Triple Threat: How to Train for a Triathlon
Prepare to master the toughest endurance test of all.
Your schedule will dictate how much time you can devote to training, but Cardona suggests setting aside no less than three days a week with six days being ideal. Break your training up by skill with each day of the week focusing on a different element of the race. For example:
The swim is the most challenging event, so Cardona recommends starting the week with 30 minutes of laps in the pool. Focus on your technique and breathing.
Do a run that includes speed work or hill repeats to increase strength and improve technique.
To develop speed, you need to know your race pace—that is, the pace you hope to hit during the running leg of the race. For example, if you want to run the 3.1 miles in 25 minutes, you’d need to practice doing eight-minute miles. Start with an easy 15-minute run to warm up and then run 200 yards at race pace. Then back off to an easy pace again for 200 yards to recover. Repeat five times and cool down with another 15-minute run at an easy pace.
To do hill repeats, warm up with an easy 15-minute run, then go to a small hill—you want a long but gradual incline. Sprint up the hill for 30 seconds then jog back down. Repeat 10 times. Then run on a flat surface for 10 minutes of recovery and do 10 more hill sprints. Cool down with an easy 15-minute run. The goal of hill repeats is to do each set at a consistent speed while covering the same distance.
Hit the pool for about 45 minutes. This swim is intended to build up endurance, so be sure to limit breaks between laps.
Combine riding and running with a 45-minute bike ride followed immediately by a 20-minute run. “You have to train the body to run off the bike. It’s a slightly different sensation than running on its own,” says Cardona, which is why this workout is especially important for first-time triathletes.
Take the day off. “If you don’t give your muscles the opportunity to rebuild, you'll end up with an injury,” Cardona says. It’s best to rest after the toughest training day. This gives your body the opportunity to get rid of toxins, strengthen bone tissue, and come back stronger.
Because most people have more time to train on the weekend, Saturday is devoted to the longest part of the race, the cycling portion. (If you work on weekends, adjust your schedule accordingly). Head out for a long ride—between 60 and 90 minutes.
Finish the week with a 5k tempo run, which is done at a fast but consistent pace. Warm up with an easy 15-minute run, followed by 20 minutes at race pace, and then a 15-minute cool down. Each week, increase the time spent at race pace until you're able to run the entire race distance at that pace.
In addition to training the different legs of the race, Cardona recommends strength training twice per week on swim days, which are easiest on the body. Focus on total-body conditioning, hitting the muscles that are most important for each event. For the swim, Cardona suggests lat pulldowns, lateral raises, and shoulder presses. Because biking taxes the quads and hamstrings, focus on leg extensions and hamstring curls. Also be sure to include a core exercise like the plank.
Since you’re looking to build strength, not bulk, and you don’t want to overtax the body, Cardona suggests doing three sets of 10 reps for each lift.