EP. 185 - Comparing Training Methods Across Endurance Sports, with Dr. Stephen Seiler

I was thinking about Fast Talk Episode 185 some in comparison with my own experiences after stagnating the last couple years and finally bringing my VO2max from 55 -63 this year.

What really worked for me this year was doing fast start + high cadence VO2max sessions (goal to push higher stroke volume rather than higher power) + lots of lower intensity volume

Listening to this episode I was thinking that since rowing / cross country skiing are full body and push higher stroke volume than cycling can, they could be a really beneficial way to do VO2max training in early season, then focus on extending threshold and adding specificity on the bike as you get closer to your race.

Curious to what others think of doing this? I know when I row, my breathing rate is the limiter. Combine that with a rower winning the 2020 e-sports championships it makes me think there could be something to it.

I’m finally getting my Whipr rower in a week or two, so may just give it a try.

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Hi. Yes, I have personally become a huge fan of XC skiing and think it’s the perfect compliment to cycling. I grew up in the South and never skied before my late 20s, so I think anyone can learn with enough patience! In contrast to being crouched over, non-weight bearing, and entirely concentric, you are standing upright, weight bearing, and using the full posterior chain with enough eccentricity to get some benefit without getting too sore or injured. From a general health standpoint this is desperately needed.

More to your point, I have had my best springs in terms of #s when I do a solid XC ski race season but still keep cycling – usually just 1 long ride and 1 tempo/sub-LT type day per week in addition to skiing. As to why this is, I agree with your thought process and observations. If you put me in a lab you will think that O2 delivery is never the problem, yet similar to you and rowing, I also breathe much easier cycling with a lower heart rate when sufficiently trained for skiing and thus see a benefit. Aside from the quadrupedal hemodynamic issues pointed out in the episode, I think there is also a benefit gained from holding very high systemic lactates for a long time during a distance ski race (>5k). I can push much harder and longer into the red back on the bike, it seems, in April/May after the snow melts. Literally my puny climber arms would ache in the past from hard efforts even if seated; no longer.

One can benefit from just running up a hill, though! From the literature, if you were to rank the highest VO2 max values achieved by modality you would find clearly at the top uphill diagonal stride classic XC ski, then uphill running, then uphill XC skate technique, then it’s murkier the order and how you are ranking them, but somewhat equivalently rowing, flat running, cycling. A common technique skiers use are “bounding” intervals, which is essentially a plyometric-like way to run uphill similar to skiing, and might be one of the best all-around cardiovascular sessions, period. I personally love doing longer “VO2 max” intervals (e.g. 6-8’ intervals) just running up a steep hill looking for the highest max heart rates at the end, and save the Tabata type stuff for the bike (and because they have different local fatigue you can do back-to-back hard days without too much difficulty, too). Save the long easy days for the weekend.

Of course, finding the right balance of training for the outcome you want can be a delicate process! But totally it’s worth it if anyone is multi-sport-curious. :wink:

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@smashsquatch, again just to echo your comment with an explicit example, I did an experiment two summers ago that was 3 weeks of:

Tue: Bike 3x10’ (40/20s)
Wed: Uphill run 3-5x7’ (progressive among intervals and within; goal to hit highest HR possible)
Weekend: 1 long bike (3-5hr), 1 long trail run (2-3hr)

Was just a few watts off my all-time CP10 in the third week during the bike tabata session… My threshold (~40’ power) did not really change, though. The “experiment” was inspired by the famous Hickson protocol paper alternating bike+running to achieve phenomenal gains in VO2 max.


I enjoyed this episode. Might even get the running shoes back out after my a-race in 5 weeks time. I haven’t been doing much cross training for the last 20 months.

The 4x8 interval progression the Dr Seiler mentioned of starting on three, then four, then adding a bit more power and perhaps five was good. I had been doing that for a number of years but on different lengthy intervals.

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Love this thread :slight_smile: coming from a cross country ski background I have always kept it as part of my athletes as a coach. I even use pole running and try to get the athletes that are interested (not all are) to become a good enough runner (with poles) to be able to use it as interval training, without injury.

The other thing that I have had some great success with is using an airdyne (the machine you pedal and push/pull with your arms). I use this for intervals that would be in the vo2 and up intensity. This works especially well with athletes who find they have trouble getting their heart rate above 90% when doing intervals due to a physical or mental limiter.

There is a great cross country ski training book out there somewhere still called, How To, Why To, When To. It gives you a good idea of their interval types, progressions and actually how very little they do them…but how hard is another story.

The person who got me into training when I was 21 was 8th at the Olympics in 50k many years ago when Canadians could barely crack the top 70. His endurance pace was amazing and we could always have a big training group of different fitness levels because it seemed so slow. However, when you went to do repeats with him it was unbelievable just how fast he could go.

Whenever I discuss this many always say it isn’t specific…but I have seen so many cross country ski athletes switch over to road, triathlon, Mtb without an issue even thought their specific skills aren’t up to speed. For a few years there were 3 cross country skiers on the elite Canadian Mtb national team (of 6). There were dominating and racing well even on the World Cup scene. One of the crashed and the National Nordic Team asked all athletes to stop riding Mtb, especially for competition. This was proof to me that they could just move over, and with some riding for fun, compete at a high level.

The other thing I find important here is that if you can incorporate some cross training and stay injury free it is likely that you will be outdoors getting more fresh air than training indoors.

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@steveneal, I’ve really enjoyed your contributions to the podcast! Extremely interesting your comment wrt to the Airdyne. I discussed theoretically using an “Assault Bike” (I think the CrossFit^TM version of an AirDyne?) with someone in the past, but to hear of you using one and to help someone break through a mental barrier is awesome! Never thought much that some of these cross-training benefits can be shifts in mental barriers, but it makes sense.

It has always fascinated me that because of the short winter season elite XC skiers have little time on the snow, but don’t just only roller ski the remaining ~6-7 months of the year. They choose to do a variety of different modalities. I think as cyclists it’s easy to get into the habit of looking to WorldTour pros and think “Ah! We must always strive for 5 hour long rides and riding 20+ hours a week. Throw in a few weight sessions/core in the off-season but why do anything else?!” Social media only amplifies this. Thing is, these guys and gals are racing from late January to October because that’s their job. If they could focus on just one or two ‘A’ events per season and that’s it, they would most definitely not train like that. If you have a good foundation, surprisingly little is need to achieved peak form. In the 7 weeks after dropping out of the TdF leading up to and before winning the 2019 World Championship ITT, Rohan Dennis’ biggest week was 18 hours, and that was only because he was selected to do the the road race, too…

Perhaps more of a rant than an observation. :crazy_face:

Great obser-rant!

Not only do they use the Airdyne for certain sessions … but they have their own so it is always ready when we need it :slight_smile: you just never know.

I definitely am a cyclist that dabbles I’m Triathlon, but you make a great point about uphill running… I think my highest HRs have all been doing that (compared to rowing, cycling, running, swimming, etc…). However I had done the uphill segments as fartleks / sprints… 4-8min… Ouch

This is what I did this season to push a higher VO2max. I would add a minute then 2, then go to a 4x8, then +1min, +2min, then 5x8min (doing 2x a week over 3 weeks).

This was the most eye opening thing for me to learn. After 7 years of trying my local hill climb (goal of under an hour) this year I finally managed it… With barely any training in the month leading up (only 6hr / wk vs. the 11.5hr / wk for the rest of the year).


This episode grabbed me as I started steady state rows on an indoor rower a few weeks ago (older = need to keep upper body strength) and will add in 60 - 90 minute zone 2 stationary cycling over the winter. Last winter I just used one of the popular online cycling training platforms that dishes up a lot of intervals and I went nowhere, so I won’t repeat that mistake.

In addition to longer zone 2 rows I want to throw in rowing intervals, and today was 6 x 500 meters @ ~105% to 110% of 6 min power (maybe 125% of my estimated rowing FTP) with 2:00 rest. On the last one HR peaked at my LTHR and this wasn’t extremely taxing.

Any suggestions as to progression? Seiler would say build up the number of repeats (back in the day I would pop off a set of 12) before increasing length or power, but am thinking to shorten the rest time first. My HR drops into the recovery zone between intervals but I’m not sure how high to push it. Thoughts?

PetePlan is a solid training plan to build endurance and focus on 2k time. There is also a 5k plan. But if you’re looking for a different kind of competition, I recommend the c2 cross team challenge.


Thank you for pointing this out. I’m looking at rowing as cross training with cycling and maintaining upper body strength rather than for competition, but the link does show a 3:30 rest between 500m intervals. So the 2:00 rest I did may not be too long.

I’m not sure, but I recall Seiler (on a Fast Talk podcast) once said the rest period isn’t that critical but the intensity and total duration of the pieces are. So how to build time/intensity may be more critical.

Some thoughts to pick up on this good episode. If you compare cycling and rowing, some things are similar, others are different. Most of us here tend to be cyclists, I bet. I’m also a cyclist and trail runner, but I think indoor rowing is #1 because nothing is more effective - if you can row. Riding and running outdoors is definitely more fun - but for time crunched athletes, rowing is a good choice. Things have changed since I discovered the rowedbiker app - and rowing is becoming almost as dynamic as cycling thanks to zwift. With intervals, it always depends on where you are. When I started rowing again in 2016, I was more of a fasttwitch athlete and needed to build that base. And a longer break between intervals was necessary to get a good workout. Now, after many meters and being more of a slowtwitcher, I no longer need longer breaks. So here is the PetePlan speed pyramid, as a Zwift base workout, one of my favorites. I don’t follow a strict plan anymore…I have a strong inner voice that will guide me to different workouts and everything else, some are from the PetePlan, others from Zwift- like the ZA workout #2 vo2peak intervals- which is nothing but a good ~2-3min vo2 effort with decreasing power output- yes that was good.

rowedbiker 25% boost, next time only 20%…says my “inner voice”

Great episode and I am glad you all are expanding the focus a bit beyond cycling. One thought/question I had was about mixing two sports in a single workout. As it was discussed in the episode, running frequently beyond 90 min or so will start to accumulate considerable stress on the joints/muscles etc which in part explains why runners dont do 3-4 hour LSR. Im curious though if doing something like a 90min easy Z1 (three zone) ride on the trainer to jump start some muscle fatigue and then go do a 60 minute Z1 run would be of any benefit. Conversely would a 60 minute run prior to a 90min Z1 ride allow a cyclist to get some of the gains normally seen on longer 4 hr+ LSD ride? As a father of three young children, these 4 hour endurance sessions are really not in the cards.

Kind of related: Fast Talk Episode 166: Effective Two-A-Day Workout Strategies

I think you’re likely to see more gains with your running doing this than the other way around.

The above being said, Triathletes do this all the time. Usually the run comes second and is usually short (~30min) at race pace after a long easy ride.

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Sure can. As @smashsquatch pointed out, triathletes are well versed in the “brick” workout.

The order mostly depends on what you are trying to accomplish and injury risk, among other things. A lot of triathletes run at the end of rides because that is how it’s done in the race, so being able to run at pace on tired legs after riding ticks all the specificity boxes. If you have some experience running, this could be good, but be careful that nearly all running injuries start from a loss of form because of fatigue, so it’s much safer to run while fresh.

One thing I do this time of year is roller ski 45+ min to some trails, go trail run at least 1.5hr, then roller ski back home for 3+ hours on the feet. The initial roller ski helps activate the posterior chain, which I find useful for using my glutes running and keeping IT issues at bay. The run is simply to maintain soft tissue adaptions and is fun as hell. The roller ski at the end gets me home, but also “locks in” adaptions to the sport I am most training for at the moment. I do this sometimes instead of a 3+ hour continuous roller ski.

I think running first thing fasted, then eating and immediately riding can also be a good strategy for endurance sessions. Running is very fat efficient so you can run forever (compared to riding, at least) on just water and activate that fat metabolism, then start feeding heavily on the bike and even finish the ride with some efforts after you are on top of your calories. My own experience is this also makes one metabolically flexible, able to switch from diesel endurance to high-powered, glycogen fueled efforts at the end of a ride, just like you would find in a race. It also trains the gut. Just note you can get quite dehydrated during the fasted part even if drinking because there is no solid food to aid absorption, so take it easy at first.

All this being said, this is just the cherry on top and keeps things interesting this time of year. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thanks for pointing out the rowedbiker app, @Claudius. It looks interesting and I’ll check it out.

I’m finding my desired break for rowing is longer than for cycling. But of course I just spent 9 months on a bike and not on a rower.

This is everything you need to get started figuring out a rowing program IMO.


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This is indeed an excellent training guide - I think I first saw it 15 or 16 years ago. It helped me plan my training a bit back then.

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