Planning and Structuring your Training

This piece was written for the BTF Handbook in December 2004

There are so many things to think about when creating your training programme.  The good news is that most are common sense.  You might not be able to figure out swimming technique for yourself but you should be able to decide how you’ll feel after a week if you suddenly decide to start swimming at 6am every morning.

The aim of this article is to help you put together your own training programme.  As you read through, think about how the items relate to you and your training.  When you create your plan, visualise yourself at each point and ask yourself how you feel.  If you can’t answer, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stick to the plan.

Understand the Principles of Training

These simple principles describe how the training process works.  Understanding them is key to making your training process work!

Remember what a triathlon involves

Therefore triathlon training must at least include:

Remember that racing means going as fast as you can for a certain distance on a certain day

Your training must separate ‘Long’ from ‘Fast’

Include Progression and Recovery

There is only one starting point - where you are now!

Recovery is the time when the adaptation occurs

Phase your Programme

Whether you are planning to do a single race or a whole season it makes sense to break your time into phases according to what you are prioritising.


The Pre-Competition and Racing phases are very demanding and unsustainable  (but don’t panic, base conditioning, or maintenance training, can still keep you very fit!)

Fit everything in

Fitting everything in is possibly the most difficult part of being a triathlete. Triathlon has to be a lifestyle and training a part of your routine. Consistency is paramount if you want to improve.

Frequency versus length? Normally frequency is better than length but a few long sessions are important - even sprint triathlons are endurance events.

Balancing three sports. The same set of heart and lungs is used in the same way for all three disciplines so there is no need to do three lots of everything. But different sets of muscles are used in each discipline and different techniques and skills are required, so you'll need to work at all of them.

There is no single answer, which is just as well because everyone’s circumstances are different. You might live in a village where it's too dark to run on a winter evening, or in a city where the nearest good roads for cycling take an hour to get to. Your local pool might be five minutes away or thirty minutes away.

• Swimming: Obviously you need access to a pool - so swimming is dependent on opening times, session times & pool location. It's not affected by the weather or daylight. Swimming is great for high intensity aerobic training and for day-in-day out training, but not for low-intensity endurance training because that requires sessions to be over two hours long.

• Running: Requres no facility so you can run almost anywhere and at almost any time. Normally has to be done outdoors (so affected by light, temperature, weather) though indoor treadmills are OK for short sessions. You can do a ‘long session’ (low intensity, fat burning) in relatively short time. Running day-in-day out, especially on hard ground, is hard on your body and tends to lead to injury.

• Cycling: Is great for endurance sessions (several hours) and with a turbo you can do quality training in your own home (turbo). It can be difficult to do effective endurance sessions in a short time, however, and you need daylight and suitable roads to ride outside.

Avoid Injury and illness

Most injuries are preventable because they're due to preventable causes, such as stiffness, poor equipment, impatience, poor technique, avoidable accidents, and illnesses such as colds, viruses and sore throats

Avoidance strategies:

Set realistic goals

If goals are your thing make them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Agreed, Time constrained.

Beware of goals based on outcomes beyond your own control.

Seek Balance

The demands of triathlon vary throughout the year - be prepared to give and take. Establish regular training times. Have an outline plan. Be prepared to modify your plan.

Tim Williams - December 2004


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