Aldo Sassi’s strength training for cyclists

Aldo Sassi who is regarded by many as one of the greatest cycling coaches who coached some of the biggest names in the sport including Ivan Basso, Cadel Evens, Charly Wegelius, Cam Wurf, Dario Cioni and Riccardo Riccò.

Aldo’s thoughts are muscle strength is almost as important as aerobic fitness for a cyclist. Early on in his carrier, he was an advocate for gym strength work but as his coaching career progressed, he changed his philosophy on strength training for cyclists. Apart from back and abdominal work, all other strength training for the legs were done on the bike.

Training Sessions

Aldo would call these sessions “SFR” for an Italian term that translates to “strength endurance climbs.”

Ado would give his athletes SFR twice a week in the offseason and once a week between races. These sessions would involve low cadence work on hills of 6-8% and placed with high tension. This builds specific strength because the strength limiter in endurance cycling isn’t just neuro-muscular. More important is the extent of blood perfusion into the muscles.

A typical SFR session would look something like; Warm up well, using a 6-8% hill, 8x 5min hard efforts @ 35-40 rpm with 2-3min freewheeling/easy spin down the hill for recovery.

Coach Patrick Sang key run sessions

One of the things that really sticks out with Coach Patrick Sang who has coached Eliud Kipchoge since 2001 is the control of pace with faster sessions. There are no fly and die sets. The fast sets are really not all that fast for the athlete. An example, an athlete who marathon pace being 5min per km, wouldn’t be doing intervals no faster than 4:10-4:15 km pace. On top of this, the majority of the athlete’s long runs in the lead up to the marathon is done at or just slower than race pace.

While these key sessions are for his marathon focused athletes, the theme is the same for all his athletes and everything is kept simple. Even though his athletes may run 12-14 times per week, most of the run sessions are done at an easy state and more times than not, his athletes have only three key sessions per week. Track, Fartlek and a tempo long run.

Patrick Key Sessions

Fartlek Sessions:

These sessions would be done at or around marathon race pace depending of terrain and altitude.

  • 4x 10min + 2min rest
  • 13x 3min +1min rest
  • 25x 1min +1min rest

Track Sessions

  • 12x 800 + 90sec easy, 10x 400 +90s easy
  • 1200m + 1 lap easy, 5x 1km +90sec easy, 3x 300m +60s easy, 2x 200m +60s easy
  • 20x 400m +50sec rest
  • 15x 1km +90sec rest
  • 12x 1200m +90sec rest
  • 5x (2km + 1km) +90sec rest

Tempo

  • Long tempo runs at or just around marathon race pace. This would be between 80-95% of the marathon distance.

Lionel Sander’s Ironman Program

In 2017, Lionel Sanders was training to a ten day program that saw him get 2nd at the Ironman World Championships that year. In the lead up to the Ironman in Kona, his program looked something like>

Lionel’s Training Program

  • Day One: Quality swim and high end bike
  • Day Two: High end run
  • Day Three: Long day consisting of quality swim, long bike and moderate length run
  • Day Four: Long run
  • Day Five: Active recovery
  • Day Six: Quality swim and threshold run
  • Day Seven: Threshold bike
  • Day Eight: Rest day
  • Day Nine: Active recovery
  • Day Ten: Active recovery

The method Lionel was working too was load up the body with intensity and volume for the first seven days and spend three days shedding the fatigue that had accumulated. This also lead to Lionel having a short taper of only a week.

Brett Sutton’s Ten Day Program

There is little doubt that Brett Sutton is the most successful coach the sport of triathlon has seen with a list of world champion athletes that has been through his system. Sutto normally works off a ten day program cycle for much of the athletes he coaches.

It is worth noting that while Sutto coaches his athletes on a ten day cycle, his online training planes are done on a seven day cycle (I will also add that his online plans are of high quality).

Sutto’s Ten Day Structure

  • Day One: Strength Focus
  • Day Two: Speed Focus
  • Day Three: Strength Focus
  • Day Four: Aerobic Focus
  • Day Five: Active Recovery
  • Day Six: Aerobic Focus
  • Day Seven: Strength Focus
  • Day Eight: Speed Focus
  • Day Nine: Aerobic Focus
  • Day Ten: Active Recover or Rest

While there is a big focus on strength for Sutto’s athletes, his athletes are not in the gym lifting weights. His strength training approach is done with swim paddles, using big gear and low cadence sets for the bike and running up hills.

Sutto isn’t a big fan of technology to help guide his athlete, he does things more on feel. His three training zones are

  • Moderate: this is all day effort. Should feel very comfortable.
  • Medium: This is difficulted but manageable.
  • Mad: as fast as possible without compromising technique.

Dr. Michele Ferrari Training Method

I want to do an overview into Dr. Ferrari’s coaching method. I am not covering anything to do with performance enhancing drugs, this is simply an overview into the way Dr. Ferrari coaches.

Ferrari’s Zones

Dr. Ferrari uses five training zones that are created with regular lab and field testing of lactate, power output, VAM and heart rate. His zones are:

  • Lento Rigenerativo (Very Slow) – just how it sounds, nice and slow.
  • Lento (Slow) – Lento is done at a slow pace/speed and is simply miles in the legs.
  • Medio (Medium) – This is more challenging effort. The majority of high spinning sessions are done at this level.
  • Soglia (Threshold) – Soglia is very close and fluctuates around threshold.
  • Super Soglia (Super threshold) – This is very close to maximum effort.

Translating Ferrarie’s zones to FTP

So looking at a couple of athlete’s files that Dr. Ferrarie coached and or consulted, translating MF zone list to a FTP test would look something like

  • Lento Rigenerativo < – 72% of FTP
  • Lento – 72% – 82% of FTP
  • Medio – 82% -91% of FTP
  • Soglia – 91% – 101% of FTP
  • Super Soglia – 101% > of FTP

Training Principle

Dr. Ferrarie’s training method is “threshold method” and he made augments that this method received better results than “polarized training” with regards to performance.

Medio would be between 20-40% of the total volume however it could be higher in the off season and lower during the race season. Dr. Ferrarie uses Medio to build the base fitness for his athletes. Soglia sessions would generally be given twice per week and the rest of the training in the week was done mostly at Lento.

One part that I struggled to fine was apart from short 20-30 second surges, there was no finding of VO2 max work. most of the intervals/efforts were done at or hovering just under threshold. All up, He gives very little Super Soglia. This is inline with an interview Lance Armstrong gave earlier 2020 that Ferrarie’s philosophy “We never, ever, ever, ever, ever trained above threshold” Armstrong said, “The only time you would get efforts above lactate threshold was in races.”

Weight Loss

Dr. Ferrarie is well known for telling his athletes that they are too fat even if they are bordering on being anorexic. He would get athletes to weigh food so they consumed the right amount of nutrition and not to consume any more or any less.

When it would come to weight loss and calorie deficiency, he wouldn’t let his athletes go more than two weeks in a row. If the athlete had a good amount of weight to lose, he would get them to be calorie deficit in two week blocks as the quality of the training was more effective with performance improvements.

Cadel Evans Training System

A glance at how the 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans trained and prepared when training under his coach Aldo Sassi.

The System

The training system that Cadel was in was rather simple. He would do a VO2 Max test, a anaerobic threshold test and Aldo would take these numbers to build Cadel’s program and ran a “three day algorithm.”

Training Block

The three day algorithm or three day training block looked like:-

  • Day One: Strength and resistance training on climbs (SFR)
  • Day Two: Anaerobic threshold work
  • Day Three: Long ride with climbs

Every day Cadel would download his SRM power file and send feedback to Aldo and Aldo would use this data and information to update sessions, offer suggestions and create the next three day block.

He would change sessions to include the time trial bike instead of the road bike or change some power numbers here and there or use motor pacing but often would keep with the same three day block.

It is also worth noting that Ivan Basso used this exact same training system created by Aldo Sassi.

Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso

Unfortunately Aldo Sassi passed away in 2010.

Chris McCormack’s 2010 Ironman Program

Macca’s training program structure didn’t really change too much leading into the Ironman World Championship. His volume would increase a little each week and his intensity would change as he got closer to race day.

This is Macca’s week 16 out from Kona.

Side note that Macca’s race plan for Kona 2010 was to put Craig Alexander under pressure on the bike.

Monday:
Early Morning: Swim – 12x 400m aerobic
Mid Morning: Bike – 4hr ride with 4x 12min hill climbs @ 6-7% using big gear and low cadence
Afternoon: Recovery run with added walks.

Tuesday:
Early Morning: 4hr Group ride with high cadence
Afternoon: Run – 1:20hr with 5x 1.5km hill repeats on a 6-7%
Late Afternoon: Technique swim

Wednesday:
Morning: Bike/Brick run – 5.5hr aerobic ride with a 20min easy jog off the bike

Thursday:
Morning: Run: 14 miles done on feel
Afternoon: Swim 20x 200m pushing the pace

Friday:
Morning: Bike: 4hr aerobic ride with high cadence

Saturday:
Morning: Bike/Brick Run – Ride 6hrs all in the aero position followed by run 1hr at race pace off the bike.
Afternoon: Swim 10x 400 pull & paddles

Sunday:
Early Morning: Run – 20 miles

Midday: Swim – Open water

Afternoon: Run – Done at the track with a focus on drills and technique

Frederik Van Lierde Ironman Lanzarote Nutrition Plan

Frederik Van Lierde’s Ironman Lanzarote 2019 nutrition plan looked like this:

Nutrition plan:

· 1 gel 5min before swim start

Bike:

· 1 gel + water in Bike bag 20 gr

· 4 gels on the bike 80 gr

· 1 bidon water 750ml start bike

· 3 bidons (one in special needs bag) with 750ml with 10 scoops Isotonic 300 gr

TOTAL : 400 gr sugars for 5h on the bike

Run:

· 1 gel + water in Run bag 20gr

· 2 gels during the run 40gr

· 3 small bottles with 5 scoops isotonic 150gr

TOTAL : 210 gr sugars for 3h running

To see Freddie’s Ironman training – Click Here

To visit Freddie’s website – Click Here

Frederik Van Lierde’s Ironman Training

Recently retired 2013 Ironman World Champion Frederik Van Lierde shared with Train Smooth his Ironman training program.

“I’ll give you the example of five weeks out of Lanzarote Ironman that I was able to win last year. This week was executed at home in Belgium where I live. Just mention that I raced 70.3 Campeche on 17th of March. The week in attachment is the one starting on Monday 22nd of April. Ironman Lanzarote was on 25th of May 2019.


You’ll know that every lead up is different, but this was a successful one.
And thanks to my coach Luc Van Lierde to put this together of course.”

 SwimmingCyclingRunningNotes
Monday6km 16kmR=L1A+ S=1
Tuesday4km80km B=VO2max 7.5km L2+5km L3 met 2.5km A1+ S+L1
Wednesday 60km12kmB=A1 + R =1a
Thursday3km120km B=L1a/L1b Hills + S=pull:30x100m R:10” Long slag-ext long slag
Friday4km 24kmR: L1a + S = intervals
Saturday 80km10kmB= Fartlek + R=A1
Sunday 200km B = L1a (flat)
Total Week17km540km62kmVolume

Freddie’s Tests, paces, power, heart rate

Sport/PaceRegenerationExt-LongInt-LongTempo-LongFarlekExt-IntInt-Int
RunA1L1aL1aL2L3L4L5
4:314:063:493:363:253:143:07
BikeA1L1aL1bL2L3L4L5
Bike HR9192-119120-133140149156162
Bike Watts200201-261262-292307332336378
SwimmingLong SlagLa1extLa2La3La4La5
100m+4”1:12”1:10’1:08”1:06”1:04”1:02”
200m+8”2:29”2:25”2:21”2:17”2:13”2:10”
400m+16”5:02”4:52”4:434:38”4:33”4:28”
Account swim+4”1:28”1:16”1:14”1:12”1:10”1:08”

What were the key test sessions you would do in the leadup to a big race and how far out from your race would you do the tests?

I have never been a big fan of testing but I did some lactate testing with my coach at least once a year in the month of January or February. Swim, bike and run to have my training paces. And to see how I was compared to other years. The fact that you and your coach knows your system helps a lot to analyse.
My training paces from last year after analysing lactate testing (you’ll find above).

Swim test would consist of 3 x 400m build and a 100m all out

Bike test would consist of a build up: starting at 100W for 8min, next block 140W for 8min, … until you can’t go any further. Usually in my history of testing I manages to get into the 420W block 1 to 6min. Only one time I managed to get 30sec into the 460W block.
Testing was always indoor on a trainer.

Run test always on the track. Starting with 2 x 1000m solid pace, followed by 3 x 2000m build ideally Lactate 2 – 3 -4.
In the end a 600m all out.

To visit Frederik Van Lierde’s website – Click Here

Marko Albert’s Ironman Nutrition Plan

I spoke with retired pro triathlete Marko Albert about his Ironman nutrition plan.

“My race day nutrition was kept as easy as possible. Before race start eliminate all fruits and veggies. Drink plenty of mineral water and eat simple food (lots of rice, chicken broth, so on).

Race food itself was an act of juggling my wants and needs (depending on the temperature things below were adjusted).

Race morning food was coffee and bread with jam or honey.

1bar+1gel+ 2 Saltstick capsules+ 700m simple carbohydrate rich sports drink + some clif blocks per hour. I used SIS products my entire Ironman career and carried them with me where ever I travelled”

To check out Marko’s Ironman training program – Click Here

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