Letters to the Coaches: Frequency of Hard and Easy Workouts

Hi Matt,

I just finished reading your book 80/20 Running. I liked the basic idea and I also have experienced my biggest fitness gains with mostly slow exercising. But I have one question that I did not find an answer – but maybe there was..

As a triathlete I currently do hard and slow workouts in all three sports, but how should I schedule them. I mean if I do 5 runs, 4 swims and 3 bike rides a week, if I do high intensity workouts in each of them, that could mean that I either do 3-4 ”hard days” (meaning there is a high intensity in some of the sports) or I do hard swims and hard runs on the same day and maybe only have 2 hard days per week. Now I usually have a hard bike on tuesdays, a hard run on thursdays and hard swimming on wednesdays and sundays. But according to the 80/20 philosophy: what is optimal?

And one ”common knowledge” is also that one can do more high intensity in swimming than in other sports, but according to you that is false.

Thank you for good books. I also have the Racing Weight books from you.


Dear TE,

Thanks for reading 80/20 Running! Matt and I expect to publish the book 80/20 Triathlon sometime next year which will address your questions as well.

To answer your direct questions, the 80/20 intensity distribution measured in elite athletes has always been observed at a macro level. Some days or even weeks might vary from 80/20, but over a given season the best athletes maintain that ratio. Therefore, you do not need to do high intensity in each sport each day, in fact that would be discouraged, as it interferes with the necessary recovery to continue high intensity on another day. In general, our triathlon plans follow a hard/easy approach with 3-4 days of workouts that include intense intervals, and 2-3 days of workouts exclusively at low intensity. Our plans target 80/20 distribution for each week.

Swimming, as you point out, is an exception. We target 75/25 when swimming by distance. We also allow for much more frequency of swim session that include intense swimming because of the recovery issue. While our plans almost never include an interval bike and run on the same day (excluding race-specific bricks) we often have an intense swim on the same day as an intense bike or intense run.


Matt and I periodically publish anonymously your inquiries to us, particularly when the answer may benefit the community. Have a question about 80/20 training or training in general? Feel free to e-mail me. David W.