Triathlon Magazine Canada is sharing a three month training program to get new (or returning) athletes successfully to their first sprint distance triathlon.

Competing at the UWC Triathlon Bahamas.

by Dr. Cindy Lewis-Caballero

Triathlon Magazine Canada will be sharing a three month training program to get new (or returning) athletes successfully to their first sprint distance triathlon, under the direction of Dr. Cindy Lewis-Caballero of CL Performance Training. Coach Cindy is a chiropractor, experienced coach and personal trainer, and former professional full-distance triathlete.

Below you’ll find the first eight weeks of the program – look for the final four weeks in the May issue of the magazine.

If you know of someone who could use some guidance and encouragement to make the transition to multisport, make a come-back, or simply get started on a plan…share this with them. Making the decision to commit is the first step to a successful sprint triathlon, and the season opening is only a few months away. The time to start is now!

Assumptions: 15-20km/week run mileage; able to swim 1500-2000m in a swim workout
Strength: Include a core strength workout for 15 mins 2x/week. It should always be done AFTER the other workouts rather than before so that core isn’t tired during workouts.
Key: WU = warm up; MS = main set; CD = cool down; R = rest; f/s = free style; TT – time trial; OFF = day off from training; Brick – do workouts back-to-back; s = seconds; rpm = rotations per minute or cadence; strides = short bursts of speed that build to 90% max effort then descend over total 20-30 seconds
Zones: zone 1 = EASY.  Active recovery.  You should feel better afterwards rather than more tired.
zone 2 = sweating but able to hold a conversation without any heavy breathing
zone 3 = able to hold a conversation WITH heavy breathing
zone 4 = challenging to hold a conversation but can be done with some work.
zone 5 = best sustainable effort

Week One – Getting Started

Block one focus:

  • Swim – Technique and learning different efforts.
  • Bike – Base riding, strength.
  • Run – Easy aerobic running and intro to strength/hills.

First things first – stay focused on accomplishing the work outlined in this starting week instead of jumping ahead to do more, especially if you are coming from a single sport background. Triathlon requires balance among all three disciplines, and it will take some time to build skills, endurance and speed in all three. Strength is the foundation for all aspects of triathlon – endurance and speed will suffer without it. Working harder in the sport you are most familiar with will use up energy you need to master the new disciplines.

One of the unique work outs for triathlon is the ‘brick’ – which you’ll encounter from the beginning in this program. It puts two of the sports together in succession (or sometimes back and forth) to train your body to handle the transition between being on the bike followed by running. While it may be tempting to skip a 20 minute run if it means changing after getting all sweaty on the bike, make the effort to do it within 10 minutes. The training effect is worth the effort, and it will get easier with practice (and better weather!).

Try to set aside any preconceived ideas you might have about your ability based on body type, size or age and just see what you can do by putting in the effort. Along the same lines, try not to buy into the notion that it’s necessary to have all the ‘gear’ first. Learning the skills and doing the work counts most – and will point you in the direction of what upgrades will make most sense if you want to later.

Finally – as your training progresses, you will likely find that changes in your routine and lifestyle will be start to make sense, and you’ll develop some habits along the way. If you make them good habits, they will have a positive impact on the rest of your life.  Pay attention to what you do to help your recovery – that includes what you eat and drink, your day to day stress level and how much sleep you are getting. Recovery is as important to success as is training.

Monday SWIM: WU: 200 f/s, 100 kick, 100 pull
MS: 12 x 50 on R: 10s – alternate in groups of 3: #1 kick, #2 swim, #3 choice stroke – rotating through that set 6x total.
Effort at 75% or less.
CD: 200 easy f/s — perfect form.  TOTAL: 1200
Tuesday BIKE: WU: 10 mins easy spin; 5 x (20s accelerate/40s easy)
MS: At zone 2 do 5 x (1 min @ 105rpm / 1 min @ 80-90rpm), 5 x (60s right leg dominant pedalling, 60s left leg dominant pedalling)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN: Easy 30 minute run + 6 x 30s strides
Thursday SWIM:
WU: 2 x (50 kick/50 fists/50 free/50 pull/50 no kick); 4 x 50 build, R: 10s
MS: 3 x 100 as (25 fists/75 build), R: 10s: 200 paddles (perfect catch); 3 x 100 as (50 catch up/50 build), R: 10s; 200 paddles (perfect catch and front quadrant stroke)
CD: 100 pull @ zone 2 effort
Total: 1800m
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK: 1 hour bike ride @ zone 2.  Run  20 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 30-40 minute comfortable run

Week 2

This week introduces some drills into the swim and bike work outs. These drills break down the action of the stroke to help you become more aware of what’s going on at each phase and builds muscle memory for maintaining proper technique. Repeating poor form over and over simply reinforces bad habits, so these drills are worth taking the time to get right. It will be challenging to swim with your hands as a fist or with a band around your ankles, but the benefits to your form are worth struggling through. (And you will struggle, so don’t worry about performance or the worried looks of the lifeguards!)

By now, you will likely have encountered some of the challenges involved in sticking to your training plan. Instead of beating yourself up for missing a workout or maybe having a negative experience, reflect on the cause and what you can do differently next time to avoid the challenges. A big part of training for any sport involves mental strength for endurance and overcoming the feeling of wanting to quit. This is your opportunity to start laying the foundations for dealing with that by becoming aware of the potential obstacles and planning around them.

Monday SWIM:
WU: 200 f/s, 200 pull, 3 x 50 kick
MS: 4 x (50 fists / 50 free) continuous
4 x 200 as (50 free / 50 backstroke / 50 free / 50 breaststroke) on R: 15s. Effort at 75% or less.
CD: 200 easy f/s — perfect form.
Total: 1950
Tuesday BIKE: WU: 10 mins easy spin; 5 x (20s accelerate/40s easy)
MS: 10 x (1 min @ 85% and 60rpm / 1 min @ 60-70% and 95-100rpm)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN: Easy 30 minute run + 6 x 30s strides
Thursday SWIM:
WU: 200 f/s, 100 kick
MS:
6 x (25 fists / 75 build by 25’s), R:15s — on first drill, go easy and focus on getting a perfectly vertical forearm on the catch so you can feel the pull with your entire forearm. Then hold that feeling for the regular freestyle swimming to follow.
6 x (25 side kick / 75 build by 25’s), R; 15s — feel what it feels like to be right on your side kicking. Then when you swim the regular freestyle pieces feel the rotation (lead by your hips) from once side to the other.
500 paddles – zone 2 effort.
CD: 100 ez pull Total: 2100m
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK: 1 hour bike ride @ zone 2.  Run  20 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 40 minute comfortable run

Week Three – Maintaining Your Enthusiasm and Building Some Effort

This week’s focus is discipline. The training load is beginning to pick up in volume and intensity which can trigger some re-thinking of your choices – but hang in there. Our bodies take a while to become accustomed to physical exertion and elevated heart rates, and the work outs this week give you the opportunity to spend some time in your ‘discomfort’ zones to begin challenging their boundaries. This is when visualization can really help – remembering your ‘why’, and envisioning success.

Pay attention to the aftermath of your work outs. Twinges, sore muscles, feeling overly tired, or physical changes like chafing can be indicators that something isn’t working for you. It might be your bike saddle, running shoe fit, nutrition, leaking goggles – or just a loss of the initial enthusiasm for taking this on. All the little niggles that your body is pointing out are telling you where you need to made some adjustments. Now you can look at your gear and see if something needs changing – bike fit, saddle choice and running shoe size are usually the first culprits. Don’t forget about taking care of your muscles, since part of adaptation is to settle down the responses in your muscles that result in tightness or knots that can lead to injuries. If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to consider a regular yoga or stretch class, foam rolling or massage therapy. And hydrate…always hydrate!  Dehydration has a huge effect on how you perform and how you recover and it is the easiest thing to improve!

Monday SWIM: WU: 3 x (50 fists / 50 free); 2 x 100 pull build by 25’s; 3 x 50 kick
MS: 8 x 25 – odds build to sprint, evens easy, R: 10s;
200 pull @ comfortable effort; 4 x 25 build to sprint, R: 10s
4 x 100 pull @ comfortable effort, R: 10s; 4 x 25 build to sprint, R: 10s
CD: 100-200 easy f/s — perfect form.
Total: 1750-1850
Tuesday BIKE: WU: 10 mins easy spin; 5 x (20s accelerate/40s easy)
MS: 3 x (4 mins @ 85% and 60rpm / 4 mins @ 70-75% and 90-95rpm)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN:
WU: 10 mins easy run; 5 x (20s strides/40s easy)
MS: 5 x (1 min hill @ mod-steep grade and 85% effort / 1 min zone 2 flat)
CD: 10 mins easy run
Thursday SWIM:
WU: 200 f/s, 200 pull, 2 x 100 kick
MS: 600 steady fartlek swim – change speed every 50m and vary it all over from hard to easy and all in between.
12 x 50 – odds build to sprint and evens as distance per stroke
CD: 300 mix of strokes (do at least 1/2 as a non free stroke)
Total: 2100
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK: 75 minute bike ride @ zone 2.  Run  20 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 45 minute comfortable run

Week Four – Recovery and Time Trials

By now, you should have worked through some of the early logistics and adaptations, and are starting to feel the benefits of your training. If you’ve put in the work to build a strong foundation, you will be ready for a step up in intensity and volume. But first – some time trials to establish benchmarks for your swim and bike performance. It can be intimidating to do these tests, but keep in mind that they are simply to monitor your progress – there is no pass or fail. Try not to let them get into your head and just give your best effort to see what you can do.

This is also a good time to revisit some of your skills and form. Adding training load to poor swim skills, for example, will only reinforce the bad habits and get in your way when you want to see an improvement in your endurance or speed. Poor posture on the bike, especially if you are still training indoors or on a spin bike, won’t help you when transitioning to outdoor riding when hills, traffic, turns and wind will be added considerations. Your gains in running outdoors will be slowed down if you haven’t been training with good posture or have become reliant on music to get you through a workout. (Wearing earbuds in a triathlon race will get you disqualified – so break out of that habit now.)

Focus of the week: Recovery!  Rest is priority – if you feel tired, take it easier, don’t be afraid to sleep in.  You should finish the week feeling reenergized, remotivated and ready to go into the next block of training.
Monday SWIM: 10 x 100 easy on R: 10s – focus on swimming relaxed and easy with perfect
form.  Drive the rotation from the hips and core.
Tuesday BIKE: Easy spin for 30 mins @ 95rpm (rpm should feel comfortable)
Wednesday RUN: 30 mins easy recovery run
Thursday SWIM: 400m TT Test
WU: 100 free, 100 pull, 100 kick
8 x 25 – odds BUILD to sprint, evens EZ. R: 15s.
MS: 400m TT – fast as you can go for 400m straight. Try and stay as steady as possible, try and look at the clock every 100m (without stopping or slowing down) and record your splits per 100 on this as well as your total time for the 400m.
CD: 400 ez mix of strokes
Total: 1300m
Friday OFF
Saturday BIKE: FTP Test
20 min TT BIKE TEST:
Warm up w/ 20 min easy spin. 3 min MAX effort (record watts). 10 mins easy spin. 20 min MAX effort TT (record avg watts at 1/2 way and at the end, and avg heart rate at the end). Cool down easy.
Sunday RUN: 45 minute comfortable run + 6 x 30s strides

Week Five – Block Two – and Transitioning to Outdoor Training

The first signs of spring can deliver a real boost of enthusiasm to training programs, so long as that means getting outdoors in more tolerable weather.  Maybe open water swimming is a few months away, but certainly running and biking start to take on a new feel.

The focus of the second block of training is:

Swim – technique, strength and tempo efforts

Bike – strength and strength endurance

Run – strength and strength endurance

You will still encounter drills in some of the work outs, and they are there for a reason. Maintaining good form and technique is especially important as work outs get longer and more intense, and our bodies need to be reminded of what that feels like.

Dressing for changeable weather can be tricky to gauge, but a good guideline to follow is to dress as though its 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature for running, but 10 degrees colder than the actual for cycling, since the wind will chill you faster from speed + actual wind. Our Canadian layering skills still apply, and there are many options for cycling gear that can be easily removed and stashed in a cycling pocket that can make or break comfort on the bike.

Training outdoors will require some additional gear and organization to ensure you are carrying proper hydration and safety gear, particularly on the bike. Add to that some new bike handling skills – if you aren’t comfortable with reaching for your water bottle while riding…get practicing that now! Ditto for clipless pedals, which are worth a first few gentle stop and flops to gain more power and control on the bike.

Monday SWIM: WU: 400 f/s Z1-2 build;
3 x (50 fists / 50 free)
3 x (50 6-1-6 drill / 50 free)
MS:
4 x 200 pull – 1st one steady, 2nd one moderate, 3rd one hard, 4th one easy. R: 20s
8 x 25 hard with no kick (use a band if you want!), R: 10s
CD: 100 easy f/s
Total: 2100m
Tuesday WU: 10 mins easy spin; 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm / 1 min @ 90rpm)
MS: 2 x (10 mins @ zone 3 as 1:45 steady 90rpm / 15s burst of rpm and power x 5) /
5 mins easy)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN:
WU: 10 mins easy run; 5 x (20s strides/40s easy)
MS: 5 x (2 min hill @ mod-steep grade and 85-90% effort / 2 min zone 2 flat)
CD: 10 mins easy run
Thursday WU: 300 f/s
MS:
6 x (25 kick/25 fists/25 free/25 pull) R: 15s
600 pull (Z2)
6 x 50 swim with no kick, R: 10s (legs drag behind you! Increase turnover and use your core to keep your feet up as best you can)
3 x 100 kick
CD: 100 pull
Total: 2200m
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK:
BIKE: 90 minutes.  WU: 10 mins easy spin, 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm /
1 min @ 90rpm. MS: 2 x 15 minutes @ Zone 3 / 5 minutes easy spin)
CD: Time remaining ride zone 1/2 build
Run:  30 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 45 minute zone 2/3 run. Start at zone 1 (easy!) and build slowly and progressively
throughout the run so you finish at the top of zone 3 for the last 3-5 minutes.

Week Six – (Almost) Half-Way There

Very few athletes can make it through a training cycle without interruptions or set-backs, because that’s life! At the half-way point, it’s worth reviewing how things are going. If you have been sticking to the plan and finding it going well…or too easy, perhaps you can handle building in a little more intensity to challenge yourself to see what you are capable of. But only increase a little at a time so you don’t overdo things and undermine the work you’ve accomplished. Sustaining an effort at a slightly higher level of intensity, or for a slightly longer interval can add enough challenge to ignite some gains without becoming injured.

On the other hand, if your training hasn’t been going as planned, there is still time to adjust your mindset to re-dedicate yourself to your goal and get very disciplined for the balance of the program. You may not perform as you had hoped, but you can still go after your goals and see what you have in you.

If you’ve missed a considerable number of workouts each week, or had a set-back due to injury or illness, this is a good time to consider adjusting your goals. That doesn’t mean give up – it may mean choosing a race that is later on in the season or it simply might mean adjusting your expectations. What does that look like? Sometimes it means treating the race as an ‘experience’ and accepting that ‘this time’, it didn’t go as planned, but you learned a lot. It could also mean entering as part of a relay team and focusing on the area you feel confident about, and let someone else carry the leg of the course you aren’t adequately prepared for. There are many sprint races during the season, and you can build on the gains you have already made.

Monday SWIM: WU 200 f/s, 200 pull, 100 kick; MS: 5 x 100 no kick w/ band; R: 10s (should be hard effort – focus on fast turnover to stay afloat); 5 x 100 paddles tempo effort, R: 10s; 5 x 100 freestyle tempo effort, R: 10s;
Tuesday WU: 10 mins easy spin; 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm / 1 min @ 90rpm)
MS: 2 x (15 mins @ zone 3 as reps of 1:45 steady 90rpm / 15s burst of rpm and power) /
5 mins easy)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN: WU: 10 minutes easy jog
MS: Run 30 minute on a hilly route – work hard on the uphills, bringing effort up into zone 3/4. Run zone 2 on the downhills and easy on the flats.
Thursday WU: 500 f/s Z2
MS:
300 paddles
10 x 50 swim with no kick, R: 10s (legs drag behind you! Increase turnover and use your core to keep your feet up as best you can)
2 x 400 pull
CD: 300 f/s Z2
Total: 2200m
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK:
BIKE: 90 minutes.  WU: 10 mins easy spin, 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm /
1 min @ 90rpm.) MS: 15 mins @ mid to high zone 3 / 5 mins easy
spin / 10 mins @ Z4
CD: Time remaining ride zone 1/2 build
Run:  30 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 45 minute zone 2/3 run. Start at zone 1 (easy!) and build slowly and progressively
throughout the run so you finish at the top of zone 3 for the last 3-5 minutes.

Week Seven – How Are You Feeling?

This week continues to focus on strength + endurance and may push you. This is a good time to pay attention to two other aspects of training – nutrition and adequate rest. If you are coming up short on either of these, you aren’t giving yourself the best chance of success.

At this point in your program, you are likely into a routine and feel comfortable with training in all three aspects of triathlon. Your confidence in your skills and endurance should be getting stronger, and hopefully you are starting to feel excited about getting to the starting line. The challenges you encountered in the beginning of your training should be straightened out, and the demands of a regular training schedule should be manageable. You recognize that this race will feel hard, but you know you have what it takes to get it done!

What if you don’t feel that way at all? Remember that mental strength is a big part of triathlon, and it can be trained along with your body. Just as knowledge is power; confidence comes from practice. Identifying where you feel uncomfortable is important for overcoming your weaknesses. For some athletes, the prospect of swimming in open water looms ahead…especially if the water temperatures are just too cold to start training in. For others, bike handling skills and fear of crashing or having a flat tire is daunting. And for some, managing the gear and transitions adds considerable stress.

Figure out what is holding you back, and work at finding a way to overcome those feelings while you still have time to learn and practice.

Monday SWIM: WU: 4 x (50 kick/50 free), 2 x 100 pull
MS:
6 x 100 no kick w/ band, R: 10s (should be hard effort – focus on fast turnover to stay afloat)
3 x 200 paddles tempo effort, R: 10s
200 @ sprint race effort
CD: 100 easy pull
Total: 2100m
Tuesday WU: 10 mins easy spin; 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm / 1 min @ 90rpm)
MS: 30 mins @ zone 3 (as reps of 1:45 steady 90rpm / 15s burst of rpm and power)
CD: 10 mins easy spin
Wednesday RUN: WU: 10 minutes easy jog
MS: Run 30 minute on a hilly route – work hard on the uphills, bringing effort up into zone 3/4. Run zone 2 on the downhills and easy on the flats.
Thursday WU: 300 f/s, 200 pull, 100 kick
MS:
3 x 100 paddles at tempo effort, R: 10s
4 x 50 easy, R:10s
3 x 100 paddles at tempo effort, R: 10s
4 x 50 easy, R: 10s
6 x 50 build to sprint, R: 10s
CD: 300 f/s Z2
Total: 2200m
Friday OFF
Saturday BRICK:
BIKE: 90 minutes.  WU: 10 mins easy spin, 3 x (1 min @ 105rpm /
1 min @ 90rpm. MS: 20 mins @ mid to high zone 3 / 5 mins easy
spin / 10 mins @ Z4
CD: Time remaining ride zone 1/2 build
Run:  30 minutes off the bike @ zone 1/2.
Sunday RUN: 45 minute zone 2/3 run. Start at zone 1 (easy!) and build slowly and progressively
throughout the run so you finish at the top of zone 3 for the last 10-12 minutes.

Week Eight – Recovery Week

Congratulations – you’ve made it to the end of the second block of training and deserve a good rest. That doesn’t mean taking the week off…it means pulling back in volume and intensity and listening to what your body is telling you. Although some of the workouts are lighter, you may feel they are tough. That’s your indication that you need this recovery week!

This week also features a TT test in the pool, giving you the opportunity to gauge how you are doing. If your times are faster and you are feeling strong – you know the work is paying off!

If the test is disappointing, take some time to reflect on what’s going on. Does your form need tweaking? If so, perhaps a one-on-one coached session will help. Are you stopping to gasp for air half way? You know you can swim that distance, so consider whether the ‘test’ is creating performance anxiety. Performing under pressure is good practice for managing race day nerves, but if it’s really getting into your head – this is a good time to remember some of those positive mantras to help pull you through the next block of training that gets you into open water and through to race day.

Monday SWIM: 12 x 100 easy on R: 10s – focus on swimming relaxed and easy with perfect form.
Drive the rotation from the hips and core.
Tuesday BIKE: Easy spin for 30-40 mins @ 95rpm (rpm should feel comfortable)
Wednesday RUN: 30 mins easy recovery run
Thursday SWIM: 400m TT Test
WU: 300 free, 200 pull, 100 kick
8 x 25 – odds BUILD to sprint, evens EZ. R: 15s.
MS: 400m TT – fast as you can go for 400m straight. Try and stay as steady as possible, try and look at the clock every 100m (without stopping or slowing down) and record your
splits per 100 on this as well as your total time for the 400m.
CD: 500 ez mix of strokes
Total: 1700m
Friday OFF
Saturday BIKE: WU: 10 mins easy spin; 5 x (20s accelerate/40s easy)
MS: 10 mins @ low Z3 / 5 mins easy / 10 mins @ mid zone 3 / 5 mins easy / 5 mins @ Z4
CD: 10 mins easy
Sunday RUN: 45 minutes.  WU: 10 mins easy running.  MS: 5 x (2 mins tempo / 2 mins easy)   CD: 15 mins Z1/2 comfortable running

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