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Looking to enhance your triathlon training? Learn how small changes can yield big results with expert coaching

We spoke with triathlete, Max Stoneking, about moving from swimming to triathlon, balancing training with his studies, and small changes to his programme.


Recently, Max reached out for someone to help review his training, and see what tweaks can be made to help to continue get faster, and we couldn't help but get involved!

It's about evolution, not revolution

Max, a keen college swimmer, turned to triathlon in 2021, and with a 17:47 1500m swim leg, and having run a 34:45 off the bike, has clearly transferred that speed well!

However, having spent his sporting career in a pool, with his weight supported in that warm water, getting the bike leg to the same standard is (quite rightly) taking a little more time.

"Looking at what isn't done, could yield an opportunity you didn't know existed"

It's clear that Max is a talented athlete, has great aerobic conditioning and that training is going well. But, using our extensive experience having worked with a World Champion triathlete, international-standard runners, and World champion and Olympic cyclists, we thought there might be a few opportunities for Max to continue those gains, and get that bike leg faster to support his swim and run.

What's important is not what you do, but what you don't do

The great marathon coach, Renata Canova, described this in a talk, of his and it resonated so much with us. What wasn't Max doing, which might yield some benefits?

As humans, we love to be able to explain things with what we see, we create stories, we create relationships to help understand the world. Max did this, therefore this either is the cause of the problem or the success! Looking at what we can see, would therefore be an obvious approach. But, looking at what isn't done, could yield an opportunity you didn't know existed. But this isn't easy...and if you look at what you'd usually suggest an athlete to do - well you've created a relationship there to create a story and fallen in to the trap!!!

So, what could Max include , or do differently that could yield some results?

Look at the history

We needed to learn about Max. Not by looking at TrainingPeaks, but by chatting with Max, understanding Max, his training and competition history, current training and studies, and his upcoming aims. We weren't interested in the detail of sessions; that wouldn't help us, rather we wanted to know the bigger picture to understand the landscape.

Two key factors came about.

  1. Max has spent a lot of time swimming

  2. Max balances training with studies - or studies with training

Obvious, right? Exactly. Training isn't complicated, but it is highly complex.

Opportunity Knocks

The coach-athlete relationship is a dydadic relationship - and for this to be effective we have to bring experiences from both members to the table. Max knows himself the best and has great experience, so working together we highlighted several opportunities:

Opportunity 1 - lift the ceiling

Opportunity 2 - go back to walking

Opportunity 3 - extension not intensification

Push the ceiling

Max's bike power numbers looked a little tight - it appeared he could sustain very close to his aerobic maximum (i.e. 40km TT as a % of 4 min TT power for example), which wouldn't be too surprising with his background. Lifting this ceiling could enable Max to A) have more power to accelerate, sprint, produce some biggger hard efforts, and B) lift his threshold higher.

"Training isn't complicated, but it is highly complex"

To do this we suggested big gear sprints - something we've successfully used with Olympic standard team pursuiters and long distance time-triallers. Short sprints can increase peak power output in a fresh and fatigued state, 30s and and 5 min max power output (Kirstoffersen et al., 2019), so all the adaptations we would want to see. By varying entry speed and gear choice we were also able to target peak power output through the whole cadence relationship - essential for improving performance in a triathlon where power needs to be applied at varying cadences.


You really can't exaggerate the importance of a solid foundation. But, we don't just mean the ability to cover lots of low intensity training. It's about being prepared for what's to come, to be resilient to all types of training, so when you include a big intensity session, or a longer than normal run, your body is able to cope absolutely fine.

One of our key focuses at The Complete Athlete is to add to what you already have through the season-long training - to do this you need to build something to begin with.

So, what does this mean in reality? Most people think they can run already. But, sometimes going back to walking is the best thing you can do.

For Max, to go forwards, we felt he needed to just be patient, let the work soak in, then layer it on. So, start with what you need to do - consistent training of all 3 disciplines, big gear sprint work, studies and recover from it all to be able to do it all well! Once Max was able to cope with that, perhaps 4-6 weeks, then our suggestion was to layer work on top - for example with a specific bike session, then a run session and do so on.

Extension of speed

Often we come across athletes who push intensity on too early, or look to overload through intensity. Sometimes this works well, but in this case we thought Max might yield some improvements through extension not intensification.

As Max was targeting neuromuscular components in a specific session, we suggested a bike session that would not challenge his legs too much, but target metabolic conditioning. Progression? More work! Start with 3 reps, when that becomes easier, don't push power on, but extend to 4, then to 5. At this point, it's a solid 65 min session (with short rests), with 50 min of riding, which is a pretty serious session.

When combined with other work (i.e. higher power work), extending like this can work extremely well. Intensifying can result in sessions across the week becoming very similar - but extending keeps them different and brings about different results.

Small changes

Max had a programme that he had developed and was clearly going very well off. What will these small changes? yield Well hopefully something positive and we can't wait to see how Max is progressing!

Interested in reviewing your training to find those opportunities? Then drop us an email at, or view our triathlon coaching plans.

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