Choosing to take on a triathlon is an admirable goal that requires discipline and commitment. The three separate disciples that make up a triathlon -- swim, bike and run -- require a balanced training plan to ensure success and prevent injury. When it comes to structuring week-to-week training sessions, vary the volume and intensity of your workouts using periodization to create four phases of triathlon training.
When preparing for a triathlon, improving your cardiovascular fitness and endurance should be the overall focus of your training program. Ease into your training for the first three to six weeks and include aerobic activities at a low intensity. Training too hard too early can lead to injury or fatigue. Allow your body to adjust to a demanding training schedule and improve your fitness over time. The preparation phase should include at least three to four workouts each week with one day each of swimming, biking and running. If you opt for four days of training, use the fourth day to work on your weakest discipline or include a cross-training workout like yoga.
Do sport-specific drills that focus on stroke technique for the swim and stride length during the run. Adhere to the 80/20 rule -- spend 80 percent of your time completing swim, bike and run training sessions. Devote the remaining 20 percent of your time to completing drills and skill work to improve technique.
Over the course of the next 12 to 20 weeks, the base phase is used to prime your aerobic fitness while improving your efficiency during the swim, bike and run. Depending on the distance of the triathlon you have entered, you may need to increase the number of training sessions you do per week. A sprint-distance triathlon will not require more than four or five training sessions, while preparation for an ironman triathlon requires multiple training sessions each day. Regardless of distance, keep the training intensity low and increase the distance or volume of the training session gradually over time.
The build phase is the time to focus on speed and efficiency. During this phase -- which lasts four to eight weeks -- increase the duration and intensity of your workouts. Do interval training to boost your top-end speed, maintain a faster running speed and increase the distance you cover in a specific time period. Over time, you will be able to run faster while maintaining a lower heart rate, improving your efficiency. Interval training sessions can include timed 50-, 250- or 500-meter repeats in the pool, 90-second sprints on the bike or 400-meter sprints at the track. The number of sets and total distance will depend on your physical fitness and the distance of the triathlon.
As race day nears, months of training are brought together during the peak phase. Three to five weeks in advance of the race, the final phase includes a taper or reduction in training. The reasoning is that your body has been pushed to its limit during training, so the taper phase restores your energy levels and gives you time to recover if you have been injured. Maintain a consistent training schedule while decreasing the volume and duration of your workouts. Include high-intensity workouts throughout the peak phase. Doing so will allow you to continue improving your fitness and efficiency while decreasing the cumulative impact on the body.
- Triathlon Training Bible; Joe Friel
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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