Slowtwitch Aerobic Points

We just announced the 11th Annual Big Kahuna Challenge today, which is a yearlong chronicled effort celebrating volume and consistency. It is scored by “aerobic points.” I came up with a formula for aerobic points back in the early 1990s and in my opinion it has stood the test of time. It’s very simple.

1 mile cycling = 1 point
1/4 mile running = 1 points
100 meters swimming = 1 point

So, a balanced week might consist of 25 miles running, 100 miles on the bike and 10,000m in the pool. This shouldn't infer that a balanced week is better than an unbalanced one.

If you've come to triathlon from swimming, you might rightly perceive that any lack of success you might have as a triathlete might be due to a lack of attention to the run. You might need to run 35 or 40 miles per week in order to make fast progress, whereas a pair of 4000-meter sessions in the pool might be enough to maintain your status quo. In this case, the aerobic work you perform in the pool will only gain you half the points you log running. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Also, I think that occasional weeks that radically favor one sport are not only not bad, but good. For example, if you're averaging 360 points per week, and in one particular week you ride your bike 300 miles (the other 60 aerobic points split up between running and swimming) that week alone may place you in a new and faster category of cyclist.

I have always felt that triathletes are every bit as fit as single-sport athletes, and aerobic points describes why, to my thinking. I believe that good age group point totals are in the 240 range, per week. If you compare this with a good club bike racer, that would be 240 miles ridden in a week, which is a pretty solid week. A good Masters swimmer? I think if you swam 24,000 meters in a week, you’d swim like a fish. If you ran 60 miles a week – which would get you your 240 aerobic points – you’d be a fast age group runner.

A top age grouper, who’ll win his or her age group at IRONMAN or at USAT Nationals, is probably – week in and week out – putting in 400 points a week. I think if you were to go to Masters Nationals in cycling you’d find that the winners in, say, 40+ or 45+ are probably putting in those 400 miles a week. If you’re a top pro cyclist, riding in grand tours, you’re riding 600 miles a week and if you’re a top pro triathlete – especially in long course – I think 600 aerobic points a week sounds about right. That’s equivalent to running 150 miles a week and that’s about right for the very best marathoners in the world.

Of course you will find those who complain about the relative values of modifiers. What about elevation? Over the years we have discussed this and it’s probably true that a total elevation gain of 300 feet while running earns an extra point, so, if you run 5 miles that’s 20 aerobic points, but, if you also climb 600 feet during that run, maybe that should be worth 22 points.

Perhaps 1000' on the bike gains you a point, so, if you ride 60 miles that’s 60 points, but, if you climb 5000 vertical feet during that ride maybe that should be 65 points.

However, year in and year out, week in and week out, things tend to even out. If I ride a Zwift ride in a group, and cruise along at 27mph on a flattish Zwift course, or if I ride an actual group ride on the road, same thing, sucked into the group for a flattish ride, I don’t penalize myself with a discount in aerobic points awarded.

Strength sessions: I've struggled with this, because these are not aerobic sessions per se. However, they are accretive to one's performance in an aerobic activity, especially an endurance activity that also requires a lot of strength. Therefore, I would probably lean against giving points for weight workouts if I was simply considering a pure runner. However, weights are especially helpful for the bike and the swim. So, to be fair I should probably give 1 point for every 5 minutes spent in the weight room, but you've got to spend at least 20 minutes in a session to rack up any points. A one-hour session would give you 12 points, but that assumes very little lollygagging. These points assume a hard-core weight session.

Intensity: If one gives extra credit for elevation gain, why not for sessions engaged at a higher intensity? This is an aerobic points system, designed to give you an idea how much bulk you're doing during a building phase. If you want to engage in higher-intensity workouts, fine, however you'll probably find that your overall point totals will decrease. That's an eventuality when you engage in speedwork.

Yoga, etc.: Yes, you're right in arguing that yoga, or stretching, is just as accretive to performance as is a weight session. I'm not saying yoga isn't important. But if I give points for yoga, why not for massage? Or a good diet? Perhaps there is room for an overall training index, where not only aerobic work is quantified, but also other health factors. Perhaps points are added for every hour of sleep above 7 hours a night, and subtracted for hours less than that.

For all that, what I have found is that too many ingredients sours the dish. I once asked famed swimmer and swim coach Gerry Rodrigues if I could come down and have him look at my stroke, to see if there’s something he could pick out that explains my lack of speed progress. And he asked, “Over the past few months, what have been your weekly swim totals?” And that shut me up. That was the answer. There is no substitute for volume, balance and consistency.

So, for all that elevation, and intensity, and weight training and stretching and plyometrics and massage give you, if you aren’t maintaining a decent volume total you are, in my experience and instinct, going to have a hard time getting to where you want to be. For me, at my age (mid-60s), I’m be thrilled to exit the Big Kahuna, at the end of 2021, with 10,000 aerobic points. That’s just under 200 points a week, and my goal is to hit a fair number of 240 point weeks. But I know I’m going to have some down weeks, for one reason or another.

If you look at the chart above, this is my readout from my Training Log as I write this. My totals are a bit down because my pool has been closed. But it reopens today. The joy! So, hopefully I’ll recover from my landlubbering and put some points back up on the board. Just, as you see here, what you'll see on your Slowtwitch Training Log front page are the top aerobic point total earners among those in our community, and then at the bottom your own point total for the week.

I chose the images here with some homage paid to big mileage warriors: our own Herbert Krabel, who's been putting in a lot of 500-point weeks over the past year; Ultraman gladiator Rob Gray; and top American marathoner Des Linden.