How easy do professional triathletes train?

How slow do the pro’s really go?

One of the biggest issues we see in age group triathletes is the need to push themselves in every session. Training in the ‘grey zone’ occurs when an athlete gets caught doing all their workouts close to the same pace – know as the ‘grey zone’. This ‘grey zone’ is generally a pace that is too fast for true aerobic adaptations and too slow for their key workouts (such tempo, threshold or overspeed). Athletes generally settle on a pace because they feel it gives them a “good workout”. If you fall into this zone in most of your sessions, you will not reap the benefits of a structured training program and it will lead to a performance stagnation. Getting the right mix of easy/hard training can be a tricky process and will be determined by a variety of variables such as race distance, age (and training age) and hours available to train weekly. Although hard training plays an integral role in any triathlon training program, easy training is just as, if not more important. There are countless reasons to complete easy sessions:
  • Promote mobility/recovery from harder sessions
  • Develop true long term cardiovascular adaptations
  • Adapt to the training load and develop strength
  • Practice and develop correct technique and efficiency
  • Prepare yourself for your next hard session
Below we share with you 3 examples of what professionals consider easy training, in order for you to understand if you are spending too much time in the ‘grey zone’. These are examples only AND WE ARE NOT making recommendations as to whether these are your easy training zones. Recovery and aerobic zones will differ from athlete to athlete. Speak with a qualified and credible coach if you are unsure of what your easy zones should be.

1. Swim – Clayton Fettell

400m PB: 4 mins 04 sec (1:01 per 100m) Easy swimming: 1:20-1:25 per 100m Difference: 19-24 secs per 100m Clayto’s personal best time for 400m in the pool is 4 mins and 4 sec. This is a blistering 1 min and 1 sec per 100m. When Clayton is completing easy aerobic sets he sits around 1min 20-24 sec and is focusing on:
  • Holding good form and alignment
  • Holding water and stroke length (distance per stroke)
  • Breathing bilaterally and working on breathing patterns such as every 3 or 5 strokes
  • Remaining relaxed and long
How fast are your easy sessions? Here are a few examples of paces you may swim
  1. 6 mins: 400m TT (1:30 per 100m) Easy pace: 1:49-1:54 per 100m
  2. 7 mins: 400m TT (1:45 per 100m) Easy Pace: 2:04-2:09 per 100m
  3. 8 mins: 400m TT (2:00 per 100m) Easy Pace: 2:19-2:24 per 100m

2. Bike – Tom Rogers

OD (40km) PB: 55 minutes (43.6 kmph)
70.3 (90km) PB: 2 hrs 5 mins (43.2 kmph) Easy Spin: 25km/h-30km/h Difference: 15km/h
Tommy: “Speed does not matter for me as there is no benefit going faster, however, it can be detrimental to your training by going faster as it will put fatigue in your legs and make your quality sessions junk. Things I try to focus on are:
  • Keeping my cadence above 90, usually between 90 and 100 is what I try to aim for.
  • Keeping my heart rate down when going over any small hills.
  • Most of the time now I don’t take my watch with me when doing recovery rides as it helps me to keep it easy and enjoy the ride without negatively impacting my quality sessions”
How fast are your easy sessions? Here are a few examples of paces you may ride:
  1. 35-40km/h for 40km TT Easy pace: 25-30km/h
  2. 30-35km/h for 40km TT Easy pace: 20-25km/h
  3. 25-30km/h for 40km TT Easy Pace: 15-20km/h

3. Run – Mitch Kibby

Sprint (5km) PB: 15 min 01 sec (3 min/km pace) OD (10km) PB: 31 min 40 sec (3:10 min/km pace) Easy Run: 4:45 min/km pace Difference: 1 min 45 sec – 1 min 55 sec slower per km
Mitch: “Feel is more important than pace for easy runs. Most long runs are Sunday at the end of a long week and can be full of fatigue. Don’t get down if your slower some weeks then others and be careful not to squeeze more effort than required due to OCD. Generally long runs are around 4:45/km which is 0:20-30 sec/km slower than my default aerobic rhythm in other sessions.
  • I aim to run consistent cadence (approx 90) and will often measure this a couple of times in the last 10 mins to makes sure I’m not getting slugging or loosing concentration.
  • Posture is important for me, and so is foot strike, make sure feet land in a straight line etc.
  • I run for time. Distance is irrelevant for my long runs. Trails/Hills and softer surfaces are great if you have them.
How fast are your easy sessions? Here are a few examples of paces you may run
  1. 35-40 mins: 10km (3:30-4:00 min/km) Easy pace: 4.45-5:15 min/km
  2. 40-45 mins: 10km (4:00-4:30 min/km) Easy Pace: 5:15-5:45 min/km
  3. 45-50 mins: 10km (4:30-5:00 min/km) Easy Pace: 5:45-6:15 min/km
Author: Ryan Bourke Co-Director i4 Coaching | Triathlon Coach
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