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It’s Time for Minimalism Again!
Next year I’m embracing minimalist triathlon training again and I can’t wait. I look forward to just doing my one solid fun workout in the morning (usually about 1 hour) then getting on with my life!
It’s a different mindset. I’m not training less because I don’t have time– I’m doing it because I love and embrace the minimalist triathlon lifestyle and results. The last time I had a “minimalist year” was when I won Ironman Santa Rosa on 10 hours per week of training. I’m already looking forward to less wear and tear on my body and more time and energy for family, friends, triathlon coaching, other hobbies and sports and enjoying life. Not to mention more time for sleep, recovery and my foundation for adaptation.
I know from experience that I can be ALMOST as fast on a well designed and executed minimalist plan compared to a “conventional” higher volume plan. (see the 80/50 rule below). Especially if you are a less “robust” athlete, you might actually find you improve on a more minimal plan with more recovery built in.
What is Minimalist Triathlon Training?
Minimalist triathlon training is simple– you just do your one workout per day (usually about an hour for most people) then get on with your life. It’s not a compromise, it’s a different mindset. The old game was “how fast can I be?” When you play that game there’s always something more you can or should be doing (more easy biking, more swim sessions, more run frequency…). It’s tough to find peace of mind there, especially in a busy life. The new fun game is “how fast can I be on minimal training?” It’s not “how much training can I handle?”, it’s “what is the minimum effective dose of training for me?”
Before, I might kill myself training 20 hours per week trying to PR. Now I’ll be working out 1 hour per day most days, loving life and still being pretty darn fit and strong. I might finish my 70.3 in 4:25 or 4:30 instead of 4:20. That’s not a fail, that’s a big WIN for a minimalist. And if I triple flat or get hit by a car during the race? It’s nice knowing I didn’t spend months making so many sacrifices just to end up stranded on the side of the road.
My Minimalist Plan – An Example Week
For me, a minimalist plan is 1 workout session per day of about 1 hour most days. (Maybe building to long runs of about 80 minutes or so and long rides of about 2 hours since those are the lengths I really enjoy). As I approach a longer race, I’ll add just enough to be ready. (e.g. for Ironman I might do something similar to my 10 hours per week Ironman plan).
This is just one of many ways to structure a minimal week. Another example is Coach Andrew’s “1 hour per day New Dad Training Plan” that he successfully used to train for Escape from Alcatraz. The key for all these plans is that they are carefully structured to be the correct dose of training for the particular athlete and where they are with their current fitness. The week below would be an advanced week when I am getting close to maxing out intensity. My early weeks would be quite a bit easier.
- MONDAY: BIKE (:45) : 5x(4 min vo2 max effort on a climb in a bigger gear, 3 min ez recovery) “SWIM” (:15) : then I’ll jump on my vasa ergometer and do 15 min of (30 seconds hard at max resistance, 15 seconds recovery). If you don’t have a vasa you can do swim cords work as your “3rd swim”
- TUESDAY: RUN (:50) warmup then 5*(4 min @ 5k pace, 3 min ez jog) (hold back on the first 1 or 2 if you aren’t fully warmed up)
- WEDNESDAY: SWIM: (1h) do 1 hour repeating the following 1200 set until time runs out: 400 IM effort (moderate), 2 x 200 medium (HIMish effort), 4 x 100 comfortably hard. All on 20 sec rest. (Notice that we do a sollid bike and run M/T, then we rest the legs Wed. Then solid brick thurs, rest the legs Friday.)
- THURSDAY: BRICK! (1:20) ! BIKE: nonstop build- 20 min – warm up and build to moderate (IMish) effort as legs open up + 20 min medium (HIMish) effort + 20 min comfortably hard (or some weeks HARD) + 20 min tempo transition run
- FRIDAY: SWIM: do 1 hour of 100s with 10 seconds rest. This is a favorite of Brett “the doc” Sutton.
- SATURDAY: “LONG BIKE” 1-2h. Lots of good options such as: a short warmup then rounds of 19 min IM effort, 1 min easy, 9 min HIM effort, 1 min easy, 8 min olympic distance effort, 2 min easy. I’ll pace to finish strong but If I start to struggle… I’ll just quit. That point of starting to fade / struggle means I’ve probably done enough to stimulate an adaptation. As a minimalist “enough is enough.”
- SUNDAY: “LONG” RUN: 60-90 min. This can be just a nice solid steady “optimistic Ironman effort” run or it could have a half Ironman finish or it could just be a zone 2 trail run with medium to comfortably hard efforts on hills.
Q&A About Minimalism
What’s the difference between minimalism and other “time crunched” plans?
It’s a state of mind. We aren’t doing less because we feel we have to based on our circumstances. It’s not a compromise. We are choosing, embracing, and loving the minimalist training lifestyle and results. The game is getting as fast as we can on a minimalist plan, even if we have more time. Oh, and since I’m not stressing about shaving every single second off my finish time, I might as well save $15,000 and keep using my 10 year old race wheels and rim brake bike and not worry if I’m giving up three minutes to that dentist on his brand new Cadex. Life as a minimalist is good! Don’t worry, be happy!
But I love going to masters… But I love doing long trail runs…But I love going on long rides with friends. Can I?
Yes! Minimalism is designed to free you up to do things you love. If your bliss is to go for a long trail run, then please do it. If your masters team or weekend ride is a big part of your social life, great! Just be mindful– are you doing these things because you love them or are you doing them because you feel like you “have to’?
I love doing big triathlon training! Why are you telling me that I can’t or shouldn’t train big?
Chill out! By all means keep training big. I understand and I’ve experienced the joy of big training. I was loving the big training that it took for me to go 8:56 at Ironman Arizona “back in the day.” Train big and bookmark this page and come back to minimalism when the time is right for you. Also, some years can be minimal and some can be big. You don’t have to follow one approach for life. That’s what I love about triathlon– it can be dialed up or down as life changes.
Will we be killing ourselves with intensity?
No. We’ll do the minimum effective dose of intensity needed to keep improving. We’ll dose that intensity out carefully and gradually over time. Why blast ourselves with 5×4 min vo2 intervals 3 weeks into our buildup when we can improve with 5×4 min “medium” right now? If we jump straight to the hardest workouts, we won’t have anywhere to go from there. Let’s keep our powder dry. Also, even when we max out, there is a limit to how much intensity we can handle. We’ll build to that limit gradually. Once we hit the limit and we plateau a bit, we’ll keep the body stimulated with some variety.
Only swimming twice per week? Heresy!
Swimming twice a week is definitely a compromise. That said, if you can do 2 x 1 hour SOLID swims with no messing around, you’ll be doing more “real swimming” than many people who are messing around in the pool with nonsense. I make up for it by doing a 3rd short but hard session on my vasa ergometer and you can add some swim cords for strength. Or, I could do a 3rd swim per week by adding another brick run. I’ve had plenty of athletes perform very well on 2 swims / week. But if you are looking for substantial year over year gains in swimming, a minimalist program isn’t the best choice. One option is to start your build up with 3 swims / week with less bike and run then transition to 2 swims as the bike and run volume increase, then perhaps go back to 3 swims per week if you choose to be less “minimal” in the final weeks before your race.
What about getting ready for a long triathlon like an Ironman or 70.3?
We might keep it as minimal as possible for as long as possible. Then you can ramp into a minimalist Ironman plan similar to my 10 hours per week plan. Or, you can train minimally in the offseason then ramp up as needed so you are ready for a more conventional plan when you hit 16 weeks out from your key race.
But I heard that you have to do X, Y and Z to get ready for an Ironman or 70.3! I also heard that you can’t do XYZ!
With all respect to all the rules and advice out there… if you are seeing improvements over time, your training is working. And this training works. If your intervals are faster and you are putting out more power with lower heart rate and less exertion in your longer workouts, then you are improving. As a minimalist, you get to let go of all the “shoulds” and “musts.” Relax, my minimalist friend, you no longer have to feel a dull guilt that you aren’t doing 30+ hours of “Norwegian” style training per week. Welcome to the good life!
Care to join me in the minimalist good life?
My 2024 minimalist build starts January 8th! If you want to join me, email me a coachcoady [at] gmail.com or use the contact form on this website.