Triathlon training is simple, just start swimming, biking and running and you’ll be all set. The more you do all three of the sports the better you’ll get. The only concern should be putting in the time. Unfortunately, this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth; especially for those who don’t have a tremendous amount of time for training. Think about it like this, if you were going to help someone learn to play the violin, would you tell them to merely strum on their violin for as long as possibly could even with limited time? Mastering an instrument or a sport comes down to planning, preparing and strategically setting up your training weeks. Yes time is a factor, but just like calories in our food it doesn’t provide the whole picture.
Justin works sixty hours a week, has a wife, three kids and helps out at his local church on the weekends. There’s no way (if he wants to remain a family man) that he’ll have more than five to six hours a week to train for his sprint triathlon. Better yet, his body won’t be able to keep up with any more training load than that anyways. Your body recognizes life stress the same as it does training stress. My advice to Justin would be to remind himself that it’s not how much he does, but how he does it. Anyone tight on time needs to be especially judicious on technique, how they’re performing their sports and recovery. Utilizing your time to focus on the skill of what you’re doing will provide a much bigger benefit. Regardless of the hours you put in, if you train yourself on the positions, you’ll know exactly what you’re trying to maintain on race day. Every session you perform should have a skill component of at least fifteen minutes. Figure out the skills and drills that make the most impact for you and drill them over and over again.
With a compressed training schedule there’s only going to be so much time you’ll have to accomplish each component of triathlon. That said, you must have a plan and prioritize a specific intention for each day. Let’s keep using Justin’s schedule as an example. He should assign three days during the week for sport intervals; one swim, one bike, and one run. The other two days should focus on sport specific strength training; one session with heavier weights and the second with a sport specific element, like running after performing deadlifts for instance. Sound like extra brick training to you? His weekend day should remain focused on stamina, most likely this is a day that he’ll have more time therefore hitting a long bike, run or tempo swim is advisable. Endurance is easily developed thru interval training so with this approach he won’t be missing out and will easily get his fitness level high.
If you’ve been in the triathlon world long enough you’ve most likely learned about training zones. Potentially, you have even established your personal zones via benchmarking and to this day base your training sessions off of them. Classically, the lower intensity zones are prioritized in most triathlon training programs; I’d urge you to throw those out the back door if you’re tight on time. Given the low opportunity to train you’re going to need to leverage all energy pathways. What I’m saying is that you should be working in higher zones (keeping high quality technique) in briefer bouts to elicit the same fitness as traditional training. You don’t have the time to go after the longer duration training response; here’s the good news: you don’t need it. Developing endurance happens as your interval sets eclipse the four minute mark. That means that yes your VO2 Max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption) will improve during your long interval sessions. Tight on time athletes should make sure to perform two interval sessions of the longer variety each week. For most, this could be 200m/yd repeats in the pool or 1K repeats for the run. Since the bike is such a higher percentage of triathlon, 4:00 repeats or greater on the trainer should be included most weeks. These types of sessions performed in higher training zones and with smart recovery periods will develop endurance quickly.
Once your season begins you might be used to pitching strength training to the curb. There's no time ... you have to swim, bike and run right? Come at this from the health side of things and you would be obliged to never discount strength training. Healthy amounts of muscle aid in insulin sensitivity (meaning your body will stay lean), bone density and has become a proven predictor of longevity. In my experience, most athletes are not training for crazy time goals so their health should still remain a priority. Amongst the health benefits, strength training has tremendous applicability to short cutting athletes to higher fitness in their sport. The stronger you get the better you’re able to hold streamline in the water and the more likely you’re to have power up the hills. Better yet, your susceptibility to injury decreases immensely. Stay consistent with two strength training sessions per week even in season. Choose exercises that directly impact swim, bike and run such as front squats, deadlifts and single leg work. If you have trouble figuring out what makes sense and how to set this up I’d check out the online training platform, Power Speed Endurance. Our community can certainly help to get you up to speed.
Combining your sports into a single session is called a Brick session (thanks for humoring me as many of you were probably already well aware). Anyway, this type of session allows the tight on time athlete to get in two sport training sessions at once. Additionally, you’ll also receive numerous training and mental benefits. Running on tired legs after the bike is a completely different feeling than when you’re fresh. The more experience you get (especially as a beginner) prior to race day, the more informed you’ll feel as you make the second transition at your race. Often times, bike and run are paired exclusively yet it’s quite alright to play with a few swim to bike or swim to run. Depending on your weakness, that’s where you’ll need to prioritize your time. Brick’s should be performed exclusively on your stand alone stamina days and ideally at tempo paces. Another suggestion would be for you to include a few brick intervals such as two rounds of say an eight mile bike into two mile run. Performing something as described allows you to keep intensity, hold better form and works in transition practices.
If you’re tight on time you now know what to do. Your call to action is to create a training schedule that fits with your life including all the principles we discussed. Once you stop judging your training on how much you do you’ll find freedom in the three sports. Remove yourself from this concept of do more, work harder and shift to figuring out how to do less, but better. These five tips are a start.