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Try the Tri: Triathlon Training Tips

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Try the Tri: Triathlon Training Tips

Athletes around the country are gearing up for another exciting triathlon season – goals have been set, training schedules finalized and new equipment purchased. If you’re new to the world of triathlons, it can be intimidating and challenging to know how to get started with training for a race. Carla Sottovia, Cooper Fitness Center Director of Fitness and Personal Training Education, offers insight into triathlon training that will help you get in the pool, on the bike and pounding the pavement.

An Introduction to Triathlons

Triathlon is an athletic event that combines three different sports – swimming, cycling and running. There are multiple race differences, but the most common are the following:

  • Sprint: Usually a 500-meter swim (pool or open water), 12-15 miles cycle, 5K run
  • Olympic: 1500-meter swim, 40K cycle, 10K run
  • Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 miles cycle, 13.1 mile run
  • Full Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle, 26.2 mile run

Specific athletic gear is required for competing in triathlons, and can vary for men and women.

  • Men: Swim trunks that can be used during both cycling and running (these can be acquired in sporting goods stores that carry swimming and cycling gear)
  • Women: One- or two-piece swimsuit (women usually run in their swimsuit)
  • Both: Goggles, cycling shoes, helmet, road or triathlon bike, running shoes; some triathletes choose to wear singlets that can be worn for all three events.

Triathlon Training

When setting goals for a triathlon, you should consider your race distance and your current ability in each sport. “Be realistic with your goals,” says Sottovia. “If you’ve never done a triathlon, start with a Sprint distance race.”

Creating a training plan should also stem from your current abilities and the race distance. “If you are a novice, you need to make sure you’re proficient in all three sports. A good starting base would be to train at least two times a week for each event,” explains Sottovia. “It should be enough that you would be comfortable to complete the minimal distances of a sprint triathlon.” Similarly, if you’re a more experienced triathlete looking to try a further distance in your next race, you should be able to complete each of the event distances comfortably. Then you can focus on combining those events during training. Strength training should be incorporated as a cross-training activity, but should not be the main focus of a triathlon training plan.

Adjusting nutrition to meet the needs of triathlon training is similar to the process for other endurance sports. “You’ll need to adjust your caloric intake according to how many hours you’re training per week,” says Sottovia. “However, the percentage of protein, carbohydrates and fats consumed should stay the same. With the increase in calories, the intake of each of those substrates will increase automatically.”

Rest, Recovery and Avoiding Injury

In order to avoid injury, before you begin training for a triathlon you should make sure your body is moving well. “Perform a movement screen with a professional fitness trainer to find out any asymmetries or current injuries,” says Sottovia. “You should make sure you have a solid movement base before engaging in performance training.”

Triathlon training can take anywhere from three months to eight or 10 months, depending on the distance. Rest and recovery is important during training in order to avoid injury. “Just like in any other sport, listen to your body. Lack of sleep, erratic meals and stress can affect performance and recovery,” explains Sottovia. “A good rule of thumb is to take two days of recovery per week – get a massage, take time for an extended stretching session or take a day completely off.”

The Day of the Race

It’s normal for nervousness or anxiety to set in as the race approaches, but if you’ve been sticking to your training plan and taking care of your body, race day should be a time of excitement! Sottovia recommends:

  • Arrive to the race location at least two hours early so you have time to organize your transition area
  • Bring a small towel to dry your feet after swimming and before cycling
  • Have your cycling shoes unlaced and ready to go
  • Make sure your helmet fits properly
  • Place your water bottle in a spot that is easy to grab between events
  • If possible, go for a short swim to test your goggles
  • Make mental note of the swim course and the location of your bike

Triathlon training is an excellent form of exercise, as it combines training for three separate sports and, in effect, increases your overall volume of fitness. For more information about sport-specific training and professional fitness training at Cooper Fitness Center, visit


Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.