Why TrainerRoad Triathlon Training Plans?
I’ve said it many times, there is absolutely no substitute for having a coach if you are serious about getting better. Like many triathletes, I’m on a limited budget and that means no coach. This is why this past year I was very excited to see something new: TrainerRoad triathlon training plans. I’ve been a TrainerRoad user for several years now and they get better and better each year.
What is TrainerRoad?
TrainerRoad is a software application that allows you to ride your bike indoors targeting specific power levels. The software is based on your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). FTP is defined as that point when lactate begins pooling in your muscles. This is generally translated into the maximum sustained power you can hold for an hour.
TrainerRoad has an impressive library of workouts suited to nearly every cyclist or training purpose. They have a workout for everything from recovery to improving your full Ironman distance sustained power. Understanding that this vast library could be confusing to figure out which workout you wanted to do, they built a filtering mechanism into the application.
The minimum required items to use the application is a bike, a supported trainer (of which there are many), an ANT+ or Bluetooth compatible device, and a speed sensor for the bike. This riding setup uses what is known as VirtualPower. Essentially, each supported trainer has a known power curve. This means the application can extrapolate what the power value is (in watts) at each speed. I used this “poor man’s” setup for years. I use a CycleOps Fluid 2 trainer. It’s cheap, reliable, and portable.
Of course if you have a direct power meter mounted on your bike (ex. crank, pedal, hub, etc.) it will work just fine. Most electronic trainers are also supported. Best part, the application is available on all major platforms including iOS and Android. No Linux support though.
About the Triathlon Training Plans
At some point, TrainerRoad realized that true value for its subscribers came in the form of training plans. It was a good thought in that all people needed was a little structure. If you wanted to get better at sustaining power to survive a road criterium race, they had a plan for that. The general process with TrainerRoad is following a Base, Build, and Specialty block of training. As noted above, there are training plans for everything from criterium racing, to mountain bike, and to triathlon.
Formerly, the triathlon training plans only included the bike and was only for the specialty block. Last year, TrainerRoad announced triathlon training plans for the base, build, and specialty blocks. This was huge. I like to think of the three blocks as:
- Base: Build and improve your aerobic engine
- Build: Increase the horsepower of the engine
- Specialty: Prepare for the demands of your race
The triathlon training plans range from sprint distance to full Ironman distance. Within each of these plans you are allowed to select from low, mid, or high volume depending on how much you want to train each week.
Once you select a plan you get a weekly view. The MAJOR new thing here is when clicking on “Weekly Tips” you get an expanded view not only on the scheduled bike workouts, but the runs and swims too. This is absolutely huge for triathletes. Keep in mind TrainerRoad only costs $12 per month at the time of this publishing. That’s $144 per year of cost. The training plan alone is well worth this price and you also get one of the best training platforms for cyclists available to you too. I cannot stress enough how valuable TrainerRoad is.
For the swim workouts TrainerRoad also provides a great cheat sheet for what the swim drills are and how you do them.
The training plan you select also is exposed within the app so it makes it extremely simple to select the workout which was scheduled for that day and begin performing it on the app.
Here is where diving into the data gives you options. TrainerRoad gives you a dashboard view where you can take a look at the scheduled workouts, training stress score (TSS), and your “bests” on your power curve.
The “bests” power curve is a common way to show your best power output for a given duration. The best power curve within TrainerRoad also shows the date you achieved that. If you have current dates under the date column, you know you are getting better. And yes, I’m well aware that my personal power curve is much closer to what a sprinter would see compared to a half Ironman triathlete…working on it.
Once you have selected your training plan, the first workout is a FTP test to gauge how all subsequent workouts are structured. This is typically done with a 20 minute test. TrainerRoad has a workout that is an hour long with an embedded 20 minute interval. This interval needs to be all out. You should barely be able to stand at the end of it. TrainerRoad will automatically calculate your FTP at the end which is 95% multiplied by the average power output for that 20 minute interval. The workout provides text-based coaching if you wish.
When you are performing the workout, your trainer or power meter will send the power value to the app and overlay in real-time to the blue “prescribed” power output. For example, if you are in an interval and need to hit 85% FTP for 5 minutes the app will show you on the screen where you are at relative to the value the app wants you to hit. Note that in the screenshots the light gray line going horizontally across the screen is your FTP. Using the above example an interval at 85% FTP (threshold improvement) is under this line while an interval at 120% FTP (VO2 Max improvement) is over the line.
You can obviously check the workout and your performance afterwards both within the app or online. TrainerRoad also allows for easy sharing to sites like TrainingPeaks and Strava.
The only negative I have with TrainerRoad is that it does not presently integrate the “planned” training plan at all. As I am self coached, I take the time before each training block to drop my prescribed workouts into TrainingPeaks. This gives me a good idea on what my TSS will be for the week as well as visually seeing all of my workouts for the week. Note that to plan future workouts you must subscribe to the premium TrainingPeaks plan. You cannot do this with a free account.
By doing this, I also am able to use TrainingPeaks’ performance management charts ensuring I’m on track and continuing to improve.
TrainingPeaks also has a “bests” power curve. The benefit of using TrainingPeaks here is that at the time of this writing, TrainerRoad does not allow for input of a ride performed outdoors into their platform. So if you ride outside, your best power output might and likely will be outdoors. TrainingPeaks will let you see indoor and outdoor rides.
Will it Work For You?
As I mentioned, my primary reason for using TrainerRoad was to get faster. Over the last three years my FTP has increased 30% with significant increases still expected. The problem I had two years ago was my triathlon training plan was a free one found online. It lacked significant specificity. Last year when TrainerRoad introduced their full triathlon training plans I gave it a shot. For the first year using it with less than desirable consistency in training, I still managed to knock off 40 minutes from the prior year Ironman Timberman 70.3 time. So does it work?
It sure does for me. The people at TrainerRoad are fantastic. They are accessible and answer questions as you have them. I also recommend their podcast. For me, the combination of TrainerRoad ($12/month) and TrainingPeaks ($16/month with USAT coupon) is the best $28/month you can spend. I 100% recommend TrainerRoad and their training plans. Sure, it’s no coach, but it provides a perfect amount of structure and worked well for me in 2016.