Lately there has been a whole lot of debates, opinions, thoughts and press on lower volume training for Ironman or should I say ultra distance triathlon and if it has any efficacy. So I thought I’d jump in and put my two cents worth and over the coming weeks discuss TriSpecifics not so conventional way to how we train and coach athletes for better performance and long term health.

I find it quite funny the forums and comments sections on websites are littered with athletes that will fight tooth and nail to hold onto the belief that you cannot achieve fast times on less volume (see for yourself at First off the Bike after Damien Angus’s published training volume on his 35-39 AG win in Kona). Ultimately these athletes are criticizing something that is at odds with their belief systems, a belief system they may have never questioned why they actually have. They have not tried the low volume approach or are apprehensive to, even when they aren’t achieving their deeply wanted goals following the same old volume mentality.

It’s OK to be skeptical but not cynical

Unfortunately for you, if you’re cynical it means you can’t get out of your own head and will cling to your convictions no matter how they actually originated or whether they are healthy for you or not. Being skeptical however is perfectly normal, you may be just wary and critical at first but are willing to have an open mind and embrace something new and most importantly give it a real honest go. I hope you do. I personally believe you have to keep asking yourself questions, searching for better ways to do things and as Damien put at the end of his follow up piece “know thyself”. This is where true performance comes from.

Can you really say that you can’t do ‘x’ time on 14 hours per week when you have never tried to train how these athletes train and focus over the limited hours they do? As Matt Koorey pointed out “It’s not just about training TIME. It’s about extracting the most physiological benefit from the time you have. In that regard, many triathletes are totally clueless”.

A Better Return on Investment

I have been fortunate enough to work with and discuss training principles with a variety of athletes and coaches over the years and have been on both sides of the volume equation. Results can and do come from volume, however there is usually a high cost associated with it and I believe the majority of the athletes that train in the 20-30hr + bracket get a pretty crappy return on investment (ROI). Yes, even those going in the low to mid 9’s at Ironman! But athletes are doing those times or even much faster (from a few guys I know) with their much lower average weekly volume and that’s getting a fantastic ROI.

I know from my own experiential learning that one can go from a middle of pack (MOP) athlete to going what is considered in the AG field as fast (8:57). The first time I achieved this was from excessive volume and intensity. Now I won’t lie, this got the intended result but at the expense of a few things, namely health and the development of business. Is it worth getting sick for nearly 4 months on top of being mentally drained? I don’t think so, especially when the performance was repeated on much less volume the following year.

An argument that commonly comes up with the ‘low volume’ discussions is that this athlete must have an enormous base, years of doing long stuff and they can now afford to go a lot shorter. The fact is that every single time you train your adding to this mythical base. Base or aerobic endurance is not an exclusive session thing. Say your long bike or run, it’s an all inclusive thing, meaning all your sessions in the training mix add to your overall endurance. What these low volume and high quality athletes do is develop their performance capability by the simple fact of long term consistency.

Athletes that deliver 12 hours of training per week, for months or years in the case of Damien Angus, Matt Koorey among many others can ultimately do exceptional things which leave the non believers calling B.S. and that these guys must be doing secret sessions. The real secret is their dedication ,discipline, consistency and ability to stay in the moment whilst in training and in racing. These athletes while doing the sport because they love the challenge and even the social aspect of it are “training to train” and thus perform and not needing “training entertainment”. For those training low volume, every moment is a training opportunity. Each session needs to extract the greatest rate of return.

What I find interesting is what I may consider low volume 12-15hr per week and a good friend, coach and great athlete Andrew Sellars (9:35 in IM Wisconin 2010) doesn’t think that is low volume at all, when he is an 8-10hr/wk guy. Damn, who wouldn’t want to go 9:35 on that sort of work? What a fantastic ROI. Sure Andrew’s potential is more like a very low 9 or even sub 9 guy, but his reality (read life circumstance) of having a family, being a anethisistis, a coach and running BPR and FaCT Canada means these are the hours he can consistently do. “I have never had more than a 14 hour week, even on my biggest training. The only difference is that EVERY step and EVERY stroke has a purpose. Not necessarily fast, but certainly effective and efficient. Still, I believe I can get better… Andrew Sellars”

Andrew makes sure he gets everything out of each session and that means upmost quality each and every time he trains. Now quality doesn’t always mean intensity! Quality can mean enormous focus on a particular skill of the sport, or specific adaptation he is aiming to develop… as he said “The only difference is that EVERY step and EVERY stroke has a purpose.”

Do you train this way? Are you truly focusing in training or are you off with the pixies and going through the motions? Andrews comments I took on-board and the results were made glaringly obvious in a half ironman a few weeks back where I went 4:13 on circa 8 hours of training a week.

“My fellow workmates have also been asking about Hawaii and the training required. When I tell them I spend 10.5 hours training per week, they are incredulous, and ask me how it is possible that I can train so much? And, at the same time, I’ve written this article explaining how I can train so little……” Damien Angus – 35-39 Ironman World Champion