for the main set. This includes picking up the intensity for the change over. Others include using the water bottle, or eating on the bike without breaking the aero position, the ability to stay aero for extended time periods, picking up speed during turnarounds on the run, and sighting in the water. The list can seem endless, but they are usually easily incorporated into the training sessions. Mainly is it just a matter of thinking about it. The sport is triathlon, not a swim, a bike ride and then a run.

Fatigue Resistance

Having a strong and stable core, with good technique goes a long way to enhancing fatigue resistance. To add to this is specific training. Naturally volume is limited, but the longer sessions (one each weak per discipline) play a very important role. Beyond simply training for a set period, attention needs to made to maintaining proper form throughout these longer sessions. Plus increasing the average intensity and speed over time is necessary.


In essence it comes back to a few key principles.

  • Work hard but keep technique and focus for the key sessions
  • Take advantage of decreased volume by maximising the work rate of individual sessions
  • Build a strong and stable body to allow advancement in specific fitness


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