SuperCoach FAQ, Terms, and Concepts
This is a "living document" that will
grow as needed over the course of the season. Also, there's no need to
print it out as a reference -- we'll be building in "links" from the workouts
directly to the relevant term or training issue. When you click on any
highlighted word within a workout, you'll go straight to the description
-- pretty cool!
Do I have to own
a heart rate monitor?
The specific training sessions in
the SuperCoach program are defined in terms of time and intensity. The
best way to measure time is with a watch; the best way to measure training
intensity is with a heart rate monitor. The simple, straight-forward answer
to this question is, therefore, "yes".
I incorporate other sports in my routine?
We get asked this question quite often,
especially during winter ski season. Many of you enjoy downhill and cross-country
skiing, snow-shoeing, etc. during the winter months, and want to know how
this might effect your training schedule. Here's our standard advice: Whenever
possible, you should put in your triathlon-related training in the early
hours of the day, while you're somewhat rested. Then you can go crazy with
whatever energy you have left! Also, on a more serious note, you should
definitely go lighter on the heavy leg-related activity during those days
when you should be recuperating (Monday and Friday, especially).
In a set with a given number of repititions,
you may be asked to "descend" the set from beginning to end. To descend
the set means to get progressively faster with each repeat until you are
going as fast as you can (or as fast as is required) on the final repeat
of the set. Generally, the first repeat is done at a moderate speed so
you don't begin too fast and run out of steam before the end of the set.
Also, it is best to try to shave off the same amount of time from one repeat
to the next, so that your progression throughout the set is both gradual
"build up" mean?
which involves going progressively faster as a set progresses, "build up"
means to go progressively faster during each individual repeat in a set.
For example, 4 x 50 Build Up means to begin each 50 at a relatively easy
pace, and gradually increase the effort such that you are going fairly
hard (if not all out) by the end of each 50.
does an "Intermediate Set" do for me?
Think of an intermediate set as a
stepping stone to help your body make a smooth transition from the warmup
to the higher intensity work in the main set. This process aids in the
opening of the blood vessels and arteries, as well as the flowing of highly
oxygenated blood to the muscles. By increasing your heart rate during this
set, the high intensity efforts of the main set won't seem like such a
shock to the body. This preparation should allow you to perform the primary
work more effectively. The chance of injury is also reduced because the
body is notified that it needs to prepare for a hard effort and can therefore
make the necessary physiological adaptations.
While simply training day-to-day will
result in some improvement, how do you measure your success? By keeping
track of your times and heart rates for a set of repeats on the bike trainer,
at the track, or in the pool, you can very easily monitor your progress
as the season progresses. Charting your progress will also help you psychologically
because you will see that you have put in all the work necessary, and performed
all the times needed in order to reach your Key Race goals.
Keep a daily diary of your workouts
- you can just scribble your personal notes right along side your Super
Coach training schedules. Compare identical workouts over time to see if
your improvements are matching your expectations. If they do, then you
know you are on track. If they don't, then you at least have the capacity
to pore over your training notes to understand where future improvement
can be made.
An excellent way to track your progress
is to use a computer-based training log. A simple, effective program that
has been extremely successful for many years -- and was the first multi-sport
program available, back in the late '80's -- is The
Athlete's Diary. They offer a demonstration version that can be downloaded
directly from their website; check there for further details, including
"One question I have is to do with
the excess weight I'm carrying. Its starting to disappear slowly and I'm
guessing the rate of weight-loss may increase as the training durations
increase...Should I be dieting alongside the training or could this lead
to extra fatigue?
Do you have an opinion on decreasing
carbos in favour of protein and fat (like the PR*Bar diet thing?)"
Our Answer: Be careful on the dieting
-- you want to eat properly, whichmeans a balance of carbos, proteins,
and good quality fats (extra virgin olive oil, 100% natural peanut butter,
broiled fish). Of course, you'll definitely watch the pounds (kg?) peel
off in the early Spring, and you'll continue to trim down over the course
of the summer months. But balancing the carbos/protein/fat to roughly 40%/30%/30%
(without being ridiculously meticulous about it) will enable you to burn
fat, rather than muscle, as the durations increase.
Let me explain the balance in very
brief terms: We all require a certain amount of protein to produce/replenish
muscle fibres, etc; there is a desirable amount of carbohydrates to replenish
glycogen stores (too many carbos, however, will knock your insulin levels
out of whack & you'll be ravenously hungry all evening); the high quality
fat acts like "caloric ballast" to actually help you feel comfortably full
I've experienced both sides -- eating
like a horse, and trying to balance my intake -- and the balanced approach
has left me with more muscle mass at the same overall body weight. Clearly
"less is more" when you eat properly.
Question: "During the workouts (ususally
swim & bike) I notice it takes a while to increase HR intensity up
to 75% or 84%. How long should this take?"
Our Answer: It will take longer at
first, but as your body gets better adapted to this training your HR will
be quicker to react to the increased work load. Believe it or not, higher
HR's are a sign of better conditioning, since your body is responding
to an increased need for oxygen by beating your heart (a muscle) faster,
with more blood volume per beat. So, do the best you can with it now; your
body will get better at it very shortly.
We have begun to describe interval
sessions in terms of distance (both English and metric units) as
well as time. This is due to the fact that many of you are using
different wind trainer models, and some of you are riding outside.
The way to interpret these session
instructions is to use the distance figures first, provided that you finish
within 30 seconds (more or less) of the suggested interval time. If you
find that covering the interval distance takes significantly less than
the suggested time, keep riding/running until the time guideline is met;
if covering the distance would take more time, then simply stop at the
suggested time, going into the recovery phase before starting the next
Question: "I wanted to ask you something
about intervals. For example, in any of the three sports, say that we're
supposed to do 1:30 @75%, then :30 @60%. Most often it takes longer than
30 seconds to get my HR down to 60%. Is it ok if my HR never makes it that
low before I start up again on the next interval? If I wait for my HR to
get down to 60%, the rest in between intervals will get to be ridiculously
long! So, should the "rest" be just a time thing, or should I really wait
to get the HR down to that level?"
Our Answer: Good question! First, make
sure that the 75% target isn't set too high -- make sure that your Max
HR is realistic (220 - age, plus about 5 beats for running / minus about
5 beats for cycling), and make sure that your resting HR is accurate. We
don't want you to be getting closer to 80% when 75% is what's called for.
Second, when doing aerobic intervals
it's not vital to have your HR dip all the way back down to 60% -- just
don't let it get below that! The idea is to have the entire set be good
quality aerobic work. That said, make sure that you're backing it down
enough to reduce your HR by at least 10% within the required recovery time.
Take a little more recovery time if necessary, but not more than an extra
Rates When Racing
The optimal zone in which to race
is dependent on the distance of the race. The majority of an international
distance race should be done at or just below your AT (88-92%), with the
final miles of the run being done slightly above AT.
For half-Ironman races, your HR should
be between 75% and 85%, but mostly at around 10% (in terms of beats per
minute) below AT. The hotter and hillier the course (hello, Wildflower!),
the more reserved you need to be during the swim and bike legs so that
you have enough energy left for the run.
Finally, the majority of an Ironman-distance
race needs to be done at or below 75% for you to remain efficient and finish
strong. By elevating your HR into your anaerobic zones too much -- or to
"shock" your system there at all -- you run the risk of building up much
lactic acid to levels that will trigger an elevated heart rate for a prolonged
period. In general, it's much better to think you have too much energy
left at the end of the bike. Finishing with a strong run is what will keep
you coming back for more!
What if I
can't finish the swim workouts on time?
It's perfectly fine to cut off the
swim workouts once you've reached the designated time -- the best way to
"trim" these sessions would be to cut back the main set, keeping the warm
up, cool down, and drills intact (these are too important to reduce too
In the future, look for two different
"flavors" of the main set (labeled, "ALTERNATE SET") to help you make this
Practicing Different Strokes
When a particular swimming set is
supposed to be done as "Choice", this means that a stroke other than freestyle
is preferred. By practicing all four strokes -- freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke
and backstroke -- you are essentially cross-training in the pool. You will
use muscles in ways that you can't when you only swim freestyle, so you
will be improving your overall muscular balance and shape.
The "IM" (Individual
Medley) is an actual swimming event that combines butterfly, backstroke,
breastroke, and freestyle (in that order). When this is called for in a
swim workout, divide the IM distance evenly between these four strokes,
in the proper order.
Swimming Kick drills involve isolating
the part of the stroke involving the legs to improve efficiency and body
position in the water. These drills can be done several ways: you can hold
a kick board out in front of you, keeping your arms straight; you can lie
flat in a freestyle position, without a board, holding your hands together
out in front of you; or - our preferred method - you can lie on one side
with your "bottom" arm out in front and your "top" arm down at your side,
holding this position for 12 kick "beats". Then - without stopping - rotate
through one arm stroke, leaving yourself lying on the other side with your
arm positions reversed. Kick 12 beats on that side, and then repeat this
process up and down the pool.
Unless specified otherwise, practice
your freestyle kick, as this will make your swimming in races more proficient
-- a strong kick helps keep your body more buoyant and, thus, allows you
to spend more of your energy moving forward instead of keeping your body
on the surface of the water.
A "loco" swim (short for "locomotive"),
is a progression of alternating easy laps with fast laps to produce a fartlek
effect. In a 1000 loco swim, you will begin with 25 easy/25 fast, then
continue with 50 easy/50 fast, 75 easy/75 fast, 100 easy/100 fast, 100
easy/100 fast, 75 easy/75 fast, 50 easy/50 fast, and finally 25 easy/25
The fast laps should be done at a controlled,
high intensity, while the easy laps are used for recovery. It's important
to continue swimming, without stopping, throughout these swims.
Pull buoys are those white styrofoam
aids that are pressed between the thighs when we want to isolate the arm
strokes in the pool. Paddles can be used in conjunction
with pull buoys to help heighten sensitivity to technical errors you may
be making in your stroke and to overload the upper body to increase the
cardiovascular/muscular aspect of the workout.
Strokes Per Length
Your stroke count (# of strokes taken
per length) is an important indicator of swimming efficiency: the better
swimmers take fewer strokes per length. The most efficient swimmers are
able to maintain a consistent, low stroke count even when swimming at very
high intensities. As a point of reference, world class distance swimmers
will take between 10-15 strokes a lap during their freestyle races, and
between 8-12 during moderately hard workout swims.
Using paddles is a great way to overload
the upper body to gain swim-specific upper body strength. Also, paddle
use will magnify whatever weaknesses you have in your stroke or muscle
However, guard against becoming dependent
on paddles. Many swimmers swim faster when using paddles -- and therefore
end up using them most of the time! Using paddles too much can lead to
shoulder injuries and will almost certainly cause your swimming skills
& general speed without paddles to deteriorate over time. We therefore
instruct you to utilize them sparingly -- they can be very effective tools
for improvement if they're not overused.
Kicking on your side helps you learn
proper body positioning in the water. This drill involves kicking on your
side for 10 kicks, then taking 3 full strokes before switching sides, and
finishing with 10 kicks on the other side. Continue with this routine up
and down the pool, resetting your "counter" every lap.
Concentrate on getting good rotation
through your shoulders and trunk while stretching out your arms at the
front of each pull (called the "catch" section).
for Warming Up
An easy drill to ensure that you incorporate
a long, effective warmup into your workout is to use what we call a "gearing
pyramid". The general idea is to continue spinning at roughly 90-95 rpm
while increasing the gearing throughout the set.
Begin in a very easy gear for a specified
period of time (either 4, 5, or 6:00); after this you would shift to one
gear harder and spin for 1:00 less (3, 4, or 5:00). You would continue
to shift gears after each interval and reduce the duration of the next
interval, until you have completed spinning in the hardest gear of the
set for 1:00. Then, you're ready to go!
Isolated Leg Training
Isolated Leg Training (usually abbreviated
to "ILT") is done while biking on a stationary trainer. While using a relatively
small gear (in your small front chain ring, such as 42 x 19) click out
one foot from your pedal and rest it on the axle of your turbo trainer
or a chair you have set up next to your bike. With one leg still engaged
in the pedal, work on a smooth, circular pedal revolution. Try to be sensitive
to - and try to correct -- jerky or dead spots in your cadence. After pedaling
with one leg for the required amount of time (usually 20 seconds), you
can then spend about 10 seconds in transition - switching from one isolated
leg to the other. The drill continues with the newly "isolated" leg providing
the power for the required amount of time; continue to switch as the drill
Anything that detracts from a smooth
pedal stroke will also detract from your overall speed and will waste energy.
As your cadence becomes smoother, you should notice it taking less energy
to go at a given speed. This will leave more energy to bike faster and
leave more energy for your run!
Note: ILT sets should be done in stand-alone mode -- unplugging the
cord from the side of the handlebar unit. Make sure you follow the
instructions for calibrating the unit properly before you begin.
Then set the constant resistance to a challenging number -- but not too
tough -- to keep the resistance constant throughout each pedal stroke.
This will help you work out any "dead spots" in each leg individually.
"VG" Sets: Variable
Gearing to Mix Things Up
Varying your gearing when riding indoors
on your trainer is an excellent mechanism for breaking up the monotony
and recruiting different types of muscle fibres, keeping some "freshness"
in the process. The idea is to choose three gears, which are one "click"
apart: one gearing should be relatively easy, where you can spin close
to 100 rpm withoutmuch challenge; you should be able to spin in the next
hardest gearing at about 90 rpm; and you should be able to push the hardest
gearing at 80 rpm without much difficulty. An example of a "VG" set of
gears is 42 (small chain ring) x 13, 42 x 15, and 42 x 17.
During the "VG" Set, you will actually
be called upon to spin a bit faster than these rpm figures. The set for
that session should specify what these guidelines are - usually they are
110+ rpm for the easy gear, 100 rpm for the medium gear, and 90 rpm for
the hardest gear. The order will always be: #1 medium, #2 easy, and #3
hard. See the actual session instructions for further details.
Note: VG sets are best done in SpinScan mode, so you can view how smooth
your pedal strokes are throughout each pedal cycle. You can easily
track your cadence as well, and work out any huge discrepencies in the
power output for each of your legs.
"Spinning" classes have become increasingly
popular, and many of you who utilize a health club for your training have
asked about replacing one of our sessions with a spinning class at some
point during the week.
My biggest concern is that spinning
classes are usually directed by someone who doesn't have a clue about triathlon
training, and they generally want to insert a significant amount of anaerobic
work throughout their session. For these reasons I would advise against
participating in a spinning class unless:
The cycling session in our program for
that day is not a "big target" workout;
You do not have any other "big
target" workouts for either running or swimming planned for that day;
You keep your HR in the recommended intensities
specified in the session that you are replacing.
Lots of analysis and discussion has
taken place through the years in the cycling arena regarding the optimal
cadence for time trialing. The most meaningful data we've seen involved
determining what cadence the top time trialists used and the related power
output. The ultimate conclusions tend to agree that the optimal time trialing
cadence is around 85 rpms.
However, most people like to spin at
between 90-100 rpms, and some pro cyclists (Indurain, in particular) go
even higher to 110-120 rpms during 40K all out efforts. Spinning at 90-95
rpms will leave your legs -- and especially your knees -- feeling less
stressed than they would at a lower cadence.
"Jumps" are short bursts
of speed which are accomplished by increasing your cadence quickly while
holding the same gear. The higher intensity level should be accompanied
by a release of tension, rather than the typical teeth-gritting -- spin
fast in a relaxed fashion.
"In & Out"
Running Intermediate Sets
"In & Out" sets are a running
intermediate set generally done at the track, after a warm up and before
beginning the main set. The idea is to run the same shorter distance (usually
100 or 200 meters), alternating high intensity (the "in" section) and low
intensity (the "out" section), for a total of 5-10 minutes. If you are
performing this set on the road rather than the track, then you can substitute
30 seconds for the "in" sections and 45 sections for the "out" sections
- performing about 4-8 "in and out" pairs.
Your form should be loose and you should
try to remain light on your feet. Allow yourself two to three of these
to get rid of any tightness you may be feeling in your stride or arm swings
-- this is the whole idea of the set. Afterwards, shake out your limbs,
take a few drinks from your water bottle, take a few mental notes about
the main set, and then get busy!
It's best to think of proper running
form "from top to bottom":
Good habits come with lots of practice
-- take inventory of your running posture consistently, and stay focused
-- "from top to bottom".
Hold your head still and keep your face
Look at the ground, about 15-20 yards
ahead of you;
Keep your elbows loosely bent -- your
hands should be about waist-high;
Keep your arm swing going straight forward
& back -- don't let your arms come across your body;
During longer distances, your hands should
only "travel" about 12 inches;
Minimize your gait (the distance between
your knees at full stride);
Your feet should strike the ground on
the outside middle (not the heel), and your weight should then immediately
roll forward toward your toes.
Get You Ready
Run-ups are done at the end of a warmup
period, right before a hard run on the road or track. Performing these
short 10-15 second "bursts" will help to open up your blood vessels for
better blood flow, and they naturally stretch out most muscles in the body
to help prevent strains and injuries.
On a track, you will gradually increase
your speed on the straighaways to about 5k pace for the first 60 meters
and then hold your speed for the final 40 meters. You then ease up and
jog the curves before building up your speed on the next straightaway.
You should do at least 3 and no more than 6 run-ups. After finishing this,
take a couple of minutes to shake out your legs, get mentally prepared
for the main set and then take off!
What's a "Tempo
A tempo run is a valuable tool in
teaching your body to run more efficiently at or near your race pace for
a prolonged period of time. The effort can last up to 30 minutes, or be
broken into two or three 8-10 minute segments with up to 2 minutes rest
between tempo efforts.
The effort will be hard, but below
your 10k race pace -- usually at around 85% intensity. At this speed, you
will deal with discomfort yet feel like you can push harder. Don't! When
done at too great an effort, tempo runs can break your body down too much
and lead to overtraining and/or injury. Tempo runs enhance your ability
to race at or near your AT, which is crucial in any event lasting from
30 minutes up to 2+ hours. The principles behind tempo runs will also be
applied to swimming or biking.
A "Tempo Pyramid" is a structured
approach to a tempo run. The intensity is increased as the duration of
the interval is decreased over the course of the run. A typical 20:00 tempo
pyramid would look like this:
(4:00 @70% / 1:00 @60%); (3:00 @75%
/ 2:00 @60%); (2:00 @80% / 3:00 @60%); (1:00 @85% / 4:00 @60%) -- notice
that the intensity begins at 70% for the longest duration (4:00), and is
gradually increased to the highest intensity (85%) for the shortest duration.
Per Minute (SPM)
Leg turnover should be done
at 180-190 foot strikes per minute.
There is one universal law of running
faster that every world-class runner conforms to:
This translates to 90-95 strides per
minute ("SPM"), where one "stride" is counted as two steps, or one
count every time a particular foot (left or right) hits the ground. It's
that simple -- All world class distance runners have a cadence that falls
within this range.
When you go out for a run at HR 70%
intensity or higher, it is important to work on keeping your cadence between
90-95 spm to build speed, even at an endurance pace. Even when you run
at intensities below 70% (purely aerobic), the goal should be to keep your
spms higher than 80.
To read more on this topic, check
out the complete article.
What if I have
to WALK to keep my HR down?!
This question comes in a flurry during
the early part of each season. We're all fired up, raring to get to work
on improving, and the first thing we're asked to do is hold our HR intensities
at or under 75%. Of course, for most of us at this point, this seems nearly
"I'm hardly moving, and my heart rate
"I'm going to have to WALK to get
down to that intensity level!"
Our stock answer is, "Great!" Hey,
I don't care if you have to lie down in the snow and make snow angels --
you're body needs to learn how to process energy in an aerobic state (with
oxygen, as opposed to the anaerobic metabolism required for high intensity
efforts), and this kind of low intensity training is the only efficient
way to get this done. But don't fret too much -- year after year, the athetes
are surprised and amazed at how quickly their bodies adapt to this new
approach. So be confident that it's going to happen, your aerobic capacity
will increase, and yes, you will be able to run at a nice clip -- even
with your HR intensity stuck right on 75%!
What's a MAF test
& how are they done?
A MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) test,
named and made famous by Dr. Philip Maffetone, is a controlled, timed aerobic
run that is designed to help measure your aerobic-based running speed,
and to measure your progress in gaining aerobic capacity over time.
Begin these days with a 20:00 jog,
getting into it very gradually, bringing the intensity up to 65% by the
When you're ready, either perform this
at a local track (preferably one you can run to), or use a familiar portion
of a local course that you know to be roughly three miles in length. Begin
by gradually increasing your HR up to 75% intensity -- beginning this directly
after the warm up would work best -- and then, when you are at a known
starting point, start your watch! Be sure to hold your HR intensity right
at 75% throughout the test run -- no more! -- and stop your watch after
reaching the three-mile point.
Record your time for future comparison.
You should notice over a period of 12-18 weeks that you could increase
your speed at 75% intensity by as much as 1:00 per mile or more...it's
great to watch yourself getting in better shape!