How to Train for Your First Triathlon

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How to Train for Your First Triathlon

If doing a triathlon is on your bucket list, this is for you. With spring fast approaching — and a plethora of great races at your fingertips — now is the time to bite the bullet, register for a race and start training.

While the thought of a multisport event can be intimidating at first, the process of getting started is really simple. Use this basic guide to learn how much time to allocate for your training and what kind of workouts you’ll need to do to prepare for your very first short-distance triathlon.

TIME REQUIREMENTS

Depending on your current level of fitness, you’ll likely need at least 8–12 weeks of consistent training before a super sprint (400-meter swim, 10K bike, 2.5K run) or sprint distance triathlon (750-meter swim, 20K bike, 5K run).

Each week, plan to train 4–6 hours of total exercise time over five days. If you already have a decent level of fitness from running or cycling, any disciplines you aren’t comfortable with will take time to build fitness in — and you’ll need to start with short workouts to avoid injury.

Of the five workouts you complete each week, here’s a rough guideline of how your workouts should be structured:

  • Two swim workouts
  • One bike workout
  • One run workout
  • One combination workout

As you get more comfortable with each discipline, you’ll add more combination workouts. Typically, many people struggle with the swim, and if that’s you, you’ll need to dedicate more time to this discipline until you gain confidence. Eventually, you’ll be able to focus on overall aerobic fitness instead of learning the basics.

FITNESS PLAN

Unlike other sports, to succeed in triathlon you’ll need to focus on three different sports at the same time. The good news is that having a plan for each “leg” of the triathlon really isn’t all that difficult. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

THE SWIM

Swimming is a technique-driven sport and is usually the most daunting for beginner triathletes.

At first, you’ll need to focus on the basics of the freestyle stroke. Don’t worry about speed and instead focus on going slow and steady and using good form. Breathing, rotation, arm movement and kicking will all be areas to focus on. Once you feel comfortable enough with the stroke to begin doing specific workouts, here’s one good beginner’s swim workout you can try:

  • Float for 1–2 minutes on your back or stomach.
  • Practice your breathing technique by exhaling under the water out of your nose for 1–2 minutes.
  • Complete 5 sets of 25 meters in a pool with the freestyle stroke. Rest at each wall. Go slow and focus on good technique.
  • Rest, then complete 2–3 sets of 25 meters focusing only on your kick with kickboard, if you have one.
  • Following another short rest, extend your swim time by aiming to swim for 50–100 meters without taking a break. Complete 1–2 sets depending on your comfort level.
  • Cool down with an additional 3–4 sets of 25 meters, stopping at each wall.

Pro tip: If you plan on doing a race with an open-water swim, you’ll need to practice swimming in a group. Make a few friends help you out by swimming next to you in the same lane so you get a feel for swimming in close proximity to others.

THE BIKE

The more cycling you do, the more it’ll have a positive impact on your run and swim by improving your overall aerobic fitness. While cycling might not be as technique-driven as swimming, you’ll still need to learn basic pedaling technique to become an efficient cyclist. If you’ve never used clipless pedals before or need some pointers for your pedal stroke, use these tips.

Your main focus in the beginning will be on your aerobic fitness. Ride for 45–60 minutes, 1–2 days per week in the aerobic heart-rate training zone, which is usually between 130–155 beats per minute.

For combination days, try a brick: Bike for 30 minutes followed by a 15-minute run.

THE RUN

If you’re a runner already, you probably think running is going to be the easy part. However, you’ll need to keep in mind that running a 5K is not the same as running a 5K after you’ve completed the swim and bike legs.

If you’re an experienced runner, do most of your run training as a combination workout following a swim or bike workout — meaning you’ll run for 15–20 minutes after you’ve completed one of your other workouts.

If you’re crossing over from a swimming or cycling background, you’ll need to focus on building your running base. One good way to begin building your running fitness is to alternate running and walking. Jog easy for 5 minutes and alternate with 1 minute of walking. Total workout time should be 20 minutes to start.

As this gets easier, increase your run time to 10 minutes with 1 minute of walking and a total workout time of 30 minutes. Eventually, your goal as a beginner should be 30 minutes of running without stopping. Aim to run at least 2 days per week as you train to complete your first triathlon.


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