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Triathlon training: A beginner's guide

 Triathlon can be a fun pastime for the entire family or an ultimate test of endurance. Here are tips on getting started with triathlon training by professional triathlete and coach Kaisa Sali.

Triathlon is a fun and versatile sport. Why not try your hand at combining swimming, cycling and running? Here are some tips on getting started with triathlon by Kaisa Sali. She is a coach and trained nutritionist who finished her professional triathlon career last autumn by placing sixth at Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii.

 

TRIATHLON DISTANCES FOR EVERYONE

Triathlon races vary in length. The sport can be an easy summer pastime or an ultimate test of endurance. The shortest distances are for children (eg. 100m swim, 3km bike and 1km run), and the longest distances can take days to complete. 

There are three official triathlon race lengths. In the sprint triathlon, the distances are 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run. In the Olympic distance, the lengths are 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run. The full distance, or the Ironman distance, is 3.8km, 180km and a full marathon, 42.2km.

Besides the official distances, there are also beginner-friendly short distances, where you swim 400m, bike 10km and run 3km, for example. There are also cross-country triathlons where you bike and run on trails instead of roads.

 

YOU DON’T NEED FANCY GEAR TO GET STARTED

If you’re a beginner, you don’t need to rush into the store to buy expensive gear. You can swim in a regular swimsuit, cycle with a single-gear bike and run in any kind of sneakers. Just use the gear you already have!

When you start training for a triathlon regularly, it’s smart to invest in good gear. A wetsuit gives you more buoyancy and keeps you warm even if the water is a little cooler. With a lightweight triathlon bike, those long bike rides go more pleasantly.  A good pair of sneakers can help to avoid injuries.

INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF TRAINING SLOWLY

If you get excited about triathlon and decide to start training regularly, it’s smart to start slowly. Practising three different disciplines can have a bigger toll on your body than you’d think.

Increase your training incrementally. It’s important to keep in mind that all three disciplines in the triathlon are endurance activities, so practising one supports the other. Your aerobic energy and cardiovascular systems can’t tell the difference between the three sports and develop every time you’re moving. 

It pays off to learn a good freestyle swimming technique. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that give tips on swimming technique and how to move in the water more efficiently. It may also be good to take part in a short swimming course or take a couple of private lessons. Learning with a professional will make a huge difference in your swimming.

Cycling is the sport where you can safely and easily develop your aerobic capacity. On a bike, it’s easy to do easy-pace workouts and you also get to know your surroundings in a new way. When you have enough energy and sports drink with you makes sure you’re enjoying your ride and have the energy to bike back home.

Running is the discipline where you need to be careful with increasing the amount of training. A good rule of thumb is not to increase the weekly load by more than 10 per cent each week. If you are a beginner, you can start by combining running and walking. You can reduce the time spent walking incrementally until you can run the entire time. After that, you can start working on your running pace.

Another important aspect of triathlon training is combination training - or a brick workout in triathlon lingo. It takes a while to get used to run after cycling, so whenever possible, it’s smart to do a short, 5 to 10 minute run after each cycling workout.


EXAMPLE TRAINING WEEK OF A BEGINNER TRIATHLETE (4.5 TO 6.5 HOURS OF TRAINING)

Monday: rest

Tuesday: 45 mins running (or walking + running) with intervals (eg. 5 x 3 mins moderate pace / 1 min easy pace) + 15 min core

Wednesday: rest

Thursday: 45 min swimming with technique drills + 15 min core

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Triathlon workout with transitions: 15 min swimming + 45 min cycling (first and last 10 mins with moderate/fast pace) + 15 mins running (first 5 mins moderate/fast pace)

Sunday:  60-180 mins cycling, easy pace + 15 mins running, easy pace

Kaisa Sali is a nutritionist and a professional triathlete who ended her career last autumn by placing sixth at Ironman World Championships at Kona, Hawaii. In Nosht's blog, she will share her expertise in sports nutrition and how to make your gut your best ally in training and racing.  

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