Training Guide Part 1


Training for, and competing in, triathlons, duathlons and other multisport endurance sports can be a very fulfilling pursuit. Many folks fit training in around very busy life schedules, reaching levels of fitness and performance that meet their needs for stress-reduction, self-efficacy and longevity-enhancement. By independent reading, talking with other like-minded triathletes and intuition, they reach enviable levels of performance. Unfortunately this is often achieved with a rather low level of time-efficiency. On the other hand, there are those of us who benefit better from relying on a more structured approach to training, preferring to maximize benefits for their time invested. Each approach has its benefits and disadvantages.

In this essay, we'd like to explore the basic pillars of time-efficient, physiologically-effective, low-injury-risk endurance sport training. In follow-up installments, we'll expand our understanding of these pillars and, at the same time, present a training plan for several different levels of time investment - all with the aim of getting you ready for a successful racing season starting next spring. The training principles presented here are based on the published experience of some of the most respected coaches, exercise physiologists, and professional racers in the field today.


There are five main pillars upon which time-efficient, effective training regimes are built. They are:

  1. CONSISTENCY - Your training must follow the plan. It would be unreasonable to slavishly rearrange your entire life to make sure you do every training session in the plan on the time and day it is scheduled, but you must try to live up to the intent. A workout missed is a brick missing out of your fitness foundation. You should expect to do three or four workouts in each discipline (swim, bike, run) each week if you wish to improve at your best rate. Missing workouts doesn't torpedo your entire program but lowers, somewhat, the heights you can expect to achieve.
  2. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD - There is an old saying, attributed to the Greeks, that goes something like this. If you wish to be able to lift a bull over your head, first start in the spring by lifting a calf. Then each subsequent day go out and lift the same calf over your head. By the end of summer, you will be able to lift the calf, which has now become a bull. Fortunately, bull lifting is not one of the disciplines of triathlon. However the same principle applies. Progressive overload, as we will present it here, simply means that the training load to which you subject your body this week, is a measured increase over the training load to which you subjected your body last week. Each week you workout, your body "super-compensates" so that you are able to do more work on each subsequent week. In order to avoid injury and allow our bodies to catch up we intersperse weeks of lower training load every few weeks.
  3. PERIODIZATION - Your body needs different types/intensities of training depending on how far away in time your peak racing period is. In other words, the closer you get to your racing season, the more like racing your training must be. You'll be learning a lot more about "interval" training as we get into this topic. There are other types of periodization such as "block" and "reverse" periodization. However they are generally applicable to specific situations such as training for long-distance events or making plateau breakthroughs.
  4. INJURY PREVENTION - You can't be consistent and follow a training plan if you are injured. And by injured we mean anything about your personal condition that prevents you from following your plan as intended. That can be any one of the many overuse injuries such as iliotibial band syndrome, patello-femoral syndrome, plantar fasciitis, shoulder impingement, etc. It can be traumatic injury such as falling off your bicycle or being hit by a car while running, or it can be hormonal dysfunction such as "over-training". Before you start training it is recommended that you see your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to start training. Visit a physiotherapist to have a functional assessment done to identify and address any muscular imbalances, skeletal misalignments, or chronic soft tissue issues. Buy footwear at a dedicated running store where you can get reliable advice on your specific shoe needs. When working out, be aware of your surroundings. Wearing personal music devices with earbuds is not recommended. Put bright lights on your bicycle for use day and night. Wear retro-reflective, brightly-coloured apparel. Never swim alone. Listen to your body.
  5. TECHNIQUE - Proper technique makes you faster, more efficient, less injury-prone and improves your likelihood of being accepted by other athletes. Watch other competent athletes, ask questions, watch YouTube, and practice technique during workouts. In some cases, technology (running footpods, cycling cadence and power meters, swim benches, video analysis) can help here. Talk to a coach or attend seminars. Do whatever you need to do to develop techniques for each discipline that improve your efficiency and reduce your likelihood of injury. Much of this material is covered in our club's annual My First Triathlon program starting each spring.

In subsequent installments we'll expand on each of these pillars and introduce a couple of training plans to illustrate some of the principles, and to follow if you wish. Train safely!

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