When Good Intervals Go Bad, the Best Way to Train VO2max, and More—with Jon Tarkington

USA Cycling’s head of coach development joins us to answer questions about training, coaching, why young riders are winning Grand Tours, and plenty more.

man racing on road head down FT239

For almost a year now, former pro cyclist-turned-coach Jon Tarkington has been heading up coach development at USA Cycling with some big plans for the future of the program. In this week’s show he joined us to help answer a host of listener questions. Some of the topics covered include: 

  • How much high-intensity work is too much? Tarkington gives us his insights into an athlete he’s recently started working with whose previous coach had been prescribing what he described as “huge amounts” of volume at Zone 6 in increments of 10 minutes. Tarkington gives us his take on how long he believes these types of intervals should be—and, spoiler alert, it’s nowhere near 10 minutes. 
  • It’s a question we get asked a lot: What’s the best way to train VO2max power? We debate shorter intervals at higher power (2-4 minutes above threshold, 120-130% of FTP) or longer intervals and more total work (still over threshold, but not as high, e.g., 105-110% of FTP). 
  • In the last five years the “young guns” of cycling have risen to the top of the podium, disrupting the tradition of more mature athletes (think Pogacar and Bernal). Are young riders taking over? And, if so, what’s driving this—better recovery, changes to training, improved athlete development? We discuss it all.  

In this show, we also cover: doing intervals in the base season, how to develop as a coach, and how to convince athletes to ride at endurance pace. It’s a rich and varied show, so settle in—and let’s make you fast! 

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04

Hello, and Welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host, Rob Pickels here with Trevor Connor. For almost a year now ex-Pro and Coach Jon Tarkington has been heading up coach development at USA Cycling with some big plans for the program in the future. But the plans weren’t so big that they prevented Jon from putting his coaching hat back on to answer a host of listener questions.

Rob Pickels  00:28

If you’d like to ask a question for a future episode, reach out to us over at Twitter @fasttalklabs or head to forums.fasttalklabs.com. With that, let’s dive into the questions. listeners. Over the past two years, we’ve been building out an incredible knowledge base of training science at Fast Talk laboratories. Working with the fast top gas and world class experts. We now offer 11 Deep Dive guides into the topics you love, like interval training, polarized training and data analysis. We offer seven comprehensive guides for coaches. And now you can have it all free for 30 days. Join now at fast talk labs.com With discount code 30 days free. That’s 30 the number three zero days free, and you’ll unlock all of our content. Our trial offer expires October 31. So join now before it’s too late.

Trevor Connor  01:29

Well, John, thanks for joining us. You traveled far to come to this episode.

Jon Tarkington  01:33

Yeah. Now for all the way from the office next door like literally the other side of the wall.

Rob Pickels  01:38

Ironically enough, your commute was shorter than my commute in Traverse commute. Yeah,

Trevor Connor  01:43

I had to come down stairs. Ouch. I put a lot of work into this one already.

Rob Pickels  01:47

Your quads feeling? Okay.

Trevor Connor  01:48

They’re hurting a little.

Rob Pickels  01:49

So it goes? Well, John, I think it’s great that you’re sitting with us again, you know, we talked with you previously about Coach education. But this time, we’re actually talking to you not in your current role as education with USA Cycling. But in your former role as a coach of athletes, and we’re getting into that side of your expertise to

Jon Tarkington  02:07

you’ll definitely get a taste to both sides.

Trevor Connor  02:09

We’ve got this first question here, which I really wanted to throw in. And John said he’s got a spicy take on this one. So I think we’re gonna we’re gonna get right into it from the beginning.

Rob Pickels  02:20

Yeah, Trevor, that question comes from Julie. And she writes, Hi, Trevor, when you get a second, I’d love your opinion. I just started working with a new athlete who’s a college student, and she shared what her previous coach had prescribed. And honestly, I was shocked. It seemed completely irresponsible, huge amounts of volume at zone six anaerobic capacity. in increments of 10 minutes or more, I can share a quick outline of the week. But she said it was typical. So it’s not like this is a one off. I’m curious, have you ever run across a training methodology that advocates this amount of work at this intensity? In my experience, these intervals are in the 32nd to two minute range, which equates to relatively small amounts of overall time. I’m interested in your thoughts?

Jon Tarkington  03:04

Well, I have some interesting thoughts there. Normally, your as a coach your gut reaction to a question like that is that the opposing party is potentially crazy, or is enabling some sort of very, very bad behavior. But I always think it’s best to understand that these situations are likely complex, and there may actually be a reason for prescribing work like that. Whatever the case may be, whether the athlete might actually have a very hard time sticking to plan and always does 10 to 15% of what’s prescribed and that’s this coach’s way of dealing with it. Or if this coach seems to think that for some reason, that’s what that athlete needed for that timeframe or that duration of their kind of mezzo cycle. But at the same time, I have to agree with Julie, it sounds like a whole lot. And I would probably advocate for some pretty significant changes.

Trevor Connor  04:07

So by issue with it is there there’s basic knowledge that’s needed as a coach and like we said, we don’t know everything behind this. But vo two max power is defined as the power that you can hold for about five to six minutes. This is anaerobic capacity work, which is a higher wattage, this is meant to be harder, it is impossible to sustain that sort of power for 10 minutes. So these intervals as prescribed aren’t just physiologically not possible. Correct. I worry about when a coach is prescribing things, they get into this mindset of I want to drive my athlete, I want to push them really hard, make them work harder than anybody else out there. But when you’re given something that’s just not physiologically possible or not advisable based on just basic principles, I get concerned.

Rob Pickels  04:58

So I think that this is important because in the question, it says huge amounts of volume at zone six, and then in parentheses, anaerobic capacity. And I wonder if we’re mixing some zone definitions a little bit, because is zone six anaerobic capacity or not, because that’s almost zone is Samos

Trevor Connor  05:20

zone models?

Jon Tarkington  05:22

Trevor, I think the best way to summarize it is, in most zone models, zone six is hard. And zone six is usually far beyond something you could sustain for 10 minutes. And it’s one of the pieces that makes me wonder, in this situation, if this may have been a little bit more of a training plan that was not properly adapted to this athlete zones, rather than a total Miss prescription.

Rob Pickels  05:50

If these are not physiologically possible training intensities, you would presume that the athlete was completing something, and that the coach was not changing their prescription, which in my opinion, means that the athlete was achieving what the coach wanted them to achieve.

Jon Tarkington  06:10

Whatever that goal was, potentially was the case. It Again, depends what kind of feedback and relationship that coach and athlete had

Trevor Connor  06:20

certainly a lot of questions here about that, you know, I did have a bit of a back and forth with the jeweler who sent this question. And it does from everything that I heard. So I’m giving my answer with a little more information than what was just read, and raise the fact that there’s athletes seem fatigued all the time, kind of which is always riding that threshold, and didn’t have the best sense of what’s truly hard. And I do think this is part of it, I, first of all, the conversation I had, it sounds like the coach was trying to get the athlete to do these ridiculously long intervals at a very high intensity. As a result, the athlete was always fatigued, and they were also really not accomplishing the purpose because he couldn’t accomplish the purpose. So what they were doing was 30 seconds to a minute at anaerobic capacity. And then the remaining nine minutes at a low threshold,

Jon Tarkington  07:10

either way, far from the prescription and far from a desired outcome. And I think probably the most harmful piece in this is the fact that these intervals likely were unachievable for the athlete, and that has impacts on the athletes enjoyment of the sport, when you’re stuck constantly doing intervals that you can’t complete.

Rob Pickels  07:32

Lin, I think it’s important to the coaches look at this in the holistic manner. Right, Trevor, you add to the additional information that this athlete was not able to do this because of fatigue. Ultimately, they reached out to a different coach, a new coach, who’s the one that’s sending us the question. And so obviously, that wasn’t going very well, either. So I do think that coaches need to be aware of everything that’s going on and not be so set in a particular time or a particular intensity, and really lose all of the context for just the detail.

Trevor Connor  08:03

Oh, you know, the final note I put in my communications with Julie is, when an athlete hires a coach, they put a lot of trust in that coach, they’re putting their success in the hands of that coach, they’re putting the direction of their training in the hands of that coach, coaches have an obligation to earn that trust. And I think some of that is making sure you understand enough about training principles enough about the physiology to be able to prescribe something to your athletes, that’s possible and gonna set them up for success. And I don’t get the sense that this coach was doing that.

Rob Pickels  08:34

Yeah. And you know, big props to Julie right for reaching out for taking those things into consideration and for wanting to do as best buy this athlete as they could, by trying to get a second viewpoint and make sure that what they’re thinking is an appropriate thing.

Jon Tarkington  08:48

And the bottom line is this coach no longer has this athlete. Yes.

Trevor Connor  08:53

All right. Shall we move on to the next one?

Rob Pickels  08:55

Yeah, we certainly can. It appears that this one has come from our forums if I am reading this correctly.

Trevor Connor  09:01

So this comes from claudi tn club sorry if I just butchered your name. sounded great to me. So he writes thanks largely to ATT and there’s a jumble of words letters here, so I’m just gonna move on. This seems to reinforce a few things first, volume is a key component to maximizing aerobic capacity. By aerobic capacity I don’t necessarily mean improving vo two Max itself, though great if it can be improved, but rather power at VO two max or maximum aerobic power MVP. Second, the other element that is still unclear to me, despite the good general suggestions made above is which kind of intervals are more susceptible to achieve the objective sought and working on that map? Is it still appropriate to dedicate a training block eight weeks to first get map as high as possible, and then do more work and subsequent blocks on threshold power to reduce VLA Max, capitalizing on that high aerobic power. I think I have a good hold on what really reduces vo delay Max, which is longer threshold or near threshold intervals at low cadence. But I don’t know what intervals are best to maximize map, am I better off was short intervals at higher power two to four minutes way above threshold 120 to 130%. Or longer intervals more total work still over threshold, but not as high percentage wise say 105 to 110%. Also, assuming that the sessions are very hard and possibly harder than silence, Trevor’s favored four by eights or five by fives, I imagined that once a week is probably all I could tolerate. That’s efficient, what could be inappropriate second intensity session for the week, that would still be conducive to good aerobic gains will not overstressing my nervous homearama system while complementing the first session. So that’s a mouthful. Basically what he’s getting at and this was part of the longer conversation is, what is the best way to raise my power at VO two, Max? And are those sessions so hard that I really should only be doing once a week? That’s the gist of the question.

Jon Tarkington  11:03

Well, this is a pretty hot one with me from the past two years personally. And I’m a big fan of always taking a situation like this and trying to determine what your goals are as an athlete. And why you’re doing this is this just because you want to high mark your maximum aerobic power and really see what the most you can do is, or does this actually have a real world implementation in an event where you’re trying to actually achieve a race goal or some sort of performance goal in a field of play. And if you’re high marking, then by all means you can go straight forward by numbers fresh out of you know, straight off a warm up, do your work, get home. And that’s it. And you might actually be able to handle one session every three days, four days. And maybe it’s your weeks kind of rotate some weeks or two some weeks or one. However, I know most people are not doing this solely to Highmark one single value in their in their physiology. So I would throw this right back at him as to what they’re trying to do goal wise, because this is one of those areas where you can have a lot of impact. If you’re really good at simulating the type of load and situation. That is you’re going to experience on the field of play.

Rob Pickels  12:37

And I think that that’s really important. John, I’m glad that you didn’t jump straight into giving recommendations because for me, everything comes down to what is preventing you from reaching your goals. What limitations do you have? And what are the requirements of the event that you’re doing. Now, if we just take the assumption that this person is poor at a robic capacity, and that their event requires them to be stronger at a robic capacity, then I think that we can make some recommendations there. For me if I am going to give a recommendation. I think that things that are hard, are things that are worthwhile for a multitude of reasons. One, I think that we’re pushing the systems of the body, the metabolic systems of the body to have adaptation. But I also think that we are causing the the mental unlocking of performance as well. We talked about this with Scott Frey the other day on our mind, body does our mind limit our performance podcast, such that vo two Max in the laboratory can be improved by altering the VO two Max protocol that we use and it unlocks higher vo two Max in the future. And so I’m really taking emphasis from this other episode to say there is more to it than just training our mitochondria and achieving that high workload in that high performance as much in our mind as it is in our legs. Yep,

Jon Tarkington  14:05

very much Correct. Trevor, what do you think? And

Trevor Connor  14:10

let’s see, we did a race this weekend that relies on having a really good power at VO two Max and you finish fourth. And I quite literally finished four from last. So I kind of want to hear what you do.

Jon Tarkington  14:23

Well, I’m actually using a different race which in and actually I will actually take this a different route where I’m going to guess there’s quite a few people that listen to this podcast who occasionally do a group ride. And it occasionally has a spot where things go really, really hard. And you want to try to make the selection on that group ride or in that weekend race, whatever the case may be. So what you’re dealing with there is not a true maximal aerobic power. It’s maximal aerobic power after a certain amount of load. So one of the The better things you can do and Rob will weave your piece into this too, is, especially if it’s a group ride, maybe take a couple of weeks where you go on the group ride to the point where it gets really hard, you stop. And then you do you, whatever the if it’s, if it’s flat, maybe you get one other person, the two of you stop, and then you swap off poles for five minutes, as hard as you possibly can. So you’re getting that five minute race simulated effort, with the same kind of preload you would have. And if it’s a climb, you do that climb three times, four times, five times gradually increasing that resistance, and then go back and start again. And I think there’s something that’s an incredibly good with being able to get a true race type load, and then mentally, being able to remove yourself from that situation, and then train specifically for that crux point, and then go back and tackle the full problem at a later time.

Trevor Connor  16:04

Now, that’s a good suggestion. That’s true of most things. When you’re racing, it’s very rare that off the start line, the race is decided, that’s where you need the power. It’s when you’re tired and fatigued and been racing for bet that you need the power. And it’s a good thing that you got to practice.

Rob Pickels  16:21

Yeah, I think that these are really important considerations. And the listener or the forum member in this case, might might be a little disappointed with this answer, right. But hey, if you want a clear workout of what’s quote unquote, bass, then I don’t know Dr. Seiler is research on the four by eight, there’s a reason that we refer to it physiologically that’s going to give you the most bang for your buck, if you want to look at these different outcomes and measurements that you can perform. But there are other considerations that are maybe more important than just interval length and intensity that you’re doing that interval that

Jon Tarkington  16:54

it’s true, but those those kind of Crux points. And even with that preload, you can identify what needs to be done. And you don’t necessarily need to do quite that level on repetition. Sometimes you can be just below that level. So the one time you do it, where it does matter where it is for performance, you’ve done a substantial amount of work, just a fraction below that level.

Trevor Connor  17:19

I am going to throw out some specifics, though, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we do these q&a episodes, we could answer almost every single question was saying, well, that’s kind of individual, we need to talk to you more about what you’re trying to accomplish. Which, if that was our only answers, it’d be kind of a boring show. So this is where all the listeners are going, Wait, this isn’t a boring show anyway, but

Rob Pickels  17:41

they stop listening already Trevor’s with

Trevor Connor  17:42

which is fers. I’m just gonna give a few specifics understanding that yes, there’s a lot of individual ality to this. And a lot of these other factors are important. But just talking about the physiology standpoint, what’s becoming increasingly popular and the research and I find very interesting, because there’s yet really anybody who says this has been proved conclusively, what you need to do. But the research is very focused on, the more time you spend at 90%, or above your maximal oxygen consumption, which means you have to have a mask put on your face, and they gotta be measuring your oxygen consumption, the better the interval work. So there’s tons of studies that look at different types of intervals and go which ones maximize your time at 90% or higher of oxygen consumption, then always kind of somewhere, say, well, it’s assumed that that’s better. But let’s go with that assumption. And say that’s better. What’s very interesting these studies is, there’s a huge range of intervals that can get you there. So my old coach love to give us 1515. So it’s 15 seconds on 15 seconds off, 15 seconds on you do that for eight minutes. That’s one set and you do three four sets. The classic vo two Max interval to raise that map power is the five by five minutes with a five to 10 minute rest. So there’s a huge range and it seems like most of them can get you there at least improve that particular energy system. So the when I wrote a response to close it down, I basically said, here’s all your different options. These all hurt. So my recommendation is go with the one that you don’t dread going out and doing they find the one that seems to resonate with you.

Jon Tarkington  19:24

achievable workouts are always the ones that seem to do the most for an athlete.

Trevor Connor  19:30

Alright, Rob takes us to the next one. Yeah. Okay.

Rob Pickels  19:34

Let’s see. This is from a Christopher and it looks like it was emailed into Trevor at fast talk labs.com

Trevor Connor  19:42

from 2019. So this is going bad. And this is an archive question, Trevor. Why

Rob Pickels  19:47

haven’t you answered this guy’s poor question in three years,

Trevor Connor  19:50

so there’s been waiting patiently. It’s finally here.

Rob Pickels  19:53

Sorry, Chris. We’re getting to him. Let’s see love the podcast on intervals with Dr. Sylar on May As in keep the nerd bombs coming. Polarized training model has helped me get my fastest 70.3 Bike split ever. Hey, we get a triathlete out there. So thank you. So my question is if we get maximum gains from intervals in just four weeks, how is interval work incorporated into a year long training plan? Do we one do base work only all winter, and only do intervals six weeks out from the target race? Or do several mini cycles of interval work all year, like four weeks on four weeks off trying to push FTP slightly higher every eight weeks? Thanks so much for the fascinating and helpful content. Chris?

Trevor Connor  20:39

Here’s how I know this is an archive question. He talked about nerve bombs. So Chris, and I used to joke about our nerve bombs every episode, and then we did a listener survey. And I think it was almost universal. Everybody’s saying please don’t ever talk about a nerd bomb ever again. So that’s kind of hate it. Oh,

Rob Pickels  20:59

love it. Love it. John, what do you what do you do, as a former coach of athletes, current coach of athletes,

Jon Tarkington  21:06

both, you know, it really depends on what the athlete wants to do, where they are kind of in their overall athletic development. Typically, if they are newer and are making some pretty rapid gains, then there’s fully the potential that we would go through several mini cycles over the course of the winter. However, those mini cycles may not be structured in the same way that kind of your final structure for a, a peak event would be within the main part of the season. The big piece, for me with all of the with these, and planning an annual workload like this is what motivates your athlete, because we’re talking about trying to get somebody to do in modern times in the Swift times, sitting on a train or on Swift doing zone two, all winter long on a platform designed to really get people to engage and go harder than they probably would have if it were outdoors. So I would definitely revise this depending on what their real goals and objectives were. And what they kind of mentally are up for over the course of a winter, because it’s very hard to just do endurance all winter long. And to do that for an entire year with one focused block of intervals and racing on the horizon. I think it’s a lot easier to break that up into smaller cycles

Rob Pickels  22:38

will and based on how terrible my legs felt this spring, it’s definitely not advisable to cut out all the high intensity for a large period of time.

Trevor Connor  22:46

It is an interesting question. And that’s what I focused on here. Because I think back from personal experience, I’ve never had the guts to try this with one of my athletes. I had one of my best in my biggest jump in my form was probably 2004. And in early January 2004 and moved to Florida. And I spent January February and most of March doing nothing but slow volume. I don’t think I did a single interval session until middle of March was at the old school keep it in the small chain ring. Never put it in the big chain ring. Yes, it was sort of this was Florida. You just put it in one gear you never shift

Rob Pickels  23:24

again. You only needed one chain ring. It was one of those? Yeah,

Trevor Connor  23:27

I think when it finally came time to replace my chain, you know, normally you throw it your whole cassette with the chain. I think I had to throw it like one ring on Mike. But that was one of my biggest jumps in form, and there was no intensity. So there is some you can make a decent physiological argument to say you forget what you’re just talking about John, which is the mental side, physiologically, you could spend most of the bases and just ride an easy without intensity and and go on to have a good season because most of the games from that intensity work come in about six weeks.

Jon Tarkington  24:04

Totally depends on the athlete. Right. And I think How old were you when you did that? Oh,

Trevor Connor  24:09

boy, since I already gave the year you know my age, I think it was 33 was 2004

Jon Tarkington  24:15

Definitely primed to make some bigger aerobic gains. And yeah, no, I remember that’s that’s been a common theme from if you want to use old school training methodologies that that was something that definitely worked was large amounts of bass volume and large amounts of bass aerobic work, and then a short adaptation period and then racing.

Rob Pickels  24:39

If I remember correctly, though, from Dr. Sylar his work when he was really creating the polarized model. There was not necessarily a lot of periodization changes throughout the year in terms of intensity distribution. I think that their volume changes throughout the year but not necessarily intensity. What you’re saying

Trevor Connor  24:55

is the intensity distribution stays about the same through the year but What’d you do with that intensity change. So they actually did some research looking at the different phases in the season, and what particular intensity they’re doing. And as you might expect, in that base season, the intensity tended to be more the threshold type work, where once you got into the season, the sort of intensity or do as much more of that vo two max or anaerobic capacity type work. And there is a an argument for this. And this is something I’ve been kind of reading about and learning about over the years, which is, it seems, the higher the intensity, the work, the quicker you see the gains. So like when you’re doing threshold work, it can take 10 to 14 weeks to see all the gains. If you’re doing vo to max or anaerobic capacity work takes about six weeks, or six to eight sessions, if you do and sprint where you can see most of the gains in just a couple of weeks. So if you’re in March, and you start doing your threshold work in March, you’re getting towards end of June before you’re seeing the gains and your seasons mostly over. So there’s an argument to do more threshold work in the base season. That said you you heard from Grant just a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve heard from other coaches saying they’ve shied away from that because it kind of turns their athletes into tanks. And they actually like to hit some some real high intensity, anaerobic capacity type work in the bases. And just because it builds pain tolerance, and just keep them a little a little edgier, I guess.

Rob Pickels  26:27

Yeah. And I will fully admit I did not do my due diligence prior to this. I think that he I think that Chris is referring to Episode 75. So everyone else should be better than I am and should go back and listen to episode 75. My assumption is that Dr. Sylar was maybe talking about the fact that you do get a lot of these gains within four weeks, but maybe not using that to say you should only do four weeks, right and never do any more. Maybe it’s four weeks, and then you change up to a different novel stimulus so that a different system begins to increase and you can go back and forth. So for me, it would almost be a third option in here, a mini cycle of changing up with the intensity is but not necessarily ever going back to no intensity whatsoever.

Trevor Connor  27:13

So that’s exactly what I do. And I’m a little more that old school, I like to do the threshold work in the winter, because it takes that 10 to 14 weeks, that’s a good time to do it.

Rob Pickels  27:23

Man. I like the VO two stuff on the trainer, it’s so much easier to threshold stuff is

Trevor Connor  27:27

a lot of people are moving that direction, there’s arguments for that. And I’m actually considering a slight switch of doing a little more really high intensity and December early on, then do the the meat of your base work with the threshold work and then go back to intensity. But it’s not like I give my athletes the same threshold intervals for the 10 to 14 weeks, their heads would be spinning. So my routine has been four to six weeks. So the five by five minute intervals, then four to five weeks are the four by eight minute intervals. And then I just do a few weeks of three to four by 16 minutes. So I use the the five by fives and the four by eights to raise the threshold power. And then you do those few weeks of the 16 minute intervals to learn how to sustain that power.

Rob Pickels  28:13

And for clarity when you say five by five, this is your Trevor five minutes on one minute off five minutes on so.

Trevor Connor  28:21

Yeah, so I do change it up. It’s not like you’re doing 14 weeks of the same thing or 12 weeks of the same thing.

Rob Pickels  28:29

14 weeks of hitting your head against the wall on the trainer says

Trevor Connor  28:33

the guy who does his own to work I will remind you in ERG mode, the amount

Rob Pickels  28:39


Jon Tarkington  28:40

that’s maximized that is maximizing time in zone truth.

Rob Pickels  28:45

And the guy that can only do his threshold work when the snow melts and I can ride you know.

Trevor Connor  28:51

I see the way that you two are sitting on the same side of the table you just kinda look at me like spring it on forever. You to talk beforehand, didn’t you?

Rob Pickels  28:59

We conspired. Definitely, yes,

Trevor Connor  29:02

I’m ready for a battle which I did not give you on Saturday. It just say the worst part was John passed me what like we’re two minutes from the finish line. If I just made another two minutes he wouldn’t have caught me.

Rob Pickels  29:15

He went by us so fast. I’m surprised you could tell it was him.

Jon Tarkington  29:18

I had the fastest lap time of the race on my last lap. Did you? What was your time to remember Nick I had a 626 lap time.

Trevor Connor  29:25

So the last lap was my fastest to a 34.

Jon Tarkington  29:32

Only an hour to get it dialed

Trevor Connor  29:36

listeners. The guide you’ve been waiting for is here. Our guide to the polarized training method. Visit fast talk labs.com To see our new deep dive into polarized training. featuring Dr. Steven Siler me Trevor Connor, coaches Ryan Bolton and Alan cousins. In this groundbreaking comprehensive guide we show you how to polarize, why it works, how it compares, how to measure it how to code Watch it, how it changes over the season, and how to know when it’s working for you. This is the season you can master the polarized training method. Join fast talk labs. It’s our polarized training. seaboard fast talk labs.com

Rob Pickels  30:18

Here we go. This is from Robbie. A question that I have for you as it relates to cycling versus other endurance power sports like Nordic skiing is around maturity of peak performances. In the last five years, the young guns of cycling have risen to the top of podiums disrupting the tradition of more mature athletes think Toddie gotcha, Egon burn all these you 23 riders pulled away from the pack of more traditional mature riders like Froome and Garrett Thomas, are the key drivers to this better recovery changes and training methodology that optimizes fitness earlier in development. With this transformation of demographic performance in endurance sports, should we expect to see similar shifts in other endurance sports such as running, cross country skiing, traditional thinking has been that peak performance usually comes to athletes in their later 20s would love to hear this discussion unfold from your educated perspectives, John, your perspective is maybe the most educated, I wouldn’t necessarily

Jon Tarkington  31:18

go that far. But I do think there’s a fair bit of this, that has to do with talent identification, where instead of riders coming into the sport and having to develop over time, I think our sport is so data driven, we now have the ability to go out and find talent that we know will meet certain criteria. And as a result, we’re getting younger riders that are able to achieve very impressive feats. Finger guards, a great example of someone who was completely off the radar performs really well on a Strava segment catches attention. And the next thing you know, I mean, it’s what, two and a half years later, he’s wins the tour. It’s it’s a pretty phenomenal situation. And again, I think that is repeating itself over and over again, as well as the fact that because we have younger athletes that grow up with the same ability to analyze their data, develop in a data driven environment, there are those who adapt well to it, and can really push themselves through with that kind of knowledge. And there’s others that don’t whether this translates to other sports, I’m not exactly sure, because I know, data and metrics are a little less tangible in some of those sports. Well,

Rob Pickels  32:53

I think it’s interesting, you know, there’s obviously these individual performances that stand out. But you know, the ingebrigtsen brothers are running phenom is right now, and they’re on the younger end of the spectrum. I don’t know if that describes all of running. But I think that we are potentially seeing a similar trend to there. And unfortunately, I’m not very knowledgeable on Nordic skiing. So I can’t speak to that.

Jon Tarkington  33:15

One of the thing I have noticed is that, at least in the US, and this is I know this may not be the case outside of the US is that we are starting to see the second generation of endurance athletes. And when I say that, I mean, athletes whose parents grew up with endurance sports as a legitimate option for dedication and a lot of the time for being a professional. If you look at the last names of a number of the US National cycling team, riders, you see some familiar ones like Gullickson Telo. And it’s you’re starting to see this beyond those those realms as well, where there’s others coming up through the ranks, same thing. So it’s basically my kids developing into athletes. And I think that’s that has an some level of impact in this as well.

Trevor Connor  34:15

So I get to take a completely different take on this. And I’m going to talk about a different sport, just as an example here. So I’m a big tennis fan. And in tennis on the male side, the sport has been absolutely dominated by what could arguably be the three top players of all time, which is Roger Federer, Djokovic and Nadal. If so, they between the three of them have won over 60 grand slams. So do the math here. There’s only four grand slams each year they’ve won over 60. That means they have won almost every single Grand Slam for the last 20 years between the three of them, which is crazy. We just had the US Open, and it was won by The youngest person to ever win the US Open this year think it was 19. So you could raise the question of well, what’s different, you know, wow, what’s going on? Is there something they’re doing something different with the the younger athletes, my argument is just, you’ve had these guys have dominated for a long time, they’re finally getting to an age where they can’t dominate every single Grand Slam, though, Nadal won two of them this year. It just is a transition where at that transition phase, we’re seeing who is the next up and coming talent. And I just wonder if some of that’s happening in cycling, where you see the guys who are the big names for a long time the crisper rooms, Garin Thomas guys like that are reaching a point where they are getting to an age where they just can’t dominate like they could before. And it’s who’s the next talent. And normally, you would have some some rising talent in that late 20s, early 30s. And it might just be you don’t want to have somebody there. And it could be that nothing was really that different in the training. If it was 10 years ago, when Froome was at his best, and you had a today show up team would do the calculus of hey, this taught a kid’s really talented, he’ll get a shot in five, six years. But we got this Chris Froome guy who’s also raised a bunch of Grand Tours and has that experience. So Todd Azar, you’re gonna be sitting on the front of the field, and fetching water bottles, and you wouldn’t actually see him have that opportunity to go for the win.

Rob Pickels  36:25

I think that that’s an interesting observation. And I think that it’s one that we can definitely make with with Wout. And with Vanderpool who really rose to fame and dominance in cyclocross, where they were able to be that team leader, they establish themselves as worthwhile riders when they were young. And so when they moved over into the road, they already had the name and the recognition and kind of a team leader status. And I have been wondering what what has changed, has cycling fundamentally changed, has training fundamentally changed, has talent ID and coaching of young athletes fundamentally changed. But Trevor, you identified one that didn’t even cross my mind. And that is team management, and opportunities that are given internally, there could be important,

Trevor Connor  37:12

you’ve got to do it, your team manager says, so you could be the strongest guy in the race. But if you’re 23, and your team manager is saying, we’ve got a 30 year old who we think can win, nobody’s going to find out that a 23 you’re capable of winning, because your team managers not giving you that shot.

Rob Pickels  37:26

Yeah, cuz they’re loaded down with 20 pounds of water bottles.

Jon Tarkington  37:30

And again, I think you’ve got data now. And it’s pretty reputable from a young age that this person can go far beyond what that 30 year old can they’re able to objectively make the decision? Correct. I think one of the more interesting answers to this question is going to unfold in the next few years in watching the women’s side of the sport, it is definitely grown and developed. And with the tdfs. This year, I think we kind of saw a whole new level of racing, you know, a different amount of pressure, the live coverage, the global phenomenon that it became. And with enemy ik van Vleuten, leaving at the end of 23 of the sheiks claiming shall leave at the end of 23, there’s going to be a pretty wide open door at the very, very pointy end. And it’s going to be interesting to see how and who steps into that role and into that void because the sport is going to continue to grow. And I’m very interested to see if that talent comes from newer younger riders if that talent comes from transfer riders like Kristen Faulkner, or if it’s that traditional development model, where they’ve been around and its riders just kind of keep training to the point where they can achieve those low that high, high, high level and a high pressure situation.

Trevor Connor  38:59

So with that, I actually think the question that I have that’s going to take 10 years to answer is where somebody like Tahdig gonna be when he’s in his early 30s. And I raise up because so when my nephew was racing, he was very concerned that he hadn’t started as a junior and he had already missed his opportunity. So I looked to see if there was any research in those found a very interesting study that looked at all of the professional cyclists at the time of how, what’s the longevity of their careers? What were their peak years? When did they start were they Junior riders. And the conclusion of the study was that it really didn’t matter. No matter what age you started at your career tended to be about the same length. And you tended to have about the same number of years where you were at the top of the game. And if you started as a young junior, you just tended to have those years in your 20s. If you didn’t start as a junior, you tended to have those years in your late 20s or early 30s. So the question for me to show that There’s something fundamentally different now is, Will Todd a still be dominant? When he’s in his early 30s? Are you just seeing that he hit his trajectory much earlier? If that’s the case, he’ll be reaching the end of his career at the point that a lot of people would be saying this is the peak of my career.

Jon Tarkington  40:17

Yep. And I would, I’m fascinated to watch on the women’s side, Demi volar ring is she’s clearly kind of the, at least from this year, next in line. But at the same time, as a younger writer who’s had some time a little bit of time to develop is she can naturally fill that role. Is that going to take her more time to really become dominant like that? Or is it going to be somebody totally different? It’s going to be five different people that are totally different?

Rob Pickels  40:46

Well, the women’s field is a really interesting microcosm, because of how quickly changes are occurring. Right? I think that in granted in the men’s field, we’ve certainly seen some some quick changes in the relatively near past, but the women’s field is, on a whole different level of evolution, the culture

Jon Tarkington  41:05

and business on the men’s side is very established. And it’s developing and changing very rapidly on the women’s side.

Rob Pickels  41:15

I mean, so it sounds like we have settled on this answer, not necessarily being physiological or training based, but a lot of other factors that go into being pro.

Trevor Connor  41:27

That’s my personal opinion, could be totally wrong. The best

Jon Tarkington  41:31

part is, we’ll get to see the answer in a very long time.

Rob Pickels  41:38

Yeah, I do wish that the answer was, oh, youth development programs, right. And so that we could all be convinced and we could all pour more resources and funding into that and more junior coaching. And, you know, part of me does hope that that all of the effort that’s being put in at that level is paying dividends eventually down the line.

Trevor Connor  41:58

I think we can say that. Obviously, Todd, I went through a very good youth development program, and it took him to where he could win the Tour de France doesn’t matter what happens from here, there was a lot of success there.

Jon Tarkington  42:09

And Rob, ultimately, a bigger neck catches more fish. All right,

Trevor Connor  42:14

shall we move on to the

Jon Tarkington  42:15

beast? Guys have me scared? Well, what is this,

Trevor Connor  42:18

I volunteered to do the reading of this. Gerald here, new forum member and also a new coach. I’ll be honest, and say that I was disappointed by completing the coaching certification course in South Africa, as it only touched the surface of many topics, since leaves me with a valuable piece of paper, but very little knowledge of what it takes to be a coach. Fortunately, I have time to learn and apply it. So when I reach retirement age, I can continue as a coach and leave the corporate world behind. So yes, question what got me into coaching, I like to know how stuff works. So getting a power meter and a few books on how to train with a power meter were the first steps. I experimented on myself and try different blocks of training to see what the outcomes would be. After feeling chronic fatigue, I cut back on the volume instead of trying to find the balance of volume and intensity and rest, and also balancing work home and cycling. When I solved that problem was like the light bulb moment and I started my research into different ways to train that led me to question my friends and their way of training to somebody complaining that they weren’t able to keep up with the leading groups and races, where they used to be able to sprint and could no longer compete with previously slower comm members. So I shared my limited skills, knowledge and experience I had gained since 2015. It wasn’t until I started listening to a number of podcasts, I realized I was completely out of my depth and question whether I was actually wasting my time and the money I’d spent trying to get better at the job. I can’t remember how I stumbled onto the fast talk podcast. But I do remember that I had a lot of unanswered questions for the coach courses I had taken periodization super compensation bill, taper intensity, volume, mesocycles, micro cycles, etc. Were all terms I knew the definition of but it was never really explained how to do it. I asked around locally at coaching businesses to see if they were willing to take an apprentice learner bill to pass on knowledge, mostly dead ends and very frustrating. That pretty much brings me to this post. My knowledge and experience is much like an iceberg. I stand tall above many fellow cyclists but it’s the volume of knowledge skills experience that lays beneath the surface that I need to tap into by asking questions or get assistance and being able to analyze the riders and their data. This post is too broad to ask for help, as I’m sure the first question would be, well, what helped you need? The answer will be lots but I hope to be able to get the specific help here. So he doesn’t actually ask a specific question, but really what he’s getting at is he’s put in all this work to learn but realize he still has a ton more to develop to be at the level he wants to be out as a coach, and he’s really questioning how does he get there? There doesn’t seem to be a very clear path. John, I saved this one for you, because that’s what you’re trying to do.

Jon Tarkington  45:04

I’m just glad I didn’t have to read it.

Rob Pickels  45:05

Yeah. And before John gives his input, I want to say, I went through six years of schools specifically for this right, four years, oh, my god, undergrad and two years of post grad work. I don’t think I walked out of those programs fully knowledgeable, to tell you the truth, about six years of pointed work. And that’s not a knock on either of those programs.

Jon Tarkington  45:28

That was six years of straight up education, correct. Straight

Rob Pickels  45:31

up and a little bit of running to maybe a little.

Jon Tarkington  45:36

Yeah. So I think there’s a very big difference between coach education and coach development. And that’s a piece that I think this person is getting at with mentoring. And there’s some crossover between those two. I mean, now, Rob, you’ve totally put yourself squarely in the crosshairs. Did you guys do a lot of practical application of your knowledge that you were learning?

Rob Pickels  46:02

No, absolutely not. And maybe that was from just a time ago, I know my kids now in school, there’s a lot more practical application than there was when I went through their similar grade level. I knew a lot of information in some regard. Just like Gerald is reporting. He knows things, but he doesn’t know how to apply it. I think maybe it was in the same place.

Jon Tarkington  46:24

Correct. And I think there’s that higher education still produces a fair bit of that and translating that institutional knowledge from higher education university and truly practical business applications isn’t as straightforward as people want to think it is sometimes. What’s interesting here is historically, the USA cycling’s coaching education has revolved heavily around exactly the opposite practical application. So the very introductory level is basically an open book quiz. But as you move up to the next two levels, they become much more engaged in your ability to practically apply knowledge. And you’re doing it in small group environments. And that actually has been very successful. And it’s a piece that will get carried forward. In fact, for this year, for our coaching Summit, we’re steering away from a traditional conference where you sit for 45 minutes and listen to a speaker and ask some questions, and then move on to the next speaker, because that never really appealed to people as a way to practically apply what was going on. So we’re gonna switch and do and engage the audience in small groups, workshops, and that practical application piece that sounds like what was missing from his course. And I think it’s a piece where if he’s, if he looks for those types of opportunities, they’re out there, you will be able to find them eventually, even if it is remote, it’s still a possibility for him. But then the mentoring side is a whole nother conundrum. Because you could be paired with a coach that’s wonderful, and wants to kind of help you understand the practical application side. Or you could be paired with a coach who just wants to give you short season answers, simple to the point, get things done, move on. So it’s a very challenging thing to learn practical application of knowledge. And I think it’s one of the biggest areas of potential improvement, not just for USA see, but it sounds like for the UCI, and a lot of other coach education programs as well.

Trevor Connor  48:45

The thing I actually want to comment on this, I want to give a lot of credit to Gerald here. Oh, yeah. Because maybe this goes back to the first question at the start of this. I’m not going to hide how I feel, I felt that coach was a little irresponsible with those 10 minute anaerobic capacity intervals, they should know better. And I’m sorry, if that frustrates anybody there is that. We’ve joked about this before the coach tells you not to sleep in a room with plants, because plants suck out the oxygen, they just hear all these things and then apply it and it’s not necessarily the best coaching. I got to applaud Gerald for recognizing this is not easy. It’s not a simple process to gain that experience to be a good and responsible coach. And even in the question he raised that of am I giving good advice to these people? Am I really helping them out? And he’s putting the work in the energy into building his skill set and feeling like a responsible coach who’s giving good advice and I think that’s a real important mindset. And really just wanted to read this to have people hear those two sides of it a it’s actually really hard to do and be a good coach and I have a lot of faith that he’s turning himself into a very good coach is Gonna put in the time and energy to do it?

Rob Pickels  50:02

Yeah, I think that this mindset is really important. And Gerald is I mean, John, he’s not familiar to you, but he’s familiar to Trevor and I, Gerald is sort of like a super user of fast talk. He’s involved in our live q&a sessions with Joe Friel asking questions there. I spoke to Gerald on the phone the other week, couple weeks ago. And he is looking for knowledge, and he’s looking for it wherever he can get it. And he’s taking that all in and assimilating it himself. But he’s really asking these important questions. In oftentimes, I think that coaches in their education or students in their education, whether you’re a coach or not, doesn’t matter, you’re fed information, and all you do is consume it. But when you’re asked to then distribute that information, you realize very quickly, it’s a little bit different to try to give out information than it is to take that information in. And, John, I think that that ties into your practical application side on the USA Cycling and the education that you’re doing there.

Jon Tarkington  51:02

Yeah, I mean, it, it’s not necessarily just straight practical application, it’s you need to use that knowledge to solve problems. Ultimately, that’s what athletes usually bring to you is problems. You know, they have an objective, they want to meet the objective, they have these hurdles they know are going to exist along the way. And then, of course, they will throw a bunch of curveballs at you in the process of getting to those. So it’s, it’s constantly problem solving, using that knowledge base, communicating and doing doing the best you can. And it’s it’s very challenging to teach. It’s a piece that it’s going to, I think we’ll get to explore more in the future on fast talk labs as we dive into pieces like this more and more. But it’s definitely something where someone in Gerald’s position where they’re, they’re basically taking in as much as they can. And it sounds like he’s doing it in a relatively short timeframe, will have the foundation he really needs to start moving forward. And it’s where this mentoring piece kind of comes into play. He just needs someone to help him best use it and to bounce ideas off of.

Trevor Connor  52:13

So we got one last question, Rob, you want to?

Rob Pickels  52:16

Yeah, Trevor? Let’s go to Carolyn and I this is a question that I think is actually important. It’s come up more than once in my career. So here we go. Hello, I have an athlete who I cannot convince to ride at endurance pace, I see that this is having a huge impact on her ability to train properly. I have noticed that her ability to go over threshold is really poor and really is emphasized. She can ride for hours that tempo, though, she is scared that if she stops writing for hours at tempo, slash sweetspot, she will lose fitness. I’m trying to explain that the fatigue that she was accumulating writing a tempo all the time is impacting her ability to go over threshold, and will ultimately cause her big problems when she moves to racing at the U 23. Level next season. Does anyone have any similar experiences working with athletes like this? Yes, I do. Personally, I’m curious to know how long it might take once I have convinced her to ride at endurance pace for her to be able to reach these over threshold intensities. Again, I mean, I’m going to jump on this one right away if you guys don’t mind and say, you know, I led physiology testing and polio Center for Sports Medicine. And we definitely had a number of athletes that fell into this and their lactate profile was very clear to see the training that they had done with upward sloping baselines. And then this very limited ability to go hard. And it was difficult to update their training but within sometimes as short as four but within eight weeks, we would see noticeable changes within physiological profiles. And they would come back reporting feeling better in general being able to hit those upper level things. So I’ll throw that on there as a timeframe. But a big component of this is not should we do this it’s how do we get the athletes to believe us is the big question and that’s the one I want you guys to answer the entire

Trevor Connor  54:13

response I wrote about that. It’s not Yes, she is fatigued all the time. She would improve by learning to be slow under slow rides and go in hard on her hard rides. It’s how do you get her there?

Jon Tarkington  54:27

Yeah, and I’m Rob I would venture to guess taking a look at a potential age here that she can see and feel results feel maybe not see them in terms of a test but feel them in two weeks. You know, so I think the timeframe is the this coach would have to the Carolyn would have to work with an ear is actually pretty short to see some results with her. But I think we all agree this is the classic from kind of old school training. This is the classic zone three trainer and we We’ve all seen lots of them over the years,

Rob Pickels  55:03

well, I call it the American dream, right? If I work hard all the time, I’m going to achieve what I want. And people apply that to their training principle. And I do think we see the juniors all the time to them, consulting the son of a really good friend right now who’s a junior mountain biker. And the same thing go out just ride kind of hard all the time, never truly riding hard, never riding base or quote unquote, easy.

Jon Tarkington  55:29

Yeah, it’s, it’s sometimes it can be a hard thing to convince people of frequently, what can help is quite honestly, putting them with another athlete who does adhere to the polarized aspect, and can show them the power of executing things properly. I think that that can really help, especially in a situation where that your zone three trainers kind of pushed to their limits. And then to have somebody just blow that off and say, Well, the reason I can do that is because I ride easy.

Rob Pickels  56:09

Yeah. And I think that showing if there’s access to lactate testing, whether it’s something that coach does themselves, or they’re able to refer to another entity, to say, Hey, this is what your profile looks like right now. But when we make these changes, these are the changes that are going to occur, and then to come back and retest. And lo and behold, those are the changes that happen, that predictability really instills confidence from the athlete in the coach.

Jon Tarkington  56:36


Trevor Connor  56:37

So those are kind of the notes that I wrote, as well. It’s tough as a coach, because you really want your athlete to trust and believe in you. And the athlete might very well believe in you. They just can’t get out of their own headspace. And it’s how do you get them there. And a couple things I’ve seen that have been effective as one is literally try bargaining. You know, just say, give me a month, as you said, they might see the difference in two weeks. And it might be they want to wait until after their key race and you can sit there as a coach and go, Well, they’re gonna ruin their key race. But we got to wait, we got to wait. But then give me that month. And let’s see how you feel at the end of that month. I think finding other people that can influence the athlete, like you said, finding those pros who can talk to the athletes. So yeah, I know, when I go slow, I go really slow, or better yet go out and ride with her and show her how slow they’re slow is,

Jon Tarkington  57:27

yeah, one of the shocking things I have now heard more and more of is people. I guess it’s not that shocking. But people using E bikes on recovery days. Because you still get to go fast, you just get to go easier as go fast. And I think that’s that’s again, it’s another piece to highlight how important recovery is to people. And especially I know there’s a piece of that zone three conundrum that is based in speed and feeling faster all the time.

Rob Pickels  58:04

Well, if you look at rating of perceived exertion as people work through those workloads, that’s where people report starting to feel like they’re accomplishing something that it’s feels hard enough to be worthwhile. I do wonder if this rider being a junior rider, their exposure to other riders around them in the community or group rides are probably older and probably a little bit faster. And if they’re a little bit faster than they must be faster all of the time. And for her to get faster. She must have to ride at those speeds as well. It all plays into it. Or maybe she only sees these riders on group rides and she doesn’t see what they do the other six days of the week when they’re not in this hard training situation. It’s

Trevor Connor  58:41

a really good point. If she’s a junior and she did ride with these other riders who are years older and earn fully developed. Even on probably their easy ride, she was going quite hard just to hang with them and just gotten this mindset of to be able to hang with these people I have to go that that speed, which is a hard mindset to get out of.

Rob Pickels  59:02

And this is an age group where I think peer influence can be really important. But I will say coaches do have good influence over these athletes. I know I’ve had parents say to me well when you say something, then they listen but I’ve said the same thing to them and they completely ignore it. So as a coach, this person they do have influence over this athlete this athlete does want to listen to them does want their advice.

Jon Tarkington  59:29

And Rob you’ve seen the power from from VCs and the power of using data to show them as well which I think is another potential avenue to use.

Trevor Connor  59:39

I gotta say one of the hardest things one of the most mature things I can see an athlete do which I see pros do all the time but new athletes really struggle with this is to have the maturity to let yourself get dropped. When you’re in a group ride or with your some people and they are going really hard I’ve always noticed that the top level Athletes, they’re out in a group Bri with some people who may not be so high level, those people start going really hard in the bros like, see if they just go out the back because they’re gonna train right? Pros can have that maturity when you’re younger and easy to influence and you’re still trying to find your confidence. It’s very hard to find the confidence to say this is too hard, I’m going to let them go.

Rob Pickels  1:00:21

And that applies to all aspects of writing and training to not just in the purposeful writing. And to bring up an example, when I was really working with the junior cyclocross team, Pete Weber was the coach with me and Pete is multiple at a time national cyclocross champion and pro mountain biker back in the day and we were riding back we live relatively close to each other. And we were riding back home after practice together and I looked back at the top of a short hill and Pete was nowhere to be seen. Because even in his easy commute riding, he could have just charged up that hill like I had, but he was really bringing this training philosophy into all of his writing, not just when he was kitted up in training.

Jon Tarkington  1:01:02

So I think Carolyn could really do well with just taking a month with this athlete in the offseason, taking a little time off. Starting off slow, keeping it slow, letting this athlete feel what it’s like to be fresh, because my guess is this athlete has never fully experienced being fresh before.

Trevor Connor  1:01:21

One thing I’m going to add to that, because when you switch to that more polarized, slower, slow, hard as hard approach, it does take some time to see the gains. She’s going to feel fresher. I would say if you do that experiment for a month in the winter, if she’s on Zwift or something like that. Make sure she does his whiffed race when she’s not fatigued for the first time, it sees just how much better she performs that way. All right,

Rob Pickels  1:01:50

guys. Pretty awesome q&a episode.

Jon Tarkington  1:01:54

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review the thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talker those of the individual as always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums dot fast talk labs.com or tweet at us with @fastalklabs. Head to fasttalklabs.com To get access to our endurance sports knowledge base, Coach continuing education as well as our in person and remote athletes services. For Trevor Connor and Rob Pickels. I’m Jon Tarkington. Thanks for listening!