What is the best way to train for triathlon? This depends on your goal, your experience and your circumstances.
Not everyone training for a triathlon has the same goal.
You may be a beginner triathlete, you may be more experienced, and you may have limited time to train, or be fortunate enough to have plenty of time.
Today I’m going to suggest how to train to reach your goal in your set of circumstances.
Planning Time And Managing Priorities.
Time is of the essence when training for triathlon. No matter who you are, the nature of triathlons, in particular longer ones such as half Ironman and Ironman take time to train for. For this reason it is a great idea to start with the end in mind and plan for your triathlon.
What do you want to achieve? What distance are you training for? Do you want to win the race or just get around? The best way to train for triathlon is to train appropriately for your goal. So starting with your end goal in mind is a very good idea. Here is an article on planning your triathlon that will help you with this.
The article takes you through:
- Planning your training schedule
- SMART targets and goal setting
- Inspirational goals and future pacing
When you are planning your triathlon you should keep the goal date in mind, and not too far away. For motivation and focus it is important to keep your goal within about 12 weeks because beyond this you will start to get bored and the goal may seem intangible.
By keeping the goal short term you will be able to maintain focus.
If your goal is a long way off then you should set smaller intermediate goals in between. The 9 steps to planning your triathlon training schedule that I take you through in this article will help you keep your goal real.
Fitting the triathlon training into your schedule is sometimes difficult. Since the best way to train for triathlon is… to train… then it is probably logical that a plan that gets done is better than a plan that is never followed.
What I mean is that it is best to plan your training sessions so they are very ‘doable’ and fit into your lifestyle.
Don’t try to do too much training and place too much pressure on yourself. It is better to achieve a moderate amount of training consistently than than too much followed by none.
Plan to firstly do a minimum amount of training that is easily achievable then add a more challenging amount of ‘bonus’ sessions. This makes it a win-win, achieving your training goal easily but not having failed by skipping the bonus sessions.
Return On Investment
When considering the best way to train for triathlon you should think return on investment. What I mean by this is to ask yourself ‘what do I want to achieve from this training session?’ when planning your triathlon training.
Focus on your weaknesses rather than avoid them. If you can’t run well because you came from a cyclin (single sport) background, then you should probably focus on your running as a priority over cycling.
The same applies to swimming. Many people struggle with the swim, particularly open water swimming and swim technique. Do pay attention to practicing these if they are your weaknesses.
With return on investment in mind, consider the amount of training you allocate to each sport in terms of the time spent and improvements made.
In an Ironman triathlon you might spend 3 hours swimming every week to gain 10minutes off your 11hour total race time.
If you dropped to 1.5 hours weekly swim, didn’t gain that 10 minutes off the swim but managed to spend this time focusing on ‘running off the bike’, the resultant time saving could be much greater.
By focusing on where you can make the most time savings, and spending your time in these areas you will be getting the most return on your invested training time.
Best Way To Train For Triathlon
The training element of triathlon should be considered with a three pronged approach.
- Time spent training
- Individual sports
With limited time to train you must find a way to get more fitness improvement from less time spent training. Traditionally triathlon training has been seen as a high volume sport, that takes lots of long slow miles ‘in the bank’ to deserve to do well.
I want to turn this tradition upside down! It has been shown over and over, most notably by Tabata et al way back in the 1990’s that intensity is the best way to train for triathlon if you want to get faster.
I consider this a top down approach to training, in that by training well above race pace for shorter intervals you will develop all the energy systems in the body – in far less time!
Interval training is the best way to train for triathlon. Here are three interval training sessions as examples for each sport:
- Swim 10x100m at RPE8 (90” recovery)
- Bike 10x1km at RPE8 (2′ recovery)
- Run 10x200m at RPE9 (1’recovery)
The individual sports are just one focus of triathlon training. It is really important to consider the sport as a whole too. And that means brick training.
Brick training will get you accustomed to the sport of triathlon as a whole, and putting the three disciplines together. By performing brick training sessions in your training you will have a far smoother and more comfortable race day.
With the above three training session examples it is possible to collapse two of them into a brick training session. Lets say we want to practice running off the bike. By combining the bike and run sessions together you make a brick session that is extremely triathlon specific.
- Bike 1km (RPE8)
- Run 200m (RPE8)
- Repeat x5 with no recovery between except for the ‘transition’ time.
This not only has the advantage of making the training session super specific to your sport, but it also saves you time by combining sessions.
Weight Training For Triathletes
Weight training for triathletes is a contentious issue. I am very much in favour of it. Particularly when it comes to long course triathlon.
Having said this, if time is a limiting factor, then prioritise your swim, bike and runs. If you are going to perform resistance training here are some suggestions for you:
- Perform whole body exercises such as squat and dead lift
- Perform PHA, Complex and floor to standing routines
- Forget isolation exercises except maybe with rehabilitation goals
- Focus on mobility in all planes of motion, and in particular thoracic spine, anterior shoulder and lats as well as hips.
- Focus on getting you glutes activating
- Get technique advice from a fitness professional.
Triathlon Nutrition Plan
Nutrition should be at the top of the list of priorities. It is the fastest way to sabotage your triathlon success. It’s also the fastest way to ensure it!
By getting your triathlon nutrition right, you can change your performance in a matter of minutes. You can ensure your race and training is properly fuelled. And you can ensure ideal body composition for the most efficient triathlon body. Longer term optimal nutrition will ensure robust health.
Top nutrition tips for today:
- Focus on nutrients from meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit
- Identify any deficits – commonly hydration, protein, vitamins and minerals, omega 3
- Fight inflammation – correct your omega 3:6 balance by limiting omega6 and including a fish oil supplement
- Correct the above deficits – drink appropriate amount of water, eat enough protein (1.8g/kg body weight), and consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement once your real food nutrition is optimal.
- Write a food diary and keep an honest objective view of you nutriton habits
Race Preparation And Mindset
Once you have trained for your triathlon the proof of the training will be in the race. Before race day it is best to plan what you want to achieve. Plan how you will execute your race in terms of pacing, equipment and nutrition.
Plan your logistics for the day so that you aren’t rushing around looking for things at the last minute.
The race day is a fantastic opportunity for you to prove how well you have trained and how fit you are. It would be a shame not to achieve your potential because of mistakes on race day. By getting your race day in mind and planning ahead you will have a smooth triathlon.
I hope this article has really helped you consider the best way to train for triathlon. Please do let me know if you have any further questions.
If you are looking for more support, I do offer a range of online triathlon training plans as well as the project tri team which provides a weekly training schedule and advice and follows an annual training plan. Take a look these for more information, and in the mean time, happy training! Nico.