About the Coach
Dan Plews is a world-class coach and researcher. He has a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology. More than 30 peer-reviewed publications have published his work on topics like training in the heat, training intensity distribution, and training monitoring. As a coach, Dan has guided three athletes to finishes under the 8-hour barrier in Ironman-distance triathlons. As an athlete, Dan applies all he knows with impressive results. He is the current age-group course record holder at the Ironman World Championship in Kona with a time of 8 hours 24 minutes.
We caught up with coach Dan Plews for some training insights for the Zwift Academy Tri 2020 program, along with a deep dive into each of the 6 cycling workouts and 4 running workouts
Why should I complete the workouts in order?
Coach Dan: We recommended you complete the workouts in the suggested order because the difficulty and physiological strain increases for each workout. As you proceed through the Academy and complete the workouts, you will gain fitness. This gain in fitness means you’re most likely to take on the most challenging workouts when you’re at the top of your game!
How much time should I take between workouts?
Coach Dan: Good question. Suggested recovery depends on the workout. For high-intensity workouts, where you’re at FTP or above for sustained intervals like races, 4 min power development, FTP/threshold development and VO2max, we recommend abstaining from other critical workouts for 48 hours. Workouts that target work below your FTP require less time to recover (24-48 hours).These workouts workouts include 70.3 Power Development, Endurance Development, Strength Endurance, and Tempo Running. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t train between key workouts. It is an excellent idea to complete easier endurance-based workouts (e.g. group rides) between key workouts as part of your training routine.
Should I complete a bike and run workout on the same day?
Coach Dan: It is excellent training to complete some of the bike and run workouts on the same day, or even as a specific “run off the bike” or brick workout. Our recommendation? Restrict these sessions to tempo-based workouts instead of high intensity VO2 max/threshold workouts. These workouts require fresh legs! And, if you’re trying to make the team, it is a good idea to complete the workouts to the best of your ability. Every second counts! 🙂
Why is it important to have my bike FTP and 5K run pace set?
Coach Dan: It is essential to have both your FTP and 5 km run pace set correctly. All the sessions are prescribed at an individualised intensity, and this is based on your FTP and 5km run speed. For example, in cycling, if you set your FTP too low, the workout will be too easy, and if you set it too high, the workout will be too hard. The intensities are set to target specific areas of your physiology that are important for performance in long-distance triathlon. The wrong FTP or incorrect 5 km run pace will mean the desired training effect of each workout will not be achieved.
Workout 1: Strength Development: Sport specific strength is a critical component of long-distance triathlon. This session aims to produce large amounts of muscular force with limited disturbance to the cardiovascular systems.
Many professional long-distance triathletes include regular strength endurance work as part of their micro-cycle routines. And for good reason. Research has shown that training at a lower cadence produced more significant power benefits at threshold than training at a higher cadence.
These types of sessions are great if you’ve got tired legs but still want some quality. This session in particular is made up of 5 x 8 minute reps where the cadence is kept low (60-75 rpm), with moderate intensity
Workout 2: 70.3 Power Development: This session is designed to develop your 70.3 triathlon power. For most people 70.3 triathlon power is at around 83% of FTP, and we will aim to improve this power by working slightly above and slightly below this power target for extended periods.
This is a pyramid set, 1 x 8 mins, 1 x 6 mins, 2 x 4 mins, 1 x 6 mins and 1 x 8 mins, with 36 minutes of total work.
Workout 3: FTP Development: We know how critical it is to have a high FTP power for cycling performance. This is a session I like to call “FTP+”, because the intensity of the intervals sits somewhere between FTP power and VO2max power. Yes, this is a challenging session! 🙂
The intervals in this session are all classified as “long intervals” ranging from 3 to 5 minutes, but as the duration comes down, the intensity goes up! By hanging out for prolonged periods at just above your FTP, you will increase your FTP value, and have a great workout.
Workout 4: Endurance Stimulation: This session is designed to get you accustomed to holding your Ironman power under fatigue and to build basic endurance. The last quarter of the bike section in an Ironman is critical to overall success. That means holding good form, staying efficient, and maintaining power. Easier said than done, right? Since we only have 75 minutes to play with, the aim of this session is to quickly build up fatigue in the legs before settling back down to Ironman power.
Workout 5: VO2max Development: Studies have shown that two of the major contributors to successful performance in Ironman distance triathlon a good ability to use fat as a fuel source and a high VO2max. This session aims to take care of the latter, we’re going to be developing VO2max.
Sessions specifically designed to enhance VO2max are of high intensity (above FTP) and made up of shorter intervals (typically less than 5 minutes). Generally, if you improve your VO2max, other aspects of Ironman triathlon performance (e.g. FTP) will also improve. It’s an excellent routine to keep a VO2max development session in your program all the way through the season.
Workout 6: Four Minute Power: Although the intensity of a maximal 4-minute effort is far higher than Ironman power, it still has a direct relationship with performance. This is because the maximal power attained over 4 minutes is an excellent indicator of your maximal aerobic engine.
This session comes with a twist! We’re also interested in your best 4-minute power under fatigue. This gives us an idea of both aerobic capacity and your overall endurance. Both critical for Ironman distance triathlon of course!
Workout 1: Threshold Waves: Just like we train our FTP in cycling, we also have to train the same equivalent threshold intensity whilst running. Having a high threshold running speed has great transfer to the slower race paces of Ironman and 70.3 triathlon. The aim of this session is to develop threshold running, over 4 x 1 mile repetitions. However, we change the pace every 400m to slightly above and slightly below your threshold pace, further stressing your physiology and pushing up your threshold speed. This is also a great session to do after the bike.
Workout 2: 6 x 800 meter Repetitions: This session develops and challenges your Ironman race pace. The body of this training session includes 6 x 800 meters. However, the challenge is in the recovery. After running the 800m rep just above threshold pace, you will complete the rep with a 300m recovery at Ironman pace. Similar to other sessions in the Zwift Academy Tri program; working above and below target paces is a really effective way to improve them.
Workout 3: Endurance Stim: The latter part of the run during Ironman or 70.3 events can be very challenging. Indeed, the ability to run well under fatigue is a key performance determinant of long-distance triathlon. The aim of this session is to practice just that. This is a descending pace tempo session, aiming to fatigue the legs with some fast running at the start before settling into your 70.3 and Ironman distance run pace. Efficient and fluid running is key during this session as you descend the pace for 1km, 2km and 3km with no rest in between. Another great session to do off the bike!
Workout 4: VO2max Development: VO2max is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period of intense exercise, usually 30 seconds to 1 minute. It is said to be the gold standard of cardiorespiratory fitness, and therefore unsurprisingly, having high value as a strong correlation with long-distance triathlon performance. Think of it like the size of your car engine; of course, we want a big one!
The aim of this session is to develop VO2max, this means the intensity is high! The session consists of 4 x 1km reps, all above threshold running speed. We descend the reps, with each one getting progressively faster.