Find out how to fast-track your triathlon progression with our 11 top triathlon training tips for triathletes.
When you’re ready to begin triathlon training, knowing where to start can sometimes seem hard but things don’t have to be too complicated to see big improvements. By building into your workouts, staying consistent and taking rest when you need it, you’ll quickly become fitter, stronger and ready to race.
If there’s one piece of advice that helps athletes gain the biggest performance improvements in their first couple of triathlon seasons, it’s to maintain consistency. Simply by swimming, cycling and running consistently every week, strength, fitness and speed will start to improve. Simply put, the more weeks of consistent training you can get under your belt, the better a triathlete you’ll be.
Triathlon is such an exciting and compelling sport that it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and do too much training too soon.
By employing a little patience and building your swim, bike and run volume gradually, you’re more likely to keep an upward trajectory when it comes to performance without inviting injuries or fatigue. A common structure for this is to increase mileage or duration by no more than 10% week to week.
Avoid the grey zone
Many triathletes, spend too much time in the ‘grey zone’, where training intensity is higher than required to build endurance, yet not high enough to see the power and speed benefits that come from interval training. Training at this middle intensity – usually around six out of 10 in terms of effort – makes you feel like you’ve had a tough workout, but in reality, it’s just increasing recovery time and the risk of injury for very little reward.
Avoid the grey zone and you’ll soon have more fitness, stamina and speed.
Instead, stick to low intensities at first to build endurance and fitness, then carefully add in some high-intensity interval work to boost power, taking plenty of recovery after these to allow your body to adapt. Avoid the grey zone and you’ll soon have more fitness, stamina and speed.
Focus on your weaknesses
Sometimes it’s a little too easy to stick to what you’re best at or enjoy the most but if you’re weaker in one of the triathlon disciplines, your room for improvement in that area will be larger. So, while it’s certainly important to maintain regular training in all three disciplines every week, a little extra focus on the areas in which you need most improvement can pay dividends when it comes to your overall race performance.
Take rest days
The process of training involves breaking down your muscle fibres and it’s not until they repair that you’ll become stronger and faster. It’s essential therefore to give your body the time it needs to make these adaptations.
Rest day frequency can vary from athlete to athlete, but a good starting point is to take one day off training a week and make the day as restful as possible, both physically and mentally. From there, you can start to get a sense of when your body needs a rest day – whether that’s once a week, a few days off every couple of weeks or a schedule all of your own.
Warm-up and warm-down
A proper warm-up will not only ease your muscles into the workout but also allow your heart rate to settle after the initial spike that comes whenever you start exercising. By factoring in this time at the start of sessions, you’ll increase the quality of your training and reduce the likelihood of injuries. Likewise, at the end of your session, reducing your efforts to a very low intensity will help to flush out lactic acid – reducing soreness later on – and kick-start the recovery process.
Get your swimming technique analysed
Athletes who don’t come from a swimming background usually find improving freestyle technique to be the hardest element of all three disciplines. It’s certainly the most technical aspect of triathlon, combining good stroke mechanics, rhythm and fitness.
Getting your swim stroke analysed by a coach with underwater recording equipment – either in a regular swimming pool or a separate endless pool – will give you personal feedback on where you can improve and can not only stop bad habits in their tracks but also set you in the right direction for continued improvement.
Learn to run
While everyone can run, not everyone can run with good form and this is an element that’s often overlooked by athletes coming to triathlon without a background in running. By gradually improving your running technique, you will run faster, more efficiently and develop fewer injuries, all of which will benefit your triathlon performance on race day.
Get a bike fit
A poor bike position can result in back problems, knee issues, chafing causing saddle sores and even overuse of leg muscles better saved for running, which is why getting a bike fit is so important. A good fitter will get you into a position that maximises comfort, power, aerodynamics and the ability to run off the bike all while taking into account your bike type and the distance you’re competing at. An added benefit is the confidence that comes from knowing you’re setup properly.
Give yourself a goal
Nothing motivates better than having a goal to train for and signing up for an event is a great way to get you excited about training and willing to get out the door and improving your fitness. Check out our guide to setting SMART goals to help make sure you’re picking a goal event that’s right for your fitness progression. Once you’ve got that firm date in the calendar, you can work backwards to set additional goals along the way and help fill in the blanks on your training plan.
Listen to your body
As triathletes, we ask a lot of our bodies and developing a sense of what they’re asking back is a great way to improve and steer clear of injuries. Some of the signals your body sends you are simple to interpret – if you’re thirsty, you drink – while others can be harder to translate, such as the feeling of fatigue first thing in the morning that signals the need for a rest day. During races, knowing your body well can help prompt you to drop down a gear if your muscles are working too hard or pick up the pace if you’ve got more to give.
While becoming fluent in understanding the language of your body does take time, sometimes it makes the message very clear – if during training you feel a twinge, sharp pain or increasing dull pain, that’s your body’s way of telling you to stop. It’s sometimes too easy to let enthusiasm for training take priority, but it’s better to play it safe right away rather than risk a longer-term injury that could stop you training for weeks or months.