What Should I Know About Triathlon Training?

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  • Written By: E. Hill
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 04 January 2019
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Starting on a triathlon training program is a wonderful way to jump-start any level of fitness. The word "triathlete" can be intimidating to anyone, but never fear. No matter the fitness level, becoming a triathlete is possible with the appropriate triathlon training plan.

The first step to any triathlon training program would be to define a goal by finding a race. There are a number of different types of races. A sprint triathlon is generally the shortest distance triathlon race, averaging a 1/2-mile (.8 km) swim, a 13-mile (21 km) bike, and a 3.1 mile (5 km) run. International or Olympic distance triathlons are double the distance of a sprint. Then comes the half-ironman, or half-iron, distance of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike, and a 13.1-mile (30 km) run. The ironman, or full, triathlon is double the distance of the half-iron. Once a race has been chosen, triathlon training may begin.


A triathlon consists of swimming, cycling and running, so a combination of these sports in a triathlon fitness plan are important. The longer the race distance chosen, the more weeks of training will be needed. At the beginning of a fitness program, the first goal is to build a good base in each sport, starting with lower mileages and, as training progresses, working to the higher mileages of the race. A simple training plan includes two days a week of each of the three sports, leaving one day a week to rest.

When choosing a race, be aware of the type of swim involved, since this will effect the type of training necessary. Races will have either a pool swim or an open water swim, which is done in a lake or in the ocean. For a pool swim, it may be beneficial to join a swimming or a triathlon program in order to learn how to count laps and move off the walls as quickly as possible. For open water swims, it is advantageous to practice swimming in open water or at least a long course or 50-meter pool. Another skill needed for open water swims will be "sighting," which is lifting your head out of the water to check your direction and progress towards the buoys that mark the swim course.

The bike training can be done with a combination of stationary bike and on-road cycling rides. It is important to get comfortable on the road with a bicycle before race day: changing gears, getting water, and the basic rules of riding with or around others.

As triathlon training progresses, it is important to practice details of the race that are not addressed when working on one sport one day and another the next. This is where transitions and bricks come into play. Practicing the change from one modality to the other is appropriately termed transitioning. In a race, each triathlete has his/her own transition area to set up everything needed to change sports. Practicing putting bike shoes on wet feet or how to discreetly change wet clothes in an open area are important components of this.

A "brick" is a term used for practicing more than one sport with little to no time in between. For example, a ride/run brick is going for a 5-mile (8 km) bike ride and then getting off and running 2 miles (3.2 km). Bricks are an important part of training for triathlons, as they simulate what will happen during race day and how the body responds to changing the muscle groups used in each sport.

If becoming a triathlete independently seems overwhelming, there are a number of programs, nationally or locally, that sponsor triathlon programs or coaches that post triathlon fitness plans that can be encouragement or incentive to enter the world of triathletes. If you put your mind to it, training for a triathlon and participating, whether competing or just completing it, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.



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