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Coaches Blog

Determine Your Key Workouts

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

by Chris Palmquist

As we prepare for our 2019 racing seasons, it is important to determine the key workouts that will help us to peak on our important race days. Key workouts are the challenging training sessions that spur an athlete to break through a plateau. These are the difference-makers in the training year. When designed well, key workouts can help an athlete reach peak fitness. (When designed poorly, key workouts can cause over-training, injury and result in a poor result.)

Here are some guidelines for determining your 2019 key workouts.

Step 1: Choose your 2019 races. Pick 1-2 races that are your highest priorities or “A” races. You will design your training to support these races and you will plan to arrive at the starting line fully tapered to peak.

Step 2: Choose your race goals. Team MPI coaches have recently about on how to pick good goals. See these articles for more on goal setting: Set SMART Goals, Choosing This Season's Races.

Step 3: Assess your past races and identify weaknesses as well as strengths in your skills, power, endurance, equipment and/or speed. Where can you make the most difference in your upcoming races? Do you need to be able to hold race effort longer? Do you need to work on hills? Do you need to increase your 10km run pace? Do you need swim technique work?

Don’t forget where you excel. You will want to support and maintain your best athletic qualities. These strengths are what you probably love about the sport and racing, so it can be very depressing to let these go. Do not lose your strengths. Your assessment will guide the next step as you design your key workouts.

Step 4: Determine 1-3 key workouts for your sport or for each part of a triathlon. These are the workouts that will be supportive of your strengths or will help you to improve your weaknesses. Examples include distance sessions that will ensure that you can go your race distance (longest rides, runs, swims). Other key workouts might target speed (mile run repeats, CSS swim sets, time trial bike intervals). These are the sessions that will stretch you physically and mentally – encouraging you to develop new physical fitness and mental confidence before race day.

Step 5: Plan the progression of training that will lead to successful key workouts. How long will it take to build up to these sessions? How many times do you need to perform these sessions? What intermediate workouts will allow you to build up to the key workouts without injury?

Important Tip!

In many cases, it is not necessary to perform the toughest key workouts more than once or twice. Be cautious – it may be tempting to repeat the toughest of your training sessions just to remain confident in your ability to perform on race day. But by repeating, you may be risking over-training, burnout or injury.

For example: the athlete that completed 1-2 century rides might be better prepared to race a long course triathlon than her competitor that rode 8 century rides and now is fatigued, unmotivated, at-odds with his spouse and lacking running training due to too many repetitions of a key workout. The athlete that did an extremely hard track session every week might have an over-use injury, while the athlete who completed 3 well-timed running speed sessions may adapt by building the needed speed and recover well enough to stay healthy.

Key workouts cause a jump in fitness. Key workouts are unique to the athlete. Different athletes should use different types and quantities of key workouts as they prepare for their most important contests. Sometimes, key workouts cause the desired adaptation after just one session.

If you have questions about designing your own training plan of key workouts and progressions, you can always contact any Team MPI coach for consultations or coaching. In addition, I will be presenting on this topic in depth at the January 26th Team MPI Retreat in Chicago, IL. The retreat is open to coaches and athletes. For more information, see

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