Creating a Safe, Workable Training Plan

author : alicefoeller
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Scheduling workouts in the Custom Training Plan Creator for an ideal, balanced, injury-free season

Whether you use our new Custom Training Plan Creator available to all members or your prefer to create your own, the following will go through how to setup your weekly schedule.  This will be especially helpful for beginners to appropriately schedule workouts.  Even if you don't use our plan creator, this will be a great guide for your workout scheduling.

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Example Schedules

Although building a training plan in the Custom Training Plan Creator is quick and easy, you need to take some time to understand which workouts fit best together before finalizing your plan. For example, if you have one run session each week in which you really push yourself to the limit to improve speed or force, you would not want to schedule a bike session right on top of it. If you bike before your key run, you will cheat yourself out of potential gains by starting out tired. If you bike after you have pushed yourself to exhaustion on the run, you won’t gain much from the bike session either. A better choice, if you have to double up on the day of a key run, would be swimming.

Whether you are training for your first sprint or you are tweaking a special plan you’ve laid out for your tenth Ironman, there are certain truths to bear in mind when placing your workouts in the calendar.

Of course you will factor in some scheduled activities. If your weekly group ride is on Tuesday mornings, naturally you will choose an appropriate cycling workout to slide onto your Tuesday schedule. If you already swim with a Masters team on Mondays and Wednesdays, it’s easy to go ahead and have the Custom Training Plan Creator place a swim on those days. If you work Monday through Friday, you will likely have to place your long bike ride on Saturday or Sunday. You may be able to schedule your long run during the week, to avoid squeezing both long sessions into the weekend, depending on the distance of the event you are training for.

If you’re starting the plan in the winter for a summer race, you may find that when spring rolls around, you quit your weekly spin class, meet up with a few open water swimmers, and have enough daylight to bike to work. In this case, it’s easy to change your plan by simply creating a fresh week in the Custom Training Plan Creator and re-entering your information. Because there are fewer weeks until your race, your new schedule should pick up with a volume that approximates where you left off.

To help you design a plan that will bring you to race day prepared, strong and—most importantly—uninjured, here is an FAQ on creating your own training plan.

Frequently Asked Questions about creating your own training plan:

Skip FAQ and see quick examples and explanations
Scheduling two-a-day workouts

Accommodating non-traditional work schedule
Weekend long run first? Or long ride first?
Three-week cycles or four-week cycles?
Choosing the number of workouts per week

My plan contains more workouts than there are days in the week. How do I handle that?

This is a common issue, and will require you to do two workouts in a single day some days. If you can’t separate the workouts throughout the day (and many busy athletes don’t have time to get ready for a workout, travel, and shower—twice in one day) be careful which workouts you “stack” together. For example, don’t stack two speed sessions, nor your longest run and longest ride of the week. To read more on this topic, check out our article on stacking workouts.

I have an odd work schedule and can only exercise four days each week. What pitfalls should I avoid?

If your work schedule allows, try to intersperse your workout days with rest days. You will certainly have to schedule more than one training session in the same day, so you should refer to the question above as well as our article on stacking workouts.

Is it better to do the long run Saturday and the long ride Sunday? Or vice versa?

There are varying opinions on this question. The advantage of doing the run Saturday and the ride Sunday is that running is the most intense of the three sports, and then one that is most likely to result in shin splints, IT band problems, plantar fasciitis, and a whole range of other injuries that can end up knocking you out for weeks if you try to plow through them. Even if you have never had any problems with running-related pain or discomfort, a surefire way to have an encounter with one is to start out on a 12-mile run when the stabilizer muscles in your knees, ankles and hips are exhausted from a four-hour ride the day before. The advantage of doing the ride Saturday and the run Sunday is that this is the order in which you will perform the events in your triathlon. The argument goes, well, you will be running on tired legs in your race, so you may as well train that way. The counterargument is that there are a lot of things you will ask your body to do on race day that you haven’t done in training (going at race pace over the whole distance, for example). In addition, you will NOT be doing the bike first in your race if you are unable to do your race at all because you are injured and your physical therapists told you to take four or five weeks off from running right at the time of your A race.

Should I choose to make my recovery week every third week? Or every fourth?

The standard cycle of training and recovery (also called periodization) calls for a recovery week every fourth week. During this week you will see shorter workouts and fewer of them. The following week you will start a new cycle of building to longer distances and faster speeds. Recovery weeks are important for maintaining physical strength, allowing your body to recover and build new muscle, and for your mental health. Frequently recovery weeks are more important mentally, because your schedule will be less hectic and you can make time for errands you have put off, or perhaps a massage or lunch with friends instead of a lunchtime run.

How do I decide how many workouts per week to do? What does the chart of templates mean?

You can choose to do between two and five sessions of each sport per week. The chart located underneath the drop-down menus will help direct you to which combination is best for you. Two sessions of each sport per week is good for beginners and people with limited time. Three sessions of each sport per week is ideal for the typical triathlete, whether training for a sprint or an Ironman. (The intensity and length of each session will vary depending on your goal race.) If you are weak in one discipline—say for example, you tend to finish in the middle of the pack on the swim and the run, but your time is near the end of your age group for cycling—you will want to schedule at least one additional session per week in your weak sport. If your weakness is swimming and you need significant help, you may need to swim four days a week at the beginning, as you get a feel for the technique issues that are limiting you. For weaknesses in a specific discipline, check the chart for “swim-limiter,” “bike-limiter,” etc.

Keep reading for more specifics on where to slide your colored workout blocks to create your schedule.

Two swims, two bikes, two runs

This is a great choice for athletes who have even performances across all three disciplines (not lacking terribly at swimming or cycling, for instance) and have limited time, are just starting out in triathlon, or want to fit in other types of training, for example weights, yoga or P90X.


custom training plan example

The schedule shown above is a good setup for someone who has time to squeeze in his/her long run on a weekday. When possible, it is a good idea to place the long run on a weekday to separate it from the long ride. The run, which is the easiest of the three sports to hurt yourself doing too much of, is followed by a swim in both cases, which is a great way to give your legs some recovery. The long bike is on Sunday.

custom training plan example

The advantage to a schedule such as the one shown directly above is that Friday is the off day. For athletes with busy lives, the “off day” frequently becomes the “make-up day” because Tuesday or Thursday turned into an unexpected off day when the car broke down or the baby was up all night with an ear infection. By placing the off day at the end of the week, it is most likely that you will be able to make up any missed weekday workouts. If you were able to complete all workouts as planned, you will be able to start your long run on fresh legs.

custom training plan example

This example (above) is not the greatest setup, but for athletes who work long shifts followed by several days off, such as firefighters or hospital workers, something similar to this schedule could work. Notice that the days requiring two workouts in the same day always include a swim and a run. Running is easy to squeeze in before or after a pool workout, either on the treadmill, or starting and finishing in the parking lot of the pool. In the summer, you may be lucky enough to have an outdoor pool, lake or ocean available. With triathlon-specific workout clothes, you won’t even have to change your wardrobe between workouts. (But don’t wear your tri clothes in a chlorinated pool unless you can afford to replace them regularly.) If your schedule permits, space the workout days apart so you don’t have three consecutive off days. And if you have the entire day off on your double-workout days, consider doing one session in the morning and the other later in the day. You will make the most of each session that way. (You can read a related article on the benefits of stacking workouts versus separating them by a few hours.)

Three swims, three bikes, three runs

Three sessions of each sport per week is ideal for the typical triathlete, whether training for a sprint or an Ironman. (The intensity and length of each session will vary depending on your goal race.)

custom training plan example


Here we have a plan for three sessions of each sport, configured for a typical athlete with a Monday to Friday workweek. We start out the week with a swim, to give the body time to recover from a difficult weekend of long sessions. This schedule does not double-up cycling with any other session. Getting out on the bike often requires a bit more planning and more time to get out the door. The sessions themselves are longer, because it takes more time to build fitness on the bike, and because the bike leg is the longest portion of triathlon races. The long run is placed before the long ride to minimize injury. The long run session is rife with potential for overuse injuries, especially if you begin the session tired. Frequently athletes run an out-and-back route to force themselves to complete the whole distance. This is a great psychological device, but it can spell trouble if shin splints or other pain sets in at the halfway point.

custom training plan example

This is a good workout plan for the athlete who enjoys having an off day for rest and recovery, or just as a way to hedge her bets against missing a workout during the week. The long swim stands alone on Monday, a good placement after a hard weekend. Tuesday’s bike and run could be combined into a brick, either for practice running after getting off the bike, or simply to conserve time. Wednesday is another run, which wouldn’t be a great idea with a run just the day before, but it’s paired with a short swim. Separating the two workouts, and running in the morning Tuesday and the afternoon Wednesday, would be a good idea.  The long workouts are on the weekend, with the bike scheduled first. Because the order of the race is to bike first and then run on tired legs, the weekend schedule simulates those challenges. (See caveats to this theory here.) An athlete who is ready for three sessions of each sport weekly may have the running background to handle a long run the day after a long bike session. If the athlete’s running background is thin, most coaches would recommend reversing the long bike and the long run so the long run can be completed on fresh legs.

custom training plan example

For an athlete with heavy family obligations, it may turn out to be easier to schedule most workouts on a weekday, when they can be completed in the early morning or on lunch break (see image directly above). This schedule pairs each swim with a run, so the busy athlete can get into a routine with clothing, travel and showering. A Masters team that practices Monday, Wednesday and Friday, coupled with a lunchtime run, would be an ideal scenario for this athlete. The bike sessions, which take longer, are given their own day. Saturday is left open for family time or other commitments, and the long ride is on Sunday.

Focus on your limitations

custom training plan example

This is an example of a run-focused plan for an athlete who otherwise plans two sessions of each sport weekly. The plan adds an additional run session. This plan configuration places the long run on a Wednesday, but allows a rest day on Saturday, following the most difficult day of training: Friday. The bikes and swims are spaced days apart from each other.

Alternately you can create a bike-focused or swim-focused plan by choosing more workouts per week of the sport you want to focus on. Identify your weakness and work on it!

As you can see, there are hundreds of options for configuring your training plan. The Custom Training Plan Creator will do all the math and place the training plan into your training calendar, which can be accessed from your Training Log. Your training plan will work best for you if you take the time to configure your workouts with your physical health and your work/personal schedule in mind.

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date: February 3, 2011


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.


Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.

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