Fitness & Health
Leave a Comment

A Guide to Building your Triathlon Training Plan

swimmers on body water

Athletes are smart and inquisitive. So rather than simply diving straight into telling you what you’ll need to do to build your triathlon training plan, we want to ensure that you have an understanding of why you’re doing it. Having an appreciation for the principles of training program design will help keep you focused and motivated because you will know that it can help you to perform better.

In this post, adapted from the second edition of Triathlon Anatomy, we look at the principles of training program design, to help ensure your triathlon training is safe, effective, and efficient, making you a healthier and faster athlete.

The Art of Training

There is a lot of science behind optimal training plan development for triathletes. As multisport participation becomes more popular, the research literature on best practices and training methodologies expands at a staggering rate. Although the science of effective training is certainly important, so is the art of developing a training plan.

Yet despite the growing amount of literature and the science behind training plan development, developing a multisport training plan can be daunting, and as athletes try to train effectively for three sports, they discover that a knowledgeable coach can save them time and headaches by shortening the learning curve.

Luckily for athletes, triathlon coaching has been an area of explosive growth over the past decade. A range of professional triathlon coaching certifications is now available, and scores of coaching companies, large and small, have sprung up to meet the growing demands of this burgeoning field.

Although good coaching involves the science of training, it is also important to acknowledge the art of training an athlete. After all, if human performance improvement was as simple as adding 1 and 1 to equal 2, everyone would be getting faster and competing at a similar level. In fact, each athlete is an experiment of one, and a good coach will discover the training balance needed to help an athlete reach his goals while remaining healthy and injury free. Some athletes are motivated by the desire to win, while others are driven because they hate losing. Some love to be challenged, and if they come up a little short, they welcome an opportunity for “redemption.” Others get frustrated and feel defeated if they don’t meet their goal. Even if the physiological goals are the same for all athletes, the path to reaching those goals can be different based on their individual personalities. Hence, the art of training.

Choosing your priorities

In the context of triathlon training, it’s also important to choose your priorities. Many triathletes come to the sport with a strong background in one of the three disciplines – swim, bike, or run. Typically, they like to work on that discipline because it is where they are most comfortable and likely most proficient. But a smart triathlete (and coach) will live by the motto “race your strength, train your weakness.” In other words, if you’re a runner turned triathlete, you are probably best served de-emphasizing your running while spending a disproportionate amount of your training time swimming and riding. It may not be as much fun in the short term, but the return (in terms of increased speed) on the investment (of training time) will be greater. A well-balanced triathlete – who may not post the fastest split in any discipline but who doesn’t lose significant time in any – will often defeat the specialist who “wins” the swim but gets left behind on dry land.

Developing your training plan

So with this in mind, let’s begin our discussion of developing a training plan by exploring the basic tools that all triathlon coaches have at their disposal. Planning and strategic oversight of a program are important, and when it comes to designing a training plan, the first step is to determine your ultimate goal for that season. We’ll call this your A race. Next, you’ll need to determine races of lesser importance you will use to gain competitive experience and develop your race legs. Many elite athletes use these B and C priority events as hard training days to race themselves into shape, both physically and mentally.

Once the race schedule is mapped out and the commitment is made, it’s time to start developing your plan, working backward from your A race and using the principle of periodization. Your training ingredients include the variables of intensity, duration, and frequency; the mixture of these components will enable you to develop an effective plan.

For a more nonlinear approach to periodized training, focus on certain energy systems for periods of 4 to 6 weeks while also incorporating training intensities to bolster other systems simultaneously. No single energy system is developed to the exclusion of others. For example, an aerobic base development phase will also include some bouts of short, intense work that targets the anaerobic energy system. This makes the transition to a more specific block of hard training much easier while lowering the risk of overtraining and injury.

In addition to cardiorespiratory and sport-specific training, most coaches and athletes now agree that supplemental strength and flexibility training is crucial for enhanced performance and, more important, long-term health and well-being. Supplementary resistance work should be done year-round using a selection of exercises found in Triathlon Anatomy, with an approach that complements the seasonal training needs of the athlete. For example, when an athlete is in season, the focus of a strength training routine is mostly maintenance and injury prevention, and the training volume is low. On the other hand, during the preseason, the training focus is more on developing strength and a biomechanically sound foundation, and more time is spent on it.

What does a good training plan look like?

The table below shows a sample preseason program used by a beginning to intermediate-level triathlete with 1 to 3 years of experience who is preparing for an Olympic-distance triathlon. The emphasis is on aerobic base and basic strength development, with a total training commitment of 10 to 12 hours per week.

From this example, you will notice that each sport discipline is trained at least three times during the week in addition to three strength training sessions. Athletes should typically perform sport-specific training before strength work in order to ensure good form and enable solid development of technique. Muscles that are tired because of resistance training can foster poor movement patterns when swimming, cycling, and running, impeding efficiency and wasting energy.

Sample Preseason Training Plan for a Beginning to Intermediate-Level Triathlete Training for the Olympic Distance

Triathlon workout routine (7 days)
Monday
Rest day: Focus on recovery after a long weekend of training. Get off your feet as much as possible, eat well, hydrate well, and take good care of yourself. A light massage is recommended.
Tuesday
Swim workout: Focus on technique development with plenty of drill work. Don’t worry about going fast or hard. Practice good form.
Warm-up: 200 to 300 yd or m
8 × 50 drill (catch-up) with 10 sec rest
5 × 100 swim (form focus, reach and glide) with 20 sec rest
6 × 50 drill (fingertip drag) with 10 sec rest
5 × 100 swim (form focus, reach and glide) with 15 sec rest
4 × 50 drill (25 right arm, 25 left arm) with 10 sec rest
Cool-down: 200 yd or m
Run workout: Run 40 min aerobic or up to 5 mi (8 km). Steady-state, aerobic-paced effort (zone 2).
Wednesday
Brick workout: Practice a smooth transition from the bike to the run. Bike 1 hr aerobic (zone 2 or 3) at 90 to 100 rpm, then transition to the run for 30 min or up to 3 mi (5 km) at a steady-state aerobic effort.
Strength training: Full-body circuit workout routine. Move from one exercise to the next in the following sequence, performing three rounds:
Warm-up: Perform 3 to 5 min light cardio such as jump rope or jumping jacks.
Push-up: Perform as many repetitions as possible in 20 to 30 sec.
Walking lunge: Take 10 steps with each leg; use hand weights if necessary.
Stability ball crunch with trunk rotation: Perform for 30 sec.
Pull-up or lat pull-down: Perform for 20 to 30 sec, or complete up to 15 repetitions.
Thursday
Swim workout:
Warm-up: 200 yd or m
12 × 25 drill (25 right arm, 25 left arm) with 5 sec rest
300 continuous drill (25 kick/scull, 25 form swim, 25 kick/scull, 25 form swim)
8 × 50 drill (alternate catch-up for 50 and fingertip drag for 50) with 15 sec rest
500 pull (steady, swim with good form, aim for distance per stroke)
Cool-down: 200 yd or m
Bike workout: 1 hr aerobic bike with 3 × 5 min tempo with 3 min rest
Warm-up: 10 to 15 min at 90 to 100 rpm
3 × 5 min zone 3 or 4 reps (LTHR), 80 to 90 rpm, with 3 min rest and recovery
Cool-down: 10 to 15 min
Friday
Run workout: Run 40 to 50 min or up to 5 mi (8 km) in aerobic zone 2.
Strength training: Full-body circuit workout routine. Move from one exercise to the next in the following sequence, performing three rounds:
Warm-up: Perform 3 to 5 min light cardio such as jump rope or jumping jacks.
Push-up: Perform as many repetitions as possible in 20 to 30 sec.
Walking lunge: Take 10 steps with each leg; use hand weights if necessary.
Stability ball crunch with trunk rotation: Perform for 30 sec.
Pull-up or lat pull-down: Perform for 20 to 30 sec, or complete up to 15 repetitions.
Saturday
Swim workout: Endurance swim
Warm-up: 200 yd or m
6 × 50 drill (choice) with 10 sec rest
2 × 800 steady swim (focus on good form, reach and glide) with 1 min rest
Cool-down: 200 yd or m
Bike workout: 2 hr aerobic endurance ride (zone 2 or 3) at 85 to 95 rpm, steady state
Sunday
Run workout: 75 min endurance run (zone 2 or 3) or up to 8 mi (13 km), steady state
Strength training: Full-body circuit workout routine. Move from one exercise to the next in the following sequence, performing three rounds:
Warm-up: Perform 3 to 5 min light cardio such as jump rope or jumping jacks.
Push-up: Perform as many repetitions as possible in 20 to 30 sec.
Walking lunge: Take 10 steps with each leg; use hand weights if necessary.
Stability ball crunch with trunk rotation: Perform for 30 sec.
Pull-up or lat pull-down: Perform for 20 to 30 sec, or complete up to 15 repetitions.

With such a wide variety of strength training exercises from which to choose, it’s imperative that you have a focused strategy for continual improvement. Using the expert help of a coach or certified personal trainer, choose from the recommended exercises in Triathlon Anatomy to create a plan tailored to suit your individual needs.

Triathlon Anatomy

Adapted from:

Triathlon Anatomy, Second Edition

Mark Klion and Jonathan Cane

Related titles

Looking for other titles in the Anatomy series? Look no further! You can check out a selection below and see the full list here.

Stretching Anatomy
Cycling Anatomy
Running Anatomy
Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy
Soccer Anatomy
Tennis Anatomy

Related articles

Headline photo by Sergio Souza from Pexels

Illustrations: © Human Kinetics/Jennifer Gibas and Heidi Richter

This entry was posted in: Fitness & Health

by

Human Kinetics is the world's leading information provider on physical activity and health. This blog is operated by the European division of Human Kinetics, based in Leeds in the United Kingdom. In this blog we aim to bring you our latest products, news on our existing products and articles and information on health, exercise, fitness, PE, nutrition and much, much more.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.