How to train for a triathlon as a beginner

Have you signed up for your first triathlon this summer? Or just looking for some handy tips and tricks to get your training started? We’ve been chatting to UK Triathlon about how they ensure you’re as ready as you need to be for the big day.

LEG 1 – The Swim (open water or pool based)

I’m not a brilliant swimmer, what swimming stroke can I do in the pool?

Almost any stroke will do, lots of novice triathletes will use breast stroke although front crawl is the most efficient. Back stroke isn’t allowed as you can’t see where you are swimming.

How do I train for the swim?
Your training sessions should be about aiming for the distance you have chosen for your triathlon. For a sprint distance this can be between 400m and 750m. Don’t worry if you can’t complete the distance just yet. Make a note of how far you can swim and the time it takes you, the next time you swim, aim to swim a little further and longer. By doing this regularly you will soon find your swimming will improve.

If you’re triathlon includes an open water swim, then include some open water sessions in your training.

The secret to swimming is to relax and not to rush your stroke.

Try to go slower and perfect your technique rather than trying to be as fast as you can as this often leads to bad habits. It will also help you as you emerge from the water. If you are too exhausted after the swim you will not perform well on the bike or the run. Swimming should be done as often as possible in your weekly training schedule.

These 3 swim sessions should help with your swimming:

If you are not very confident in the water keep the distances you swim short.

1. Swim 4 – 8 lengths easy any stroke to warm up, then swim three lengths (75m), 10 X, allow 30 seconds rest between each. If you can’t manage 10 do 5. If you are still able to do some more swimming try 20 X 25m (1 length) doing every other one hard/easy.

2. Swim 4 – 8 lengths easy any stroke to warm up, 5 X 50m/100m (2 lengths/4 lengths) with 30 seconds rest and 1 minute rest respectively. If you feel you can do more take it up to 10 X 50/100.

3. Long swim – swim continuously for 20 minutes. Count how many lengths you manage to do and work out the distance you have covered. If it is not the distance of the race aim to improve by 2 lengths per week until you have covered 200m more than the race distance.

LEG 2 – The Bike Section

This is the longest discipline of the three and many first time triathletes often neglect to give enough attention to it. The most important feature of the bike leg is, of course, the bike itself, try to make sure your bike has had a recent service, but most importantly, it is in good working order.

Something simple like the gears working properly can make a huge difference to your enjoyment on the bike course.

How do I train for the bike?

The bike is all about how much mileage you do, spinning classes are great for building up your strength and stamina otherwise just spending time on your bike will help you get fitter.

If it’s possible, cycling to work once to twice a week is great or make sure to go for two to three rides per week of up to one hour. If you enjoy cycling and want to do more then make sure you allow an easy day or day off between cycles.

Cycling shorts are a worthwhile investment – trust us!

If you are feeling more confident on a bike you could try an interval session during one of your rides. Find a stretch that is 1 minute long and sprint at the end of the minute allow 2 minutes easy spinning before repeating a further 5 times.  Allow 10 minutes more cycling and repeat the set again.

Check out some interval sessions here

LEG 3 – The Run Section

This is traditionally the easiest discipline of the three but after a swim and a bike the run becomes a little trickier, it is important you get the strength in for the run during your training. Long steady runs at your pace are actually very good for developing leg strength.

How do I train for the run?

If the furthest you have run is up the stairs or to the bus then build your running mileage up gradually. Start with walking for one minute and jogging for one minute. Every week try to increase the time you do for this session. If you are more confident about your running ability then run continuously for 30 – 45 minutes.

You could also try intervals. Jog for one minute and run hard for one minute and repeat until you have completed 20 minutes.

Hill training.

Although hills may seem like hard work they make your running far more efficient and add strength to your legs. Find a short hill about 20 – 40 seconds long and run up it as hard as you can. Have a breather at the top and jog down. Repeat 4 – 10 times.

You should also try to practice running after you have been cycling or combining cycles with run – this is called a ‘Brick workout’. This will help get you used to running after the bike leg and will provide you with a great workout.

A favourite sessions is run for 10 minutes and cycle for 20 minutes X 3, this will give you 1 ½ hours of exercise. You could of course make this much less. i.e. run for 5 minutes, cycle for 10 . The key is you change from bike to run as quickly as you can.

Make sure you allow two days recovery before running or cycling again after the combined bike and run sessions.

How a Typical Week Might Look

Try the following combinations to get the most out of your training.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Swim Bike Run Day Off Swim Bike Run

If you would like to try two sessions per day try this routine.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Swim Run Swim Day Off Swim Bike Run
Bike   Bike   Run    

Generally speaking you should aim to follow either routine using the sessions described above. The week before the day of your race, start to taper the sessions down. Reduce every session you do by 1/3 of that suggested and try to speed the tempo up. If you feel tired it is important to take the day off.