You signed up for a sprint triathlon, congratulations!
Completing a triathlon is a dream for many athletes around the world, and you just took the first step towards making that dream a reality.
If this is your first triathlon, you are probably equally excited and intimidated by this new challenge you set out for yourself. If you want to optimize your training plan so that you can cross the finish line with a strong result, you came to the right place.
This article will equip you with essential triathlon training tips that will help you arrive at the starting line feeling confident and prepared.
Not all triathlons are created equal. There are four main distances: sprint, Olympic, half Ironman, and the full Ironman. Besides range, triathlons vary in terrain – some take place off-road, some on asphalt – and in height profile. These various distances and formats all have their specific training plans to be successful.
The shortest distance is the sprint triathlon, which consists of a 750-meter swim, 20 km bike and 5 km run.
The Olympic distance is precisely twice as much as the sprint.
The Ironman is the longest race, consisting of a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and a full marathon – 42.2 km – to finish.
As you may have guessed already, the Half Ironman is precisely half of the Ironman. While completing an Ironman is the ultimate goal of many triathletes, it is highly advisable first to test the waters with a shorter distance.
Before You Start
If you are entirely new to the sport, the sprint distance is where you should begin. The vast majority of the beginners finish between 1 hour 20 minutes and 2 hours.
To sustain a continuous moderate to high-intensity level for this long, you ideally want to train for at least 10 weeks before your race.
Before starting a triathlon training plan, it is vital to have an understanding of your current fitness level to reduce the risk of injury and illness.
To begin, you should be injury-free, be in good health, and have a basic fitness level. Here are some basic parameters to help you assess your starting fitness level.
- Swim: You should be able to comfortably swim 200 meters non-stop – preferably in freestyle (front crawl)
- Bike: You should be able to bike 20 minutes at a pace of about 20 km/h (12.5 mph)
- Run: You should be able to run 10 minutes without walking
Not only will this assess your readiness for a sprint triathlon training plan, but it will also reveal your weakest discipline in which you should focus more training time on.
Sprint Triathlon Training Plan
The sprint triathlon training plan consists of at least four workouts per week. If you have time for five sessions, try and implement that extra session on a rest day, and focus this extra session on strengthening your weakest discipline.
This 10-week training plan is based upon scientific research on training load management, which states that changes in training load should be no more than 10% weekly.
Week 1-2: Muscle Memory Phase
These first two weeks are about getting your muscles used to training consistently. Your body needs time to become accustomed to the different training stimuli evoked from three different disciplines.
This period is crucial in triggering your neuromuscular connections and getting your muscles prepped for larger volumes of training in the weeks to follow.
Monday: easy 30’ swim focusing on stroke technique
Tuesday: moderate 40’ bike concentrate on maintaining a high cadence of >90 rounds per minute (RPM)
Wednesday: Day off
Thursday: slow 20’ run keeping at a high cadence of >165 steps per minute
Friday: Day off
Saturday: “BRick” session consisting of 30’ bike at 90 RPM directly followed by a 5-8’ jog/walk
Sunday: Day off
Total = 128 minutes per week
Week 3-8: Endurance Phase
By this point, your body has adapted to the different training stimuli, and you are ready to build your aerobic base.
Consistency is vital in this phase, and it is essential to have a weekly routine where you implement the same four (or five) sessions every week. The focus of this phase is to increase volume by no more than 10% weekly gradually.
By week 8 these should be your target goals:
• Easy Swim: Work your way up to a 45’ swim by week 8 and try to complete a full uninterrupted 750 meters at least once during this phase.
• Moderate Bike: By week 8 you should be able to comfortably bike a distance that is 1.5X the length of your triathlon’s bike leg. Since most sprint triathlon bike legs are 20 km, that means riding for at least 30 km uninterrupted at a moderate intensity.
• Slow Run: For the run, do not fixate on distance, but rather focus on the time spent on your feet. Gradually increase the length of this session to a little more than your anticipated run time. If you are aiming to run the 5 km in 30’ on race day, you should be running for 35’ by week 8.
• BRick session: This is a crucial session for any triathlete, but do not overdo it! Slowly build up to biking for 45’ followed by a 10’ run by week 8.
Total (by week 8) = 200-220 minutes depending on your 30km bike session
Week 9-10: Speed and Recovery Phase
The focus in these last two weeks of your triathlon training program is on speed and recovery. By now, you should have a better idea of your predicted times for every discipline, and it is important to train at this projected pace.
Therefore, week 9 should include the same four sessions, but at a shorter distance and a higher intensity. On week 10 you should drastically drop your total volume to allow your body to soak in the nutrients of all your hard work.
Total (week 9) = all higher intensity: 40’ swim, 25 km bike, 30’ run and 45’ BRick (35’ bike + 10’ run)
Total (week 10) = all easy sessions: 30’ swim, 20 km bike, 20’ run, and RACE DAY!
Pro Tip: Try to do your last three swims in open water to get used to breathing in between the waves.
What if I Miss a Workout?
Whether it is for personal reasons or you have an injury budding, it is okay to miss a workout. Even the best triathletes among us are forced to have gaps in their training plan.
Try and make up for the missed workout on another training day, which means you will be doing two exercises that day. Keep your rest days for your body to recover.
If you are too busy to do a complete workout, you can still workout on the go with the right smart equipment. Respiratory training sessions last only a couple of minutes, and with the Airofit breathing trainer, the small device fits perfectly in your bag or pocket, ready on the go! Keep your body strengthened through breathing training on the days where you cannot make it to the gym!
If you do feel an injury coming – usually manifested as a focal pain that feels different than muscle soreness – make sure to give your body adequate time to heal.
Do not keep training if you are in pain! Training through your pain can quickly grow from a minor problem into a more significant issue, which can halt your triathlon dreams indefinitely.
The importance of injury prevention is emphasized by this investigational epidemiologic study.
The study found that most triathletes will experience one or more injuries that slow their progress in training at some point during a competitive season. Of these injuries, 50% seem to derive from running, 43% from cycling, and 7% from swimming.
Almost all injuries were due to overuse from training or in competition. If you follow this sprint triathlon training plan consistently for at least 10 weeks, you will show up to your first race really well prepared and likely have a delightful experience!