Planning a Week of Triathlon Training

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How to plan a week of triathlon training so that you don't end up inconsistent, burnt-out or sick.

By Mike Ricci

For most of us, winter is a time to start getting back into shape and for revving up our fitness in preparation for the season ahead. Yet it's very early in the training cycle and we are months away from our biggest race.

Many athletes plan a schedule for this time of year that is too intense with too much volume. Instead of getting fit, they end up with inconsistent weeks and missed workouts. What they should be doing is trying to maintain consistent week after week of training.

Let’s look at a typical week of an age group athlete:

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday – Master’s swim (high intensity)
  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday – weight training (high intensity)
  • Tuesday & Thursday – spin class (high intensity)
  • Tuesday, Friday, Sunday – running (Tuesday and Friday are plodding sessions b/c you are dead from your psycho spin class) Sunday is a group run, with a lot of hard running.
  • Saturday is a long spin class or a group ride (you are usually toast after this ride)

Oh yeah, and by the way, after three weeks of this, you have a cold, can’t work out and all of your so-called fitness is gone! Does anyone think this look familiar? It’s ok to put your hand up and admit it as I can’t see you reading this article. Wink

So – how do you change this pattern of self-abuse? There are two critical steps in creating a productive weekly plan:

  • Step 1 is the hard/easy concept - after every hard day, an easy day follows
  • Step 2 is the repeatability factor - how many days in a row can you repeat what you are doing?

Step 1

An athlete (or coach) should create a schedule around this concept. A hard day should be followed by an easy day or an easy thirty six hours. If an athlete is deeply fatigued they can take two easy days or a complete day off. Sounds easy enough, but athletes have a tendency to over do it. Trust me, I have been there!

Step 2

Even though you are training day-after-day it doesn’t have to be all low intensity and it shouldn’t be. You can add some upper aerobic workouts, some faster swims and some strides on the run. It all comes down to what’s called ‘repeatability’. Could you repeat this workout tomorrow? If you can’t, then maybe you should back off.

Here’s an example of two different athletes, and how different their training plans are: John and Bob both attend the same spin class on Thursday. It’s a 90 minute grinder, the teacher is one of those screaming, in your face instructors who yells at you for not maxing your heart rate.


Bob is all about getting the most out of his 90 minutes. He hammers himself into the ground and just crushes himself. His HR is through the roof, and that night he is still sore and he can’t even sleep. As a matter of fact, he can’t get his workout in on Friday or Saturday as he is so wiped. He goes out to run on Sunday but it’s a slow plod and he thinks “Wow, I really pushed myself on Thursday, I am getting more fit.”


John on the other hand, knows he has to recover for Friday night’s Master’s swim and he still has the group ride on Saturday too. His training plan has purpose and he knows what needs to be done. He is going to cap his heart rate at 5 beats over the top of Zone 2. John goes high into his aerobic zone and even bumps his heart rate into Zone 3 on some of the climbs, but he quickly recovers. After the spin session he is still ready to face his other workouts later in the week.

Who will be more fit?

If this scenario took place over 6 weeks, with John hitting most if not all of his workouts and Bob missing 3 workouts a week, who is going to be more fit after 6 weeks? Bob, who blows himself up whenever he can workout, or John who rarely misses a workout and just keeps grinding the workouts out, week after week, month after the month? My money is on John. Here’s why:

John’s consistency over time will keep his aerobic base and fitness level growing. When it comes time to add in some race specific workouts, his body will be ready to absorb those harder type efforts because he has built the foundation to do so. His ability to be smart enough to know how hard he can go each day, week in and week out, will allow him to keep repeating his training cycle without any major hiccups. Bob on the other hand is pretty much hosed and his improvement has stagnated for another season. Of course he will wonder why. After all, he pushes himself very hard in that spin class and he can get his heart rate very high. He just can’t seem to put any consistent weeks of training in. If you see Bob, make sure he reads this article.

Finally here’s what a typical week of an age group could look like:

  • Monday, Wednesday,  Friday – Master’s swim (Monday hard, Wednesday is easy, Friday is pacing)
  • Monday, Friday – weight training (high reps, low weight)
  • Tuesday, Thursday – spin class (Tuesday work on cadence and form. Thursday: work on big gear strength, low cadence but still, keep the HR down!). Saturday is a long spin class or a group ride (keep the HR down, well below the top of Zone 2)
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday – running (Tuesday easy run for 30’. Wednesday is your long day; keep the HR in Zone 2, not above! Friday is another easy aerobic day, keep is easy! Saturday can be a run after your bike, 30-60’)


To wrap it up, Monday would be a hard day with a lifting session and Tuesday is an easier day. Wednesday would be an easy swim with a long run. Thursday has only one workout and it’s hard, but Friday is an easy day. Saturday is a longer day, and Sunday is your time off to spend with family. This is just an example, not a recommendation. But it does look similar to my weekly routine.

Michael Ricci is a USAT certified coach for He can be reached for personal coaching at [email protected]


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date: February 22, 2012