Coaching Triathletes and the Repeated Bout Effect

Coaching Triathletes and the Repeated Bout Effect

Coaching Triathletes and the Repeated Bout Effect

  • Training
  • Psychology

Coaching Triathletes and the Repeated Bout Effect

In coaching triathletes, I sometimes repeat the same workout week after week.  Or sometimes an entire week or block of training is repeated.  There is a concept in coaching and training called the Repeated Bout Effect (RBE).


The more you repeat a behavior, the less it impacts you.  You become accustomed to it. 


From a physiological perspective, the more often you repeat a workout, exercise or movement the more your body adapts to the stimulus and stress of the workout, exercise or movement.  For example, the first time you do 5 x 1’ bike intervals at z5 power, you may not be able to complete all of the intervals or perhaps your power is lower with each successive repeat.  The next time you do the same 5 x 1’ at z5 power you may hit each interval at z5 power with less perceived effort.  Your body has adapted to the stress of the 5 x 1’ intervals.  Now the stimulus must change if you want to continue progressing otherwise, you’ll just maintain the adaptation that has taken place.  You may do 5 x 2’ at z5 power next time.  And so on.

The RBE concept applies to drills and skills.  The first time you attempt a swim drill you may not do the drill perfectly.  The next time you do the drill you may do it better.  Progress.

The RBE concept also applies to the psychological and mental aspects of training.  For example, in my coaching plans my Ironman athletes see this swim workout – 1 x 1000 continuous swim.  This swim workout progresses over a few weeks to 3 x 1000.  One of the main adaptations that this workout aims to accomplish is spending long periods of time in your own mind.  2.4 miles is a long way to swim without stopping.  Maintaining focus, concentration, technique and form for that long with your face in the water is difficult.  The 3 x 1000 aims to sharpen the athletes’ mental focus.

The RBE concept applies, not only to individual workouts, but also to entire blocks of training.  My coached athletes may see entire weeks repeated in their training plans if they haven’t satisfactorily completed all the previous week’s workouts.  In periodized training plans entire blocks lasting several weeks are repeated before moving on to the next phase of the training plan.  Pro athletes, when they are training for their next race, may repeat blocks of training that lead to a great winning race performance.

The Repeated Bout Effect concept may seem elementary, intuitive and common sense.  But as highly motivated triathletes we sometimes lose perspective about our training.  Understanding the RBE concept and how it applies to your training may help you deal with shortcomings we all encounter during training.  Just because you didn’t hit those intervals today doesn’t mean you won’t hit them tomorrow or next week.  Keep trying and progressing.

Understand that training is a process.  Focusing on the process and not the outcomes will lead you to your goals.

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