Triathlon Glossary

Learn how to talk tri with our beginner's guide to the most commonly used lingo in the world of triathlon

Posted: 10 July 2008

A | B | C | D | F | H | I | K | L | M | O | Q | P | R | S | T | W |


Aero bars Padded elbow rests and extensions allowing a rider to lie flatter, reducing arm strain and wind resistance and increasing speed. Also known as tri bars.
Aquabike A swimming stage followed by a biking stage with no run.
Aquathlon A swimming stage followed by a run stage with no cycling stage.
ATPAnnual Training Plan.


Bonking Sudden fatigue and energy loss caused by running out of glycogen in the muscles. (See also Wall, the.)
BOP Back of the Pack
Borg scale A method of measuring physical activity on a scale of perceived exertion or how hard you feel your body is working. (See also RPE.)
Bottom Bracket The central axis on which the bicycle cranks rotate.
BPM (beats per minute) A measure of heart rate.
Brick Training session combining two disciplines (e.g. cycling and running) used to simulate race experience and help your body adapt to switching sports quickly.
BTF (British Triathlon Federation) The national governing body for triathlon in Great Britain. BTF members comprise Triathlon England, triathlonscotland and Welsh Triathlon.
Burnout Condition similar to overtraining, caused by doing too much and/or too soon and/or with too little rest


Cadence Pedalling speed, measured in RPM (revolutions per minute).
Carbon fibre Strong but light material, from which many (top-end) bikes are now made.
Cassette Gear selection system.
Century A 100-mile bike ride.
Circuit resistance training A circuit of various weights to be completed one or more times with minimal rest between exercises. The emphasis is on endurance rather than power or strength.
Clip-in pedals Designed to securely accommodate special cycling shoes, meaning your feet sit in the most efficient position to transmit power through the pedals.
Criterium Short-course road races with multiple corners taken at high speeds in a pack riding situation.


Derailleur A system of variable-ratio gears allowing you to adjust a bike’s gearing and thus your cadence.
Dolphin Dive A technique used to get through shallow water involving doing short, shallow dives until you are deep enough to swim
Drafting The practice of tucking in behind someone else so they take the brunt of the resistance and you get an easier run/swim/bike, sometimes explicitly prohibited in races. Also known as slipstreaming.
Drills Repetitive exercises focusing on technique to promote efficiency. (See also, fingertip drag.)
Duathlon A run-bike-run race (no swim section as in a triathlon).


Fingertip drag Time-honoured swimming drill used to promote freestyle arm efficiency.
Frame size Common bike measurement, traditionally taken from the middle of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube.  It’s vital your bike is the right fit as your seating position will affect efficiency, comfort and drag


Half-Ironman 1.9K swim; 90K cycle; 21K run. See also, Ironman.
Hybrid A bike somewhere between a mountain bike and a road bike. Good for all-round use.


IM Ironman distance (2.4-mile/3.8K swim, 112-mile/180K bike, 26.2-mile/42.2K run) .
Ironman Brand name of global series of triathlon events comprising a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle, and 26.2-mile run (marathon).


Kick boardA float you grip with your hands in the pool, while your legs do all the work


Lactate Threshold The highest level at which your muscles can still convert glycogen to glucose aerobically (i.e. using oxygen). Exercising above this level will soon lead to discomfort as lactic acid (a by-product of the anaerobic process) accumulates in the bloodstream. Training at, or slightly above, this threshold will gradually push it upwards, allowing you to race faster. Also known as Anaerobic Threshold (AT) .
Long, slow distance training (LSD) Exactly what the name implies – essential cardiovascular training foundation for endurance events


M. Abbreviation of Ironman, often used in online chat forums.
Marathon A 26.2-mile running race, which constitutes the third part of an Ironman.
Mashing A cycling term indicating pedalling a big gear (53 x 13 or 14) with a slower cadence instead of spinning a smaller gear.
Maximum heart rate (MHR) The maximum rate that your heart can achieve. A rough rule of thumb is 220 minus your age, but a more accurate reading can be gauged in these practical tests.
MTB Mountain Bike.


Olympic Distance Triathlon 1.5K swim; 40K cycle; 10K run.
OWS Open Water Swim, for example in the sea or a lake as opposed to in a pool.


Paddles Worn on the hands during swim training, they increase your workload meaning you train harder.
Periodisation Carefully planned training schedule, focusing on different training elements in turn and culminating with a specific competitive goal.
Pull Swimming exercise using a float between your feet/legs, leaving only your arms free to pull you through the water.
Pull - Take a pulll Taking a turn to lead, allowing those behind to draft you and follow your pace.


QR Quick release lever that allows bike wheels to be easily removed and replaced for travel.


Rider position Wind resistance makes a big difference in the bike leg (see drafting) so make sure you are leaning forward and slicing through the air rather than sitting up like a giant sail.
RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Means of evaluating how hard you are working, using either a scale of 1-11 or 1-21. The higher the number, the harder you are working. Considered by some to be more useful than measuring heart rate alone.
RPM Revolutions per Minute.
Run or ride belt Waist-mounted belt for carrying snack bars/gels/drinks.


Slick tyres Thinner and faster road tyres, favoured by those looking for quicker times.
Sprint A short-distance triathlon. Approximately 400-yard swim, 15-mile bike, 3-mile run.
SPD clips Shimano Pedalling Dynamics clipless pedal system (now a standard term).


T1 First transition, where a competitor switches from the swimming stage to the cycling stage
T2Second transition, where a competitor switches from the cycling stage to the running stage
Tempo training Working just below your lactate threshold for an extended period (rather than a short interval). This will raise the threshold, raising the speed at which you can run for long periods
Time-trial bike A serious (and often expensive) racing bike for competitive triathletes.
Toe-clips A clip on a bike pedal that ensures the foot doesn’t sit too far forward. See also, Clip-in pedals.
Transition area The area where the change is made from one sport to the next. It’s important to be able to quickly and efficiently locate your own equipment, and the process of switching sports should be practised to avoid losing hard-earned time.
Tri bike Bike specifically designed to be ridden in an aerodynamic crouched position, with a high saddle and low crossbar.
TT (Time Trial) Usually used in reference to a cycling event.
Turbo (static) trainer A device that holds a bicycle in place, applying resistance to the rear wheel. Used for indoor training.


Wall, the The sudden feeling of physical and/or mental fatigue as the body runs out of glycogen and switches to burning fat stores for energy instead
Waves When a race starts in staggered groups (waves) usually separated by gender and age groups.
Wrench A bike mechanic.
WTC (World Triathlon Corporation) The owners of the Ironman trademark.

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triatlon beginners, triathlon jargon

Discuss this article

Hi guys

We've put together this beginner's  tri glossary to help you out if you're dabbling your toe in triathlon, but would love you to get involved in helping us expand the list.

Maybe there are still terms you want explained, or maybe you're able to help us out with adding definitions of your own - either way please pop your thoughts on this thread and we'll get updating the list in due course.

Thanks for your help. 


Posted: 10/07/2008 at 11:58

Sandbagger : One who keeps telling everyone how poorly prepared they are whilst secretly knocking out huge sessions each week - and blitzes the course.

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 12:11


Cassette: the multiple sprockets of different sizes attached to your back wheel. the smallest one makes you go fastest for a given cadence, the largest one makes you slowest for a given cadence. The idea is to maintain a constant cadence over different terrain, changing up and down the cassetee as required.

Chainrings: the two or three large sprockets attached to your cranks. The bigger/est one makes you faster/est for a given cadence. The idea is to maintain constant cadence over different terrain, changing up and down the chainrings as required

Front derailleur: a device for moving the chain between chainrings

Rear derailleur: a device for moving the chain between the sprockets of your cassette.

Chain: the oily bit that connects the chainrings to the cassette.

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 12:52

Hollywood: see Sandbagger
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 12:56

Bucker - the antithesis of sandbagger

Gaylord - general curry house based insult 

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:01

Piddletrenthide: The stained, wrinkled foot skin of an ironman/woman who does not get off their velocipede in order to micturate during an ironman event.
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:14

Schmutter: A mixture of gel, sweat, bannana, phlegm and malt loaf that encrusts the chest of a ironman towards the end of the run stage of an ironman event.
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:24

Thought we'd already done this..?
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:45

Correction...... the 4th discipline - shopping
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:54

Ah - I stand corrected! I thought the 4th was sleeping?
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 13:54

Not according to SL and Zuppy!!!!!!
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 14:06

ouch! It wasn't us, it was some american guy debbo introduced us to!
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 14:28

There is an excellent Q&A thatHollywood put together on Fetch, can someone post a link?
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 14:56

do you mean this one Holly's Tri Bible for numpties/experts alike
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 15:00

RW, if you're going to put a glossary on the front page of the website then I think you should try to get it 100% correct.

Cassette - I'm not sure you can describe a cassette as a "gear selection system".  It's part of the gear system but I think you could have come up with a better description.

Clip-in pedals - Do you mean "clipless pedals"?

Derailleur - This is simply the device that allows you to change gear.  It's not "a system a variable ratio gears".

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 15:10

hands up all the non-ponces who also noticed that
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 15:12

I noticed and I'm a totally muppet when it comes to bikes! 

Stopped reading at about k as it didn't seem to be a good use of time.....

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 15:52

that hamster bloke spotted it in post 3...damn smart, he is
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 15:57

thought sprint events were 400m swim?

 And toeclips and clipless pedals for that are also there to allow the rider to pull up on the pedal during the back part of the stroke (ahem) giving more power and a smoother delivery.

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 16:28

I think sprints go up to 750m Calf.  Distance can vary....... (although I haven't checked the BT rules).
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 16:34


a few ommissions:

HTFU.... something to do with hardening up - often said to wibblers

JFDI.... Just F'ing Do It.... also said to wibblers

PTP (Pirate Training Plan) - Swim a bit, Run a bit, Bike a lot.  I htink Candy may have coined the phrase.

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 16:38

they do PSC but I didn't think they were as short as 400 yards?????
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 16:58

those are super-sprints
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 16:59

Bike ponce - see Calf

Sprints at pools are typically 400m but 750 for OW's

Schmutter - should include puke you do on yourself when you sit in the IM portaloo

Flop- failed attempt at post race congress 

Dog with two d**ks - successful version of above 

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 17:21

Sorry but I find this type of thread very offensive!!!!
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 17:40

Personally I find super-sprints demeaning to normal sprints.

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 17:44

"Mister W" - A phrase used to describe behaviour that is both pedantic and anally retentive
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 18:26

i should probably have included a smiley there somewhere, i wouldnt want to make anyone cry 
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 18:29

Sandbagging - understating your abilities with the intent on gaining social acceptance to the forum ethos of not doing any training.

Training - Something to be done as infrequently as possible.

Swimming - See training

Posted: 10/07/2008 at 18:38

I'm deeply hurt and offended.................... and I'm going to cry
Posted: 10/07/2008 at 18:53

Pirate - alcoholic with a triathlon problem ....
Posted: 11/07/2008 at 07:24

crash hamster  can you explain caednce for me?

I understood the rest of your explanation

Posted: 11/07/2008 at 07:55

Muppet - The rider in front that ahs just got past you and slowed down

Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:16

Kanga (M.) wrote (see)
Pirate - alcoholic with a triathlon problem ....

Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:24

Bike Porn - photos of your latest bling bike
Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:27

Pike Porn - Northern Bike Porn for anglers
Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:32

Cadence: the number of revolutions per minute that the pedals/cranks/chainrings make. Apparently somewhere between 80 and 100 revs a minute is about right. Everyone has a 'natural' cadence, though this can be improved (generally increased) with training. It's all about efficiency. Ripping your guts out grinding hard at a cadence of 50, or twiddling merrily at a cadence of 120, wastes energy that could be giving you more forward momentum if you were pedalling at a cadence of 90.

If your cadence drops eg going up a hill, change to an easier gear (larger back or smaller front ring) to boost your revs a minute (and conserve valuable energy!)

If your cadence rises, eg going downhill, change to a harder gear (smaller back or larger front ring) to reduce your revs a minute (and go faster!)

Some bike computers have an extra sensor that measures your cadence; you can count the number of times each minute that one of your feet reaches the 12 o'clock position (or every 15 seconds then multiply the answer by 4) but it becomes a fairly complex task if you're having to concentrate on the road at the same time.

Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:35

Bumbanditio Spacker - Owner of Mavic Ksyrium wheels
Posted: 11/07/2008 at 08:38

Imeccentric says "Sprints at pools are typically 400m but 750 for OW's".

 While Super Sprints are meant to be 400m and Sprints 750m, most pools are too small to have enough lanes for people to be doing 750m, so 400m is pretty much standard, some may stick a bit on the cycle or run to try and make up for it a bit.

So whats the true defination for a pirate?  "Someone with nothing better to do that take the pi**, sorry micky, out of other members"  Buggers are always on here.....

Posted: 04/12/2008 at 14:34

and welcome to you too.
Posted: 04/12/2008 at 14:35

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