Triathlon Training Tips

With a multi-step plan, you can easily and effectively create your own triathlon training program to help you complete each leg of the competition. Understanding the basics of creating a seasonal plan (even if you only have a few weeks to prepare) will help you create a plan to get you in the necessary shape to complete your race.

Map out your triathlon before you being your training program

Do Some Research

Contact the triathlon organizers or visit the race website to learn how each leg of the course will work. If you can, visit the course to learn about hills, valleys, curves, terrain and other conditions. Try to estimate what the weather will be like, or ask the race organizer, if you’re planning months in advance and aren’t familiar with the area. You’ll want to train in similar conditions, if possible, and wear the same clothing you’ll be wearing on race day.

Before you begin your training, learn what the exact demands of your even will be. You may be cycling on flat terrain or up and down hills. You may be swimming in a calm pool or choppy lake. Your run may be on hot, hard pavement or over a hilly course. If your time is important to you, learn how you will transition between each leg of the race.

Plan a Training “Season”

Create a periodization plan that takes into account the number of weeks or months you have before your event. Periodization means that your training becomes more similar to your event as you get closer to it. Farther out, you work on building cardiovascular capacity and muscular strength. As you get closer to your event, you focus on muscular endurance and cardiovascular stamina. Experiment with foods early in your season, not on race day.

Prepare Your Equipment

Train using the same clothes, shoes, socks, shirt, helmet, swim suit, cap, goggles and bike you’ll use in your triathlon. Don’t purchase new shoes or a new bike shortly before the event if you can make your purchases earlier. Set up your bike the way you will ride it during the race. Pay special attention to the handlebars and seat and take several rides of 30 minutes or more to make sure the bike is set up correctly before you start training on it. This will help when you use the bike on a trainer for cardio work.

Train Your Cardio System

You will need a strong aerobic base to compete in a triathlon, so your training should mirror the three legs of your triathlon. Try to estimate the times for your swimming, cycling and running legs so you can work toward completing each of those legs at the pace you want. In addition to jogging, work out on a treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine and/or an exercise bike to use the same muscles you’ll use during the event.

Begin aerobic training at a pace similar to brisk walking if you are not in good shape. This will help you build cardio stamina and muscular endurance. Swim, jog and pedal at a moderately intense speed that lets you work longer — your goal is to train for duration, not speed. If you haven’t swum in a while, start at a moderate pace as you get used to unfamiliar muscle demands and any effect pool chlorine may have on you.

Train Your Muscular Endurance

In addition to cardio stamina, you’ll need muscular endurance to prevent cramping that can end your race. Start this after two to three weeks of cardio so you can build your aerobic base. Use different swimming strokes to build muscular endurance, since you may need to alternate strokes to prevent fatigue during the swimming portion of the triathlon. Practice pedaling using different gear settings and standing on the pedals. Buy a bike trainer so you can workout on the bike you’ll be riding during the event. Experiment with resistance settings on any exercise machines you use to moderately challenge your muscles as you do aerobic exercise.

Start at 50 percent of the maximum resistance you can move, raising or lowering the resistance if it’s too easy or too difficult to work the machine for 30 minutes or more. If you don’t have access to exercise machines, use dumbbells, resistance bands or bodyweight exercises to create circuit-training workouts.

Put it all Together

At various stages of your training, practice your transitions, including changing wet clothing and shoes, and quickly switching from swimming to cycling to riding just as you will during your event. Toward the end of your training, try a multi-hour training workout with long swimming, cycling and running segments, complete with eating and drinking during the cycling and running portions if you will be doing those during your race.

Rest and Recover

Decrease your training load the week before your event to let your body recover and prepare for the race, doing no intense exercise for several days leading up to the event. Stop training and let your body recover the week before the race. You can continue dynamic and static stretching and some easy pedaling to prevent your muscles from stiffening, but don’t fatigue yourself to failure or you might not have much left on race day.

Additional Resources

MarathonPal.com: Triathlon Training Diet Endurance Sports Nutrition

Triathlon.com: Race Day Checklist 

One Tri.com: Triathlon Checklist

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