This Olympic champion speed skater trains on the bike 30 hours a week


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Like many Olympic tales, it’s a story that transcends sport. When Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel crossed the start line for the 10,000m at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, he visualized that he had already won. After his expected crash of the competition – winning a world record in the process – van der Poel told everyone how he did it. In a comprehensive guide titled “How to skate a 10k… and also a half-10k.” van der Poel detailed his training from May 2019 to February 2022.

In it, van der Poel (unrelated to this van der Poel, by the way) wore everything. Not only did he include his day-to-day training schedule, but he also wrote a personalized story that was more like a diary than a clinical study.

Read also : How much power do professional cyclists produce during training?

There’s a lot to glean from this article – it’s 62 pages long – let’s look at it in the context of cycling. It’s no secret that elite level cyclists and speed skaters often swap sports for a season, and you may have heard the name of Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, then co-founded the 7-Eleven Cycling Team before moving on to the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

What’s disconcerting about Nils van der Poel’s training is that you would never guess he was a speed skater. Based on this training profile, he bikes 98% of the time, in addition to skiing, running, and weightlifting. Speed ​​skating is almost an afterthought, though it remains its purpose.

Let’s take a closer look at the training plan of a professional cyclist…I mean an Olympic speed skater.

Who is Nils van der Poel?

To put it all into context, van der Poel is both talented and dedicated. The casual attitude with which he describes his workout regimen is nothing short of remarkable. Van der Poel said that after leaving the Swedish army in May 2019 he was “decent in the gym with 125kg squatting” and could run 10km in 40 minutes (6:24/mile pace). By the time he transitioned to training focused on speed skating, he was starting out with a very solid base of conditioning.

Why van der Poel drives 30 hours a week

Van der Poel’s overriding training principle is to develop a strong aerobic base before anything else. This allows him to “do more high-intensity work than ever before,” and is why he didn’t even compete in speed skating from May 2019 to August 2020. With less than two years to go until the Olympics in n winter, van der Poel was on his bike for 4 to 7 hours a day.

The reason for this is that van der Poel considers 10 km speed skating performance to be the result of two factors: “(1) competitive speed capacity and (2) aerobic capacity”. In other words, it’s your ability to go fast, and your ability to go long and recover.

In order to increase his aerobic capacity, van der Poel began his aerobic training season as soon as the speed skating season ended (around February) and continued until the end of July. There was no offseason for van der Poel, but he took two consecutive rest days, each week.

Van der Poel follows a unique 5-2 training schedule in which he completes five consecutive days of long, hard training followed by two days of complete rest. The main reason for this is that van der Poel wanted to live a normal life. He wanted to hang out with his friends on the weekends and maybe have a few beers. In the world of endurance sports and “marginal gains”, I think there is something to be said for an Olympic champion who takes two days off a week.

This substantial rest helped van der Poel stay motivated for his Monday workouts, which consisted of 7-hour bike rides during the aerobic season. Throughout each training period, van der Poel engaged in many forms of exercise, including cycling, cross-country skiing, running, and ski mountaineering. With an occasional session of speed skating.

Aerobic season

For the aerobic season, van der Poel has set a goal of 33 hours/week of cycling… in five days. He would complete three 7-hour outings and two 6-hour outings, replacing equivalent hours of running or cross-country skiing where possible. To overcome mental exertions, van der Poel would sometimes ride before breakfast, stop for a long lunch, or eat sweets to stay fueled. He also participated in endurance challenges to increase his motivation, such as a 600 km (372.8 mi) bike ride or a 280 km (174 mi) 5-day stage race. Relaxed.

As with all great training plans, van der Poel followed the principle of progressive overload in training volume and intensity. He worked up to over 30 hours of weekly aerobic training and started at 200w (2.4w/kg) at his aerobic threshold. At the end of the “aerobic season”, it was pushing 250w (3w/kg) for 6-7 hours. For context, van der Poel said he was heaviest in October, around 85kg (187lbs), before reducing to ~80kg (176lbs) in January. The rest of the year he stayed around 82-83 kg (180-182 lb) to achieve the best balance of strength and body weight.

To maintain his energy levels during the massive five-day training blocks, van der Poel ate around 7,000 kcal a day and sometimes drank whipped cream during the sessions. Another side note that van der Poel added was that if he wanted to go on a trip with friends from Thursday to Sunday, he would adapt his 30 hours of training from Monday to Wednesday, or 10 hours of training per day.

There wasn’t much variety during van der Poel’s aerobic season, as each day (Mon-Fri) consisted of six to seven hours of cycling at 250-260w. As simple as that. After van der Poel progressed through the “aerobic season”, he would then progress to the “threshold season”, followed by the specific season and finally “aerobic season 2.0”.

Season threshold

Lasting 10 weeks, starting in early August, van der Poel’s “threshold season” consisted of some of the most gruesome bike training I’ve ever seen. He reduced his training volume to 25 hours per week and tried to put in as many hours as possible at threshold exertion. It all started with threshold sessions of 6x8min a few times a week but quickly evolved into 4x30min and 6x15min.

These threshold sessions are not done once or twice a week, they are done on five consecutive days, Monday through Friday, each week during the van der Poel threshold season. What is van der Poel’s “threshold”, you may be wondering? Somewhere around 390-420w (4.7w/kg–5.1w/kg).

Here is an example of a threshold session: 5min at 200w, 6min at 260w, 5x20min at 405w with 4min rest, 3h at 220w.

Read also : What does Tadej Pogačar’s training data mean?

Based on the practice sessions and general background, I’m guessing that van der Poel’s ‘threshold’ work is done just under FTP. Normally it would be impossible for the average cyclist to spend so much time on FTP. But for an Olympic champion, I wouldn’t put him above him.

What really strikes me are the tiny warm-up and short rest periods used by van der Poel. Many cycling coaches prescribe long rest periods between long intervals (more than 15 minutes), but van der Poel keeps rest periods as short as possible.

After more than nine months of aerobic and threshold training on the bike, van der Poel is finally ready for speed skating. The specific season and “aerobic season 2.0” consist mainly of speed skating sessions and two to three hour easy cycling sessions at 210w (2.5w/kg).

‘Specific Season’ and ‘Aerobic Season 2.0’

Prior to his speed skating practices, van der Poel would warm up on a bicycle trainer in his speed skating suit. I am not joking. This has a practical purpose, and that’s because van der Poel can’t warm up on the ice before a speed skating competition – the rink is used by other competitors, so he has no other choice than to sit on the sidelines. The training bike is the perfect solution, allowing him to warm up before hitting the ice.

Van der Poel uses the same bike warm-up for training as in competition: 5min at 200w, 6min at 260w, then 3x30sec at 400w with 30sec rest, then 2min at 400w before running on the ice for eight minutes the start of the session or the race.

Nils van der Poel trained on the bike for the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

The “specific season” includes the start of the competition season and lasts only a few weeks. In order to peak for his biggest race of the season (i.e. the Winter Olympics), van der Poel returned to strictly aerobic training after the first block of the World Cup in December. According to van der Poel, this ‘easy’ period allowed him to maintain a healthy balance between training fitness and peak form and is the reason he can skip the offseason after the season ends. of competition.

For “Aerobic Season 2.0,” van der Poel does six hours at 210w (2.5w/kg) Monday through Thursday, with a single 10k skating session on Friday followed by three hours on the bike at 210w. What about this weekend? Rest, of course.

Key points to remember

Nils van der Poel is truly a remarkable athlete, not only for his physical abilities, but also for his dedication and mental toughness in such a structured, high-volume training program. The Swede’s aerobic workouts are longer than those of most professional cyclists, and his threshold workouts are unlike any other. His 5/2 training schedule is quite intriguing, and there’s something to be said for his desire to be like a normal human.

Van der Poel himself warns readers to try this training program for themselves. Instead, it reminds us to start slow and increase training one step at a time. It took van der Poel many years to get to this point – the point of training more than 30 hours a week – and it’s not a training program you can try for fun.

Alas, human curiosity can get the better of us, and I know that, for my part, I will definitely try one of his workouts. I’m looking at this 5 x 20 minute threshold workout for my workout. Still, it’s probably good to listen to an Olympian who has risen to the top of his sport. Nils van der Poel knows the importance of rest, and he mentions the “limit” several times throughout his article, probably referring to the feeling of overtraining.

Stay smart, train hard and have fun. I’m sure Nils van der Poel would agree.

I wanted to share my favorite quote from van der Poel’s diary, a quote that was both funny and impactful.

“The biggest challenge in my training program was being able to keep wanting to do it. Motivation was the key. If something kept me motivated, I considered it good. Sometimes all I needed was one beer, or eight beers.

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