Training Plan Guide and FAQs

Thank you for purchasing/considering one of our training plans. In this document we hope to talk you through how our plans work, and answer the most common questions we get. 

Training Plan Guide

Our training plans are designed for the most part to be completed by athletes who link their TrainingPeaks account to their smart watch or cycling computer, where workout targets will appear in real time. Unfortunately this is not available currently for swimming, where we encourage you to print out the workout and take it to the pool in a waterproof/resistant sleeve. 

Our training plans are based on a percentage of Functional Threshold Power (cycling and/or running), threshold pace (running) threshold heart rate (cycling, running) or RPE (primarily swimming and strength, but some cycling and running workouts as well). 

Your zones should be uploaded to TrainingPeaks where the software will customise your plan to fit your current fitness level. If you are completely new to TrainingPeaks, you may want to have a look at the Setting Zones document which is attached to this plan.

If you complete a workout successfully it should turn green if you nailed it, yellow if you were a bit wide of the mark, orange if you were very wide of the mark, or red if you missed a session. This is only true for workouts with set TSS, distance or durations associated with them. Even if you complete some of the more open ended sessions successfully (such as the fartlek run) it may turn yellow as you went a bit harder/eaiser than we were expecting. This isn’t wrong as such, if it really bothers you to see a yellow workout, you can tweak the target TSS to match.

For the most part, our plans are written for athletes who are middle of the road in most sports. We know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses they may need to account for, however it’s very difficult to accommodate for these without creating thousands of plans. As a result, you may change sessions around as you see fit using common sense. If you are starting an Ironman plan but can run marathons in under three hours, yet the idea of the swim keeps you up at night, you can substitute some of the easier run sessions for swims instead. 

You are allowed to miss sessions. No coach is good enough that they can write a plan where if you miss a single session you won’t achieve your goals. The human body doesn’t work like that. In the vast majority of cases we’ve given you more training than you actually need, to give you a bit of leeway, so you can afford mishaps on the day itself. 

In most cases it’s not worth trying to “catch up” on missed sessions by fitting the missed session into the existing plan. You can end up in a spiral of fatigue as a result, so learn to be ok with missing the occasional session. You’re unlikely to remember it in a few weeks time.

Sadly, we can’t guarantee that following the plan itself will provide you with success. Anything from illness to injury, and mechanical problems to crashes can cause you to fail to finish. We recommend you learn as much as you can about fixing basic mechanicals, race day nutrition and any other areas you’re unsure of before your race day to give you the best chance of finishing. Sometimes even with the best preparation you can suffer a DNF if someone crashes into you, you become ill in the week before or your bike gets lost in transit to an international race. We do however have a series of articles to help you avoid the most common curveballs which are available at phazontriathon.com/articles.

We wish you the very best of luck with your training, and hope that preparation for your event goes well. Next up we have some FAQs to help you navigate some of the more common issues from following our plans.

FAQs

This plan is too easy, how do I make it harder?

The answer to this depends on the length of the plan. If it’s a long plan, have a look ahead at the weeks/months that follow, as it’s likely going to get a lot harder, and we’re simply making sure you have the base fitness to handle the hard training when it comes. Increasing the intensity/duration now could lead to burnout.

If it’s a shorter plan, or race day is fast approaching and you feel you have a lot left to give, you can tentatively start increasing the length of some of the workouts. I recommend you start with the easier midweek sessions, extending them by 10-15 minutes. Broadly speaking, it’s both more productive and safer to increase volume over intensity. Of course, if you really want to increase the intensity I can’t stop you, but it’s more likely to lead to long term burnout.

If there is a more advanced version of the plan, get in touch and we’ll upgrade you for free.

This plan is too difficult, what do I do?

If you are struggling to keep up with the plan, you could give yourself an extra rest day per week by dropping one of the lower priority sessions, such as the easy midweek sessions. This may be all it takes to get you back on track. If you continue to struggle, lowering the intensity of the interval sessions slightly may help.

Double check your thresholds are correct, and get in touch if you need more guidance. We will happily swap you for a lower intensity or volume plan if available.

I’ve never done any strength work before and find it intimidating. Do I need to include these workouts?

Strength workouts are not as essential as swimming, cycling or running, but they’re not far off. The reason is that they help us become better rounded, more efficient athletes with less risk of injury. 

If you feel completely out of your depth, it is worth hiring a local coach or personal trainer to help you. They may even be able to give you a movement assessment and personalised exercises, which will supersede workouts I provide.

I’m not sure how to perform some of the exercises and drills

At the time of writing (August 2022) I am about to start training as a Level 4 Strength and Conditioning Coach. As I have a degree in cinematography, I want to take the time to produce some high quality exercises, not just put together a few low quality videos. As a result, I want to wait until I have completed this qualification before I make the videos, to avoid having to re-do them in a few months. 

Until then, YouTube is your friend for finding demonstration videos. If you need any more assistance, get in touch and I’ll be able to help you.

How do I progress the strength workouts?

Every strength workout should be a progression on the previous session. This can be from either adding weight, reducing rest, or increasing reps if you were unable to managed the programmed reps last week.

If you feel confident, you can develop the exercises with variations, however that is currently beyond the scope of the plans I provide. 

Why is there so much easy swimming, cycling and running? I finish each workout feeling I could have given more

These workouts are meant to be easy, and are easy for two primary reasons.

First of all, easy workouts improve our aerobic endurance, which is our ability to get more oxygen into the lungs, to the muscles, and eventually turned into energy for the muscles. This more than muscular strength is the limiter for the vast majority of endurance athletes.

It also allows us to train more consistently, and fit in more volume over time. If we go as hard as we can every day, we’re going to burn out pretty quickly, and be unable to continue our training. By keeping some of the days easy, we make sure we have the energy to go really hard when it matters. 

I have had to take a break from training, how do I pick back up?

Just because you had an enforced break from training does not mean your race is over by any means. Depending on how long your break was as well as your base fitness level, you may be able to pick up, or it may be out of the question. 

My instinct would be to try to pick back up where you left off, assuming it was not to challenging before that point, potentially increasing the distance of your longest workouts. The training plans are designed to get you around the course comfortably, you can probably lose a week or two without it affecting your ability to finish your event.

Once you reach the peak phase of the plan, you should switch back to the plan, even if it means losing out on a few weeks of training. This is because if you are 10% undertrained you may be able to pull a result out of the bag, but if you are 1% overtrained you’ll have a disappointing race day.

The timing of my swim doesn’t match the time on TrainingPeaks, am I doing it wrong?

Swimming is a very difficult sport to programme with any accuracy. Especially when you consider the wide variety of abilities. Someone training for their first Ironman may be able to swim 1KM in anything from 12 minutes all the way up to 30 minutes or more, so it’s very difficult to give an estimated timing that will work for all.

When purchasing plans on the TrainingPeaks webstore athletes (understandably) want to know how many hours a week they will be training for so I need to give a rough estimate. As long as you  are completing the distance in the workout, the time it takes you is irrelevant. 

What is RPE?

RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion is what’s used when a more accurate unit of measurement is not available. This is used most frequently in swimming where we can’t easily track speed, or in the weight room when there is no objective way to measure effort.

RPE is measured on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is barely moving and 10 is an all out effort. A 10 doesn’t mean you start a max effort sprint and aim to maintain it for the duration of the interval, it just means you should finish completely spent.

In the same way a film reviewer will rarely give a film anything less than 6/10, we don’t tend to use the lower RPE numbers very often. I tend to use 6 as a Zone 1 effort, 7 as a zone 2 effort, 8 and zone 3, 9 as threshold or just over, and 10 is generally reserved for testing or all out efforts. It’s not especially scientific, but it’s the simplest way to manage it.

What is CSS?

CSS stands for critical swim speed, and is the equivalent of threshold pace, threshold heart rate, or functional threshold power. It is a measure of how fast you can swim before you start fatiguing rapidly. Your plan may include a CSS test, which consists of a warmup followed by a 400M all our effort, followed by a 200M all out effort. 

You then take your times from the session and enter them into a calendar such as this one: https://trimanual.com/swim-calculator/ to get your CSS, or threshold pace. This is then entered into your TrainingPeaks profile to give you your swim zones, and to help you more accurately calculate TSS.

What is CCS+2 seconds per 100?

As we have established, CSS is your threshold pace. In swimming, rather than using KPH, or meters per second, we look at pace per 100M, so a CSS of 2:00 per 100M means you would be swimming 100M in two minutes, or 30 seconds per length.

If your CSS pace was 2:00 then CSS+2 seconds per 100 would give us a pace of 2:02 per 100, which is an extra .5 seconds per 100. If a workout instructed you to swim at a specific pace + or – a value associated with your CSS, you would simply need to do the maths.

If you are an experienced swimmer you may be able to use the pool clock quite accurately to hit those numbers, but most of us aren’t there just yet. For those of us without a mechanical ability to hit those paces (or the eyesight to see the clock),  two solutions exist.

The first is a tempo trainer pro, which is a yellow device manufactured by FINIS which sits under your swim cap, and beeps at pre programmed intervals. The device can be set to beep at intervals down to a hundredth of a second so can be very accurate. The aim is to push off the wall as soon as you hear the device beep.

The second option is using your watch, and setting an alarm to the closest second, so setting your watch vibrate every 30 seconds in the example above. This isn’t as accurate using the tempo trainer, but it saves paying for another piece of equipment. 

Sometimes the paces are there to challenge you, other times they are there to hold you back and stop you swimming too fast and fading later into the session. Generally I only set CSS based sessions for plans where athletes will already have some experience swimming.

Which workouts do I need to do on my turbo trainer?

None of the workouts necessitate the use of a turbo trainer, or riding outdoors. The targets are there for you to hit, how you hit them is completely up to you. Here in the UK we have very few roads which are well suited to structured training, however I know some countries have long, open roads where you can get your head down for an hour or more, so can execute workouts outside effectively. Equally, some countries do not have roads suited for cycling, so you may want to do the majority of your training indoors. 

I do most of my riding outdoors, but hit the trainer during the colder or wetter days where I feel my ability to execute the ride outdoors would be compromised. It is important to practice riding outdoors where possible, as you can lose a LOT of time on course if you can’t get around corners effectively or sit on the brakes during the downhills. 

Should I use ERG mode on my trainer?

This is a common question we have answered in depth here: https://phazontriathlon.com/2020/05/21/should-you-use-erg-mode/

I have a turbo trainer which measures power, but can’t record it outside, what can I use instead?

In this situation it’s best to swap power zones for heart rate zones. If you have a three hour ride in power zone 2, ride for three hours in heart rate zone 2 instead. It’s not as accurate, but it shouldn’t make a world of difference.

I don’t have any hills around me, what can I do instead of hill reps?

If you have access to a treadmill or turbo trainer these can be used to replicate hills effectively. If you don’t have access to either of these, you can simply do a series of efforts at or above threshold, using a larger gear if cycling. 

The longest ride/run on the plan is shorter than I expect my event to take me, what do I do?

Total weekly volume is more important than the length of your longest workout, however I understand how important it can be for some people to get a race distance ride/run in.

If you feel you’ll need every minute of the bike cutoff, I recommend you extend your longest rides by a slightly larger margin each week. In most plans this increases by a fairly conservative 10 minutes each week, so you could try increasing it by 20, see how you get on.

Running is quite different. Very few training plans will include runs which are over 2.5 hours, even for ultramarathons. The reason is that these take a huge toll on the body and recovery takes several days, during which the rest of your training is affected. You can already sustain several hours of aerobic activity thanks to your cycling, and the gains to be had from extending your run beyond this are pretty marginal relative to the fatigue and injury risk it carries. 

My running pace keeps jumping around, how do I fix this?

In the vast majority of cases this is simply a case of the GPS signal being poor. Unless you are running in a straight line away from any trees or buildings, there will always be variations in the numbers you receive. It is for this reason you should always trust the course markers over your watch.

The best thing you can do it try to maintain the same kind of speed when the signal starts to drop out. When running up or down hills pace also becomes somewhat unpredictable, so in these cases it can be useful to use your heart rate instead of pace. I generally prefer to use pace over heart rate for running, however there is definitely a time and place for it.

I’m in pace/power zone 2, but my heart rate is in zone 3, what does this mean?

This is an indication that your aerobic fitness could do with a bit of work, which is normally improved over time with more easy training. It’s not the end of the world by any means. Some people simply have a high heart rate, so don’t read too much into it.

I’m in pace/power zone 2, but my heart rate is in zone 1, what does this mean?

This is generally good news, as it means your body has adapted very well to your training, and your thresholds are a bit low. If this is a common occurrence, you may want to look at re-testing or increasing your pace/power zone. Some people simply struggle to get their heart rate up during certain activities, so don’t read too much into it.

How can I make the plan more specific to my race?

If you are racing a flat course with a lake swim, it would make sense for you to swim in freshwater and avoid hills as you get closer to your event. If you are racing an event with a sea swim and lot of hills, then you need some of your open water swims to be in the sea, and to aim for the hills in your workouts to help you get ready for race day.