Creating Baseline Workouts

Triathlete doing a medical training session
January 30, 2017

Mike Ricci



When I start to get cabin fever in the winter I think of warm weather, blue skies, the smell of sun block, and freedom from indoor bicycle trainer rides. With race season still a few months away, and with a recent return to serious training, now would be a good time to set some training benc


I like to see athletes test in the pool weekly, rotating the test below every week four weeks. All tests should include 200-600 yd warm up and then 8√ó50 at desired test pace with 20 seconds rest. For example if you want to swim 1:30 pace for your test, your 50s should be done around 45 seconds. For a cool down I would recommend at least 200 yards of easy swimming.

Main Set #1:

8√ó100 on 1:00 rest. A short set like this lets you go gang busters and helps you understand pacing. The idea is to keep the 100 times within a second of each other without slowing down as the set progresses. Over time you should see your average for the 100s get faster.

Main Set #2:

4√ó500 on 20 seconds rest. Try to descend (make each one faster) each 500. The pace of your last 500 is likely to be your Ironman pace when rested, tapered and wearing a wetsuit.

Main Set #3:

8√ó200 on 10 seconds rest. Add up the total time on the 200s and this should be reasonably close to your 1500m time for an Olympic Distance Triathlon.

Main Set #4:

A long time trial (TT); be it 1,000; 1,500; 2,000; or even longer. This long time trials are mentally tough and provide a realistic look into how fast you can swim. There is nothing like a reality check!


Once you have done these tests you have a pretty good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you can drill the 100s in Main Set #1 at 1:15 pace, but you fall off to 1:35 pace on the 200s, you know that endurance may be a limiter. If you can hold 1:35 pace in both the 200s and the 500s but can?t muster anything faster than 1:29 pace on the 100s, then you know you are lacking speed. If you fall apart on the 1,000 TT then it could be lack of endurance or even lack of mental toughness. Either way, you?ll know your limiter after doing all four tests and you?ll know what you need to work on.


Preferably using a power meter or a Compu Trainer, but a Heart Rate Monitor could be substituted: Warm up for at least 15 minutes and then throw in a few near-max effort sprints to get the heart rate up and ready for the test. Your cool down should be at least ten minutes of easy spinning with high RPMS.

Test #1:

10 mile Time Trial. The test results can be best utilized over a period of time if you can repeat the conditions month after month, and this is the reason I like to use the trainer or a 10 mile flat course on the Compu Trainer. The test can be done outside, but its best if it can be done clear of traffic, stop lights, stop signs and hills.

Test #2:

2√ó6 miles all out with a 2 minute mental recovery in between. Same protocol as above.


Both of these tests are tough, although the 2x 6 mile may be slightly easier with the short break in between. What I like about Test #2 is that if you take it out too hard on the first 6 miles, you can re-adjust on the seconds 6 miles and you?ll be able to reign in your enthusiasm. With Test #1, the test is mentally longer but you could find yourself blown to bits after ten minutes. Both tests are good for benchmarking fitness and I often have my athletes alternate the tests from month to month. You can use average heart rate over the course of the tests to determine lactate threshold or a power meter to determine average power at threshold. Once you have these numbers you can plug the numbers into a reliable formula to determine training zones going forward.


Running tests can be done as an open 5k or 10k, a tempo run around a favorite course, or it can even be completed on a treadmill.

The warm up for any running event should be at least ten to fifteen minutes of running and then a few fast pick ups of fifteen to thirty seconds with full recovery in between. Cool down should consist of at least ten minutes of very easy running and some stretching.

Test #1:

5k or 10k Race: The toughest part of these tests are staying within yourself the first mile or two. Learning to pick up the pace as the race gets longer is an art and it takes experience. Try to run the race as a negative split, or in other words, run the second half of the race faster than the first.

Test #2:

Another option would be to find a local course or loop that you could run as your “testing ground”. Same as the 5k or 10k: take the pace out easy and try to negative split the run.

Test #3:

Although treadmills get a bad rap, they are great for hill running and for testing. Setting out to run a 5k or10k on the treadmill is a great way to test baseline fitness. The test is easily repeatable and you won?t have any variables such as heat or wind disrupting your performance.


Like the cycling tests, you can use your average heart rate over the duration of these tests to determine training zones. If you decide to use a 5k race as your benchmark or anything less than 30 minutes, you should probably use 95% of the average heart rate for your LT as its easy to drive your heart rate up knowing you only have to suffer for a short period of time.


Using a max strength test is a great way each season to see if your strength is improving. Knowing that you can leg press 2.5 times your body weight this season versus 2.3 times your body weight last season can be a boost to your confidence. Other max strength tests that can be done are squats, seated rows, and step-ups.

Keep track of your testing so you can compare from month to month and year to year. These tests can be used all season long to determine current fitness levels and will help you race mentally tougher in 2007. Good luck!

Michael Ricci is a USAT Level III certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at Please visit his website at

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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