Triathlon is a sport growing rapidly in popularity across the nation due to its versatility and accessibility for all ages and fitness levels. With races ranging from “Sprint” distance for beginners up to Ironman distances for more experienced competitors or those wanting a true adventure. There is an event for just about anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
But training for a triathlon takes more than just willingness to train hard. You have to make sure you are training smart. And by that, I mean making sure you are staying on top of your game (mentally, physically, nutritionally, etc.) for the multiple events which make up a triathlon.
“But how do I do THAT?”, you might be asking. Well, don’t fret…good ol’ Dr. Rob is here to coach you through the ins and outs of proper triathlon training. So let’s dig in, shall we?
SET YOUR TRIATHLON GOALS ACCORDINGLY
When setting goals for a triathlon, you should consider your race distance and your current ability in each sport. Be realistic with your goals; if you’ve never done a triathlon, start with a sprint distance, or even a super sprint race. The graph below is a great visual to know each event’s distances:
There’s plenty of triathlon training plans that you can look-up online to follow, but I’d like to provide the following quick tips:
Tip #1: A solid training plan should stem from your current abilities and the race distance. If you are a beginner, you need to make sure you’re competent in all three sports. I tell my clients that a sound starting point would be to train at least two times a week for each event. That way, you’ll be comfortable enough to complete the minimal distances of a sprint triathlon.
Tip #2: For more experienced triathletes, looking to try a further distance in your next race, you should be able to complete each of the event distances comfortably. Then you can focus on combining those events during training.
Tip #3: Gradually build and increase your distances by no more than 10 percent per week. Prior to the race, you should be able to complete at least 10 percent more than the total race distance in each sport (for a sprint, that translates to a 0.55-mile swim, a 13.6-mile bike ride and 3.4-mile run).
MAKE SURE TO INCORPORATE STRENGTH TRAINING
Time and time again, clients come to me wanting to know what’s the secret ingredient to a successful triathlon preparation. Well, it’s an activity that I have written before in the past, and one that is definitely a must for triathlon training. Yes my friends, I am referring to the all-important strength training (also known as weight or resistance training).
All top triathletes, runners and swimmers are known to incorporate resistance training into their training regimen. But it’s not just elites who can benefit. All age groupers, all levels of expertise, basically ANYONE can benefit.
“Is strength training really that important?” Yes!!! The ability to generate force in a wide range of motions is key to how well you swim, bike, and run. Weak or inflexible muscles will generate less power and are more susceptible to injury. Surging through the water, climbing hills on the bike and staying fast with good form on the run, are all reasons triathletes need to strength train. And, if you’re an athlete over 40 or have had multiple previous injuries, building strength and staying flexible is especially important.
I like to provide my clients with the following quick tips:
Tip #1: Using the appropriate weight for your skill level, while also using weight or resistance training at the right times in your training schedule so your body remains tolerant and is not overstressed. Basically, we want strength training to be done on harder, shorter, more intense days and usually done AFTER our cardio sessions (especially if it involves running).
Tip #2: While regular strength training is almost always a good idea, be sure to be cautious as important races approach. Just like you cut back on overall training volume, you’ll want to cut back on moves that can leave you sore or fatigued.
Tip #3: Always do a proper warm-up. You don’t dive into a track session without warming up and the same goes for picking up a dumbbell. By skipping your strength training warm-up, you are limiting the effectiveness of the workout and potentially setting yourself up for injury.
YOU’LL NEED THE RIGHT FUEL
Knowing what and when to eat and as you train, prepare, and race a triathlon can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially when you’re first starting out. It can be challenging enough to string together swim, bike, and run, much less formulate a sprint or half-Ironman nutrition plan. But I tell all my clients who are training for a triathlon, or any endurance sport for that matter, to focus on nutrition. It’s a matter near and dear to my heart, so much that I actually have written about it previously on my blog.
No matter the distance, your triathlon training regimen will have your body at its max. You’ll be burning through more energy than most people use in an entire day, and that means you need to eat more. But just like you need the right training plan to dominate the race, you also need the right fuel to power you through.
While there are many nutrition tips I give my clients when going through triathlon training, my main three are:
Tip #1: Avoid getting hungry. While training for a triathlon, I find myself needing to eat every 2-3 hours to avoid getting “hangry.” If you are not eating regularly, your mood may suffer and you also may find yourself making questionable food decisions (ie: eating things that may not be good for you).
Tip #2: Take it easy on the protein. While your need for protein does increase while training, fight the urge to go scarf down a pot roast every night. You’re not a bodybuilder. You’re a triathlete. As I actually recommend you need about 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, And it’s safe to shoot for the low end if your workouts aren’t particularly grueling.
Tip #3: Use the off-season wisely. A consistent intake of healthy fats and a variety of fruits & vegetables will promote a healthy immune system over the wier months, while also assisting with training adaptations. Be sure to use the off-season to focus on optimal body composition for the upcoming race-season.
AVOID INJURIES AND PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GET YOUR REST!
Triathlon training can take anywhere from 3 to 10 months, depending on the distance. Rest and
recovery is important during training in order to avoid injury. Just like in any other sport, listen to your body. Lack of sleep, erratic meals and stress can affect performance and recovery.
In order to avoid injury, before you even begin training for a triathlon, you should make sure your body is moving well, and a great way to have that done via a Functional Movement Screen (FMS). As a Doctor of Physical therapy, I’ve performed countless Functional Movement Screens to find out any asymmetries or current injuries for clients. It’s a great way to ensure you have a solid movement base before engaging in performance training.
Think of it as a way to help you address and correct any movement deficiencies and offer a baseline to track your progress during personal training. Not only are Functional Movement Screens great for preventing future sport injuries, but they can also help those with limited mobility or are in persistent pain.
As both a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a triathlete myself, please remember that:
Tip #1: Off seasons are an excellent time to recover from the season and address both nagging injuries as well as prevent future injury (and a great time to have a FMS performed!)
Tip #2: When you take a rest day, you gain the opportunity to do all sorts of fun things that make the training process more enjoyable. May I suggest a massage, which feels amazing after a long week of training?
Tip #3: Use your heart rate as a rest-day indicator; if it’s difficult to maintain a steady heartbeat across multiple workouts or your resting heart rate is raised, then buddy – it’s time to take a break!
So there you have it folks! Always feel free to reach out with any questions you may have; we would love to hear your goals and assist in any way to make sure you achieve them. If after reading this blog, you’re interested in a Functional Movement Screening or a recovery massage, we’d love to be able to help. All you need to do is visit our clinic, conveniently located on North Broadway in Massapequa. Please give us a call at 516-387-0053 or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.