What Exercises To Do for A Triathlon? A Brief and Quick Training Guide!

Training for a triathlon takes a lot of dedication and consistency. It’s important to train smarter, not just harder. Whether you follow a professionally prepared plan or try a DIY route, there are some general guidelines you can follow.

Triathlon Distances

Your triathlon training will depend on which distance you’ll be racing. Generally speaking, the longer the triathlon, the more time you’ll spend training each week. The four most common triathlon distances are sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, and Full Ironman. Here’s a breakdown of the distances:

Sprint (25.75km total)

Swim: 750m

Bike: 20km

Run: 5km

Olympic (51.5km total)

Swim: 1.5km

Bike: 40km

Run: 10km

Half Ironman (113km total)

Swim: 1.9km

Bike: 90km

Run: 21.1km

Full Ironman (226km total)

Swim: 3.8km

Bike: 180km

Run: 42.2km

For more no triathlon distances, check out our post “Triathlon Distances & Average Timings Analysis (Infographic); Pick Your Right Fight !

How Do You Train for A Triathlon?

A lot of people will choose to do a sprint or Olympic distance for their first triathlon. The training is more manageable and most places will offer these distances. It can also be a great way to get the feel for what it’s like to do a triathlon race, like what to pack and how to set up for successful transitions.

A good general plan is to do at least two sessions of each discipline per week with at least one of those sessions being a brick workout (Source).

For more on brick workout, we highly recommend that you check out our post “What Is Triathlon Brick Training? Why You Should Do It & How!

The amount of active time per session will vary depending on which distance you’re training for.  You should also plan on adding some resistance training. A lot of people will choose to pair their resistance training with their swim workouts.

There are pre-made training plans for all triathlon distances. You can find some free options that will give an outline of what to do. There are also paid options that can range from $10 to over $200. The more expensive plans generally included tailored metrics and a trainer that can provide feedback.

This is a great option for athletes who want to be competitive but isn’t necessary if you’re simply looking to complete a race. The exception may be for Ironman-level distances as those require specific, long hours of training each week.

Let’s look at an example of a peak week of a free, 16-week Olympic distance training plan courtesy of triathlete (via Outside):

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Swim Base + Lactate (1500 yards)
  • Wednesday: Tempo Bike: 55 minutes
  • Thursday: Tempo Run: 32 minutes
  • Friday: Swim Threshold + Sprint: 1500 yards
  • Saturday: Foundation Bike: 1hr 45min
  • Sunday: Long Run: 1hr 5min

There are plenty of other free plans online that cover a variety of triathlon distances and timelines. However, a lot of free plans won’t add resistance training days, so it’s important to add those to your schedule. Resistance and strength training are key for injury prevention.

On a side note, we think it is important for triathletes to check out our post on “Why and When You Should Quit Triathlon? When To Avoid It! & we highly recommend that you check out “What Triathlon Should You Do & Why ?! (Brief Race Selection Guide)

Can You Train for A Triathlon in 3 Months?

Yes, you can train for a triathlon in 3 months. Most plans will be based on weeks, so look for 12-week training plans for the specific distance you’re aiming for. Most people will want more than 12-weeks to train for a full Ironman, though, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to compete at that distance.

If you already have a solid base under you, a 12-week plan will be very manageable. If you aren’t active and are entirely new to triathlon, it may be best to start with the sprint distance.

Here are some free 12-week training plans:

Sprint 12-Week Training Plan (via California Triathlon)

Olympic 12-Week Training Plan (via Snacking In Sneakers)

Half Ironman (70.3) 12-Week Training Plan (via Coach Mag UK)

Ironman 12-Week Training Plan (via 220 Triathlon)

It can help to find a way of tracking your workouts. You can load it into an app on your phone, add them all to your calendar, or write them on a whiteboard that you’ll see every day.

Some people find it overwhelming to view the entire plan at once and prefer to add their sessions at the beginning of each week.

You can experiment until you find a scheduling system that works best for you as long as you can stay consistent.

What Type of Strength Training Is Best for Triathletes?

The best strength and resistance training for triathletes will focus on functional, compound movements. The goal is to address potential imbalances and weaknesses in order to prevent injury (Source).

Here are some good exercises to include in your strength training sessions:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Lat Pull-Downs

Many of these can be modified to fit your current strength level. The goal isn’t to exhaust your body or pack on muscle. Instead, focus on controlled movements and manageable weights that enhance your primary training (Source).

It can also be good to incorporate single-leg movements (like lunges and split squats) to make sure your legs are working equally. This also helps with overall balance and core strength.

Aim for two to three gym sessions a week and be smart about the timing. For example, you should avoid lifting on days when you have intense cycling intervals or a long run. Always make sure to fuel properly for any workout and incorporate plenty of recovery sessions throughout the week.

How Do I Build My Triathlon Endurance?

Consistency and efficiency will be key to increasing your triathlon endurance. Having a steady routine will be more effective than occasional high-volume days

A good plan will include weeks where you build a solid training base followed by weeks of peak intensity and finally a time to taper off (easy weeks should also be built in to give your body a chance to recover). Find out more on ” When Should You Taper for A Triathlon? How To Taper Properly!

The bulk of your training should be at a steady-state cardio effort that isn’t too taxing on your body (Source).

A lot of people will use heart rate zones to measure their effort and will try to stay in Zone 2 for their training. This is typically what 80% of the training efforts should be. The remaining 20% can come from high-intensity interval training, which will help push your anaerobic capacity.

If you’re following a plan, you should also be tracking your own fitness metrics. That way you can measure your progress over time. It’ll also help to make sure you’re training in the correct zones for the effort that your plan requires.

Things to Keep in Mind

Training for a triathlon is challenging, but race day will make all of the effort worthwhile. Focus on consistency but allow yourself some flexibility if life gets in the way. Always make sure you put just as much focus on sleep, recovery, and nutrition as you do on the training itself so you can put out your best effort on the big day.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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