Friday, October 2, 2009

Question: How Should a Novice Train?

I just received the following question from Sean Lemecha which was posted in reference to my piece on Seasonal Summary. It’s a good question so rather than answer it where you might miss it I thought I’d bring it up front.

Q: Joe, those are some great questions to ask yourself. I just completed my first triathlon last month (Nation's Tri) and really look forward to jumping more into the fold next season with many more races. As a newbie/novice/beginner to the sport, what are some of the most important things I can be doing this winter to prepare for next season (after I have the answers to your questions above, of course)?

A: Sean, as mentioned in my Training Bible books, the most important abilities to work on in the Base period are also the ones that novices should also concentrate on for most of the first couple of years in the sport. They are…

Aerobic Endurance. This is the ability to maintain a low to moderate intensity for a long time. Once this is fully developed the more advanced abilities (Muscular Endurance and Anaerobic Endurance) may be built on its foundation. To improve this ability do long, steady workouts in the heart rate, power or pace 2 zone. For triathletes aerobic endurance must be separately developed in each discipline. (To find a wealth of information on this topic do a Google search on “aerobic decoupling.”)

Speed Skills. This is sometimes also called “economy.” It’s the ability to make the movements of the sport in way that doesn’t waste energy. Some of the components of this ability are posture, technique, flexibility, core stability, joint stability, and muscle recruitment. To improve this ability do frequent, short workouts in a particular sport with an emphasis on drills and skill development. Speed skill is a foundational ability for the advanced abilities of Anaerobic Endurance and Power.

Force. This is the ability to overcome resistance. Having this ability well-developed means you can easily cope with hills, wind and strong water currents. To develop this ability lift weights or do other strength-building exercises, run and/or ride on hills, and swim with paddles or drag devices. Work bouts should be very short, as in a few seconds, and done at a very high effort to challenge the muscles. Force is a foundational ability for the advanced abilities of Muscular Endurance and Power.

Muscular Endurance. ME is the combination of the Aerobic Endurance and Force abilities. After a few weeks of AE and F training you are ready to introduce a type of training in which you do long, steady intervals at a slightly higher effort, heart rate, power or pace (as a percentage of threshold being sure to stay below the threshold) than you did in AE training. These should be done with somewhat less force than in F training, which may mean using a bigger gear than usual on the bike, or by running or riding up low-gradient hills, or by swimming long sets with small paddles or minimal drag devices. The intervals are typically 6 minutes or longer with short recoveries (about one-fourth of the interval duration). ME training intensity will continue to increase into the Build period.

Once into the Build period (meaning you have about 12 weeks until your first A-priority race) training should increasingly take on the characteristics of the goal race. That means being certain to make both the durations and intensities of your workouts similar to those of the race. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.


At October 3, 2009 2:22 PM , Blogger junatik said...

hey joe - thanks for the post. i am in my second year of training and in addition to the above you recommend in your book that novices not do active recovery rides. i've always wondered why that is ? thanks for the great blog.

At October 3, 2009 3:39 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

junatik--Most novices (not all) will recover faster with a day off rather than a day of light training.

At October 3, 2009 7:00 PM , Blogger Nate Dunn said...

Hey Joe--Thank you for your posts. As a novice competitive cyclist and an aspiring coach your knowledge and insight is a huge asset! Perhaps this question is better suited for another post...But having recently polished up my annual training plan for next season I was wondering if you advise doing multiple "types" of workouts on high intensity, 2-a-day's. In other words, lets say i'm in my Build 2 phase and I've got 3 hours scheduled for the day. Am I better off choosing an Anaerobic workout in the morning, followed up by a power workout in the evening, or simply splitting up one "type" of workout for the day. Thanks!

At October 3, 2009 7:21 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Nate D--Please see if this answers your questions - If not try me again. Good luck!

At October 4, 2009 4:57 AM , Blogger Daph said...


As I just completed my second year of doing triathlons and I really enjoyed this post. I have a question reference improving cycling skills. When I started doing triathlons last year I went from a hybrid to a tri bike and am trying to determine if getting a road bike or a power meter but do not know which would benefit me in terms of the development of cycling skills.


At October 4, 2009 5:33 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Daph--Typically, triathletes get a road bike in addition to their tri bike for 2 main reasons - 1) to use for recovery rides and 2) for use on very hilly tri courses. I don't think it will improve your skills. A power meter will also do very little for your skills. But it will help you to train better once you learn how to use it. If you simply want to improve as a triathlete, given these 2 options I would definitely recommend the power meter for your tri bike. But be sure to read Allen's and Coggan's book, How to Train and Race With a Power Meter.

At October 5, 2009 5:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Would the correct power range for these ME workouts be the TEMPO power range as specified by Allen and Coggan?



At October 5, 2009 6:45 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Guy--Lots of Z3 with some z4 in the late base period.

At October 5, 2009 12:12 PM , Blogger D. Isaiah said...

Hi Joe,

I read pretty much everything you write, so it's natural that an apparent discrepancy in your advice would occur to me. The issue is as follows. You often make this point about it being very important for novices to focus mostly on aerobic intensity endurance workouts ("long, steady") while they are still developing as athletes.

On the other hand, you often mention Ryan Bolton's progression as an athlete as seeming to be ideal to you. But this was a guy who started out doing 1-milers, then moved up to 5ks and 10ks, only moving to distance running somewhat later in his career. Presumably, he was not doing a lot of 10-mile Zone 1 running to train for his mile races!

I wonder if the long, steady stuff is good for folks with naturally good technique or in sports where technique doesn't play as big a role, such as cycling; but perhaps in sports where economy of movement plays a much larger role for novices -- such as swimming and running -- perhaps even relatively long, slow efforts can turn counterproductive by training muscle firing in less efficient patterns. My own experience has been that my running form gets extremely poor as I slow down, and even at very slow percentage increases in volume, I tend to get overuse injuries with alarming frequency. This doesn't happen as obviously if I train shorter bouts at a higher pace (which tends to be better form). Any thoughts?

At October 5, 2009 12:43 PM , Anonymous Jared Detroit said...

Joe, Again you give us an amazingly concise post with great information.

I'm pointing all new triathletes and experienced ones to this post. Most people have a very simple training plan that doesn't address any of this.

This information is a great starting point on where to go from a beginner triathlete. Thanks!

At October 5, 2009 1:00 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

D Isaiah--You bring up a lot of points here. Something athletes need to be working on in the early stages of their development in a given sport is what I call speed skills. This is the ability to make the movements of the sport in an efficient manner at the cadence at which it must be done when racing. The best way to learn to do this is by running/cycling/swimming/etc for short durations at high speed. Ryan started out running 200s and 400s as a little kid. And there shouldn't be a lot of volume. The emphasis must be on frequency, not duration. Not sure this answers your question, though.

At October 7, 2009 5:34 PM , Blogger Shaun said...

Joe, as always thanks for the info. As a novice triathlete its extremely useful.

What I'm wondering is how many annual training hours you would suggest for someone like myself --a young adult with limited exp. in all of the 3 disciplines--looking to finish a 70.3 next summer.

I know its a bit of an over-reach but I believe I can do it, would just like to avoid injury or overtraining in the process. Thanks!

At October 8, 2009 11:53 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Shaun--It is really hard to tell someone who I know nothing about how to train. Let me just say that it is probably between 9 and 15 hours per week depending on how well you handle training loads. 15 hpw is a lot for a novice but I coach one now who finished his first season at that level having started at about 8 hpw. He did a 5:11 in his first HIM holding back. Quite good. So he has a lot of potential yet. Good luck!

At October 13, 2009 11:48 AM , Anonymous MikeW said...

Hi Joe - great blog and books (still digging into the books). I am having some trouble identifying if I am a 'novice' or not. I wish there were a rating system or something to guide me here. I grew up a swimmer (16 yrs competitive) and did lots of sports as a kid (soccer was #2 to swimming). I quit swimming half way through college and put a few party years under my belt. I then moved to Colorado averaged ~20 to 30 MTB rides/summer, did some MTB racing, a few tris, and a fair bit of alpine skiing. After sitting on the couch for a few years I'm back and have been training for a few months now. MTB, running, swimming, hiking, etc...the typical Colorado active life style so to speak. To get to the point - as of now I can put 150 mpw on the bike (half mtb, half road) and feel really good on each ride. I've been up and down with my running but can put down 30 mpw in the kicks and again, I feel good. Swimming has always been a piece of cake. When I'm reading your books and posts like this one, should I be considering myself a novice since I'm essentially new to tris or does having my history count for anything? Thanks!

At October 13, 2009 5:29 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi MikeW--That's a good question and difficult to answer, as you suggest. Let's say you move beyond being a 'novice' when you are training consistently and starting to think about how you can do the same race faster. I'm sure there's a better definition and perhaps someone can suggest one.

At October 27, 2009 8:12 PM , Blogger Brown said...

Joe, I have just come from the pool and after trying to do a mainset of 5 x 400 LC metres and blowing up after only 200m I thought to myself what should I be focussing on as a young (3 years in Tri) athlete...and I should have known having read Going Long twice last month. Endurance, Force, Skill are the "new" things I will focus on in the pool. Speed can wait for now ;-)

Sam, Australia

At October 27, 2009 8:39 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Right on, Sam!

At October 29, 2009 2:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an experienced recreational cyclist (7 years, abt 2500 miles/year) and a capable swimmer who has NEVER run. I am planning a sprint-distance triathlon in 6 months. I have ordered your book, but have to ask about this very BASIC issue:

When I even VERY slowly jog I am completely winded in just 20 seconds -- literally panting for air! Actually, that was last week, in six 30-40 minute sessions, I have worked up to 50 seconds now!

It seems just ridiculous to me that I can get on my bike any day and ride 50-70 miles with 3000-5000 feet of climbing and not be winded, yet I can't run 20 seconds -- let alone 20 minutes (the minimum for most training programs).

I am doing these intervals of 20 seconds jog/20 seconds walk, then 30sec/30sec then 40/25, then 50/30, then walk for 50-70 secs, repeat. Is this a good idea, or do you have a better suggestion?


At October 29, 2009 7:00 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Sandy--That says a lot about specificity which I harp on all the time it seems. I think your workout is fine. But I'd suggest only running 3-4 times a week with days off between these run sessions. You'll adapt faster that way while (hopefully) avoiding injuries--the bane of novice runners.

At October 31, 2009 12:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for responding and I will do every OTHER day! Looking forward to learning more when the book arrives.


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