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So you've landed here on my iWillNotBonk.com Triathlon Training Blog and you're probably wondering who the hell this Tavis guy is and what iWillNotBonk is all about.

I'm just an average age-grouper / weekend warrior blogging about Ironman Triathlon Training and this complex puzzle of juggling life, having fun and reporting on my various feats of strength and endurance adventures!

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Endurance Nation Training PLans

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This is Part Two of a five-part series on total load, the cumulative training and life stress an athlete experiences while training.

It might seem odd to think about training (which most of us love) as “physical stress,” but, as we talked about in the first part of the series, it’s the body’s reaction to stress which determines the all-important adaptation during recovery.

It’s only by balancing the amount of physical stress (training) with our ability to recover that athletes can reach optimal adaptation. Too little stress means we adapt slowly (or not at all), and too much will result in getting sick or injured sometimes for an extended period.

On the other hand, planned periods of overload followed by planned periods of recovery is termed overreaching. Functional overreaching (FOR) occurs when we get the balance right, and performance increases following a period of recovery:

unctional overreaching

Non-Functional overreaching (NFOR) occurs when the training is either too intense, too extended, or both. Not only does recovery take much longer, but no performance gains result meaning the whole experience was a (painful) waste of time:

on functional overreaching

External vs. Internal Load

When it comes to the physical component of total load, we need to measure both external and internal loads.

External load measures training objectively (i.e. how much, how long, how often):

PowerSpeed or paceDistanceTime or durationFrequency

Internal Load measures the resulting stress response to that external load:

Perceived effort or exertion (RPE)Fatigue, soreness, mood changesCortisol and CRP productionResting heart rate and and heart rate variability (HRV)

Training Stress Score (TSS) is sometimes considered an external measure, but it is really an internal measure because it is calibrated relative to the capability of your body to manage stress at a particular point in time. Training Stress Balance (TSB) and the related Acute:Chronic load ratio metric are also internal load measures.

A key point to remember is that our reaction to a given amount of physical stress does not remain constant; it varies with life experiences, bio-rhythms and many other factors.

The body’s reaction to different types of training

In a comprehensive review paper in Sports Medicine, Jamie Stanley et al. showed how heart rate variability (HRV) can provide excellent insight into how an athlete’s body reacts to both individual and accumulated training loads. They concluded that it is intensity that has the largest effect on how the body perceives training stress, finding an almost perfect relationship between blood lactate and post-exercise reduction in HRV:

Courtesy of Cardiac Parasympathetic Reactivation Following Exercise: Implications for Training Prescription,Sports Medicine.

After analyzing the results of eight separate studies on endurance athletes, Stanley et al. concluded that parasympathetic markers (HRV) of recovery required:

< 24 hrs for low intensity exercise (zones 1-2)24 – 48 hrs for threshold level exercise (zones 3-4)> 48 hrs for high-intensity exercise (HIIT, zones 5-6)

Training and resilience

As mentioned earlier, the response of the body does not remain constant, and one interesting aspect of this is how resilience is built by regular training. Professor Tim Gabbett is an expert at the forefront of understanding how changes in training loads make athletes more or less susceptible to injury and illness.

Courtesy of How much is too much? (Part 2) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of illness, British Journal of Sports Medicine.

No one will be surprised to hear that rapid increases in physical stress or training load also increase the risk of illness and injury. What is more interesting is how resilience, the relationship between external applied load and the athlete’s response, can be developed.

On the negative side, rapid declines in training load over a period of four to six weeks reduce resilience. These reductions can significantly increase the risk of injury when loads to which the athlete was previously accustomed are restored. Conversely, though, a steady increase in chronic training loads (CTL) actually builds resilience and reduces the risk of illness and injury. The figure above shows how elite athletes, who are accustomed to very high chronic loads, might respond to higher absolute load.

Alternatively, the moving average of daily HRV measures (baseline) can also be used as an indicator of resilience. In the example below notice that, following a series of six consecutive training days in a recreational athlete, the HRV baseline moves up indicating higher aerobic fitness. It also indicates an increased ability to tolerate high absolute loads and an increase in resilience.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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To summarize, external load (i.e. “what did the athlete do?”) produces a response (internal load) that is not fixed but instead depends on the condition of the athlete at that particular point in time. It is important to measure both external and internal loads, acutely and chronically, to understand when to increase loads safely as well as when to back off.

Internal load measures need to include a combination of subjective measures such as fatigue, soreness, mood, rate of perceived exertion, and objective metrics like heart rate or hormone measures. High chronic loads confer increased resilience and fitness provided the buildup has occurred at a rate that the athlete can can safely tolerate. Training stress balance and the Acute:Chronic training load metrics are good choices to monitor a safe rate for this.

In all but the most elite athletes, physical stress from training is not the number one contributor to total load, and in the next part of this series we will be looking at the important contributions that mental and emotional stress add to the whole picture.


Stanley, J., Peake, J.M. & Buchheit, M. Sports Med (2013) 43: 1259. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0083-4

Br J Sports Med. 2017 Oct;51(20):1451-1452. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097298. Epub 2017 Jun 23.

Schwellnus M, et al. Br J Sports Med 2016;50:1043–1052. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096572

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Identifying Expressed Vs. Engaged Values

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More and more athletes are recognizing the importance of integrating sport psychology skills into their training. Sport psychology skills include thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors related to how to approach all aspects of athletic life. Skills can be broken down further into understanding the general foundational beliefs athletes hold both in and out of sport, how athletes mentally and emotionally manage the nuances of sport (for endurance athletes the critical variables here include managing discomfort and shifting perception of effort), how athletes engage in competitive environments, and how athletes approach recovery.

Many believe the only psychological skills that matter in endurance performance are mental toughness and grit, and subsequently ignore many of the underlying foundational skills. This is a disservice to athletes in the long run as these psychological variables interact with and influence outcomes. Therefore, they need to be understood and improved on a daily basis.

Each day’s training offers an opportunity to increase awareness and hone sports psychology skills. In order to help build a solid set of psychological skills that will guide athletes to their peak performance, you have to start by establishing foundational principles and work towards the top. As with all training, the best place to start is with goals and values.

Setting value-inspired goals

The start of any season should begin by breaking down the calendar and determining a set of goals for the year. Many coaches and athletes begin the year with this conversation. From determining mileage and training hours to planning consistent long runs and recovery days to plotting focused PR attempts and finding opportunities to break through perceived limits, the tone for the year is established in these early conversations.

Goals and goal setting have been discussed ad nauseum in countless books and hundreds of posts, articles, and podcasts available. Those ideas, although important, bear not repeating here. Rather, I’d like to offer a new take on an old framework by focusing on expressed and engaged values.

Values, in essence, are your standards for behavior. Expressed values are what we say we value; they are the statements and outward expressions of the behaviors we say matter, or the engagement style we claim to employ in certain aspects of our lives. Athletes are great at expressing all kinds of values as it relates to how they approach training. Examples may include:

“I work hard.” “I always complete my training in full.” “I never leave my training logs with yellow or red boxes.” “I am mentally tough.”

Engaged values, on the other hand, are the behaviors we actually demonstrate through the course of training. You can look back through an athlete’s training log and deduce engaged values based on how they showed up and completed assigned workouts. There can be contradictions between what we say we value and what we actually do in training.

For example, athletes may say they value working hard and completing training in full, but in reality, they often cut training and regularly don’t finish workouts (a 20-mile planned long run is stopped at 18 miles because they “just didn’t have it today”). Athletes may say they value mental toughness, but when workout paces need to be pushed into the red zone they give themselves permission to back down. Cutting workouts short or slowing an assigned pace might indicate that an athlete has a strong engaged value of comfort, and signal a discrepancy between their engaged values and their expressed values (in this case, mental toughness).

How do you reconcile expressed and engaged values?

Identifying this potential dissonance is a key conversation in the coach-athlete relationship. This all begins by making sure you are on the same page at the beginning of a training cycle. Be sure the athlete takes time to reflect on their expressed values for the upcoming season while considering tangible goals, targets, metrics, and races while establishing their training plan.

Don’t get me wrong. Goal setting is also an important conversation while getting started, but it is equally important to take a moment to consider how athletes plan to approach the work it will take to reach those goals. Ensuring athletes are engaging with their plan as effectively as possible on a daily basis puts them in the best possible position to improve as the season unfolds.

Here’s an easy process to get started. Challenge your athletes to list expressed values by writing each value down in a clear, concise statement, such as:

“I value working hard.” “I value finishing workouts in full.” “I value engaging in mental toughness when it’s needed.” “I value finishing threshold workouts.” “I value doing the little things that make me better like foam rolling, strength training, managing stress, getting proper sleep.”

Keep this list readily available for the duration of training. This initial list can then become a blueprint for monitoring values through the course of training.

When training begins, both athlete and coach have a template to compare the expressed and the engaged values. Within a relatively short amount of time, workouts will begin to indicate if there is alignment between the expressed and the engaged or if there is lack of harmony.

If you, as the coach, or the athlete are noticing that workouts are not being finished, excuses are being made, or the athlete is not pushing into areas of discomfort when needed, this discrepancy between the engaged and expressed should become a critical discussion point. After a few weeks of training it is important to look back at the training log and state what their engaged values have been. This cycle can then repeat itself as often as needed throughout the training plan, either to make tweaks to the training plan itself or to reconcile differences in the values themselves.

Getting the most out of your athletes requires a tremendous amount of consistency and discipline. Ensuring the training is aligned with expressed values is a key way to monitor progress to ensure you are maximizing their training, and getting the most out of training is critical if you’re looking to get the most out of your athletes in competitive situations.

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CoachCast: Efficient Coaching with Tim Ballintine

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It takes more than athletic experience and luck to build a full-time coaching business. Advancing your business to the next level requires dedication to your athletes, organization, developing a niche, and effective sales techniques. Have you spent enough time working on the tools that will help you build your business?

Dave sat down with Coach Tim Ballintine to discuss how he organizes his business, personal life, and training to maximize his effectiveness. Learn about some of the mistakes to avoid as you start your business and how Tim makes every athlete a priority.



Koa SportsTim Ballintine InstagramKoa Sports Podcast

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CoachCast: The Science of Recovery with Christie Aschwanden

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Without proper recovery, training alone might not get your athletes to their goals. At the same time, how much of what we know about recovery is actually based on unscientific assumptions? You might be surprised at how much we don’t know about recovery.

Dave Schell sat down Christie Aschwanden, author and lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight, to discuss her new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery. They discussed topics like inflammation, sleep, and even New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to get to the bottom of our sometimes unscientific approach to recovery.



Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie AschwandenChristie Aschwanden TwitterFiveThirtyEight articlesEndure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

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Off-Season Training: When It’s Time to Ditch the Trainer

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The trainer is an incredibly valuable tool for winter and year-round training. This is especially true for cyclists and triathletes in colder, snowy climates or those who need structured workouts to reach specific fitness goals. While this can be necessary in the big scheme of things, there are times when you should get off the trainer to boost your fitness and abilities.

But, when and how should an athlete leave the trainer behind to get a mental break from the monotony?

Let’s take a look at three most impactful ways to get off the trainer, and how to do them right.

1. Ride outside on sunny, warmer days

I’ve promoted a simple rule since 2008 with all of my athletes: if you have a sunny, warm day in winter, you can and should get outside for a longer ride.

The winter is the one time during the year I recommend that, when the weather allows, an athlete break from their structured training plan to get a mental reprieve from training. For some athletes this means taking a half day off at the office, leaving work around lunchtime, possibly bundling up, and heading out for a nice three- to four-hour endurance or tempo ride.

I sometimes find myself using the phrase: “screw your training plan ride!” This allows your athletes a chance to restore their mental energy, something that can be lost in today’s world of structured training.

Be careful not to take this to the extreme though. Up to three days of riding like this within a seven-day period of good weather is the max I recommend. All other workouts should follow their structured training program.

Also, on a warm winter day, it might be tempting to ride harder than you should. Make sure you don’t push it so hard outside that you have to take a recovery week afterward. Most rides should end with an Intensity Factor (IF) of roughly 0.60-0.75, depending on your level of fitness. TSS will be dependent upon your fitness level, but for the average IRONMAN 70.3 triathlete or “Cat 3” road racer in the U.S., aim for TSS between 150-225 for each ride.

2. Add strength training

Of course, strength training must be added in the winter, and as discussed in my last article about using the trainer, cutting your total ride time in favor of focused rides is one of the top things athletes should be doing. This allows plenty of time to get in the necessary strength work to help athletes get stronger and move better.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a gym! A single kettlebell (8kg for beginners, 12kg for intermediates) and a yoga mat is more than enough to start a solid strength training program.

Share this video playlist with your athletes to add a 30-minute strength routine to their workout after using the trainer. Emphasize moving swiftly from each exercise to the next, and follow the order given below. The order of these movements is incredibly important as this workout is designed to help move better and open up tight areas right after firing important muscle groups.

Dynamic warmup

Complete 1-4 and return to 2-4 for a second round.

Foam rolling exercises: 1×30 seconds each sideLacrosse ball glute medius: 2×30 seconds each sideOne arm lat stretch with deep breathing: 2×5 deep breaths each sideSofa stretch: 2×30 seconds each side

Strength workout

Start with A1, then immediately move to A2. Take a short rest, then repeat both exercises until you complete all prescribed sets. Then, move on to B1 and B2 in the same fashion.

A1. Bird-dogs: 2×3-5 sets each side concentrating on techniqueA2. McGill Crunches: 2×5 sets holding each repetition for 5 seconds

B1. Side-lying straight leg lifts: 2×8-12 sets each side concentrating on techniqueB2. Double kettlebell hover deadlifts: 3×5-8 sets holding each for two seconds at the bottom

C1. Kettlebell eastern goblet squats: 2×8-12 setsC2. One arm kettlebell rows: 2×6-8 each arm keeping abs braced and shoulder blade held back and down

D1. Max effort front planks: 3×3 rounds bracing everything for 5 seconds, relaxing on the ground for 3 secondsD2. Foam roller with stretch: 3×30 secondsD3. Lunge reach twist: 3×30 seconds

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Interested learning about building strength training plans?

Take author Menachem Brodie’s online course Strength Training for Cycling Success or Strength Training for Triathlon Successto understand more!

3. Cross-train to build fitness and stay mentally fresh

This is a roadblock that a lot of athletes and coaches encounter, as they instead think “HTFU” or “just push through” will get them to their goals.

Yes, there are definitely days and times where we need to push through, but it should not become an every-other-workout occurrence. I heard this often from my powerlifting coaches in high school and college: “We want fives, sixes, and sevens for 90 percent of our workouts. Another nine percent will be eights and nines, with competition as a ten.”

This means that most days workouts should not leave you mentally or physically drained and should have a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) of five, six or seven. You shouldn’t be so tired from your last workout sessions that you are dreading the next day’s workout.

This is where so many endurance athletes go wrong in the winter. They keep exhausting themselves on the trainer convinced that somewhere a competitor is going harder. In fact, it’s not how hard you can go day in and day out that will get you to higher performance, it’s your ability to recover day after day while being consistent with training.

So, go on a hike, take your mountain bike for a ride in the snow, go for a swim, try rock climbing, or go climb stairs. It’s just important to do something that gets you physically moving and helps you build fitness. That is truly the key to having a stellar winter base period and being able to enter race season in a fresher mental state, a highly overlooked part to top performance.

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