Thoughtful Thursdays: Triathlon Training Plans

I’ve decided to try and do a weekly column on some aspect of triathlon.  Hopefully some of them may actually be helpful in your training and racing.  Though I am by no means an expert, I would like to share my learning experiences with you.  The standard disclaimer applies: I am not a medical or fitness professional and all information presented here should be used at your own risk.

Now, that the administrative stuff is out of the way, on to the topic of the week: training plans.  As beginners and mostly self-coached athletes, you have probably scoured the internet (as I did) in search of the perfect triathlon training plan.  Sites such as have a number of free options for training plans, as well as paid options with the various membership levels.  The free beginner plans, offered for each of the major triathlon distances, are broken up by training minutes for each of the three sports.  I have used one of these plans in the past, and at the time I had no complaints.  It got me to the point where I could finish the sprint distance triathlon.  More recently, I used a training plan from Triathlete magazine.  They have an annual “beginner’s issue” that typically includes a beginner sprint program.  In addition to the minutes of each sport, it offers some guidelines on intensity using a perceived exertion-type system.

While these programs are great jumping off points, they will likely need to be “tweaked” to fit your fitness background and schedule.  For example, I’ve been a swimmer all my life, so the distances/time mentioned by the plan were usually far shorter than what I am used to.  As a result, doing this workout wasn’t improving my speed or strength. So, I almost entirely disregarded the swim training and made up my own workouts to increase my swim fitness.  I didn’t want to “go backwards” by reducing my swim intensity just to meet the training plan.  This same principle applies to both cycling and running.  If you have a running background, don’t give up your run fitness just to make sure you are following the training plan.  That being said, if you need a lot of improvement in one of the three sports, more than the other two, by all means increase the amount of training you do for that sport.  Don’t neglect it in favor of something you like more!  For example, you may want to do only two days a week of running and cycling, but three days of swimming if its your weakest event.

Also, of the plans I’ve seen, they rarely mention any type of cross-training or strength training.  It seems that a lot of people get into triathlon to give themselves a target for exercising to lose weight.  From my experience, triathlon training and endurance sports can only take you so far if your goals are weightloss.  While I can’t speak for everyone or even assume that it will work for everyone, I’ve found that including regular weight training has caused me to lose weight (even though that hasn’t been a goal), gain muscle and lose fat.  I also attribute resistance training to my continued improvements in the triathlon sports, particularly in the bike leg.  Additionally, for all you strong women, keep weight training (at least for maintenance) throughout your season.  From what I’ve read, we aren’t as well-equipped as men to maintaining muscle mass, so while they may be able to greatly reduce the amount of weight training they do and retain their muscle, we will lose it faster.  (Friel talks about this in his Triathlete’s Training Bible). My two cents on the matter is that since our natural state is to have a greater percentage of body fat then men, our bodies naturally try restore the higher fat to lean mass ratio when we aren’t constantly forcing it to grow muscle.  That’s not based on anything scientific, just my own brain, so don’t quote me on it!

My final comment on training plans is quite possibly the most important.  Make sure you take rest and recovery weeks at least every 4 weeks.  These weeks of reduced volume and intensity are when your greatest fitness gains will be made.  I can’t stress how important it is to NOT omit these.  I know how easy it can be to see the gains that you’ve been making and just want to push harder and harder.  This is a recipe for overtraining and poor race performance.  This is probably the hardest bit of advice for me to follow.  I can get into such a groove of training that it can be hard to really step back even though I know how important it is.

Thanks for reading my thoughts on the matter.  If you caught my post last night, you probably know that I’m exhausted and actually considered the fact that I might be overtrained.  I’m going to take it easy tomorrow and make sure to get a lot of sleep.  Hopefully that’ll sort things out!  Also, in the spirit of training plans, I’m going to be creating a new page that will map out my training plan for the next few months till Nation’s Tri.  It’s mostly so I can track my planned workouts versus my actual workouts and look back on it for planning next season.  As I’ve mentioned, my goal is to do a half-Ironman in Fall 2010, and I need to be really meticulous to make sure I can meet that goal.  So, look out for the new page in the next few days.


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  1. #1 by Susan on May 25, 2009 - 9:32 am

    Awesome, awesome post!!! I agree with everything you said! The training schedules, weight lifting and rest weeks – all important!! You are definitely inspiring 🙂

  2. #2 by Lori on June 5, 2009 - 3:06 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. I find the rest days to be the absolute hardest for me. I always feel the need to push, push, push – and I don’t have to do that.

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