The Training Matrix

The Training Matrix

The most commonly asked question of any triathlon coach is ‘How do I get faster?’ Pretty simple question but there is no simple answer, unfortunately. My typical reply is “How much time do you have to train? And what are your strengths and weaknesses?” These two factors will determine how the training should be structured. So much is made of intervals, tempo workouts, using new equipment that is guaranteed to make you faster and so on. What it really comes down to is the basics: how much time you have to train, and what you do with that time. As my former coach, Rick Niles, says, “It’s not how MUCH you train, but HOW you train.” That is one of the most important things to remember in setting up your training plan.

In 2008 I took the head coaching position at the University of Colorado Triathlon Team. This is a team steeped in history and success. Ten National Titles in 12 years led to a five year drought of watching other teams walk away with the big prize. The team was stuck in the ‘old school’ way of training.

When I first started with the team I went to the elder members of the team to find out ‘how’ the team had been training for the past few seasons. Lots of long rides, unstructured run workouts, no race specific workouts and very little in the way of swim training. During my first week, I added in VO2 workouts, time trials, and more swim workouts. Gone were the long rides and runs without structure. In their place were shorter, harder rides, lots of climbing on the bike, and weekly run workouts at goal race pace and running off the bike 2 times per week. One of the senior members of the team came up to me after the first month and said, “Mike, what you are doing is completely different than what we’ve been doing the last few years. We usually do a bunch of long slow distance, and then add in the fast stuff before Nationals”. Without trying to sound pompous, my reply was, “I understand that. But if what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, maybe we need to flip things upside down and see if we can’t shake out a different result”. I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I was going to give if my best effort! I had hoped so, but I was pretty nervous it might not! The way I viewed it was, we didn’t have anything to lose. It took 18 solid months of training like this and a little psychological warfare with some of my resistant charges before C.U. was able to re-capture the title of Champions.

One of the first things I did with my team was to send out an Athlete Profile that was to be filled out and returned to me, with such information as best times for 5k and, 10k runs, best swim times, best bike times, what was their favorite sport to train, how many times a week did they train in each sport, etc?

I wanted a profile of each athlete so I could do my best to help everyone as best I could. By the way, the team had over 100 members. I looked at every one of the 60 plus profiles that were submitted and met with every one of those team members to create a schedule specific to them. Improvement was pretty quick the first few months and I could see we were on the right path. Above all else, we had consistency (i.e. frequency) and freshness to our training.
Coaching a college Club Team is challenging due to all the different abilities and as much as I would have loved to create a different schedule for each athlete, it’s pretty much impossible without having about 10 other coaches to help me. So, as I sat down with each athlete I drew up a little schedule based on how much time they could train and their strengths and weaknesses.

The following matrix is something that came about from that season. It was something that helped me realize how easy it is to individualize training based on only a few factors. Looking at the matrix, you can see the number of training hours on the right. The strength is listed as well as the limiter sport and from there you’ll know how to break out the week in terms of how many times you should train in each sport (frequency) and duration (volume).
Before you use this matrix, the key questions to ask:
1. How much time do I have to train?
2. What is my strength?
3. What is my weakness?

Don’t get too caught up in trying to hit every hour, every week. What you are striving for is consistency. If you are a weak swimmer and need to work on swimming, then get in the water 4-5 times per week. There is no shortcut for hard work. Hard work doesn’t mean you have to go ‘hard’ all the time. Hard work is defined by ‘doing the work, week in and week out’. I’ll repeat it again: You don’t need to hammer all the time to be working hard. You just need to be consistent with getting the workouts in. The key to success in anything; be it work, training or life, is consistency. Click on this link to view the matrix and get your schedule on track to reach a personal best in 2015!
Training Matrix.xls

Michael Ricci is a USAT Level III certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at Please visit his website at