Middaugh Coaching Corner – Consistency is King

Presented by Suunto

There are so many different facets to a training program that determine whether an athlete is successful or not. However, when looking back at an athlete’s training log the single biggest indicator of improvement is consistency. Were they able to follow their plan in big chunks of consistent training throughout the year. But as we all know, it not that easy. Below are some guidelines to help you be a little more consistent as you get in your crucial blocks of training:

Put travel dates on your calendar before you build your training blocks

Planning big blocks of training only to realize you have a family reunion or a week-long cruise to Belize right in the middle can greatly impede improvement and consistency. If you know where these things are before you plan your blocks you can easily maneuver around them. Make that business trip a rest week, or a run focus block if you will only be able to run.

Make sure your training matches your fitness level

When coming up with your training program on your own or with your coach, you need to keep in mind your current level of fitness and start out at that level. If you start too far below, you are wasting your time and if you start too far above you are risking injury or overtraining. Don’t start where you left off in the fall and expect to be able to complete your workouts at the same pace, power or volume. I often have athletes start logging their workouts a month before we start their official training schedule so that I can see exactly what they have been doing. If you start your program and feel like you are doing too much, tell your coach or reevaluate on your own before you get injured.

Your volume and intensity must be realistic

A 12 hour per week training schedule will not work when you only have 8 hours to train. A well planned 8-hour week is much better than a 12-hour planned week that you just can’t manage. Athletes often allot training time based on the best-case scenario. Don’t! Make conservative estimates of your time. You will be able to get more of your workouts completed without cutting them short.

Incorporate a strength routine

One of the keys to staying consistent is avoiding injury. A strength routine that focuses on imbalances often found in triathletes can help ensure that you miss fewer chunks of time throughout the season trying to rehab injuries.

Don’t stack missed workouts

In general, if you miss a workout, move on to the next workout. Do not try to stack multiple days into one. This only leads to increased fatigue and chance of injury. It also usually sabotages the workouts for the rest of the week because you are too tired to properly execute them. If you know the workout you missed was a key workout for the week see if it can replace another workout later in the week, but don’t do both.

Training should be a priority, but not your top priority

Unless you are a single professional triathlete, training is not going to be your top priority. You have your family, career, etc. which need to be properly taken care of first before you can think about your training and racing. Plan your training around these more important items. If your family and career are in a good place, you will feel much better about getting in your training time.

Become an expert at time management

The athletes that consistently get in their training are those that know what day and what time they are doing their workouts each week. Without a schedule, it is much easier for something to come up that takes the place of your workout. I have also found that having planned days and times for each workout leads to far fewer excuses for missed workouts. For example, if you know what time you plan to swim you will not plan a conference call during that time if possible. Schedule your workouts just as you would an important meeting.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

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Middaugh Coaching Corner – Performing a Force Cycling Workout

Presented by Suunto

Essentially, a high-force pedaling workout consists of long bouts of pedaling with a slow cadence and moderate to high force.  These workouts might also be called muscle tension intervals, or simply big-gear pedaling.  The intent of a high-force workout is to recruit more muscle fibers per pedal stroke by pushing against a higher force than a typical endurance workout.  These workouts are sometimes referred to as strength training on the bike, or as a way to transfer strength training gains to the bike.  Done correctly, you can pedal with heart rate or power in an aerobic heart rate zone, while pushing a force greater than your threshold power.  Let me explain.

Power is a product of Force X Velocity (pedal speed).  If power stays the same, force and pedaling cadence have an inverse relationship.  Suppose you are pedaling on a flat road at 20 mph.  You can achieve that speed with a high cadence and an easy gear (low force), or a low cadence and a hard gear (high force).  In both cases, assuming all other variables are the same, you have the same power output with the proper gear ratio paired with a certain cadence.  Alternatively, if you want to achieve a force similar to your threshold power without working as hard energetically (think of threshold power as your one-hour race pace, or Olympic distance triathlon bike power).  Keeping it simple, let’s pretend your threshold power is 270 watts and you typically race with your cadence at 90 rpms.  To achieve a similar force at 70 rpms, you would only need to pedal at 210 watts.

Graph from Suunto Movescount (http://www.movescount.com/)


A force workout can be performed with cadence anywhere from 50-70 rpms.  Since the risk of knee pain goes up with such high force, I like the 60-70 rpm range for most people.  On the CompuTrainer, you also need to be careful not to pedal below 60 rpms for risk of overheating the load generator.  Outside on a long, consistent climb, it might feel better in the 50-60 rpm range, assuming pedaling mechanics are sound.  If you live in a flat area, then it works well to pedal a big gear into a headwind. Think of each pedal stroke as an individual rep and drop the heel as you press down to recruit the glutes to lessen patellofemoral stress.  Start with a workout such as 5 x 5 min high force pedaling, and build up the duration of your bouts until you are completing 40+ minutes of total time under muscle tension.  I like to use about 85-90% of threshold power for the force workouts.

The winter is a good time to work on your cycling force and it is easy to control indoors.  One option is to pair force workout with a strength workout.  If you do, it is better to perform the strength training first and then the cycling workout.  The high force pedaling might feel like a big load on the legs, but it is probably only about 40% of your 1 rep max strength.  So, in the weight room you might be doing reps of 10 with 75-80% of 1 rep max, so the strength training has a higher neurological demand.  If your power suffers too much, then you should separate your strength workouts from your force pedaling workouts.

Keep in mind that your overall goal is to increase threshold power, so if you adopt a much slower cadence to all of your cycling, then it will require a significant amount more force to get to threshold power.  It is good to be able to pedal at a range of cadences, so you may want to include some pedaling skills workouts or just be conscious of a faster cadence on your recovery bouts and pedaling at a range of cadences during your endurance rides.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Winter Cross Training

We all remember Bo Jackson and his epic cross training commercials from the 90s, and if you don’t you better ask somebody. He was touted as the greatest all-around athlete, and all he needed was one pair of shoes. You don’t need those shoes, but in today’s age of specificity does cross training still make sense for triathletes? The principles of specificity of training tend to show that greater improvements are made in running, cycling, and swimming by primarily spending your time in those disciplines. There are very few studies that actually show performance gains made through cross training in these individual sports especially in highly trained triathletes.  So why in the world would you want to do it?

We came up with a few reasons:

The weather

This time of year means snow, ice, sleet and cold for much of the country. This means you’re stuck on a trainer or treadmill more often than not. It is, however, the perfect time of year for other activities such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, Pilates and yoga. Substitute a few of each discipline with activities that are ideal for your region this time of year.  Ideally, try to substitute like for like.

Strengthen imbalances and promote recovery

If you read our last article on off-season strength training, we listed exercises to help correct imbalances often caused by swimming, biking and running. A cross-training routine that focuses on your imbalances could help improve performance and help prevent injuries. Choosing low impact exercises such as Nordic skiing, skinning or the elliptical machine allow your body to recover from all the pounding it took this season.

Keep your competitive edge

There’s nothing worse than hopping in your first meaningful XTERRA of the season only to realize you forgot how to suffer. Winter events can really help you keep your competitive edge without the stress of under-performing or racing below a certain standard you have set for yourself. If I race a 10k or half marathon, I have a time in the back of my head I want to achieve even if I say it doesn’t matter. However, if I do an event where it’s hard to compare times such as snowshoe, mountain/fat bike, trail running, obstacle course, Nordic, or SUP events I can compete without having a standard time in the back of my mind. You still get to suffer and compete, but without the extra pressure.

Refresh the mind

You’ve been doing the same three disciplines for months on end.  Keeping up 3+ swims, bikes and runs per week all indoors, can lead to staleness before the season starts. You don’t want to lose all your fitness, but you want to cut back and keep your sanity. Take advantage of your winter environment by performing at least a couple outdoor activities each week.

Have fun

Cross training can be fun and social. Find local groups that are doing the cross-training activities you want to do or learn something new. Hop in local events put on by your local running, cycling and Nordic clubs. This is a great way to meet people in your area that are as crazy as you are!

Gain fitness

We are not saying that you will become a faster swimmer, biker or runner by incorporating cross training, but you can build a bigger engine that can be translated to sports specific speed later.  Conquering challenging terrain on snowshoes, pushing against the resistance of a fat bike, or reaping the aerobic benefits of Nordic skiing can all help make you a stronger endurance athlete as long as you are maintaining some specificity of training in swim, bike and run.

Josiah’s take

I have often welcomed the winter months because of the cross-training opportunities around Vail. Living in the mountains in Colorado, I have been fortunate that there are so many ways to get a good aerobic workout with less impact than pounding pavement.  My go-to cross training modes are snowshoeing/microspiking, Nordic skiing, fat biking, and occasionally skinning.  Many know that I spend a lot of structured time on the CompuTrainer, but I also like the balance of getting outside with some sort of vertical component.  The cardiovascular benefits of snow-running up mountains in the winter are huge.  Often I perform net elevation gain runs by downloading chairlifts to get all of the aerobic benefit without the eccentric downhill.  On groomed snow I wear Kahtoola Microspikes and for the trails and softer snow I wear Northern Lites snowshoes.  I try to get out once a week on skate skis and/or once a week on the fat bike.  For all of these modes, my perception is that it feels much easier to get my heart rate up for a sustained amount of time, therefore achieving a similar aerobic benefit without the intense focus sometimes required indoors.  I believe winter cross training has helped add to the longevity of my endurance racing career for many of the physical benefits mentioned above and also the psychological aspect.

Cross Training Do’s and Don’ts


  • Gradually introduce your cross-training activities
  • Substitute cross training in place of existing workouts
  • Choose low impact activities that limit pounding


  • Add more than 2-3 cross training sessions per week or 50% of weekly training volume
  • Replace your long run with a cross training session
  • Overdue activities that require a lot of lateral and stop and go movements such as basketball and soccer.
  • Add cross training activities on top of existing workouts

A Few Recommended Cross Training Activities (depending on where you live)

  • Nordic Skiing
  • Elliptical Machine
  • Snowshoeing
  • Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Fat Biking
  • A strength routine that focuses on your imbalances
  • Obstacle Course Training
  • CycloCross

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

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Middaugh Horse

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Strengthening for Injury Prevention

A strength-training program for an endurance athlete should accomplish two goals; increase performance and decrease likelihood of injury.  With these goals in mind, some of the exercises selected should mimic the sport itself while others are termed corrective exercises, which promote muscle balance, posture, and joint mobility.

Corrective Exercise

A resistance-training program designed to improve performance must also take into account the repetitive nature of endurance training and address movement impairments.  Cycling and running are sagittal-plane (front-back) dominant activities, although stabilization must occur in every plane.  Swimming is often thought of as a restorative activity, but swimming predominantly freestyle involves very repetitive movements such as internal shoulder rotation.  Due to the repetitive nature of these activities, endurance athletes are predisposed to muscle imbalances and resulting overuse injuries.  Swimmers stereotypically present forward head and rounded shoulders, which can lead to shoulder injury (Lynch, 2009).  Cyclists spend an inordinate amount of time in a biomechanically compromised position.  Hip flexors are shortened and muscles function almost exclusively in the sagittal plane.  Low-back pain and knee-pain are frequently reported in cyclists.  Runners also perform most of their motion in the sagittal plane, but it is the muscles that stabilize in the frontal plane (side-side), such as the gluteus medius, that prevent many lower extremity injuries (Willson, 2005).  In fact, approximately 20% of the energy cost of running is spent stabilizing side-to-side motion in the frontal plane.

The strengthening goal of a corrective exercise program should be to target underactive muscles such as the gluteus medius, transversus abdominus, anterior tibialis, lower trapezius, deep cervical flexors, rotator-cuff and can be specific to the athletes needs.  For example, a distance runner with pronation distortion syndrome might perform hip abduction exercises, single leg squats, ankle dorsiflexion + inversion, glute bridging, plank/side planks, and a single leg tip over.  A cyclist with low back pain might do more core stabilization such as the bird dog exercise, isometric abdominal exercises, side planks, and simple posterior chain exercises such as glute bridges.  A swimmer with shoulder impingement would have more of an upper body focus that would actually look similar to exercises prescribed for a sedentary desk worker or an overhead-throwing athlete with a focus on deep cervical flexors, lower traps, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior.  Exercises I like for swimmers include the Ball Y-T-Cobra, Prone scapular protraction, and chin tucks.

Then complex movements that integrate these muscles into correct movement patterns in a functional exercise can be included, such as a squat + overhead press, cable chop, single leg tip-over + cable row, or kettle-bell swings.  Perhaps the most important advice for corrective exercises is to make sure you are doing each exercise correctly or you are defeating the purpose and reinforcing incorrect movement patterns.  Consider hiring a qualified personal trainer or a physical therapist, even if it is just for a few sessions.

Here is a sampling of corrective exercises for the triathlete:

Swimming correction:

Ball Y-T-Cobra
Prone scapular protraction

Cycling correction:

Bird dog
Glute bridge

Running correction:

Band side steps
Single leg tip-over


Squat + overhead press
Tip-over + cable row


Lynch, S., Thigpen, C., Mihalik, J., Prentice, W., & Padua, D.      (2009). The effects of an exercise intervention on forward head and rounded shoulder postures in elite swimmers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44, 376-381.

Willson, J., Dougherty, C., Ireland, M., & Davis, I. (2005). Core stability and its relationship to lower extremity function and injury. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 13, 316-325.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.

Middaugh Coaching Corner – ‘Tis the Season for a Run Focus


In our last article, we talked about the transition period or the chunk of time after your last race of the season before your “offseason” program begins. At this point, you are probably nearing a month from your last race of the season or gearing up for the final race of the year. Either way you are trying to figure out what to do with your offseason program and juggle the busy obligations that often come with this time of year.

Evaluate your season and set new goals

This could be an entire article by itself, but for now sit down and evaluate your season. What were your strengths and weaknesses? Look at your performances and compare your results to your peers. What will it take for you to move up against your competition next year? This can be done on your own or with your coach. Take this information and set new goals for next year. Write them down!

Focus on a limiter

Take your limiter/s from this season and focus on them during your offseason. Many of us want to improve all three disciplines, but there are one or two that really stick out in comparison to our peers. Pick one mode to focus on for your offseason training and shoot for maintenance in the other two disciplines. If running is one of those limiters we highly recommend that you start with a run focus.

Why start with running

This time of year is extremely busy. We have guests coming to town for the holidays or we are planning trips to visit family. Pools are often closed for big chunks of time or you simply can’t find one while traveling, and your better half thinks the Pack ‘n Play is more important on your holiday travels than your bike. Psst…unfortunately he or she is probably right. Running is the one thing you can squeeze in just about anywhere and offers more bang for your buck. Running has the biggest fitness returns and the highest transfer of training for the amount of time you put in.  A run focus block can accomplish a lot with 4-6 hours per week and you do not have to worry about bike routes or pool schedules.

Run focus example

In general, we recommend a block that is about 8 weeks long.  The plan we detail, follows a 4-week mesocycle with 3 build weeks and one recovery/regeneration week.  Volume is tracked by time rather than distance to accommodate different running speeds.  Run volume ranges from 4 hr 10 min in week 1 to 5 hrs 35 min during week 7.  So, fast runners averaging 7:30 min/mi might be completing 32-44 miles per week, whereas a runner averaging 10 min/mi will complete 25-33 miles per week.

The program starts with a running field test found on our Middaugh Coaching website:


And descriptions on performing benchmark protocols is found here:


The first 4-week block of training is focused on endurance with key workouts in the Tempo zone as described in the zones spreadsheet.  The second 4-week block moves into threshold training at and around 10k race intensity.  Long runs progress from 80 minutes to the longest run at 2 hours.

Swim and bike workouts are also included with two days/wk in each discipline as well as run-specific strength training.

Set a goal

It is important to plan a test or race of some sort at the end of the block to measure your run gains and to keep you motivated. A 10k, half marathon, or trail race are great options.  If this is not possible because of weather, you could plan a snowshoe race, or competitive group run that ends at a local brewery or coffee shop to reward yourself for the hard work and keep you motivated.

Middaugh Coaching 8 week run focus program on Training Peaks:


*Contact us through our website for a code that will give you 50% off!

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.


Middaugh Coaching Corner – The Transition Period


When we talk periodization, the “transition” period is the small slice of your calendar between seasons used for rest and rejuvenation.  Typically this is a 2-6 week period with little or in some cases no activity.  In the Northern Hemisphere many athletes have already completed their final event of the season and may have some questions about this time of year.

How long should the transition period last?

Some athletes apply this term too liberally and stretch this phase all the way past Thanksgiving and through the Holidays to the New Year.  The transition period should not be confused with the off-season.  The off-season is a great time to work on a limiter or establish solid training habits in preparation for the next season (more on that coming in the next article).  The transition period, on the other hand, is an intentional loss of fitness and the main purpose is to let your mind and body rest.  For younger athletes or those with a very demanding, long season, they may opt for a longer period closer to the 6-week mark.  For athletes with a less demanding race schedule, or less overreaching, they can hold the transition period to 2-weeks, because they are dealing with less mental burnout.

There is a case to be made that competitive older athletes should be careful not to detrain their fitness too much and keep the transition period short.  VO2 max is known to decline steadily with age, as much as 10% per decade even with training.  Consistent training from season to season is a way to limit those losses and not going too long without some form of high intensity exercise or race.  Additionally, with years or even decades of cumulative training, there is reason to avoid a long, drawn-out base phase that is void of any intensity, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

How long before I lose all of my fitness?

This is a big concern for Type-A triathletes and as long as the transition period is short, there is nothing to worry about.  The science of detraining is very extensive and the bottom line is that nearly all of your fitness gains are reversible.  If you essentially go on bed rest or desk duty, VO2 max and performance can drop significantly in just a couple weeks, but not as low as an untrained person.  This is primarily due to lower blood volume and actual heart dimensions shrinking.  Fat burning is impaired and muscle glycogen stores return to baseline.  Beyond four weeks, long-term adaptations begin to degrade, such as capillary density and oxidative enzymes, causing longer-term loss in VO2 max.  Luckily even a small amount of exercise can limit the losses, and those with a longer history of training retain a higher baseline of fitness.

What should I do during the transition period?

Again, the transition period is not technically a training phase, so training with a purpose can be reserved for the other 92% of the season.  Put away the power meter and the heart rate monitor and only exercise if you feel like it.  Consider some form of cross training, but not if it feels like a chore.  Opt for activities rather than structured exercise.  Regular exercise is such an ingrained part of our lives, so quitting cold turkey might be more disruptive to sleep and diet patterns than just cutting out 50-75%.  Most of your fitness parameters can be maintained even when you cut your exercise by 2/3.  The point, however is that you are exercising to feel good, or so you can sleep at night, not to try to hold onto your fitness.

For athletes in peak form, it is unrealistic to try to maintain performance at the highest level.   Body fat may be hovering at unsustainably low levels and repetitive movement patterns have lead to some muscle imbalances.  Adding 5 lbs of muscle and 5 lbs of body fat might be the best thing for a hard-core endurance junkie heading into the winter.  Performance adaptations become so specific that cross-training can be great for general fitness, but expect a healthy drop in sport specific performance measures.  Two years ago I took 6 weeks completely off the bike and decided to perform a power test my first day back on the bike.  I was humbled to see a 40 Watt drop in my functional threshold power even though I had been running and strength training.

What can I do to maintain more of my fitness through a long break?

Generally I do believe in keeping fitness and performance in a narrow range throughout a year, but remember that peak performance wouldn’t be a peak without some valleys.  Assuming that you were just at your highest level of performance, expect some drop off.  Be okay with that.  If for some reason you are planning a longer transition period (beyond 4 weeks), then some sort of maintenance can preserve most of your hard-earned fitness.  For a longer break, engage in some low level cardio, strength training, have some dietary control, and include just one high intensity session per week.  Consider performing this scientifically proven workout one day per week to preserve VO2 max:  Warm up 10 min with easy jogging and then perform 3 x 5 minutes at 10k race intensity.  Even if the rest of your training is very minimal, you can further preserve your VO2 max with this type of workout just once a week.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.


Middaugh Coaching Corner – Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Applying the concept of “Aggregation of Marginal Gains”

Anyone who has done an XTERRA falls in love with it because of the family atmosphere and it’s fun, laid back approach. I’ve often heard athletes say it’s everything a road triathlon is not and that’s why they love it! It’s gritty and tough, but competitors that battle it out in the race socialize afterwards and are in many cases actually friends.

Even though it’s more laid back and the community supports one another it doesn’t mean that we’re not each looking to squeeze every second out of our race. If you follow cycling at all you know that British cycling has been unstoppable in recent years. They have dominated the cycling medals at the Olympics and have been on top of the Tour de France with Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. This didn’t just happen. When Sir Dave Brailsford became the head of British Cycling in 2002 the team hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal in cycling in 76 years. The team broke down everything that goes into cycling and tried to improve each aspect by 1%. Brailsford thought that improvement in each area would lead to aggregated gains in overall cycling performance. This is called the Aggregation of Marginal Gains where you try to improve every single aspect of your sport, business etc. by 1%.

They paid attention to every minute detail that surrounded cycling from which pillow was the best for an athlete to use to which massage gel was the best, and even the best way to wash your hands so athletes don’t get sick and miss training. Now how does this translate to XTERRA, a sport many of us do because it is not made up of people concerned with these types of things? By finding the things in each of our races that will lead to the biggest improvement.

Focus on the big things first

In the case of the British cyclists, they first maximized the gains that could be made in their training programming, nutrition and equipment before they started to look at every other little thing.  Have a little patience and perspective and don’t expect changes overnight.  Shaving a few grams off from bike parts may be the last place you need to look for marginal gains.  Consider what changes will make the biggest difference first.  Athletes are individuals and solutions are not the same for everyone.  Also consider the special needs of XTERRA.  XTERRA racers spend roughly 65% of their total race time on the mountain bike.  In some cases, your limiter is not actually where you can make up the most time in a race. Look over some past race results and see where the biggest time gaps are (and don’t forget to look at transitions).

Find free speed

Biomechanical efficiency in swimming, biking, and running result in faster speeds without more energy cost.  Instead of mindlessly swimming laps, consider private instruction, swim stroke analysis, and engage in purposeful practice.  Mountain biking has a highly technical component so make technical elements part of your training and learn the proper way to rail a corner or navigate rocky terrain.  Improving technical ability is about finding the optimal challenge and not getting on terrain that is way over your head.  Running economy is also a discriminating performance component, so holding proper form, performing running drills and strides, and running frequency can all impact running economy.


Knowing what you should be doing and actually doing it are two different things.  I always say that a training plan looks easier on paper.  Some people can hold themselves accountable, but most could use some outside assistance.  It could be as simple as contacting a training partner, joining a masters swim group, or setting your running shoes next to your alarm clock at night.  Have your training planned out in advance either by yourself or a coach and make sure to log what you actually accomplish.

Track as many metrics and you can

Basic metrics such as distance, time, average speed, and rating of perceived exertion can be very easily tracked.  Other metrics such as heart rate, power, pace, elevation gain, etc. are becoming more and more accessible and easier to analyze.  The relationship between these metrics can tell you a lot about your current form and can be used to quantify training load.  In order to figure out how to improve in a certain area it is important to be able to quantify past and current training loads and fitness markers.

All those little things

Consider all of those little things as a conscious choice that can make that one percent difference on a daily basis.  Start by creating good habits first around your exercise and with nutrition.  Maybe you can’t bank 9 hours of sleep per night, but maybe you can have consistent go-to-sleep and wakeup times that will improve your biorhythms with 7 hours per night.  Become better at time management.  Plan your day in advance and schedule your training like you would a business meeting and make it a priority.  Nail your nutrition before, during and after exercise and approach each workout with a purpose.

It may seem overwhelming or selfish to eek out marginal gains in every area of your life, so keep some perspective.  Focus on changes that also have a positive influence on those around you and not the things that have a negative impact on others.  Some of those things can be reserved for different periods of the year where you really buckle down and do everything right.  That might mean achieving a goal weight during the off-season, or having a limiter focus in the late fall for a 10k pr.  During my most important blocks of heavy training, recovery becomes as important as the work so you can get the most out of your hard work.  Heading into the most important race of the season it means dialing in your equipment, knowing the course, planning your race/nutrition strategy, and arriving at the starting line with the perfect combination of freshness, fitness, and form.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.


Middaugh Horse

Middaugh Coaching Corner – A Horse for Every Course

The Maui hills are steep and sustained.  Some may say there are “different horses for different courses,” meaning that some athletes may perform better on a flatter course and another athlete may have the advantage on long, sustained climbs.  But what if you want to be that horse on all courses?

Biking and running uphill depends a lot on your aerobic capacity relative to your body weight.  For cyclists, the discriminating factor for performance is watts per kilogram and for runners it is the relative VO2 max expressed in milliliters per kilogram body mass per minute.  Regardless, it is a pretty simple equation with the rate of work (Power or VO2 max) as the numerator and your body mass as the denominator.

As the key race of the season approaches all athletes want to buckle down, dot their I’s and cross their T’s.  Some self-destructive athletes (myself included) want to train harder, longer, and oh yeah—lose that last 5 lbs.  Achieving all three is problematic. Let me give you an example.

There was a study done a few years ago with three groups of well-trained cyclists.  The first group maintained their normal training volume with no high intensity and followed a low calorie diet.  The second group increased training intensity with high intensity intervals, and did not alter their diet.  The third group did both—increased training intensity and restricted their caloric intake.  Interestingly, the first two groups both increased watts per kilogram but by different methods.  In the first group, watts were unchanged, but body mass had decreased.  The second group increased power output (watts), but body mass stayed the same.  However, the third group actually decreased their watts per kilogram and therefore performance.  Although their body mass was down, their power output plummeted.  They were not able to recover from their workouts and were stuck in a downward spiral, bleeding more watts than the weight loss could make up for.

A word you may have seen in some of our previous articles is maladaptation.  Maladaptation occurs when the stimulus is too strong, too closely spaced, and recovery is inadequate.  Instead of improving performance from training, performance deteriorates.  This is likely to happen if you jump up your training load by a large percentage and then drop caloric intake to very low levels.  The body’s response is an increase in stress hormones, which puts your body in a catabolic state and lowers your immune system.

The take home message is that you need to be smart and practical with how much change you are going to make to either your training program or your diet.  If you plan to bring in more high intensity training, consider backing off a little on the volume to keep your training load in check.  Don’t go extreme with your diet, but make small changes that don’t leave you in a catabolic state and exhausted.

For my final Maui prep, I focus on bringing up the intensity on key workouts, but also backing off more between for proper recovery, and I begin to polarize my training more than other times of the year.  As far as nutrition, I do tighten the screws just a tad, but I double down on my recovery nutrition and the nutrition surrounding my workouts.  I attempt to cut out some of the garbage in my diet with a few simple food rules.  Some of them have to do with specific foods, but most of it is about behavior change, such as sitting down to eat—no eating while standing up, watching TV, or driving.  Usually this results in just a couple pounds of weight loss over the course of 4-6 weeks, while power numbers continue to rise.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Don’t skimp on nutrition before, during, or after exercise.
  2. The quality of your high intensity workouts is most important so don’t begin a session compromised with fatigue or lack of fuel.
  3. Polarize your training sessions more than any other part of the season. Adequately space hard sessions and take easy days a little shorter and/or easier.
  4. Set some simple food rules that are specific to you and easy to achieve. If you have a vice such as soda or snacking on your kids lunch items, cut it out.

Food rules

  1. Weight your calories earlier in the day. Eat a solid breakfast including plenty of low glycemic carbohydrate to fuel your high intensity training.
  2. Nutrient dense foods only around your training (sports drink, gels, recovery drink)
  3. Limit liquid calories outside of exercise (excluding sports drink, recovery drink)
  4. Focus on nutrient dense foods for your main meals, primarily in the evening
  5. Eat foods with high water and fiber content such as fruits, steamed vegetables, salads so you still feel full and eat a similar volume/weight of food. To have a little portion control at dinnertime, try this– eat an apple, drink a glass of water, eat a salad with oil/vinegar dressing and then go for the main course.
  6. No eating past 8:00pm

Josiah Middaugh just won the inaugural XTERRA Pan American Championship and is the reigning XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.


Middaugh Coaching Corner – Tapering Explained

Tapering is a seemingly simple concept but so many athletes still get it wrong usually due to an insecurity in their fitness. The two primary goals for a taper are 1) disappearance of cumulative fatigue, and 2) maintenance and sharpening of fitness.  A successful taper requires a trust in the process and a reversal of thinking.  Through training, athletes learn that consistency is a key to success and there is a fear of loss of fitness if their routine is disrupted. High training loads may be a prerequisite for peak performance, but the results will not be realized without a proper taper.  Done right, a taper will boost performance to a significantly higher level than otherwise possible.

Keep in mind that different abilities have different training residuals.  For example aerobic endurance has one of the longest training residuals of around 30 days, whereas maximum speed has a training residual of around 5 days (Issurin, 2008).  The explanation is that most of the aerobic endurance adaptations are structural, such as mitochondrial density, capillary density, red blood cell volume and hemoglobin capacity.  Anaerobic adaptations have a shorter training residual because most of the adaptations have to do with anaerobic enzymes and buffering capacity.  Maximum speed has the shortest training residual because it depends on neuromuscular interactions and motor control.  This partially explains why volume is dramatically reduced but intensity and frequency remained mostly unchanged.

There are primarily four different tapering strategies:

1. Step Taper:  This is probably the most common and a typical example would be a two-week taper with a 33% reduction in training volume and intensity the first week, followed by an additional 33% reduction in training volume the second week.  So an athlete training 15 hours per week, would drop to 10 hours and then to 5 hours the week before a big competition.  A step taper could also be a 3 week taper with maybe a 20-25% reduction in training each week.
2. Linear taper:  This is simply a linear, progressive reduction in training load so you would see a gradual reduction in both volume and intensity.
3. Exponential, slow decay taper: With this strategy, there is a greater reduction in training load at the beginning of the taper and then training load almost levels off at around 40-50%.
4. Exponential, fast decay taper:  Compared to the slow decay taper, there is an even greater reduction in training at the beginning of the taper and training load is reduced to 20-30% of normal.  Although tapering is individual, research indicates this to be the most effective tapering strategy.

All tapering strategies can be effective, but there is some research to suggest there may be an ideal tapering strategy.  Bosquet (2007) conducted a meta-analysis on the effects of taper on performance and found the most effective tapering strategy to be a 2 week exponential, fast-decay taper in which training volume is reduced by 41-60% without altering training intensity or frequency.  The primary goal of a taper is the disappearance of fatigue without the negative effects of detraining.  Since volume is drastically reduced, it may also be possible to enhance certain fitness parameters with short residual training effects with high intensity interval and repetition training performed in a rested state with adequate recovery (sharpening).

Tapering is individual

A taper implies that there is a training load that requires tapering from.  For a weekend-warrior type athlete maybe training 4-5 hours per week a taper is probably not necessary.  At the other end of the spectrum, an ultra long distance triathlete at 25+ hours of training per week may benefit from an even longer taper of 3 or even 4 weeks.  For long distance athletes such as marathon runners and ultra-distance athletes, I often place the longest run 4 or even 5 weeks before the race.  For most endurance athletes a one to two week taper is ideal.  Here are more guidelines to help you develop the best tapering strategy for you:

1. The higher the training load, the longer the taper and the greater the reduction in training volume.  Conversely, the lower the training load, the less you need to reduce your training.
2. A longer taper should decay slower than a shorter taper.  If you have a long three week taper, then it can be more linear with a gradual dissipation of fatigue.  If you are planning just a one-week taper, then shut it down quickly to a lower training load.
3. Decrease volume first, but mostly maintain frequency and some intensity.
4. Focus on shorter intervals during a taper with longer recovery.  Intervals can be slightly higher than race intensity, but only if you are used to this type of training.  Race week I usually just have one key session on a Tuesday, which is shorter than normal, and I don’t go all out.
5. Avoid the temptation to over-cook your final high intensity workouts since you are feeling fresh and can likely swim, bike, or run personal bests during the final week.  Leave the Strava records alone.  Also consider the demands of your race and it may be unnecessary to perform high intensity repetition work.
6. Have confidence in the process and expect some feelings of guilt. Just because your training load is low, doesn’t mean you didn’t earn your next meal.  Back off your type A personality for just a short time.
7. Don’t overcompensate by restricting your diet.  Muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores need to be at a maximum and hydration optimal.  Since glycogen is stored with water, expect a small amount of weight gain–this is a good thing.  Although you might feel like it, you won’t get fat in your final week of tapering.
8. Decreasing fatigue is the most important part of a taper, so any last-ditch effort to boost your fitness will likely backfire.  When in doubt, leave it out.

The biggest pitfall I see is the sabotage, which usually occurs about a week out from the race.  Again, it is the lack of confidence and the unnecessary urge to complete one final confidence-building workout.  Save it for the race.  For XTERRA racing, the other challenge is deciding how much pre-riding is necessary.  Riding 2 hours at moderate to somewhat high intensity one or two days before the race is a bad idea.  Consider riding just a portion of the course or not at all.  Another strategy is to be very well rested before you arrive so a pre-ride of the course will be easier to recover from.  I often place a complete day off 2 or 3 days out from the race, usually coinciding with travel.


The final piece to get you feeling fresh on race day is a short potentiation workout, often referred to as “openers”.  If you are well rested, but it has been a while since any high intensity training, it may be beneficial to potentiate the muscles with a few short intervals on the bike the day before the race.  A typical workout would be 3-4 reps of 1-2 minutes at goal race intensity in the middle of a 30 to 40 minute ride.  Some suggest that a potentiation workout should be reserved for elite athletes, but if you have trouble with heavy legs on race day, then it would be worth trying first before a low priority race.  For it to be effective, you need to be rested and don’t go all out.  If you have some fatigue from a pre-ride the previous day, then skip the potentiation reps.

For more great tips on how to nail your taper week, check out 4-time World Champion Melanie McQuaid’s latest blog post at http://racergirl.com

Final thought

“Rest is good after the work is done” — Danish proverb

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA World Champion.  He has left a knee cap in Alabama, a tooth in Utah, and an appendix in Mexico … and he dances for good causes!   He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at www.middaughcoaching.com.


Bosquet, L., Montpetit, J., Arvisais, D., & Mujika, I. (2007).  Effects of tapering on performance:  A meta-analysis.  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(8), 1358-1367.

Issurin, V. (2008).  Block periodization versus traditional training theory:  A review.  Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, 48(1), 65-75.

Shepley, B, MacDougall, JD, Cipriano, N, Sutton JR, Tarnopolsky, MA, Coates, G (1992).  Physiological effects of tapering in highly trained athletes.  Journal of Applied Physiology, 72(2), 706-711.