While there are lots of training programs you can find both online and in books to help you prepare for a triathlon (or summer full of them), the challenge inevitably comes because we all arrive at the sport with “a different background,” as regular Triathlon Magazine contributor Clint Lien says.
A competitive swimmer, cyclist or runner arrives to the sport with a different set of skills (and possibly fitness) than those from other sports backgrounds, or those who haven’t been involved in sports at all.
“Regardless of your specific needs, give yourself 10 to 12 weeks of preparation,” says Lien. “A nice starting point is to try and do something five or six days a week. Depending on what that ‘something’ is, you might be looking at 30-60 minutes a day, with a few longer days as you progress on your journey.”
So does that mean that an online training program won’t work? Not at all. To get the most out of it, though, you’ll want to adapt things accordingly based on your strengths and weaknesses, the time you have to put into your training, and the amount of time you have to prepare for your first race. Here are some of the keys to making a training program work for you so you’ll nail your training and race goals for 2024.
The first step, when it comes to figuring out your training plan, is to identify how much time you have to put into your training. Be realistic about this. There’s no point aiming for the moon with an unrealistic weekly goal. As life and work get in the way, you’ll just get frustrated and less likely to follow through with the training. You are better to start with fewer workouts and add to the plan as you go along.
Novice/ Tight for time
If you’re just getting started in the sport, or have a limited amount of time to train every week, aiming for a super sprint (375 m swim, 10 km bike, 2.5 km run) or sprint-distance (750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run) makes the most sense. With consistency and a gradual build of distances in each sport, this program will certainly work for athletes gearing up for an Olympic-distance race, too.
As Lien points out in the link below, “almost anyone could, with a minimum of preparation, get to the finish line of a sprint triathlon … But the trick is to get there ready to go.”
“Roughly speaking, look at swimming, biking or running twice a week at least,” Lien says. “And it can not be overstated – you should engage in a simple core/strength program as well, at least twice a week. This can be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes long, and a basic one can be executed at home. There’s no need for a gym membership. This little routine can make the difference between getting to the start line or not, because athletes who engage in a basic core/strength program are far less likely to develop injury.”
That puts you at about eight workouts per week. While in theory that might allow you to do one session per day with a double workout on one of the days of the weekend, most coaches will suggest you plan on a day off every week to ensure you’re getting enough recovery.
Once again, being realistic about the amount of time you have is critical. Yes, you’ll have to double up your workouts one or two days a week, but if you’re stretched for time, keep those workouts short, or combine them as a “brick” workout. As you’re setting up your plan, take into consideration other commitments, too. While I like Friday’s as a day off, maybe Wednesdays are a busy work day and it makes more sense to take that day off.
Here’s one way you might want to structure your week:
- Monday: Swim
- Tuesday: Run/ Strength Training
- Wednesday: Bike
- Thursday Swim
- Friday: Off
- Saturday: Run/ Strength Train
- Sunday: Bike
Those looking to take on an Olympic-distance race a bit more seriously, or those gearing up for a half- (70.3) or full- (Ironman) distance race will want to take a bit more time to prepare. In the story below, Kerry Hale outlines the basics of a four-month program, incorporating the various training “phases” that will get you ready to race.
You can follow the plan of two workouts in each sport listed above as you’re training for this distance, but you’ll need to increase the time and volume of your workouts. If you have a bit more time to put into your training week, though, you might want to add a workout in each sport to your weekly program. Here’s a suggested weekly structure:
- Monday: Swim/ Bike
- Tuesday: Run/ Strength Training
- Wednesday: Swim/ Bike
- Thursday Run/ Strength Training
- Friday: Off
- Saturday: Swim/ Bike
- Sunday: Run
Regardless of how many workouts you can fit into a week, many coaches like to focus on shorter, faster workouts during the winter months, then build up the distance once the summer hits and you get into race season.
“In short, reverse periodization involves focussing on shorter, more intense workouts during the winter months, especially on the bike and in the pool, and then layering longer aerobic training on top of this as the goal race approaches,” says British coach Rob Wilby.
In the story below, I outline a six-month plan designed to get you ready for a full-distance race. The concepts outlined, though, will work equally as well if you’re focussed on shorter distance races, too.
While a coach can most certainly help organize all your training, you can certainly figure things out yourself through some realistic (remember – you’ll only get frustrated if you’re not honest about what you can and cannot do!) planning over the next few months. Training for a triathlon is lots of fun – you get to work on three different sports at a time, so training should never be boring. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be and you’ll achieve your goals this race season.
In addition to being the editor of Triathlon Magazine, Kevin Mackinnon has been coaching triathletes, runners. cyclists and swimmers for over 35 years.