Tim Cusick WKO product leader

Tim Cusick On Deciphering Training Methodologies, Training Individualization, And Long-Term Strategy

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About this episode:
In this week’s episode, Adam interviews coach and product leader of WKO, Tim Cusick, and dives into the four main training methodologies discussing how you should decide which to use in your own endurance training.

Guest Bio – Tim Cusick:
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO product leader, the owner of Velocious Endurance Coaching, and the leader of BaseCamp. His expertise in training, racing, and data analytics offers a unique approach to training that guides his clients to amazing success. He currently coaches world champion Amber Neben, road pro Emma Grant, Rebecca Rusch, and other pros and racers.

Read More About Tim Cusick:

https://www.trainingpeaks.com/coach/timcusick#about
https://www.instagram.com/tim_cusick_coach/
https://twitter.com/tcusick123
https://www.facebook.com/tim.cusick

Episode Highlights:

  • The difference between long slow distance training, sweet spot training, polarized 80/20 training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Is there one best training model?
  • Developing a long term training strategy and individualized program

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.


Thanks To This Week’s Sponsors:

Stages Cycling

This episode of the TrainRight Podcast is brought to you by Stages Cycling, the industry leader in accurate, reliable and proven power meters and training devices.

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Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

If each person had their own definition of who they are I feel like Tim Cusick would be the science of data meets the art of coaching. That would be his definition. He’s the TrainingPeaks WKO product leader, educator, coach and instructor. He’s a creator of the TPU, that is TrainingPeaks University Power Certification program, and he’s also a professional coach of world-class athletes like Amber Neben, Emma Grant and Rebecca Rusch.

Adam Pulford:

He’s the head coach of Velocious Cycling and he leads training camps all around the world. He’s also the creator and leader of Base Camp, a virtual cycling community that you can find online. The other day I sat down with Tim to talk about data analytics, training methods and exploring the way we think as coaches and athletes about how we train and what we do. I’m really excited about this interview. We definitely dive deep not only into the data, but like I said into the way we think about training, how we execute what we do. Give it a listen, because I think you’ll probably start to think differently about the way you do things as well.

Adam Pulford:

Our guest today is one of my virtual mentors. He’s a guru when it comes to coaching and using data analytics to develop performance strategies. Personally, I’m super stoked that he’s here with us today. So Tim Cusick, welcome to the show.

Tim Cusick:

Hey, Adam. Well, thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to people absolutely some training and data stuff.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I think it’s going to be a great discussion, and as we’ve already heard from some of your highlights in the intro, we know a little bit about you. But could you tell us a bit more about your role at Velocious Endurance Coaching and your involvement with WKO5?

Tim Cusick:

Sure. Yeah, I mean obviously one of the things, it’s a great advantage for me is I kind of get the best of both worlds is the way I like to explain it. On one side, I am the TrainingPeaks WKO product leader so I get to work with a great company like TrainingPeaks and I am the leader of an amazing product like WKO. My role in that really is focusing on what the program does, meaning when we start thinking about how are we using data to make coaches and athletes smarter, how do we then kind of articulate that, express that, and bring that into the user hand. As the product leader, I’m often working and get the pleasure of doing that in helping design that direction and the what of the program. The reality is my partner Kevin Williams is the driver behind the design and all the great stuff, but I have the opportunity to kind of direct that direction.

Tim Cusick:

WKO5 is something that we spend a lot of time developing as Kevin and I as partners. It really gives me the opportunity to interact with data. I see a tremendous amount of data and information as we’re thinking of all these kind of cool new metrics, and how we use this data source, and power meters, and HRV collectors, and sleep monitors and all that stuff. It really is kind of the scientist in me side. The side that loves process, and numbers, and models and stuff like that. Basically, I just get to be a full on data nerd. Then the other side of my job is the coaching side. That’s more my passion side. I have the luxury of working with some amazing athletes at a very high level. I’m very blessed to have that opportunity. Athletes like champion, multi-time world champion, Amber Neben, and amazing adventure athletes like Rebecca Rusch. I’m just lucky to interact with these people.

Tim Cusick:

What that gives me kind of the alternative to the science data nerd. I get to be the artist. Here is using and really bringing to life all of this great data, education and interaction, and information that I get, and I can turn around and then apply it and use it with my athletes, but really allow my kind of coaching creative side and how to use that in an artistic format to come out. It really gives me a unique perspective that I do have this ability to coach, and like it said, lucky to coach at a very high level, while at the same time, I’m always on the cutting edge of data, and who’s collecting what, and how can we utilize that to improve coaching and self-coaching athlete performance or athletic performance. It’s quite a unique position and I’m a very lucky person to have it.

Adam Pulford:

Well, I think everyone listening here knows that we have a true expert on our hands. As we nerd out over the next hour, I think everybody’s going to enjoy it. As you mentioned Tim, specifically, we’re going to talk about training methods and endurance community today. What I want to talk about is the pros and cons of each and see if we can decide if there’s a best one out there. Do you think the audience will be into that, Tim?

Tim Cusick:

Yeah, sure, but I’ve got to warn you or I’ll take a little self preservation. I have to put my flame retardant suit on first, because the reality is as soon as you get into these discussion, I’m sure, Adam, you’re going to cause my inbox to light up, my Facebook Messenger to go crazy. But I love getting into it so it should be some fun. I’ll try to give you my clearest opinions.

Adam Pulford:

Well, flame retardant suits are one, so lock and load, here we go. Before we actually get into the very nerdiness, I want to just briefly talk about how we got this idea for the episode. It was actually, maybe last year. It was a while ago. I had a lot of athletes asking me about polarized training, about HIIT, about sweet spot and all these kinds of things. I was answering all these questions and I was like, man, there’s got to be something out there already written that has a good summary of these and I can just send it to my athletes.

Adam Pulford:

I was looking, looking, looking, there wasn’t anything, but there was one really good one, and of course, Tim Cusack wrote it, and I was like, man, this is it. This is the summary, because I was thinking I was going to write one myself if I couldn’t find anything. I actually have been pushing that to my athletes whenever they have questions. Then I was like, you know what? This is going to make a really good podcast episode. Thank you Tim for always being, as you said, on the cutting edge of how we analyze data, but then also how we communicate that data. Because if the data’s there and you don’t know how to relay it, you can’t do anything with it.

Tim Cusick:

Yeah, it’s so crucial. It really is because data is a language of training, isn’t it?

Adam Pulford:

Right. That’s it.

Tim Cusick:

If you can’t master that language, you are leaving training on the table.

Adam Pulford:

Yes, that’s it. Well, I think you call it the big three languages, if you want to call it that. I think when you and I were going over the outline, we decided it should be plus one in there. Those four languages are the long slow distance or long slow duration, LSD training, sweet spot training, SST, polarized training, 80-20, and high-intensity interval training or HIIT. So Tim, could you provide us with a brief overview of those four training methods?

Tim Cusick:

Sure. Yeah, exactly. I’ll give you my opinion in the sense of what they are. One of the things I think we do when we get into these conversations of coaching and training, and I literally, unfortunately, somewhat responsible for this in the world is we tend to take things overly complex. I appreciate you referencing that article that I wrote because my whole goal of writing that article was, let’s just simplify this. Let’s not worry about the over complexity being 110% physiologically accurate because that doesn’t occur. Let’s just simplify it and get it in understandable formats and terms. When you look at these four types of training, the strategic, these training modalities, you have long slow distance, which probably is the one, in some way, that is most common and most of us understand, but otherwise, is most misunderstood.

Tim Cusick:

Long slow distance has a very fancy definition. It’s, you ride your bike a whole lot, right? Let’s just start there. You’re avoiding any higher intensity. You tend to spend a lot of times riding in what’s known as zone one or zone two in a classic five or seven zone model. You simply are doing what I like to call a lot of extensive aerobics work. Meaning, you’re generating the stress strain you need to trigger adaptation by lower intensity, higher volume exercise stimuli. LSD has been around for a long time. A lot of people will refer to it as the Classic Euro model, and it works pretty well to a point. People forget that if you ride your bike a lot, pretty slowly, you’re still increasing VO2 max, you’re still having some excellent cardiovascular responses.

Tim Cusick:

You’re having some oxygen uptake improvements and oxygen intake improvements. It all works, but the reality of long slow distance is something that I call situational training and it fits in a specific role and I’ll get into more of that a little bit later, but it is a system out there that has some effectiveness and can be utilized. We then get into the discussion you had, the next you listed was sweet spot training, and this is more, if you think about the power distribution, you’re spending a lot more time in the middle zones like zone three and four, let’s call that tempo and threshold. Somewhere in between those two, which Frank Overton, I think it was who originally coined the phrase called that sweet spot training. What basically sweet spot training is, it’s looking at that power output and spending a lot of time in that area or it being pyramidal.

Tim Cusick:

Meaning, building a pyramid where less time in the lower zones, less time in the high intensity zone and a lot more time in those middle zones. To me, that is what I call an intensive aerobic approach where you’re creating stimuli or stress and strain in the name of looking for adaptation by doing not as much volume, but still doing a fair amount and you’re doing the volume at a slightly higher intensity, but not to the point where you are truly anaerobic. You’re still banging away on that aerobic system but you’re doing it at a higher intensity and substituting time. Sweet spot is an approach. It has a fair amount of gain because you get most of the balance from … Most of the same gain you would get at spot, you get most of the same gains if you would get, if you were working at threshold, but you get a lot less fatigue, so you can actually do more work in that middle range and get most of the benefit than you would at FTP.

Tim Cusick:

Another thing I think that people forget and sometimes when it’s discussed, if you do a lot of road racing and you’re doing one day races and your local events, you spend a lot of time. Look at most of your average power of those races, you’re in your tempo sweet spot range whole lot. Also, sweet spot training is a real natural fit for people doing one day races, ongoing races, stuff like that. There’s some advantage there. Next, we have polarized training, and polarized training is something, oddly enough, gets confused and a lot of people. The idea is that you’re doing some group of hard days, like really hard days and the other days are easy days. Classically, this is expressed in the literature I would say with the people that have developed some of these systems as 80% of your days are really easy.

Tim Cusick:

So eight out of 10 workouts are easy days. You’re riding in a low zone two and below in a classic system, or zone one in the three-zone system and the other 20% of the days are really hard. The basis behind polarized training is you’re riding easy on the easy days, so you’re fresh enough to go really hard on the hard days. That’s how you introduce stress and strain to the system in the hopes for adaptation. Then finally, you have high intensity training, which in some ways can be really simply express, just go hard but not long. Basically, if you’re on a bike, you’re just going hard in one format or another. There’s lots of ways of doing that micro intervals, steady state intervals, whatever. There’s a group of definitions on hard. It really depends on what you’re doing and what you’re targeting.

Tim Cusick:

But the reality is you’re training a lot less volume and pretty much every time you’re on the bike, you’re just going hard enough to elicit, and that’s adaptation by creating a very intense version of stress and strain. Again, that is more of a situational system in my opinion, and tends to work well for athletes with significant time limitations. I think overall if you were to try to systemize or put training and systems, those are probably the best four or the four where you can group the types of training or training modality that’s out there.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s a fantastic overview of all of those, Tim. You always do a very good job articulating [inaudible 00:14:14]. For our audience members listening, I’d still push you to the article that’s good, but I mean, that overview right there is it. Now also, you mentioned that there’s nothing new under the sun here. These methods have been around for quite some time, but Tim, you mentioned that there’s these ongoing debates of people choosing sides and maybe how divisive or maybe how bias that can be. Why do you think that happens out there in the coaching world as well as just the endurance community world?

Tim Cusick:

Wow. Okay. Suit on. It’s definitely one of my pet peeves. It really is. I try to fight this a lot when people see me posting or in my educational programs. I think it’s so important that every coach or self-coached athlete invest in their own education and understand that yes, a lot of information that’s on the internet where somebody might be out there selling something forcefully, but that doesn’t make them correct. You need to vet and learn and understand and test. My pet peeve really is with the internet is somebody comes out with an idea and starts taking a position, but that pigeonholes, it pigeonholes the people that take the position and the ideas that they have and then suddenly people encamp or align themselves with camp. That’s where that, that solution is better, that solution is the right solution.

Tim Cusick:

The problem is, before you know it, they’re all in on one solution. They’ve created one solution. It fits their current or momentary point of thinking. They then defend it and then the internet runs into camps and suddenly you have everybody saying, “No, no, polarized is better than sweet spot.” Then you get, “No, no sweet spot is better than LSD or long slow distance.” Then you’re in these arguments of one being better, one being a superior solution. I think that’s the mistake because you don’t know. If you’re not really investing in understanding those and in education and in some good old-fashioned trial and error coaching and training, you have no real clue. You just have people on the internet supporting a specific solution that might or might not be the right solution for you.

Adam Pulford:

That’s it. So, what you’re saying is there’s no best fit, there’s no best method?

Tim Cusick:

There is no best method and that is the argument I fight against. Look, talk about the role of a coach. Let’s specifically say what a coach does here. I know there’s plenty of self-coach athletes, and this is relevant to them also. But if you’re a coach, your job is two things. Get an athlete to peak performance and get that athlete to peak performance when they want to be on peak. Their big event, whether they’re completing their first century or they’re looking for an Olympic Gold Medal, that is your job. I will give every coach and every self-coached athlete a little secret here. There is no perfect training plan. There is no absolute right answer. All you can do as a coach is increase the odds of success, and success being getting your athletes to peak and on peak when they want.

Tim Cusick:

There’s no absolute answer. There’s no perfect solution. The decisions you need to invest in making, learn what’s right or wrong, learn what works is investment into what increases my odds of success. Why does that? Why can you only increase the odds? We all adapt to exercise stimuli uniquely. Both like the depth of response and the timeliness of response. If you and I went and did the same workouts for a six straight weeks, we wouldn’t adapt the same. We would have some similarities and some differences. Your needs and response might be different than my needs and response. I think in closing that off, one of the things I think all coaches and self-coach athletes again, really fight is don’t think in terms of absolutes.

Tim Cusick:

Don’t pigeonhole yourself. It’s not, which is the right method. Ask yourself, what is the most effective solution for this challenge? My challenge is I need to be in peak form for that century or for that state championship or that Olympic gold. You have to be open minded and look, explore, learn for effective solutions. Don’t start with right or wrong or you’re actually just introducing a lot of bias into your thinking.

Adam Pulford:

Yup. I 100% agree, and this is how I coach my athletes as well. Some of this is queuing up the questions and also learning along the way too, because as we’re describing this and as I think about how I coach my athletes, actually, there’s a great quote by [inaudible 00:19:16] who’s an economist back in the, I think ’60s and ’70s. What he said is there’s no perfect choice. There’s only trade-offs. I know that in some of your product, the WKO5 education and what we’re talking about high levels and things like this. You were discussing FRC, FTP when you need more or less of that. That’s getting a little specific, but maybe you could talk about when you’re making a decision on performance strategy or a strategy to train your athletes, how do you decide when there is a cost benefit or when there’s a trade-off to what you’re doing?

Tim Cusick:

Well, I think it’s a great question and I really appreciate your desire to get into that because it gets a little muddy. Let’s just start out with, when you look at these modalities, I think people fall in love because when they can define something easy, hey, this is long slow distance, this is polarized, this is sweet spot, and we fall in love with that solution, we do exactly that. We do pigeonhole and then we are looking for the best solution. But the reality is each solution, whatever training, you have to think about a couple of overarching elements of training. One of the things is, and you’re just touching on it, is there is a trade-off or a cost benefit of every decision you make. I think as a coach or a self-coach athlete, as you consider the strategy of training, what’s my plan, what’s my training strategy, right? You always have to consider those trade-offs, the cost benefit.

Tim Cusick:

It’s like, unfortunately, as an athlete, now I’m speaking as an athlete at the moment, not as a coach. If I’m training and I’m focusing on one thing, other things are suffering. That reality is always going to be true. The power duration curve, if you get into the data, how we make power over time is a sigmoidal shape, which is a fancy term for like an ass. The reason we call it sigmoidal is when you push up in one area, the other area goes down, and then you run over back to that area and you’ll push up in that area and a different area goes down. When you’re making training decisions because you’re looking at, wow, I want to create this one result, you have to spend time thinking about what is going to be the cost of that result.

Tim Cusick:

One of the ways that was explained to me really well by Dr. Coggan, to give him credit for this explanation is, I used to see like on the old time, late night TV shows or variety shows, not to tell everybody how old I am, but there’s that plate spinning person who spins five plates on a stick. You see them running back and forth and they’re spinning one and the other one’s slowing down and just about to fall off, and they run over there and they spin that one and then this other one starts just about to fall off and they spin that one. Well, guess what? That’s the reality of the relationship of dose and response when we’re talking about exercise stimuli and the effect on physiology. When we get specific in dose, we go over and we spin one plate, the other plates are slowing down.

Tim Cusick:

You have to understand what it takes to spin the right plates that you really want the most success, what areas of training you’re focusing on and understand what it’s going to take in the trade-off, the slowdown of the other plates and is that acceptable. The example that you said, and the easiest way for people to think about it, you take a sprinter who’s a very good sprinter but gets dropped every race. As a coach, you get them through three, four or five micro cycles of intensive threshold raising, and you raise their threshold 1520 watts, and you’re like, Woo-hoo, I can finally have raised their threshold high enough that they can make the break.” But then they lose the sprint because they dropped 200 watts their sprint while they were so busy focusing on threshold.

Tim Cusick:

Did we really improve that athlete’s performance? Was the cost of the decision to raise that much threshold too high? You still haven’t turned the athlete into their end goal. They want to win a race. I think when we talk about these modalities, we have to think about the cost benefit of them all.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I liked that a lot. As I sit here and think about those situational costs or what I’m giving up in order to get … I was actually doing an interview, as I mentioned, with Jim Miller, coach Jim Miller last week and we were talking about having the long term vision in context with the short-term training block and how you have to be able to, if you’re a self-coached athlete, you have to be willing to let go of one thing in order to gain another and then get the other back. Or as a coach, you have to think two, three, four years down the road, sometimes maybe even longer when you’re trying to make those big advancements in, call it threshold development, and knowing that, okay, we’ll [inaudible 00:24:14] and then be able to communicate that. I think with everything that you’re talking about with the cost benefit analysis of an athlete or of yourself, I think it’s important to keep the timeline in mind as well while you’re training and coaching.

Tim Cusick:

Yeah. One of the things I say to all people, just on that point, and I think you’re getting very wise advice from a smart coach, you always need a training strategy. You and your athlete need to be able to understand and articulate that. All other activities are just tactical under that. That strategy isn’t one month or three months or five months, it is long-term view and the better you can articulate and have that strategy, the easier it comes to apply. All of these questions we’re talking about, which training format, what is success? What are we trying to accomplish? All very good points.

Adam Pulford:

Yes. Well, let’s talk about that training format or the strategy or the approach that you would take with an athlete. Point blank, speaking to coach Tim here. Can you tell our audience, how do you choose which method to start with?

Tim Cusick:

I think that’s another great question. I’m going to keep saying that. You’ve got great questions. You have great questions. We’ll get that out of the way. I think that the thing is one, go back to what I said, just accept there is no perfect solution. You’re not going to have one scenario and be like, “Wow, this is best.” As a matter of fact, the answer really becomes … there is no one perfect solution. The answer becomes you have to look at that strategy. It starts in a situation of saying, all right, we’re going to apply one. You have to go back to a simple starting point, something that I preach all the time when you’re looking and you’re starting with an athlete or you’re developing your own training strategy or whatever it is.

Tim Cusick:

You have this relationship of the ability of the rider meets the demand of the event. The reality is this idea of start, and this is where data, and I know we’ll talk about this a little later, plays a role because it helps you quantify this point. What can this rider do, not do? Where are they currently at? Then they’ve chosen an event they want to do well at, then they have to achieve this event. Then the next step becomes training modality and how that fits. Here’s the answer. There is no one correct answer. Sorry, no easy answers today. You don’t just get to pick one and go on. As a matter of fact, it’s complex. I think what happens, this is probably the number one area, I think if people really learn to evolve their coaching, they’re going to understand what I’m saying here. I know that sounds preachy and there are so many better coaches and smarter people than me in the world, but I only know what I know.

Tim Cusick:

This is a simple way to do it. I talk about it as an example of music. Where I see coaches and athletes online and so much discussion on each individual note, they’re searching for the perfect workout. That one perfect workout that’s going to add 20 watts to my threshold or 100 watts to my sprint. If I was to do my “VO2 max” intervals at 305 watts versus 318 Watts, is that what’s going to give me 15 watts of threshold? We spend so much time in the dialogue of that one note, that I’m going to give you my personal belief, opinion in secret, that one note is not as important as you’re thinking. What’s important is the ability to take all those notes and put them in an order that creates music, that makes a symphony.

Tim Cusick:

Man, that’s the secret to coaching. That’s when magic happens and athletes achieve goals and reinvigorate performance and achieve things they didn’t think they were capable of. If you’re so busy talking about the exact precision of each individual note, you’re missing the symphony. You’re not doing your job. That symphony of putting all those notes in order, that’s your strategy. Then when you start talking about the idea of each note as a modality and multiple modalities, that’s the answer. There is no one solution. As a matter of fact, the magic is knowing when to use which. When do you select individual modalities? How do you use each one of those notes to make music? That’s the absolute solution, in my opinion, to coaching. Don’t get lost in the individual. I don’t really care that much if you do 310 watts or 322 watts.

Tim Cusick:

But if you know when to do that workout and the overall role it plays in your music, that’s when you elevate coaching. The answer is, it’s basically a multi-modality approach and the only way you find what works for an athlete, here’s another hard truth, assumption and trial and error. You’ve got to start with some assumption. I think this is going to work. Don’t start with the assumption, I know this is going to work because I’ve done that before numerous times, much to my own trigger and in failure. Start with the assumption that you think this is going to work and then measure that. Make sure you’re getting the responses, and the only way you tend to learn really from those assumptions is when you fail.

Tim Cusick:

It is a certain amount of experience. I don’t want to say all coaching is trial and error. Not at all. Because we tend to say, when I say coaching, you’re thinking, not you necessarily, but the listeners might be thinking one coach, one athlete, but over time, as you hone the skill of the coaching artist, the coach artist, you learned to make music, you learn to do those things correctly because you fail, like you’ve made a mistake with this athlete or when they had this really big goal, win state championship and I messed them up really bad. That’s how you learn. It’s challenging and it’s hard, but if you don’t learn from those failures, if you can’t accept them, then you don’t learn. Eventually, then you get to understand that those play in how you make your music. Those give you understanding of what order you should put your modality together to start the process.

Tim Cusick:

In the end of the day, the answer is, it is multi. You need all of those in your tool box to be able to get an athlete to peak form when they want to be on peak.

Adam Pulford:

Well, I want to stay right away that symphony and analogy that you used, that’s beautiful. I like that lot. I’m probably going to use that often as an analogy.

Tim Cusick:

You have to pay me 25 cents every time you steal it.

Adam Pulford:

Every time. I’m just going to [crosstalk 00:30:53].

Tim Cusick:

Mail me a quarter.

Adam Pulford:

I have a quarter jar on my desk and I’ll just mail it off [inaudible 00:30:58]. It’s so true, and I appreciate it because I actually, for a lot of people, this will probably blow their minds, I sing. I was in multiple choirs for years and years and years. I resonate, not only with the musical analogy, but with athletic analogy, and I think we have all these conferences and coaching seminars and things. It’s always the art and science of coaching is how we end it, because we understand that there’s hard science going on. There’s trends that we can see, but then there’s this artistic aspect of how you get an athlete that has been doing hours and hours and years and years of this.

Adam Pulford:

When they put it all together, that’s beautiful, and it’s very hard to replicate. Again, I appreciate the analogy that’s just a spin-off of there, but to hone back in on this interview and bring it down to the audience is, I appreciate the way you break up your periodization model and you basically, you’ve got a train to train phase and then you’ve got a peak phase. Can you walk us through that? Because I think that’ll help bring some grounding to our audience members into those self-coach athletes out there listening to be like, “Okay, well where do I start?”

Tim Cusick:

Yeah. No, excellent question. As probably most people know, you have this idea of periodization in training and periodization is breaking things down into certain microblocks so that we can all understand them better and achieve. There really isn’t a hard science behind periodization, not as much as people like to believe. Me, I keep it simple. I have two phases. I have the train to train phase and then the peak phase. In the train to train phase, I have one objective with the athlete. My goal is to get as deep of training, and their specificity to that. There’s progression, there’s other factors, but my end goal is to get them the utmost prepared that I can get them for the peak phase. The train to train phase, I am trying to build the foundational building blocks of the athlete so that when they go into that peak phase, they can work so hard. They can be so strong during that peak phase that they take their performance to the absolute peak.

Tim Cusick:

Those two phases tend to have a time range. My train to train phase, I usually recommend somewhere between 12 and 20 weeks. It really depends on the athlete’s maturity and history and stuff like that. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less based on situation and life, but it’s in that range, and then that leads into the peak phase. For me, the peak phase, and I see this again as an opinion, a mistake that I see a lot of coaches and athletes make. That peak phase is very short and very intensive. It’ll range somewhere between three and eight weeks in that time range. Eight weeks would be extreme, to be honest with you, for me, usually it’s three to five weeks because most of the gain, once you start going really that hard, will happen in that first three to four weeks, everything after that is just more fatigue.

Tim Cusick:

Those are my two general phases. Now, in the train to train phase, here’s where you see an excellent opportunity to employ some different modalities. To bring it back to life and bring it back to real world, my own experience, I’ll just give you my example here. I like to start and I have the luxury of working with professional athletes who have a little more time to train, so it’s somewhat my response here is subject to that. Early train to train, I like long slow distance. There’s a fair amount of benefit if you have the time to do that, and to do that in more of an unstructured way that has little less mental stress and little less physical stress early in that phase. There’s a benefit of starting out and using long slow distance training as a strategy.

Tim Cusick:

But the reality is, for me, in my process, once we get a fair amount of that foundation and that aerobic foundation in, we start moving more towards the idea of base building, maybe to use a more classic term, and in there we’re talking about sweet spot. I am a sweet spot trainer. In that sense. I do believe sweet-spot training has advantages. Yes, there is a price. It’s a little more fatiguing at times in other reality, but because of the specificity of racing, athletes spending a lot of time in there need to be good at that. This is an excellent phase to use sweet spot and modality. So I evolved during my train to train phase from LSD to sweet spot. The reality is, even through that, don’t think that we’re not using some elements of high-intensity training and some elements of polarized all at the same time.

Tim Cusick:

It’s just the LSD and the SST evolution are really engaged there. During that train to train phase, I think it’s super important that the coach or self coach athlete really has … whatever modality they choose, understands the needs of progression in that timeframe. You don’t need to be as specific in the trains train phase. You want to obviously always have some elements of specificity driving, and it really does kind of depend on your overarching goal, but the reality is progression drives the boat during that timeframe. For me, progression means time in each one of those modalities and time at the key elements within those modalities. If you’re riding long-slow distance early in your train to train phase, you just need more time each week. Make sure you’re progressing time. You don’t need to go harder, just progress time and build as much as you can.

Tim Cusick:

A professional athlete doesn’t have limits to their time, so you might build up to 20, to 25, maybe even 30 hours or more, right? It really depends on how you use it, but you need to progress time. You want to constantly be stimulating, that you want to be adding stress and strain and stimulating the exercise response through progression. Now, as you evolve into sweet spot training, which really to me is the core of the train to train phase, that’s kind of my heavily used driver where I want the most response because a lot of my response I’m looking for is aerobic capacity. It is an aerobic sport at the end of the day.

Tim Cusick:

In the sweet spot phase, again, it’s progression of time.when I look at an individual workout, but more specifically, when I look at a week or a four week cycle and I tend to, at best … I don’t like to drill down much below that four week cycle when I’m planning in conjunction with the overarching strategy, is I always want to be progressing week by week, cycle by cycle time at sweet spot. At a workout level it’s very easy to explain. If you’re starting out with two times 15, progress that to two times 17, progress that to two times 20, then to three times 15, but you really want to keep progressing time in those zones. Progression in my train to train phase is more about time than trying to go harder, adding higher and higher power targets.

Tim Cusick:

Now, don’t get me wrong, your threshold and your capability will grow during that phase naturally, it’s just not the driver. Progression is driven by time and zone, whatever modality you’re testing. Once we feel, or I’ve worked with the athlete and we’ve used data to think we’ve gotten the maximum amount of gain out of that phase, let’s call it in its simplest term, let’s say you’re really just focusing on a aerobic fitness. Once you get maximum aerobic fitness and you’re no longer gaining in performance, you’ve kind of at that plateau, that’s when we moved to the peak phase. Now, timing for an event often drives this, but I’m giving you the ideal example.

Tim Cusick:

Now, the peak phase we build on top of all that basics. Now we flip what we’re looking for. I’m not a big fan of polarized training long-term, sorry, polarized fans. Again, literally, my email’s probably lighting up now. I’m not a big fan of polarized training long-term because if you look at most of the training, it pretty much hits its performance plateau at about six to eight weeks in. Then what happens, because it just becomes monotonous, the body is not being introduced to change or new stress or new stimuli and response tends to significantly slow down. But where I am a big fan of polarized approach in general is, because I also think it’s an excellent discipline of training, when you move into that peak phase, what happens in my peak phase is the days we go hard, we go really hard.

Tim Cusick:

We switch from the train to train approach of adding volume of time and targets towards, now in the peak phase, we’re adding intensity, meaning the goal is five more watts, every workout, every interval, every push. We’re targeting absolute maximal power in the hard days. With the polarized approach, where you’re doing a limit, when you’re not riding hard, those 80% easy days do leave you fresh enough, and this is a discipline most self-coach athletes, and even a fair amount of coaches don’t have. They let their athletes ride too hard on the easy days during this peak phase and then they don’t have the quite energy on those hard days to squeeze out that five extra watts.

Tim Cusick:

They’re just a little bit too tired. Now for me, polarized training, once you move to the peak phase, three to five weeks. Once you’re there, get after it, go hard. Elicit that peak based response. Most of the response you get from intensity training will come in the first three to five weeks, you’ll have 95, and it depends, right? This is very individualized to some degree. But for all of us in general, most of that response will come in those first three to five weeks. Time that well and use that peak to achieve your peak event performance.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. No, that’s perfect. I think for the audience members, listening to this, self-coach athletes in particular, and then coaches like focus on that, because if you can do that very well, incredible. You will get the results you’re looking for. Then from there, because we’re not going to talk about taper unless Tim, you want to, but tapering can be a whole other conversation in itself. You got to figure out you as an athlete or you got to figure out your athlete, their footprint, their uniqueness in order to dial that in. But I think if you do these two phases very well and practice taper and stuff, that is the base knowledge to then figure out the artistry of the taper.

Tim Cusick:

Adam, I think that’s it, and it’s the music, right? Because somebody is going to hear what I just said and what you just said. You know what they’re going to email me? “Well, Tim, what’s the perfect polarized workout? Do I do four times four or four times five?” I’m going to say, “Don’t focus on the note.” Understand the general. It’s more important that you do one or the other really, really hard on that day and then go really, really easy on other days versus finding the exact prescription for that one day. I think if they follow that advice as a whole, I think your points are super accurate, they will get a pretty good boost.

Adam Pulford:

Yes, yes, yes. Well, so we’re talking, not abstractly here, but we’re talking about concepts. What I want to do now is talk about the role of data, which I think plays a little bit of a role in your life. Let’s talk about some of the roles of data when it comes down to decision making. I’ll leave it up to you to take it from there.

Tim Cusick:

Yeah, I had the slide, and it’s funny, and I’m the data guy, right? For my internet presence in the WKO thing, everybody’s like, data. Everyone ask me all day long, “What do you think about this data and that data?” To be honest with you, that’s my background. Before I got into this and coaching, I was a model builder. Not a mathematician. Big difference. The reality is I worked in the development of statistical models that predicted what we called propensity modeling. If we do this, what’s the likelihood of that occurring in its simplest format. I’ve always had a data background, and when I looked at data coming into training, and really, it was driven by the power training evolution in the early 2000s. I was like, wow, there’s a lot of things we can do here.

Tim Cusick:

As I watch people use data, I’ve said, well, you know what? No one’s defining how to use data. Let’s define how we should be using data first and then look at all the elements we put underneath there. So you have an understanding of what the toolbox should do and then all the tools in the toolbox to accomplish that. My kind of lifelong mission is to get people to understand this key point. It’s not data science, it’s decision science. When you look at the role, the core role of data and how it applies to your training strategy, training modality, your individual workout, so there you can have a little note element. How does data apply? It helps you make better decisions. It is not the decision itself. That’s so important.

Tim Cusick:

I see people out there saying, well, they’re … the data tells me to do this, this and this. No, actually the data is giving you information to make good training decision and so on. What are those types of information? It really all evolves around, first you have diagnostic and diagnostic data. You can use data in unique ways to better understand that performing athlete. Actually, now in the more modern use of data and models, and this is a WKO thing where we can look at the physiology based off the data, we can actually then use the data to better understand that athlete’s physiology. Then we can maximize the training by taking that athlete and understanding of the underlying physiology and using that to create specific training dose, intensity, time amount with the expectation of a specific response.

Tim Cusick:

Then as we implement that, we can actually measure, did we get what we expected out of that dose of training by having a superior measurement of response. When you’re really talking about data, top down, it’s a decision tool. It’s not just data for data’s sake. When people asked me on our WKO Facebook group and thousands of people in there, they’ll say, “Well, I need this piece of data.” You’ll see me often reply, and it frustrates people at times, “Why?” Because if you can tell me what you really want to know, I might tell you a shorter way to get to that or a better way to understand it. I think people, it’s really what decisions. When I look at that analytic, that data analytic, what decision is it helping me make? How do I use it to improve my training?

Tim Cusick:

I think if people wrap their head around that first, it’s not data science, it’s decision science. The role is to help you diagnose the athlete, help you apply dose, help you attract response, in which case then you’re re-diagnosing. So, it’s a cycle. It’s not a linear little thing and you’re constantly using data to do that.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I think the biggest takeaway there is it helps you to think. One of the things I remember, gosh, this is going to maybe date you as a coach, but I remember first flipping over to TrainingPeaks and then the first iteration of WKO and many coaches not wanting to change the way that they analyzed data. Then went from three to four. Because we were on three for like ever. We went from WKO 3 to WKO 4. I could see then the coaches that were going to evolve and get better and the coaches that weren’t because they couldn’t shake the biases that they had about the way that they were doing their methods. I think what you’re speaking to, and this is helpful for anybody who is into data analytics from the athletic standpoint, is that it’s going to challenge you personally about your beliefs about the way that you train yourself or the way you train your athletes because the data can’t speak. It’s not saying anything. It’s giving you inputs and then you decide what you’re going to do with those inputs.

Tim Cusick:

I think that’s a great point. I’m going to have to steal that one. We’re even now.

Adam Pulford:

All right. We’re even. Yeah, that’s right. No more quarters.

Tim Cusick:

Data is meant to remove bias. It really is, and it forces you, to be honest, and we, and I know you were part of it then, we went through a very tough evolution with the launch of WKO 4, because it forced people to look at things they didn’t want to accept. Now we’ve evolved beyond that, and WKO 5 is out and the reality is more and more people are going, “Ah, wow, that was really cool. If wouldn’t have made that change, I’m faster now. I’ve improved, my performance is better.” Because sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s still the truth and it’s going to be helpful as long as you’re willing to accept it.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. No, that’s it. For me, it hit home big time. We were in, it was in Boulder, it was a WKO 4 chart building symposium. There was like 30 of us there. Dean Golich and you, and I was … From there, I was just like, I’m in, I’m sold. All my chips are in on this thing. So anyway.

Tim Cusick:

That was actually a great session. Dean was very flamboyant in that meeting. I appreciated his time and energy. No, I agree.

Adam Pulford:

He’s [inaudible 00:49:21]. Yeah.

Tim Cusick:

He is always. Yes. No, and I think you’re making the right overarching point. When you talk about data, the other problem is we all have an expectation of … it’s a number, right? It’s something. You do have to go all in if you really want to use it. I mean if I told you there was a system out there that could improve your training and athletic performance by 10%, you’d be like, “Great, where do I buy it? Is it new wheels? Is it a new Aero helmet?” And I’d be like, “No, it’s learning.” You’d be Like, ah. People are like, ah, not learning.

Adam Pulford:

For sure. It hurts.

Tim Cusick:

Data is just a mechanism. It’s just part of that language. It’s learning what, in my opinion, and I’m biased because I’m part of the team that designed it. Kevin and I brought it to life. WKO 5 is a system that brings that to you. You still have to learn how to use it. It’s not going to be like, “Hey, I opened WKO 5 and I was 10 watts faster. What you have to do, understanding and there is, it’s just superior data. It improves your odds. The more you learn how to use that tool, the more you will improve your odds, the more you can take your performance to the next level, but you still have to invest in how to utilize the data itself and the system.

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. As we clip along and we’re kind of coming, not yet to the summary and to the close, but that’s a good transition to talk about the individualization of an athlete. I know that this hits close to home for you because of your own physiology, but tell us about why it’s so important to individualize a training approach.

Tim Cusick:

It’s funny you say that. I do not remember the seminar you’re talking about and telling the story. The reality is, so there’s a lot of individuality in athletic performance. Each one of us is unique and our response to exercise stimuli is unique. The reality is, I’m not sure everybody truly grasps this, but this is going to be a truth that hurts right here. If you look at what I call the classic training systems, you go back to the classic levels that you know were created by Dr. Coggan and Joe Friel had some … people had some different levels and systems that they brought out. They’re talking about performance with power. The ways those were created is there was the development of this idea of functional threshold power, FTP, which roughly coincided with your lactate threshold, and staying away from all the different thresholds and discussions, which roughly consigned with lactate threshold or your maximal lactate steady state.

Tim Cusick:

Then we took that one point and we developed an entire training paradigm off that point. Meaning, if I was going from 100 to 100 and … if I was going from 95, I can’t even remember the old system, 90% to 105% of that number, I was training my threshold. If I was going from 106% to 120% of that number, I was training my VO2 max. If I was training 121 and above, I was training anaerobic capacity. Well, the reality is that was simply based off a bell curve of data, meaning Dr. Coggan, and it was amazing for the time. People don’t understand his vision and what he did, so I’m not being negative about it at all. It was incredible. He said, “Look, this will work. It’s descriptive, but it didn’t work.” He created that kind of classic training system.

Tim Cusick:

But the reality is the entire paradigms, all of those paradigms are based off a bell curve. It assumes all humans are responding to stimuli the same. The reality is, and particularly now that we can measure this better and over the last five or six years and we know a little better, that answer is about half. About half the athletes in the world fit within that bell curve and the other half doesn’t. That shouldn’t surprise. Hence, it’s a bell curve. You have 50 in the middle, 25 on one side and 25 on the other. When you start talking about training individualization, and this is something we set out to accomplish in WKO 4 and further fine tuned over time, we wanted to get way from the principles of generalization and we wanted to really be able to individualize training, specifically to that person, to that individual.

Tim Cusick:

To do that, Dr. Coggan was smart enough to know we needed to build a model that represented or gave us insight into the athlete’s specific physiology because until we can build a model that gave us insight into physiology, it wouldn’t translate into decisions. How should I train that athlete? Because you could just follow the same generalized transitions. Now, the model was in place and we decided, well now we needed a better prescription. We needed to individualize it in a way that coaches can really use it. So I went to Andy, Dr Coggan, I said we need high levels. Because I was a normalized power buster, I’m one of those people who can ride way higher in a normalized power crit than I could in a steady state because I hate steady state effort. There’s people should never do time trials. It’s dumb.

Tim Cusick:

As a matter of fact, in my world, I’m not sure you should even ride your bike more than an hour, but whatever. Let’s get it on and get it over with. I’m that buster. Andy and I spent a fair amount of time where I would go out and do like one minute intervals and 45 second intervals and just everything max just to show time and time again how I could break the generalized model. My contribution to individualized training is I laid on the side of the road throwing up plenty of times, and Andy’s contribution was he took that information and that challenge and developed this idea of using the power duration curve to have individualized training levels. Instead of basing all of your training intensity on one point, FTP, it actually uses your individualized power duration relationship, which makes a curve or as referred to as your power duration curve, to individualize both your training intensity targets and your time at intensity targets.

Tim Cusick:

It simply is a better evolution. Again, I’m biased. Remember what I said earlier, don’t just believe somebody because they say something with a passion. That goes for me too. Don’t just believe me, but I really encourage people should try and learn, and if it doesn’t work for you, I’m wrong. And if it works for you, you’re going to have a breakthrough in your training. That really was driven, the whole thing, by the … we just knew we needed … if we were going to take training to the next level, it was all about individualizing it to this specific athlete. The introduction of WKO 4 and 5 was all about the power duration model. It was all about using that model to not predict a specific performance, but understand the athlete’s underlying physiology and then to use that physiology to better train the athlete. Pretty much comes down to that.

Adam Pulford:

I absolutely love that. That’s an amazing kind of place to, I’d say put a pin in it, from all of the education that we can grasp out of Tim here for today. For those listeners who want more, check out WKO 5, check out Tim and a lot of his articles. We’ll have some of that in the show notes as well. But Tim, I want to summarize because our listeners are addicted to improving themselves and increasing their ability to the sport. We learned a lot today about the big three plus one in terms of the training methods and hopefully, now everybody can wrap their head around the fact that there’s not one size fits all, there’s not one method that’s going to do it all for them. If anything, it’s exploring themselves, it’s testing themselves and trying trial and error to see what works for them, and anything else that you’d want to throw into that summary then?

Tim Cusick:

No, I think that’s a great summery. I think the key thing is you got to learn what works for you. Don’t assume one thing is better than the other. Don’t assume, experiment, learn. Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t listen to your bias, and just go out there and give everything a shot. It’s not easy. I would measure everything to ensure you’re getting the responses you want, but you got to go out there and give it a try.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. That’s right. Well, before I let you go, Tim, I do have three questions for you, three questions that our audience members will be able to take away something from, another arrow in the quiver, so to speak. If you’re ready for those questions, let’s see.

Tim Cusick:

I’m ready.

Adam Pulford:

Okay. Question number one, if I’m new to this formal training thing, but I have a bike and a power meter, where should I start?

Tim Cusick:

I know this is cliche, but I would hire a coach. Here’s why. I’ll give you the two seconds and why, and this will resonate with a lot of people. What I see so many people do is they buy a power meter and it’s complex and they put it on the bike and there’s numbers jumping around on the screen and you’re just not sure what they’re doing. You’re like, “Well, before I hire a coach, I need to figure this out.” You spend a year or two or three years trying to figure it out and then you’re like, “Ah, I just can’t get the most out of my power meter.” You hire a coach and in the next couple of months, you’re like, “Oh, that’s how you do it. That’s what I should have been doing.” Why wait the three years? Why have to go through that much trial and error and not have somebody who can guide you, how to understand power training, how to calibrate, how to utilize, how to individualize?

Tim Cusick:

Honestly, if you’re going to the point where you’re going to invest in power because you want to take your training to that level, hire a coach, get the guidance. Then maybe, a year down the road, you’ve learned everything you need to know, and then you move into the self coaching range, you’ll save a lot of time.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, not to sound cliche, but that is a good answer. I’ll also say this to you. If you find good coaches, they can also do consults too. If you’re a self-learner, don’t think that you need to jump into a long commitment or whatever, you can also consult with some coaches too, but that will help expedite the learning curve for sure. Okay. Question two. If I’m a bit old school and I believe 100% in the LSD approach, but I’m curious about different training methods, I’m low-tech, but where should I start?

Tim Cusick:

Ah, okay. That’s a good one. A tough question because I’m a little biased here, but to be honest with you, what my answer would be to you is the next step is to invest in a little more tech. The reality is part of improving, it’s like if you think about so many … anything you do in life, if you want to improve in it, it typically it tends to come with some investment time, energy, product tools, whatever. I would invest in the tools first. Understand what you’re doing better and then evolve forward. Let’s say you’re totally training old school with no data, invest in a heart rate monitor. Start to learn a little about heart rate training. That opens the doors. Suddenly, you get a little smarter, you start learning if I go this hard, my heart rate goes to this number, but if I go harder, it goes to that number.

Tim Cusick:

You begin to quantify things, you begin to understand the language of training better, and then that might open up something more. If you’re looking to improve your training, tech is the solution. Man, I hate saying that like that. That is my thoughts and opinions at the moment.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I like that. I almost, I’ll say this too, correlate the emotional response with the tech response or to the numbers, correlate the feeling.

Tim Cusick:

Yeah, that’s great. One of the things I preach to people, when you first get a power meter, what do I do when they’re like looking for some big long like a 42-page PDF? You know what I tell them to do? Just put it on your bike and ride with it for a couple of weeks and watch the numbers. Like, I’m going up, say at 700 Watts and I’m dropping everybody and they’re giving me crap. Excuse my French. But yeah, the reality is you begin to learn to calibrate. You understand, and just spend some time looking and learning, and that’s true with any technology. Just start out slow, just start using it, and then start calibrating. It gives you that language, then you can evolve further. So, great point.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I like that. All right, last question. If I had been training seriously for three years now, I’ve got my data organized and I tried a few of the methods that we’ve talked about today, where or how can I take my training plan and data monitoring to the next level?

Tim Cusick:

I really, really think there’s where individualization matters. One of the things that’s important in your question, you’re talking about you have a bunch of data, so you have amazing training history on you. You, the performing athlete, maximize that data into intelligence, into being smarter, into better. With that backlog of a historical amount of data, one of the things that people think about when they’re using data in their training to create an individualized solution, is that it’s a going forward. “I can only start today. It’s mid season and I’m going to start using data-driven individualized approach.” Then we look forward. Realize that you already have data, you already have amazing amount of information. Just load it up into, of course I’m going to recommend WKO, but there’s plenty of softwares out there that you can use.

Tim Cusick:

Load it up and start looking and learning. The end goal of the learning is evolve your training into a more and more individualized approach. Learning to use data to understand the stimuli that you respond to, both in what is that stimuli, what is the pattern of it, how much, how frequent, whatever, that’s continual learning. Individualization really is just that. You’re continually learning about a specific. For me, I’m individualizing every one of my athletes. It doesn’t just apply to me. I have athletes that train one way that if I tried to apply that same approach to another athlete, even though both are professional athletes, both are performing in the world tour or whatever, they don’t respond the same. So the reality is, use that data to learn and evolve your training into a more and more individualized approach.

Adam Pulford:

Well, there you have it folks from one of the biggest data nerds that I’ve met on this planet and also a coach. You’ve got what it takes now to go and individualize your training, try the methods the way that Tim talked about and bring your endurance performance up to the next level. So Tim, thank you so much for joining us on the TrainRight podcast. I know I learned a lot and this is a fun conversation.

Tim Cusick:

Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Adam Pulford:

Thank you.

 


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  1. I’m a CTS coached cyclist, a user (big fan) of WK05 and I have a good knowledge of training physiology. I find the use of WK05 data analysis and knowledge helps me have better quality conversations with my coach , and execute my training plan better than I would otherwise.

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