The triathlon is one of the most diverse and intense endurance events for any athlete. By combining swimming, cycling, and running provides a significant cardiovascular challenge that also requires multiple techniques and a range of muscles.
Unlike performing a single event this utilizes muscles in the entire body, using them in different combinations and angles, and also requires different mechanics and techniques to perform. As any bodybuilder or gym-goer will know, ‘mixing up’ forms of training is one of the best ways to ‘shock’ the muscle into growing, and simply repeating the same movement over and over will have little benefit. Triathlon training then plays into this perfectly, forcing the muscles to adapt instantly to entirely different conditions and continue to perform optimally.
Someone who is good in a single event might win gold in the Olympics, but in reality, their abilities would have limited use. In a triathlon, however, complete fitness and performance are required that enable the athlete to cross multiple types of terrain with varying speeds. It is this complete fitness that triathlon training needs to focus on.
Practice The Event itself
Of course, the best form of training in almost any event is to practice the event itself. A runner runs, cyclist cycles and a javelin thrower throws javelins. In triathlon training then the athlete should train in each of the three events. Obviously, this creates difficulty as the athlete will have to focus on three separate training events. While a runner might go running three or four times a week, there’s no way that a tri-athlete could spend three times this amount of time to train in all three events.
Fortunately, however, there are ways around this problem. Firstly, training in one event will help you in the others in terms of cardiovascular fitness. This means that you can still get away with training fewer times in each event as you will improve your endurance in each. However at the same time that doesn’t mean that you can train in just one of the events and hope that that experience carries over to all three events on the day. This is because the different events each utilize different muscle groups. For example, while running is hard work on the quadriceps (the muscles down the front of the legs above the knees) it doesn’t really work the hamstrings (this being why so many footballers end up tearing their hamstrings).
Cycling on the other hand will train the hamstrings more than the quadriceps. Meanwhile, swimming engages the upper body far more than either of those two events. Therefore if you spend your time only training for running, you’ll have the endurance but not the muscle power, nor the technique, when you come to the other two events. This also means that you’d be better to avoid training in ‘block’ (i.e. training your swimming for a month, then cycling, then running). It is paramount that all of your muscles develop at a roughly equal rate, and triathlon training should be aimed at achieving this.
One way to achieve this effect is to split your four days into a day for each event and a final ‘mixed’ day. This would work so that on Monday you’d swim for 40 minutes, on Wednesday you cycle for 40 minutes, on Thursday you run for 40 minutes, and on Saturday you do each for twenty minutes. This way you will be training your cardiovascular endurance every day so improving your ability to complete the entire event without running out of breath, but at the same time, you will be working all the necessary muscles. On the final day, you’ll work all of the muscles together meaning that each set of muscles gets two workouts in the week to make them stronger and lots of recovery time in between.
This final day will also help teach your body to deal with the quick transition between the three very different forms of aerobic exercise. There are various ways to do this in one day – one being to do all three in a gym (most health spa-style gyms contain a pool and stationary bikes and treadmills though these fall short of the reality of running on tarmac). Alternatively, you can pick a swimming pool and cycle halfway, run the other half, and then swim as soon as you get there.
Making life more complicated is the fact that different triathlon events last for different amounts of time. For example, in the famous ‘Iron Man’ triathlon competition the swim is 3.8km, the ride is 180km, and the run is 42.2km. In the main international version, the distances are comprised of ‘sprint’ distances, made up of a 75m swim, 20km bike ride, and 5km run. This can change the focus slightly from endurance to explosive power, and the different ratios should be reflected in your triathlon training.
Normally however the bike ride will be the longest, followed by the swim and the run. When you train you should try to work up to the distances you’ll be traveling on the day, then when you reach those distances try cutting down your time. Then when it comes down to the actual event you will have done it several times before and should find you break your personal record being encouraged by the. Leave about a week of rest before the actual event itself to give your body a chance to recuperate and be on top form for the competition.
When you have ‘sprint’ distances to prepare for you should also alter your triathlon training to also focus on explosive speed. Train this with plyometric exercises (such as box jumps) and by using interval training – where you alternate between patches of sprinting and jogging or walking slowly to recover. This can be a great way to prepare your body for short bursts of intense exertion. Other types of training can also supplement your triathlon training well, such as resistance training and free weights where you can improve the endurance of your muscles and work those specifically used in the three events.
Finally, you may want to train for the transition points. These are the points at which you are required to change your clothes/get on your bike and becoming efficient at this can shave seconds off your time. Think of it as a human pit stop and practice in your garden, or better yet on the move/in your gym. Once you’ve got this down you’ll have completed the final piece of the triathlon jigsaw puzzle and should be ready to perform.
Multi-sport Endurance Event
A triathlon is a multi-sport endurance event consisting of swimming, cycling, and running in immediate succession over various distances. Triathletes compete for the fastest overall course completion time, including timed “transitions” between the individual swim, bike, and run components.
Triathlon races vary in distance. According to the International Triathlon Union, and USA Triathlon, the main international race distances are Sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run), Intermediate distance commonly referred to as “Olympic distance” (1.5km swim, 40km ride, 10km run), the Long Course 1.9km swim, 90km ride, 21.1km run, such as the Half Ironman), and Ultra Distance (3.8km swim, 180 km ride, and a marathon: 42.2km run), the most popular branded Ultra Distance is the Ironman triathlon.
Transition areas are positioned both between the swim and bike segments (T1), and the bike and run segments (T2), and are often just one checkpoint, especially in shorter courses. These areas are used to store bicycles, performance apparel, and any other accessories essential for preparing and gearing for the next stage of the race.
The transition times (T1 and T2) are included in the overall time of the race. So speed during the transition – removing the wetsuit, putting on the helmet, putting on the running shoes – is essential. Elite triathletes have the bicycle shoes mounted on the bikes before the race and place their feet into them when riding. In large races, transitions areas may be up to a kilometer long and be storing over 2000 entrants bicycles. In addition, these areas provide a social headquarters prior to the race and are an integral part of triathlon culture.
The demanding nature of the sport focuses primarily on persistent and often periodized training in each of the three disciplines, as well as combination workouts and general strength conditioning to ensure the highest levels of endurance, strength, and power possible come race day. Proficiency in swimming, cycling, and running alone is often not sufficient for success in triathlon.