You've decided to take the plunge and sign up for your first triathlon. Training for three disciplines might seem daunting but once you embark on one of the 10-week schedules that follow, you'll discover that the huge variety of training sessions and different disciplines combine to make triathlon fantastic fun as well as a goal anyone can achieve. And the great news is that you already have the skills to tackle a swim, bike and run - so start training now.
We created the two schedules - Sprint and Olympic - taken from Triathlon Made Easy (Collins & Brown, £9.99), with Olympic triathlon coach Bill Black. Each plan refers to specific swim, bike and run training sessions that are outlined below. Although it's optional, we also recommend that you incorporate a body-conditioning programme to boost your performance and reduce the risk of injury.
We've packed a variety of training into short sessions to keep it interesting. You can change the order of sessions but always allow for enough rest. Avoid doing too much of one discipline on consecutive days. Warm up before and warm down after your workout and stretch afterwards. Each schedule includes time trial tests so you can chart your progress as you become fitter and faster.
If you're new to triathlon try the four-week Pre-training Programme before you tackle the sprint plan. If you have more experience check out Before you Start to find out the best plan for you.
Before You Start
To start the plans you must be able to:
SPRINT PLAN Run for 30 minutes without stopping; swim 500m without stopping; cycle at an easy pace for 45 minutes.
OLYMPIC PLAN Run for 45 minutes without stopping; swim 800m without stopping; cycle at an easy pace for 60 minutes.
Pre-Training Programme For Beginners
WEEKS 1 AND 2
Swim: 300m twice a week, with a 10-second rest every 25m.
Bike: 20 minutes at a slow pace twice a week.
Run: 15-minutes jog-walk twice a week (jog for 40 seconds, then walk for 30 seconds, and repeat).
WEEKS 3 AND 4
Swim: 300m twice a week, with a 15-second rest every 50m.
Bike: 30 minutes at a slow pace twice a week.
Run: 20-minutes jog-walk twice a week (jog for 60 seconds, then walk for 60 seconds, and repeat).
The first two swim sessions will maximise your swimming fitness and boost your efficiency. Aim to complete both each week. The sessions are designed for front crawl. Find out the length of your pool, then calculate the number of lengths you will need to swim.
Session 1: Drills
Practising technique is crucial for efficient swimming. If you’re wasting energy by swimming incorrectly, the chances are you’re losing speed. Drill work – focusing on specific elements of your stroke for short periods of time – pays dividends by boosting performance and giving you something to think about as you swim. Aim to practise all three drills in rotation, switching drill every 50m or two lengths. Rest when you need to, but no more than 45 seconds.
HIGH ELBOW DRILL
WHY? Some swimmers make the mistake of allowing their whole arm to rotate fully in a ‘windmill’ motion. Another common mistake is to bend the elbow but let your arms go too wide. To avoid this, practise swimming with an exaggerated high elbow position when your arm is both under and out of the water. This will also position your hand well when it enters the water at the start of every pull.
HOW? As you swim, keep your elbows bent, imagining you are lifting your arm out of your pocket with each recovery, and aim to enter the water with your hand in line with your shoulder. Don’t ‘cross over’, directing each stroke to the opposite side, as this wastes energy and risks injury. Ensure your hands are always lower than your elbows in the water.
WHY? Top swimmers tend to use far fewer strokes per length than beginners. This drill encourages you to ‘glide’ for as long as possible with each stroke and, although you wouldn’t do it in a race, it helps develop longer strokes.
HOW? As you swim, keep your non-stroking arm out in front (in a ‘Superman’ position) until the other arm completes a full stroke cycle. Glide before you start the next stroke. You should touch hands each time. Be sure to pull under the centre line of your body and all the way past your hips so your thumb brushes past your thigh as it recovers out of the water.
WHY? Most swimmers are stronger on one side than on the other, and prefer to breathe on that side, with the result that their stroke can become unbalanced. In a race, choose a breathing pattern that feels natural, but practise breathing on both sides in training to discipline yourself and balance your stroke.
HOW? Breathe every three or five strokes so you are breathing on alternate sides. It may feel unnatural at first but as your stroke starts to balance out it will become easier. Make sure you breathe out while your face is under the water and breathe in when you turn your head.
Session 2: Intervals
Interval training is a great way to get more out of your time in the water. The aim of an interval session is to swim at race pace or faster over the distance you will be racing so your body is prepared come race day.
If your swim on race day is 750m: weeks 1–6 swim five sets of 100m. Weeks 7–10 build up to 10 sets. Swim at race-pace – effort level 7.5 or 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Take a 20-second rest between each set.
If your swim on race day is 1500m: weeks 1–6 swim five sets of 200m. Weeks 7–10 build up to seven or eight sets – effort level 7.5 or 75 per cent of your MHR. Take a 20-second rest between each set.
Session 3: Recovery
A slow-paced swim can aid recovery during training. It will ease you into switching between activities. Your effort level should be five or six (50 or 60 per cent of your MHR).
Session 4: Time Trial
Track your increased fitness and stamina to motivate yourself. Choose a distance up to two-thirds of the race day distance and swim at an effort level of eight (80 per cent MHR). Note down your time after each time trial.
These training rides will help you to develop the fitness you need to complete the race. “Triathlon is an endurance event,” says Chris Chamberlain, an exercise physiologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “Varying the types of ride you do helps your body to access all the different energy systems needed for this kind of racing. It will train your muscles to become less vulnerable to fatigue, strengthen your cardiovascular system and help you to become used to the race-day sensations.”
Session 1: Cadence Ride
WHY? This session will familiarise you with riding at race pace with a high cadence of 90 to 95 revolutions per minute (rpm), with a dash of interval training mixed in to increase your power. A high cadence is the key to preserving energy in your legs for the run and makes for a less tiring ride overall. Don’t worry if you can’t get up to or maintain 90rpm on your first few sessions – it’s something to aspire to. You need to work out your cadence by timing yourself for one minute and counting how many times your right leg hits the bottom of the pedal stroke (or count your strokes for 15 seconds and multiply that by four).
HOW? Start by cycling slowly for 10 minutes to warm up then cycle at 90rpm or higher by choosing an easy gear. Over time, you’ll be able to maintain a high cadence with a harder gear. Your effort level should be about eight out of 10 (80 per cent of your MHR), which is what you’ll be aiming for in the race. Every five minutes for the Olympic plan and every seven minutes for the Sprint plan, sprint for 30 seconds by changing up a few gears and giving it your all. Then go back to cycling at 90rpm – the rests in between will give your muscles a chance to replenish the glycogen that you woud have used up during sprints.
Session 2: Endurance Ride
WHY? Longer bike rides will build your stamina for the longest leg of a triathlon. They will also help you to learn what sort of pace you can keep up for a given distance.
HOW? Weekends are a good time for a long ride, especially if you can train in a group. A hilly route will boost your cardiovascular fitness and give you the opportunity to practise changing gear. Aim for an effort level of six to seven (60 to 70 per cent of your MHR) throughout. Ideally, it should be an uninterrupted ride, so avoid busy streets where there are traffic lights.
Session 3: Brick
WHY? A brick session – a bike ride followed by a run – is crucial race preparation. The transition from bike to run can make your legs feel tired for the first part of the run but since you use different leg muscles for running than you do for cycling, brick sessions help you to become used to this transfer ready for race day.
HOW? Warm up for 10 minutes then try to ride at an effort level of seven (or 70 per cent of your MHR) throughout and maintain a high cadence. When you finish the ride, hop off your bike and head straight out on the run. At the gym you can swap straight from the stationary bike to the treadmill.
Session 4: Easy Ride
WHY? Ride at a steady pace without worrying about speed or being out of breath.
HOW? Ride at an easy pace of effort level five to six (50 to 60 per cent of your MHR).
Session 5: Time Trial
WHY? There are time trials throughout the schedules to chart your progress and keep you motivated as you begin to see improvements.
HOW? Find a route that’s around half your race distance – that you can ride without stopping – and aim to do it at the same time of day that you’ll be racing. Do a gentle warm-up for five to 10 minutes then time yourself riding the route. You should be working hard for this ride – about effort level eight (80 per cent of your MHR).
A variety of running sessions will help you to speed up as well as run more confidently and efficiently. Running during a triathlon is challenging since it's the final discipline and you have to factor in not only the transition but also that you will be tired. "Many people who enter triathlons with experience of running make the mistake of focusing too much on their other disciplines, and assume their run will be fine because they're used to it," says Martin Yelling, GB duathlon champion and coach. "It's far tougher running after a long bike ride. If you usually run a 5K in 25 minutes, add seven minutes on to your time on race day, if not more."
Session 1: Endurance
WHY? This session is designed to build stamina. "Think of this as a fun run," says running coach Chris Donald. "Look around and enjoy the scenery, noises and sights that surround you as you run."
HOW? If you're new to running, start at a slow jog a little faster than walking pace. Work up to a run/walk by jogging for three minutes then walking for three minutes. Whatever your fitness level, aim to run at an exertion level of around six (or 60 per cent of your MHR). As race day draws near, aim to run slightly further than the race distance. You won't be going at race pace, but you'll build stamina so you know you can go the distance.
Session 2: Tempo
WHY? This session is designed to get you accustomed to running at race pace. Remember that the pace won't be as fast as you'd be aiming for in a straight running race, as you'll be tired from the swim and ride.
HOW? In your first week, run at your endurance pace, but add a three-minute burst at race pace in the middle. Your race pace should be at an effort level of around eight (or 80 per cent of your MHR). As you become fitter, do two sets of three minutes at race pace. Next time, try two sets of five minutes at race pace, and so on, until you're running at race pace for the whole run. Add a two-minute slow jog in the middle if required.
Session 3: Intervals
WHY? Interval sessions - where you vary your pace over set distances - are a great way to improve your speed, burn calories and boost your aerobic fitness.
HOW? The best place for interval training is a running track. "It enables you to measure exactly how far you are going, but is closer to the feel of road running than training on a treadmill," says Donald. If you don't have a track near you, a treadmill or a long, flat stretch of road are other options. Vary your intervals by doing six sets of 400m with a three-minute recovery between sets or 12 shorter 200m bursts with a 90-second recovery between each set. Aim for an effort level of nine (90 per cent of your MHR).
Session 4: Hill Running
WHY? This session is designed to make you stronger since your core muscles and cardiovascular system work harder on the climbs. "In terms of energy expenditure, running uphill requires significantly more energy than running on the flat," says personal trainer Jane Wake. Hill runs are beneficial for triathletes because they strengthen your legs. "Powering up hills will increase the strength of your quads and glutes so you should feel the benefits on your bike, too," says Donald.
HOW? Find two hills: one that is short and steep, and another that is long and gradual. Ideally, choose hills that you can run in a loop, with a recovery jog down before you run up again. The short hill should take you 30 seconds to run up at speed. The long hill should take between 90 seconds and two minutes to climb, with a longer recovery loop. Work at an effort level of eight to nine (80 to 90 per cent of your MHR) on the way up, and a leisurely effort of three on the way down. Don't lean forward too much as you run uphill; pull your abs in, relax your shoulders and focus on a spot about three metres in front of you as you run.
Session 5: Time Trial
WHY? This as an occasional test to boost motivation and track your improvements in speed and fitness.
HOW? Stick to the same route each time you do the trial to keep things consistent. Choose a route that's shorter than the race distance and work at an effort level of eight (80 per cent MHR), recording your time with a stopwatch. For even more of a challenge, tack your time trial on to the end of a bike ride so you factor tired legs into the equation.
Put these swim, bike and run sessions together and you'll be totally triathlon fit in just 10 weeks. And if you're ever struggling to stay motivated think back to those school cross-country runs and congratulate yourself on how far you've come since those days.