The Purpose of Training

Confused by the training process? Wondering why you are doing one type of session one day and then a different type of session on another? Been out on a training ride and wondered what if I tried more of “this” type of training and less of “that”?

Welcome to the world of training for endurance sport.

What I have done below is explain a little bit about each of the ingredients of what we do. Then when you do that session you can understand a little more about the outcomes we are trying to achieve.

Importantly, what I am looking for is how we can link both training to racing, and then racing back to training.

That’s our loop. Train, race, reflect, adjust …. repeat.

What follows is a brief explanation. (I’m trying to be brief for a reason) So it’s not an exhaustive sports science “paper”. It’s a brief view into what you do and why you do it. Which is then followed by an explanation of how I prescribe sessions based on the athlete’s goals.


Well it’s an endurance sport so we better do some nice long endurance sessions. You know…..The type where the body starts to give away on you and you have to grit the teeth to hold your form together. Yeah that.

These sessions develop that muscular endurance needed to hold your form together for the length of time needed. But ! These sessions also contribute nicely to much needed aerobic system development and the strengthening of oxygen transfer via the cardiovascular system.


At the end of a triathlon, any triathlon, your body gets muscularly tired so you’ll need to do some strength work. Sure get in the gym, but do hills too. Hills are like eating broccoli. You can take them or leave them but they really do you a lot of good in terms of being strong enough to hold yourself in a strong posture so as to use good technique.

Aerobic (bread and butter)

These sessions are designed to develop the aerobic / cardiovascular system which is the largest energy system used in triathlon. You don’t want to come out the end of one of these sessions totally screwed. If you hold it in T2 correctly there will be no lactate response, allowing you to carry forward into your race pace work fresh and ready to execute. Aerobic training is usually used as continuous effort.


These sessions and intervals are still predominantly aerobic. Scientifically speaking, the T3 zone starts at the first point where lactate starts to take an upslope on the lactate response curve. The nerds call that VT1 or the first ventilatory threshold. These sessions give good bang for the aerobic buck but come at a recovery cost. I believe the rest of the world calls it “grey zone” training which is correct if you do too much of it.

This zone correlates well with 70.3 racing also so if that’s your type of racing it’s ideal to do some work in this zone. T3 is usually delivered in intervals so you can recover and get more work done or sometimes in a tempo run where you do a large chunk of the distance at T3. Work rest ratio varies but as a guide it goes anywhere from 4:1 to 6:1.

Anaerobic Threshold

T4 work is definitely very race specific for short course athletes so very much about meeting or exceeding the demands of competition. For long course athletes, this zone does have benefits also. It improves your fatigue resistance as well as helping you develop your efficiency.

Time spent working in this zone varies of course depending on your build and goal races but as a general rule you could say that anywhere between 10% of volume (time) is a good guide. A 10 hour a week athlete can expect around 60minutes of “quality” work. Interval work is done usually as around anywhere between 2:1 to 4:1 work:rest ratios.


T5 is sparingly used but any training program of worth is not completely without it. Personally as a coach I prefer to use that intensity / speed to develop the athletes ability to move quicker and more efficiently at higher speeds. BUT! As the name suggests it also contributes to the overall aerobic capacity of the athlete. Work : rest ratio for these intervals are mostly 1:1.

The Mix

Well that’s what it’s all about isn’t it. Not the ingredients but the blending of ingredients. Ask any chef.

Short course athletes are definitely more about speed so they are looking to develop that in training. The major outcome for them is to get quick so when they are pushing intervals they will have speed as an outcome. Endurance sessions will be shorter. Recovery is paramount.

Long course athletes are about a lesser speed but being able to hold it longer. Training looks less “top end” from an outcome perspective and more about holding a speed for longer (not slowing down).

Generally speaking I like Monday’s and Friday’s to be easier. Tuesday’s to Thursday’s to be “quality” focussed. Weekends to be endurance focussed.

What I’m looking for is overload and adaptation to be taking place.

Measuring improvement

In our sport measuring performance is usually quite difficult due to varying courses and weather conditions.

In training we can definitely measure improvement much easier as we train usually over the same course week to week. The only variable being the status of your fatigue due to training load. You’ll definitely be quicker for instance at the start of a block than the end of one.

When measuring yourself try to measure like for like. Similar to weighing in where you jump on the scales at the same time of the day and same time of the week.


Endurance sport is very demanding. It’s physically tough and mentally it’s difficult to meet the demands required, not only from a performance perspective, but also the pre-race anxiety that takes place inside our heads.

Training is basically designed so that you can meet or exceed not only the demands of competition, but also the training demands that our competitors are putting together. What we want is the best bang for buck. We want to be efficient with our time.

You must learn to fall in love with the process. It’s what we have control over. If you can control that then your outcomes can only be favourable.

Finally, I want to leave you by reinforcing my most important point. We know the physical training has the benefit of improving the body’s ability to go faster / longer. But the much missed point in my view is one of “experiencing” things mentally on the training field so you are prepared for the sensations come race day. You absolutely MUST feel tired in a training block and have to manage that fatigue whilst trying to go quick. You must experience experience everything in training that you really don’t want to do or go through so that on race day you can perform under pressure and fatigue to the best of your ability.

As they say, train hard – race easy.