Paul Laursen, Tommy Wood transcript

Written by Christopher Kelly

Aug. 10, 2017


Christopher:    Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name’s Christopher Kelly and today I have not one, but two brilliant guests for you. The first is Paul Laursen, and the second is my own Dr Tommy Woods. Guys, say hello to everyone.

Paul:    Hey everyone.

Tommy:    Hello.

Christopher:    I’m sure that people by now are familiar with Tommy. Paul Laursen is a performance physiology coach and adjunct professor at the High Performance Sports Centre in New Zealand. He’s now in Revelstoke in Canada, he’s published over a hundred peer review papers in exercise and sports science journals and his work has been cited more than 3 thousand times.

He’s now a coach to numerous elite and professional athletes across multiple endurance-based sports and he is himself a lightning fast triathlete with performances at Olympic and Ironman distance. He is definitely an early adopter and technology-savvy geek at the pointy end of discovery, I like that phrase. He published a good number of papers on heart rate variability that I was just perusing last night, very interesting stuff. Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.

Paul:    Chris, great to be here. Thanks man.

Christopher:    Today we wanted to talk about high-intensity training for endurance athletes and I know Paul, this is a topic that you published on a great deal. This conversation came about…I talked to Tommy in Slack, we do a lot of communication on our internet chat platform called Slack. I talked to Tommy and I think I slightly annoyed him because…which is not unusual.

But so what happens with me this year on the bike is that I didn’t do any intensity. In previous years I’ve worked with a coach and paid that coach money for a training plan, and they’ve always programmed intervals into my training plan as the race season approached. This year I didn’t do anything, I just continued to ride around with my heart rate at about 140 beats per minute.

And I did some very occasional sprinting, so maximal effort for about 20 seconds, but really nothing in terms of intensity compared to what I used to do which was long intervals. These intervals would start 4 or 5 minutes at 160, 170 beats a minute and then gradually, my coach would increase the duration of those intervals and also the rest period in between them.

And by the time I actually got to my first race, I was doing intervals of 20 minutes long so it was almost like a bike race I was doing in the middle of the week. And this year I did my first race and it went really well, and I didn’t really feel like the intervals – the lack of them – had made any difference to my performance whatsoever. So I told Tommy about this and he got really annoyed because there’s lots of evidence in the literature that says that there’s tremendous benefits to doing high intensity interval training and maybe I was just being an idiot and I could have done much better had I followed the rules.

Christopher:        So then I thought “Well maybe we need to reach out to an expert here and do a podcast on this. s=So Paul, the first question I want to ask you is why anyone should do high intensity interval training? When I say anyone, I mean any endurance athlete. I feel like before we get to that point, we should talk about some definitions. So first of all, can you tell me what you think of when I say endurance athlete? Can you define endurance athlete for me?

Paul:    That’s even a hard one to define, actually, because really it should be –technically speaking – it should be when the event that the individual’s training for starts to become more aerobic or endurance-like. So that’s really right off the bat, definitely predominance after a minute where you kind of draw the line. But I think typically, we think of endurance events as more what the lay-public are kind of lining up for with that endurance races.

Like 5 kilometre runs probably would be the starting sort of point, 20 kilometre time trials. I’m not sure what your shortest distance is in mountain biking line-up for. And then of course it spans out to the Gran Fondos, the triathlons – Olympic distance triathlons. Half Ironman and Ironman, [00:04:01] [indiscernible] and Ultras.

So there’s a massive spectrum of endurance athletes as short as someone really even lining up for an 800 or a 1500 metre on the track is still potentially…they’ve got the predominant of aerobic respiration that’s going on. I probably haven’t done a great job of defining it there for you, Chris.

Christopher:    Well my takeaway is everyone, right? You just said everyone.

Paul:    It really is, it’s everyone. We are aerobic beasts, aren’t we? We’re definitely made to do this for our evolution, so yeah.

Christopher:    And can I also ask you for a definition of intensity? Because that’s also a dicey one, right? So I spend most of my time going slow, I suppose, with my heart rate at 140 beats or less. So can you define intensity?

Paul:    Yeah well so intensity I guess is how hard you’re going and that could be from the one end of the spectrum, your 1RM max right? In a weight room of a maximal squat or name your physical activity, to as every degree of variation downwards to walking along the way. So when we’re defining high intensity interval training, we then need to go a little bit deeper into things and we need to sort of…it’s probably best that we start defining some things that probably a few of your listeners are aware of.


Paul:    We can call it your threshold or your critical power or your maximal lactate steady state – that’s a pretty good place where a lot of people are going to be familiar with. That’s that exercise intensity that is –vaguely speaking – relatively sustainable. It’s heavy, hard exercise but you can hold on to that pace say for example, 30 to 60 minutes. It’s called your critical power.

If you go to the mathematics of the whole thing and you draw a relationship between your exercise intensity on the y-axis and your time on the x-axis, it forms what’s called a power law where you’ve got a real spiking high intensity phase up to infinity really, at a 0 time point down to…but then it levels off at [00:06:04] [indiscernible] to the steady state that’s critical power.

So if we use that critical power as a bit of a benchmark to defining high intensity, it’s everything above that point. So everything above that point really is technically defined as your high intensity interval training, I guess intensity bandwidths. It’s not sustainable exercise, so it’s exercise that is that. It’s technically speaking more anaerobic, I mean also it’s your creatine phosphate anaerobic [00:06:30] [indiscernible] type energy that is predominating.

That’s the technical definition of it and that’s where it gets real vague and a bit blurred because like you were prescribed, Chris, you were prescribed these 4 to 5 up to 20 minute intervals. It’s more sustainable so you’re below that critical power. You’re doing exercises more in that threshold between what’s called your aerobic or your first ventilatory threshold and your second ventilatory threshold or maximal lactate steady state that critical power. Maybe Tommy wants to get in there and clarify a few things, sort of give his two cents.

Tommy:    No definitely not but what I wanted to ask you is whether you can maybe…one of the questions I had is whether you can maybe give us definitions of all the different thresholds because people throw around all these various different thresholds, some people say there’s a lactic threshold and then when you’re immersed in your work, you’re talking about 2 different lactate thresholds and then there’s obviously the ventilatory thresholds, the aerobic, there’s the anaerobic thresholds. So maybe you could describe what each of those are, what they mean to people.

Paul:    Yeah that’s a great place to start so let’s do that. So let’s start down to the bottom first and then we’ll work up to the top, so we’re starting at the bottom. We’ll start with that first ventilatory threshold or that aerobic threshold, and I guess it’s that point where your lactate threshold. And it’s defined technically as a one minimal increase in your blood lactic acid level above baseline. So you’re performing what’s called a progressive exercise task and you’re taking a blood lactate measure and you’re forming basically that same [00:08:00] [indiscernible] at the bottom of the curve.

    It’s not going up much as the exercise intensity goes up. But then all of a sudden there comes a point in the next step up that it bumps up to one millimal. And at the same time, there’s something that’s going on at the ventilatory level as well, where there’s this heightened level of ventilation.

So all of a sudden, your ventilation goes up as well. First increase in your ventilation relative to your oxygen uptake, so they’re going up at the same time and then all of a sudden, it kicks up a little bit more. So there’s 2 things correspond and that’s your first ventilatory threshold or your aerobic threshold. Cognitively speaking, it’s that one-forty, it’s that MAF rate, it’s very sustainable, it’s probably a marker of your fat oxidation – your maximal fat oxidation. And yeah, that’s your first ventilatory threshold.

Now moving up from that, you’re now moving towards the second ventilatory threshold or moving towards your maximal lactate steady state or your critical power that I just spoke on. And at that point, we are…lactate is starting to kind of go skyward at this point. It’s not sustainable for probably…you’re somewhere in that ballpark of 30 to 60 minutes. It’s real heavy exercise, it’s hard but it’s probably your time trial pace if you’re doing a time trial.

And yeah you’re seeing also a concomitant increase in your VCO2, so your volume of carbon dioxide. There’s bicarb buffering that’s kind of going on, and that’s going skyward as well as lactate. And you’re breathing like crazy. And that is that real…above that point – that second ventilatory threshold – we’re now moving into that high intensity exercise domain in terms of the power output or the speed of movement.

Moving forward, we’re now into what’s call either a W-prime or an anaerobic capacity. We’re into that finite energy reserve. We’re moving towards…well actually we’re moving next I guess into VO2 max because that’s probably the next one we’d define, right, as a bit of a threshold marker. And VO2 max, I mean technically speaking, this is the area where it’s the power output or the movement speed that is associated with your maximal oxygen uptake.

Again, there’s a real variance and I’ve seen it between 2 and a half minutes at the low end towards [00:10:10] [indiscernible] exercising. It was an Australian junior time trial champion and I remember he went up to 8 minutes at his VO2 max. There was real variance in that and that’s probably because there’s actually also a variance in terms of what is that finite reserve, what is that anaerobic capacity?

That’s also often not appreciated much, we’re doing a lot more investigation there with AT University and High Performance Sport New Zealand in a big project called the Anaerobic Speed Reserve Project. Have a look at that on Twitter, with Gareth Sanford.


Paul:    Anyways, the very next one up there – the final threshold to talk on – is the…I guess would be your maximal power output or maximal speed you can do over 5 seconds. So that’s the very very top end of what your maximal sprinting speed is in your maximal power output. And again theoretically, I could go to infinity. Who knows that that marker is? And again, that whole spectrum form is a bit of a power-time distribution of a classic power law [00:11:05] [indiscernible]. That’s it.

Christopher:    Can I ask you a practical question, Paul? When you coach your clients, how do you translate this into a prescription? So I’m going to make really detailed shownotes for everybody, they can come and look and find these different thresholds written down so they can be reminded of them. When you’re coaching a client, do you translate this into watts or a heart rate or something like that?

Because for me personally, now I’ve gotten to the point where the power metes are on my mountain bike for several years, I look down and see 450 watts. I know I’ve got maximum 5 minutes to live. So I’m very familiar with how many watts I can produce for any given amount of time. So do you translate those thresholds into a practical prescription for your athletes?

Paul:    Yeah, I think practically speaking it’s you’re giving those durations and you’re letting the athletes brain choose what they’re after. You might give a power range just like you’ve given there, right? So your target is 450 watts for 5 minutes. I don’t know too many athletes who can do that, that’s really impressive Chris.

Christopher:    There’s a ton of pro-mountain bikers that can do that. Like when you’re watching the UCI World Cup mountain bikers, every time you see them going uphill, they’re doing over 500 watts, I’m sure.

Paul:    Really?

Christopher:    Yeah, oh yeah.

Paul:    That’s impressive. I know there would definitely be a few out there but it’s impressive power. But yeah, that’s what I would give. You’re giving like a verbal recommendation, then you are monitoring some of the variables to get feedback after, whether it’s the movement speed or the power output or the associated heart rate.

Tommy:    I was thinking about this and remembering back to my rowing days where the main goal is to be fast in a 2 cage test, either on the water or on a row machine. And the top guys are like 6 minutes to 6 minutes 20. Some are faster than that but girls maybe about 45 second to a minute slower. So that really made me think that the 2 contestants basically a way to spend your entire time at your VO2m axis right in that kind of time range, right? It’s kind of close. Then it lets you really easy because you do a lot of prescriptions based on the time on the row machine base on your 2k time.

So that’s one of the few sports I felt like where you can very easily get the VO2 – the velocity of VO2 max – the speed because it’s on the rowing machine, it’ll be measured all the time. Do you think that’s kind of like a right estimation? Right now looking at the data, that you’re at VO2max [00:13:28] [indiscernible]. Probably most people listening to this have literally no idea what I’m talking about, but I just thought it’s interesting because of my [00:13:33] [indiscernible].

Paul:        Oh yeah for sure. I mean just imagine sitting down in a rowing [00:13:37] [indiscernible] and going all to the wall for the first 6 to 7 minutes. Yeah you’ll be at VO2 max or near about…like in most of us that are just trying out for the first time, we’ll definitely hit that if we’re going almost all in. We’ll hit that midway about 2 to 3 minutes in and then power will probably kind of comeback so feedback to the brain will say “You’ve cooked it too much.”

Christopher:    But yeah you’ll definitely reach for your [00:16:03] [indiscernible]. 6 to 7 minutes, no question. I mean anything really within the 3 minutes to 8 minutes all out is kind of a VO2 maxi type thing. You’re definitely going to hit VO2 max, you’re not going to do too many of those repetitions.

Paul:    One is always enough.

Christopher:    I think we’ve got enough definitions now for me to go back and ask the questions that I wanted to ask first of all, which is why anyone should bother with this? So I feel like I can just go 140 beats for ever and still do pretty good in 60 minutes cycle cross race or I just did a [00:14:39] [indiscernible]. Took me 8 hours 45 minutes and I seem to be doing pretty good with both of those.

I feel like I don’t lose my innate ability to go hard, which kind of makes sense when you think about it. If you’re being chased by a tiger, you’re going to fucking run right? You’re not going to forget how to do that just because…you’re not going to fail just because you didn’t do your intervals before the tiger started chasing you. So why would anyone want to do the high intensity stuff and what benefits could they expect?

Paul:    Yeah so it really comes down to principle of specificity. And this is why…we were chatting about your predicament and I guess your question and what you guys were debating. The phrase that I speak about and I’m writing about in this interval training book is there’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to training. You’ve just highlighted it there. I believe you want to have some level of specificity within your training. Just kind of makes intuitive sense. So break down your event that you did – so what was the event that you did very well?

Christopher:    Oh yeah so the first was a mountain bike race that lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Paul:    2.45?


Christopher:    Yeah 2.45. So mountain bike racing’s a little bit different from a time trial. It’s really a time trial but it’s slightly different from a time trial because occasionally you’ll be forced to burn some matches in order to clear some terrain that’s loose or steep or rooty or rocky or something like that, do you know what I mean? You physically won’t clear it unless you push like I said, 450 watts for a few seconds, just to be able to get over it. Yeah 2 hours 45 was the total duration.

Paul:    It sounds like you went – I wrote down – you went at this 2 different sorts of ways. 1, you were doing predominantly math work and 20 second efforts on your intervals, I kind of broke it up. And then alternatively you were kind of doing 4 to 5 minutes, progressing up to 20 minute reps at 170. So in both cases, you’re skinning the cat in kind of a different way but for a 245 event, it’s predominantly still fat-burning glycogen-based activity.

Like I would imagine you would probably perform that event at around 165 in terms of your overall heart rate. And it was super spiky around…like I’ve coached a mountain biker so I know exactly the profile that you would have had for that. One of the reasons why you’d want to be doing high intensity interval training is to recruit your larger fast twitch motor units. So we’ve got a balance of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres and the ones that we’re generally using for our aerobic activities are slow twitch muscle fibres.

We want to be using those quite often and in both cases, you’re probably still using those ones. In the 170 ones where you’re doing intervals at 170, you’re kind of more into that mixed blend. You’re not hitting your larger motor units too often, you’re more your intermediate units. You’re still allowing yourself to perform fine at that event but likewise in more your math training example, you’re missing a little bit of the midzone sort of work but you’re engaging your fast twitch motor units when you’re doing the tabata type 22 second things.

In both examples, you’re just proving the principle there’s more than 1 way to skin a cat with it. I would also say in your math example, there’s another picture that we often forget and that’s just your whole systemic system in terms of how is your stress system kind of coping with things, in terms of cortisol sort of response, how healthy are you. And I would say that in general, the math with the tabatas is probably more conducive to being from evolutionary biology, more what’s in line with our genetic code in terms of what we’re doing and maybe why you felt so good is because that was more of a…you were in better health almost, because of the training format you might have put yourself in a bit better health.

Christopher:    Yeah I would totally agree. So that’s the main advantage to me with the math, with very short high intensity bursts is that you feel fantastic all of the time. If I do 2 or 3 20 minute intervals on a Wednesday afternoon, that’s like doing a bike race in the middle of a work week and it’s going to affect the quality of my sleep, I’m going to be pretty dysfunctional after I finish my ride which may not be acceptable now that I have a child, as many people that listen to this will understand.

Whereas the math pace, maybe I go out for 90 minutes or somewhere and once I’m properly warmed up, I just do a few bouts as hard as I can go for 20 seconds with a little bit of recovery in between. But you get back from a ride like that and you feel on top of the world and if you somehow be able to be blinded, you wouldn’t even know that you’ve done something. It’s not punishing at all and yet I seem to be getting the same results. So I wonder whether I’m just not trying as hard or whether maybe like you say, that there are more than one way to skin a cat and this may work too.

Paul:    Yeah Chris, that’s my opinion. At the end of the day, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and I know that’s super vague but that’s all I’m seeing, because I’ve seen this. I’ve got 2 top elite guys in a world top 30 Ironman triathlete guys and they’re going at their programs according to their feedback at completely different spectrums. One guy’s super high volume and another guy is at the…he’s so low in volume but more high intensity and they’re not going well the opposite way.

There’s a lot of people that are tweeting about this now and it comes back also to some of the blood glucose monitoring stuff that we’re doing, continuous blood glucose monitoring, and that’s that we’ve really missed the individualized principle out there in the world of sports science, I believe, and that’s really up to us coaches to get in there and start getting a little bit more data and appreciating unique individual that’s kind of in front of you and what they respond best to. That’s my opinion.

Tommy:    That brings me exactly onto the question I wanted you to answer on this podcast, which is basically to do with those 2 different approaches. You’ve published a lot on a polarized training model which is similar to what Chris has been doing more recently, so you’re avoiding spending too much time between your 2 ventilatory thresholds or your lactate thresholds.


Tommy:    A lot of our athletes come to us and they’re usually broken and burnt out and that’s because when they train, they go out for an hour and they crush themselves for an hour. Most of the time that’s spent in that middle zone – that grey zone, black hole, whatever you want to call it – and actually when we suggest the more polarized model, they tend to feel much better just like you said, sort of conducive to overall health. But there are a lot of people who say you’re doing 30 minute, 60 minute time trials and you have some guys who’re definitely doing that, and you talked about specificity.

What I’m wondering is those sort of really crushing sessions of 20 minute intervals at or just below threshold for an hour or maybe a little bit longer, what adaptations are happening there that you cannot get by doing a polarized model? Because the muscle doesn’t know what type of training you’re doing, it just knows the metabolic stress you put it under or the amount of neuromuscular load you put it under. So is there an adaptation from those threshold sessions that you can’t get by doing a polarized-type model?

Paul:    Great question. Probably don’t know exactly the answer but I’ll just give you my opinion and that’s that again we have to take the individual, we have to take the event and the specificity of the event that we’re trying to prepare for. When I think of those 20 minute bouts that Christ was doing and I prescribed them as well to my Ironman guys, because it’s a piece of their performance, their event whether it’s a 70.3 or an Ironman event that I want them to excel in and I want to get a picture of how the body is responding – both the heart rate and the power for those bouts.

Because we want to be looking at the ratio of heart rate to power or heart rate to running speed at those race intensities. At least it do, and I also think it’s really important for the brain to become confident in running and performing at those paces. But again, it’s a balance so you can’t have…I don’t believe you can do that all the time or you’re going to run into the problem with exactly what you’re saying. You’re always doing that, you’re disturbing the homeostasis of the system, and the cortisol levels is kind of coming up – all the stress hormones.

And yeah you can’t do that forever, so it’s never black or white, it’s never sort of one thing but it’s a little bit started here and it’s start of a whole program in puzzle life, I believe. So you’re doing that there, you’re seeing how the body’s responding, you’re giving the body adequate time to recover and then you’re doing the thing again. Are we adapting? Has the heart rate variability started tracking? I don’t know if that answered your question but…

Tommy:    No it does. There’s 2 different parts to that, I think. So one that reminds me of when I was working in orthopaedics in London – my bosses were foot and ankle specialists and we had some guys coming in who had stress factors in their foot for studying. And one of the things that one of my bosses said was “Only amateurs get stress fractures because a professional or an elite athlete knows when to stop and rest and recover, and they never push themselves to do that.

So I’m wondering if the problem with seeing is amateurs will say that, who think they just want to go out and train really hard all the time, and then that has a negative effect. And then if you pull them back from that, you see a positive benefit. But you can use some of those types of sessions in people who have a better structured program, who have more time or capability to recover and then see benefit, but maybe it’s harder to kind of pass that out if you’re somebody who’s trying to work around all this stressful lifestyle and you just think you have to train really hard to be fast. Does that make sense?

Paul:    That totally makes sense, yeah. And we see that all the time, right? Like maybe a lot of your followers here on the program, I guess they’re probably Type-A personalities where a lot of us are trying to kick ass at what it is we’re doing and we’re trying to do it all. We’re juggling the family life, we want to be kick ass in business, we want to do awesome in our sports as well and you just kind of going through your day, the ones that can get a little bit blurred and you’re just doing what the coach is kind of putting down there.

I think probably a good practice would be to take a bit of a break, get in tune with your own body, what’s the situation and then really listening. And then when it comes to stress lifestyle, nutrition, it’s one of the things that I try to teach the guys and gals that I coach. I’m trying to get them to take more control of their program, to address exactly what you’re saying.     

The more people can do that, use their brain – I mean that brain is your barometer, it’s your sensor of life and how you’re adapting around it and how you’re responding to it. Just trying to get a little bit more in tune with what it’s telling you than rest of those stress factors and other types of injuries. Hopefully, less will happen.

Christopher:    So it’s mindfulness.

Paul:    It’s mindfulness, yeah. Mindfulness is…you study the brain, right Tommy? So you know it’s all about the brain then, it really is. It’s such a critical…it’s the number one player in the whole thing.

Tommy:    That was the other thing that this made me think of. We talk a lot about again going back to those sort of ray zone or black hole training sessions and you mentioned the cognitive benefit of that. Knowing that you can perform when it really hurts for a long period of time, and again going back to my rowing days, this is something you used to do…when I first started rowing, I wasn’t part of a very big or elite boat club. So we had a lot of...we had a high attrition rate, we often had to get new guys up to speed very quickly.


Tommy:     And one of the ways we did that is by crushing them in training, because then they knew that they could perform in a race when it really really hurt. So is one of the benefits of that type of training long periods at our around threshold? Just a cognitive…so you know you can perform when it really hurts and that’s one of the main benefits that you’re getting from it.

Paul:    Absolutely. Unfortunately it has a bad part of that as well, and that’s that sometimes the social aspect of 8 guys in a boat that are absolutely caning themselves to work towards that, they run into problems, whether it be a stress factor, overtraining, etc. So there’s benefits for some but it’s not ideal for others. So where do you draw the line? I don’t really know.

We’ve both been in that environment before and I don’t think I came out with any major solutions with the exception of heart rate variability and [00:26:31] [indiscernible]. By monitoring that, he’d get an individual sort of response but it’s still the coaches tend to have the say at the end of the day and athletes are driven. It’s a tough one, there’s definitely something there for it, no question.

Especially training hard when you’re young and you can kind of handle it a little bit more. There’s a bit more of a formula. When you get old like us, then I think you need to get more…I don’t see too many old guys like us that are still taking that modelling going successfully. They’re out there but there’s less and less of them as you get towards our age, I reckon.

Tommy:    Okay so I guess this is getting to the point where maybe you can give us some idea of what we should be doing. So how do we build high intensity interval training into a program? People might want some rough ideas of interval time and recovery time and how many times per week. Obviously it’s going to change from sport to sport but maybe you can give us some rough principles to follow.

Christopher:    I think we should focus in on here maybe with the really long Ironman and Olympic distance triathlon might be a good place, because I know just some of the people that we work with, a bunch of those guys are competing for those sorts of distances. So maybe that extra context will help you.

Paul:    That’s a bit easier too right. We have to start somewhere because we talk – when we started the program, we talked about the spectrum of endurance athletes.

Christopher:    It’s everyone.

Paul:    Yeah it is everyone so let’s take it into what the majority people are going to be interested in and they’re triathlete slightly more endurance based athletes from the Olympics distance triathlon up to the Ironman distance. So if you’re preparing for an event like that, I mean I believe you want to start with some basics. You need to be training to train. If you’re sedentary and you’re off the couch, you’re cautious there and get into some general aerobic training. Basic math principles, I guess. We continue through with this, because again we’re talking from 2 hours to 12 to 14 hours for individuals, depending on the event that they’re gearing up for.

And this is mostly with all of those fat-oxidation glycogen based exercise is what we’re talking about. So my opinion is 80% of your work – that 80-29 polarized model – 80% of that training program in the broad disciplines needs to be mostly aerobic training. Now we’ve got 20% to cut a play with. Now we’re talking about the rest of the program. How should we skin the cat for that last 20%? And my opinion is that we need to break up the intensity that you’re probably going to be performing at for your event. So say it was an Ironman event. We know in the Ironman, bike predominant – 50% of the event’s going to be on a bike.

You want to be performing at almost kind of that…just the top end of your math zone. So just above your first ventilatory threshold. Almost the intensity that you’re preparing for to perform at for that Ironman. So 140 beats per minute, for example, or whatever that power up that’s associated, you probably want to be doing blocks of that.

Again I almost follow a similar method where your – coach was suggesting, Chris – where you might be starting at 20 minute intervals and then progressing that out to 45 by the end of your program. Say it was a 12 week sort of program, starting with 20 minute blocks, taking 10 to 15 minutes in between and progressing that in terms of repetition number and also the duration.

So maybe at the end you’d be finishing with about 45 minutes in the Ironman context at your Ironman sort of pace. The same time you probably want to be touching on…we want to be pushing that out too. Possibly you want to be looking at developing your upper level power. So you want to probably be performing some 70.3 [00:30:16] [indiscernible]. And again, similar sort of duration blocks. Maybe a little less now because the intensity is higher. But in terms of the intensity we might be talking – for your example Chris – it might be more like the 155 to 160 kind of heart rate and blocks of that, maybe15 minute blocks for example.


Paul:    Again that’s one way to skin it but there’s so many different ways. And again you can use the same context for the running as well. We can take a track and field sort of approach and design that for the run as well.

Tommy:    What about stuff right at the other end? So when you’re above critical power and you’re maybe above your velocity [00:30:51] [indiscernible] for 2 or 3 minutes or less than a minute – short sprints. Do you see any benefits of those for the long distance endurance athlete or do you think they’re less relevant?

Paul:    Again I hate to keep using this as an excuse but it does depend. And again I think back to the example of the athlete that I’m working [00:31:10] [indiscernible] that respond so well. So again the individual in front of us – now I can skin this a completely different way, now we’re talking VO2 X intervals where this guy just munches these up and we’re talking 3 to 4 minutes at a really maximal sustainable for 3 to 4 minutes or just under that and maybe performing between 4 and 6 of these repetitions. So these are VO2 max intervals. You place that in the program. Now in the context of this individual’s program, we’re pulling back some of the other stuff. So this is where I guess training peaks can really be kind of helpful because we’re getting an overall TSS sort of picture. In both cases, you’ve skinned the cat a different way but the TSS winds up being kind of similar at the end of the day by itself.

Christopher:        So what do you use with your clients then Paul? So listeners may not be familiar with that term, TSS is training stress score, am I right in thinking that?

Paul:    That’s right yeah, so training stress score.

Christopher:    And it’s [00:32:07] [indiscernible] algorithm isn’t it?

Paul:    Well it is and it isn’t. Like it’s just Bannister’s fitness and fatigue modelling from Bannister’s Simon Fraser University prof in 1971. It’s just his paper, they’ve taken his mathematics, it’s published and they’ve created their own sort of algorithm that to my knowledge, it’s almost identical. It’s your trip score, training impulse. So we include the link here if people want but that’s running in the background in the performance management chart of training peaks.

So you can just kind of see that running in the back end, those of you that use training peaks. To your listeners, you can click on the metrics – sorry I blanked on what it is. There’s a back end. So outside of your calendar you can have a look at all the graph sort of sections and on that is the performance management chart and you can see your fitness and fatigue modelling is going on there.

So you’ve got a chronic training load which is your CTL which is your marker for how much fitness you’ve gained and it’s based on the training stress score that’s kind of going along. You’ve also got markers of fatigue on there, which is your training stress balance. So yeah it’s a nice little model exercise to try to help you to get your athlete fit, understand how fit they are and I guess just have a look at your modelling figure tape [00:33:23] [indiscernible].

Christopher:    I can remember using that tool and then I realized at some point that maybe this wasn’t for me and I should be outdoors walking rather than looking at this chart on training peaks.

Paul:    Yeah I’m madly passionate about performance. I love working with some of these top guys and I just get a huge buzz when they go and win. It’s not be all end all, we know that all the time. But it’s just one sort of marker that helped provide that confidence and that comes back to the brain. So if I can explain something to an athlete and I can convince them of something and show them data in front of them, they get a little bit of a buzz from that. It’s all about belief so you can believe in something, that brain can go and engage those motor units and do the task. So yeah for me it works.

Christopher:    Okay how do you integrate HRV into this? Because I know you’ve published a great deal on the subject, I’ve not read all your papers but I’m wondering whether it’s possible to measure the effectiveness of your high intensity training using heart rate variability.

Paul:    Yeah so the guy’s  done some great work with heart rate variability and made it so easy for us is Marco Altini and it’s with the heart rate variability for training, HIV for training – go online and check them out. Basically you take your iPhone and you can monitor your heart rate variability just by taking a measure over the top of your finger. So we validated…

Christopher:    Does that actually work? Because I thought we were still at the point where external measures like that – or validates or didn’t work as well as you wanted them to. [00:34:57] [indiscernible] you can get the heart rate variability.

Paul:    Yeah no we validate against ECG so we published that international journal sports physiology and performance. We compared whole 8 set and heart chest strap with Marco’s…it’s called PPG, I forget the actual term but basically it’s running the camera flash through your finger and it’s picking up the systole phase of your heart contracting and it’s getting a marker of that variation and beats.


Paul:    Just for everyone, I guess we should explain what heart rate variability is. So we’re actually looking at the beat to beat variation in your heart and you’re not actually looking at what the heart rate is, you’re really getting inside into how your central nervous system is coping. Like you’re looking at your sympathetic and your parasympathetic balance. So your sympathetic is your fight or flight – am I stressed? Your parasympathetic is when you’re sleeping, when you’re relaxed, you’re calm, you’re meditating.

And you’re swinging in that all the time, so the HRV is…yeah we completely validated it and the key to the HRV is getting a regular marker and this is where Marco’s invention here with putting it onto the smartphone is so brilliant. Because you can wake up, you take a single one minute sample. You wake up in the morning – most of us sleep with our iPhones or smartphones kind of near us.

Christopher:    No we don’t! No electronics in the bedroom. This is my problem with this, doing it this way is we don’t have any electronics in our bedroom whatsoever. Definitely not iPhones.

Paul:    Well that’s good, I think you’re doing it right. I do it for that reason, the other reason I also use it is I really…again I’m this Type-A sort of personality and the other invention I absolutely love is this new Brain FM. And Brain FM – I’m not sure if you’ve seen that one – I don’t wake up in the middle of the night anymore, I sleep through the night with Brain FM. So the beats basically keeps my brain in sync for sleeping, so you can mediated whether with excellent meditation. It’s focused on tasks and getting them done, it’s got a real great focus beat.

So basically we know that the brain has different patterns of regulation and the beats of the Brain FM guys – they put the music and the beat within time with I guess the physiological state that you’re after. So whether that’s to nap, whether that’s to focus or whether that is to sleep. So I guess I kind of use it at night for 2 sort of principles but I’m right with you, like it’s often 8o’clock and I’m reading paper but I still tend to be a little bit wired and I love the consistent sleeping. I like to sleep normal hours if I can, it just helps me so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night.

Tommy:    Yeah I use that when I can’t sleep too, Brain FM.

Paul:    Awesome. Nice to see someone else use them, you’re the first other person that I’ve seen using it because I…a lot of people think I’m a little bit crazy when I do that.

Tommy:    We work with a…we have a good friend, his name is Josh Turkner. He’s a neurologist, I’ve did some work with him and he’s a big fan of it too. He understands the brain much better than I do so yeah. So people are using it, definitely.

Paul:    Yeah it’s good. It’s been a saviour for me, I’m just so much clearer when I have a good night’s sleep, go figure.

Christopher:    For me it was about making the bedroom just for sleeping. So I used to have a ton of stuff in my bedroom, like a TV for example and I used to listen to podcasts and I had a Bluetooth speaker in there and all of that. And so I knew that if I ever woke you up in the middle of the night, there’d be something to keep me occupied, and that itself was the problem. As soon as I took all that shit out the bedroom, then I suddenly started sleeping through the night. I think that made a huge huge difference.

Paul:    You’re probably doing it best, Chris but this is working for me. Everyone’s kind of an individual [00:38:33] [indiscernible].

Christopher:    Yes of course everyone’s an individual. I want to tell you back, so how do we use heart rate variability then? So we’ve got this metric that perhaps could suggest our readiness to train or tell us something about the autonomic nervous system. How can you use that data to tell whether or not your high intensity interval training is effective or not?

Paul:    Again, awesome question and basically you can be looking at how imbalanced you kind of are when you’re doing a period of aerobic training with low stress, you should be seeing ad adaptation and you should be generally seeing an overall rise in heart rate variability with that block of training. To measure that, you need to be taking this every day. You don’t want to be missing too many days. So some of our research, we looked at how many…sorry I should backtrack. The main issue with heart rate variability is you never want to take a single marker. One single day doesn’t mean squat.

Don’t worry about a single day, you’re really looking at one week blocks. You start looking at weekly blocks, the picture starts to become a little bit more clear. You want to have day to day variation, you don’t always want to be at the same heart rate variability. So you want to have day to day variation and overall you want to be seeing a general trend of increase with a block of aerobic training. So I would guess – if you were actually measuring it – what we’d likely see Chris with your 2 profiles, I would guess that your former coach program where your high intensity stuff.

Too much midzone, probably you might not have been seeing as much of a rise in your heart rate variability. Almost an absorption of the training, an absorption of health as compared to the other example where you’re doing more the math work and you’re doing the…coupled with a small amount of tabata that’s in there. Marco Altini, again the HRV founder – you go onto Twitter recently, he’s put a neat little tweet out where he’s actually shown his profile where he has…’cause he’s invented this thing. I get emails from him at all hours of night, doesn’t sleep, he’s coding all the time, and he’s on Twitter all the time.


Paul:    And he’s so fast to respond, he’s one of those guys. He’s off the charts, he’s taken up a running program, switched to polarized training and he’s monitored his heart rate variability. He’s running 120 for half marathon now, he’s made sure he’s slowed down with work, he’s sleeping a whole lot more and he’s got this beautiful trend of rise in heart rate variability. It’s kind of coupled with all these sorts of things.

Again it’s an NF1 so this is him but that’s generally what we see. So that’s why it might be useful or interesting for some of your listeners to consider honouring this thing. Again, Marco’s made this so easy. It’s a $7 app that you can get on the appstore – HRV for Training. You take your 1 minute sample and you can actually…all the graphs are just sort of sitting there, ti’s simple.

Tommy:    This is great and I honestly didn’t know that you could do [00:41:20] [indiscernible] measurement of HRV with the camera. I think the barrier for a lot of people is putting on a chest strap in the morning, firing up the app. I mean I ball up my Bluetooth chest strap so I can measure my heart rate variability every morning. I think I did it once and then after that the barrier for entry was too high and I just wasn’t going to do it. So this…I mean I’m definitely going to check out this app and try it, that’s great.

Paul:    Just a shout out for my mate [00:41:45] [indiscernible]. All of his PhD and his work is really sitting sort of in the back end of Marco’s app.

Tommy:    That’s cool.

Paul:    Yeah so shoutout for him too. Also Martin Bichette. He was Dan Pluza’s supervisor on the whole project. There’s a lot of…maybe 6 or 7 papers that are published on all of that work that is used in Marco’s program and others.

Tommy:    You and Martin Bichette, you wrote 2 epic review papers on high intensity interval training that will probably link to too. Those are my homework before the podcast’s reading notes if people are really interested.

Paul:    For sure and we’re now…that’s what I’m here kind of retired in this [00:42:26] [indiscernible] I’m writing a book based on those 2 papers with Martin Bichette. It’s titled Science and Application of High Intensity Training. Hopefully it’ll make a little bit more sense, those papers are complex. I have a hard time digesting them sometimes.

Christopher:    Paul I wanted to talk to you about the format or the media for the books because you said it depends many times in this interview and I think that’s the right answer. It really does depend and so my question is how is the average end user or even a coach going to be able to interpret all this in a book and get the right answer every time? I’m wondering whether what you really need is maybe a training course or some software or maybe something other than a book. What do you think?

Paul:    Yeah great question, so 2 answers to that one. First of all, it’s called the Science and Application. So martin and I are going to rewrite the science we’ve piled in those 2 review papers. We do that first of all and then secondly we…the application sections are written by all the practitioners that are embedded in the sports. So we’ve got a guy that’s working for the football chapter and the application of interval training to NFL football, we’ve got the New England Patriots sports science practitioner there.

And on and on it goes right across all of the spectrum, keep throwing out names and stuff but yeah we’ve got lots of all the…and again this is how they got about in skinning their cat, but every practitioner, coach, athlete – we’re all so unique but you’ll be able to take that information on board and to be able to interpret it within the context of your individual…and again, we’re putting  God lines in terms of the process that the practitioner might want to take or the athlete might want to take. And then finally, I guess the big picture is to try to take some of this information and throw it into [00:44:18] [indiscernible] and that’s really the trend these days. We’ve got some initiative that’s happening for you in the background.

Christopher:    So AI, go into that in a little bit more detail and explain it.

Paul:    Artificial intelligence, basically taking the same sort of decision that I just outlined and throwing those into code, into 0s and 1s. Also syncing in and using variables and all those things. Just to give again, uses a tool not to take the coach out but to give here’s what the algorithm of the 2 suggests. Now take that in line with your own context, what you see in front of you.

Christopher:    So do you think we’re not very far away from the day when we wouldn’t need a human to create a training plan that I could just maybe wear the heart rate variability strap and then also maybe my power meter whatever and then an algorithm could decide what I should do tomorrow. Do you think we’re close to that then?

Paul:    We are.

Tommy:    And you’re going to be the one that gives it to us.

Paul:    No I think we’ll be one of many. There’s going to be so many out there, they’re already out there, you can see them. Those people that are already doing it. We’re on the exponential rise right now to where it’s an AI.


Christopher:    Crap there’s all these people…

Paul:    [00:45:24] [indiscernible].

Christopher:    Yeah there’s all these people that are going to have to get another job, radiologist going to need another job, truck drivers – you’re going to need another job. Maybe coaches are going to need another job.

Paul:    Yeah I think yes and no for coaches. I think the programs will be easier to program for coaches but again it comes back to the brain and the context that will never be taken by a computer, at least in my time. The interpersonal sort of stuff, it’s just the interpretation, the assistance of the interpretation, some raw numbers will be spat up and recommendations based on those raw numbers should be likely spat up.

Tommy:    Yeah there’s a degree of accountability and helping behaviour change that you get from a coach that you’ll never get from an artificial intelligence algorithm.

Christopher:    If you’re paying $500 a month for it, you might want to pay attention to what the algorithm thinks. But you make a really good point there and Ken Ford has talked about this. Ken Ford is the director of the IHMC and Ken has I believe sent me some papers – I have to dig this up – where he talks about using artificial intelligence as [00:46:24] [indiscernible] like a person would use a pair of spectacles. They’re not replacing your vision, they’re merely enhancing it and that’s perhaps maybe the way to think about what you’re talking about with this coaching.

Paul:    That’s exactly it, and I love Ken Ford’s work. Huge fan of that podcast too, the STEM talks.

Christopher:    Yeah it’s one of our favourites.

Paul:    Oh my god I could listen to those guys all day.

Christopher:    Excellent. Well this maybe is a good place to wrap up, this has been fantastic Paul.

Tommy:    Yeah it’s awesome.

Christopher:    [00:46:50] [indiscernible].com, is that the best place to find you now?

Paul:    Yeah probably it is, yeah. My Twitter handle’s Paul Laursen and yeah is our little website and we’re putting things out there from time to time and yeah, drop me a line.

Christopher:    Let me just ask you one last question and that is are you still accepting coaching clients? Have you still got space to coach anyone else?

Paul:    I do, yeah. So I’m really enjoying the work with the elites but now I’m open to coaching anyone, especially really enjoy working with those that are kind of right at the pointy end. That’s my most enjoyable work.

Christopher:    Excellent. Well this has been fantastic Paul, thank you very much, I really appreciate your time.

Paul:    That’s a pleasure, I really enjoyed it guys. Great meeting you both.

Christopher:    Yeah and thanks to you too Tommy, you’ve got some great questions there.

Tommy:    Cheers guys, cheers. Awesome.

[00:47:39]    End of Audio

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