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So you want to be a triathlete: Training to Train for a Triathlon

Part 1 of a six-week training plan to get you ready to start training in earnest for your first triathlon.

In March we’ll be posting a three-month on-line training program by Cindy Lewis from CLPerformanceTraining – in the meantime we thought we’d help with some suggestions to get you ready for your upcoming training.

Photo: Getty Images

The goal of this program is to work on some general fitness so that you’ll be able to get the most out of your training time once you embark on a more serious plan. Over the first few weeks the goal will be simple – figuring out a realistic schedule that fits into your work, family and other commitments, and developing the consistency that any successful program requires.

Some pre-training notes:

  • If you’re not a comfortable swimmer, now is a great time to try to find a beginner swim program so you can develop your stroke. If that type of program isn’t readily available, you might look for a coach for some private lessons where you can work on your freestyle stroke.
  • At this point a stationary bike and a treadmill at a gym will be just fine for your bike and run workouts. You’ll notice here that right from the get-go we’re going to try and include some sort of a transition workout – a bike ride followed by a run session. During the Canadian winter those sessions are often best done indoors at a gym.
  • Finding a partner or a group is one of the best ways to stick with a program and get results. So, if you can find someone to embark on this journey with you, all the better!
  • The goal by the end of the six-week period is to be able to comfortably handle two workouts in each sport each week, along with two strength sessions.
  • One of the things I work on the most when I start working with athletes is coming up with a regular weekly schedule that fits with the other weekly commitments. That’s the big goal of this initial week of training – figure out what will, and won’t work for you when it comes to training.

Here’s a sample week – feel free to modify accordingly based on your own commitments and availability:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
off Swim Bike Run Off Swim Bike/Run
Strength Strength

Swim workouts:

If you’re just getting started in the water, hopefully you’ve signed up for some lessons and can just follow that plan. If you’ve swum before, here are a couple of workouts to get you started – there’s quite a range, so pick your distance accordingly. If the set is insanely easy for you, just add more intervals to each of the various sets.

Workout 1:

  • 100 (4 lengths of a 25 m pool) – 200 m (8 lengths) w’up
  • 8 x 25 m swim/ 10SRI (Seconds Rest Interval – take a 10 second break at the end of each length.) If you need to, alternate free style with another stroke, for example, breast stroke or back stroke.
  • 2 – 4 x 50 m/ 20SRI kick with a board and fins
  • 2 – 4 x 50 m/ 15SRI pull with a pull buoy
  • 100 – 200 w’down

Workout 2:

  • 100 – 200 m w’up
  • 6 – 12 x 50 m/ 15SRI – do 2 kick, 2 pull and 2 swim, the repeat if you can do as many as 12.
  • 100 to 200 m continuous swim
  • 100 to 200 w’down

Related: 4 Easy swim workouts for beginners

Bike Workout

The goal here is to spend time on the bike. Ideally you can do at least 15 minutes, focussing on “spinning” – maintain a decent cadence of at least 80 RPM. (In case that sounds like another language … you want to pedal fast enough so that if you count how many times your right leg goes down for six seconds you will reach at least 8!)

If you can handle more, great! Up to 30 minutes would be fantastic.

Run workout

In the same vein as the bike workout, we’re aiming to spend some time running. If you can run for 10 to 15 minutes nonstop, that’s a nice start. (Up to 30 minutes is great!) If that’s a stretch, look to alternate a minute of running with a minute of walking for anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes to start with.

Inside or out – it’s up to you. If you have the right clothes, the fresh air is fantastic. A treadmill or indoor track is just fine, though.

Related: How to dress for winter running

Transition workout:

The goal for week 1 is at least 20 minutes of combined biking and running. 10 minutes of each is a great start. Once again, if you have to alternate a minute of running and a minute of walking, no problem.

If you can handle 15 to 20 minutes on the bike followed by 10 to 15 minutes of running … awesome!

Strength workouts:

Here’s a link to a story I wrote a few years ago on circuit training – use this as a guide to come up with a couple of quick, 10 minute circuits you can do this week.

Good luck! We’ll have round 2 for you next Friday.

In addition to being the editor of Triathlon Magazine Canada, Kevin Mackinnon has been coaching triathletes, runners, cyclists and swimmers for over 30 years, helping both international stars and age group competitors reach their own level of personal excellence. www.mackatak.net