Periodisation for a Triathlete

by Tara

My name is Tara and I am on the home stretch in finishing my triathlon cert III & IV assignments with 2 left! One of which is a periodisation assignment for a triathlete who has 2 comps, one in May and one in December. I am needing to do up a years training plan with Prep phase, base phase, build phase and comp incorporating endurance, strength and power phases; this has to start in January. I just don't know where to start?

Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:

First of all, periodization would emphasise different phases of training more than others depending on the distance the athlete is training for. Also the type of session within each phase will also vary depending on the race distance. As you can imagine, training for a sprint triathlon has quite different requirements to training for an Ironman!

We’ll start off by saying that in our opinion there is no need for a power phase in triathlon training, even a strength phase is fairly irrelevant. There is aerobic strength training but that is about developing muscular endurance.

However that is not to say that strength training is not important: during all training phases triathletes should be doing basic conditioning work for postural control and injury prevention.

We would plan training phases as follows:

Technical and low level aerobic base phase:

The aim here is to improve basic aerobic conditioning and tolerance for training, as well as work on technical aspects (particularly swimming but also bike and run).

Improving aerobic conditioning means laying the foundations for building mitochondrial density, cardiac development and capillarisation, all of which improve fat utilisation.

The longer the event an athlete is training for, the longer this phase will last.

Base phase 2 (optional):

This phase is similar to phase 1 but with a higher volume of low intensity aerobic work or training at a slightly higher intensity but still aerobic.

Build phase:

This phase involves work to improve muscular endurance. Compared to the base phase the volume of training is reduced whilst the intensity is increased, focussing on sustained efforts at or above race pace.

Speed phase:

Sooner or later you will need to include some ‘speed’ training, although the necessity for this will depend on the distance racing over, or more specifically, the expected race duration. An ironman athlete will probably not need to do speed training. The term speed is relative though – even someone aiming for a 3 hour marathon is only going to be running at 15km/hr! Speed is basically anything over race pace.

Pre-competition phase:

This phase usually lasts less than 6 weeks regardless of distance for which the athlete is preparing.


For athletes used to doing a reasonable amount of training a taper would usually start 2 weeks out from a race and consist of 1 week of light training, possibly with some days of complete rest, then a week where training volume gradually builds back up so that the 2 – 3 days before the race are back to normal (high volume) days, with the final day before the race consisting of light training.

For athletes doing less training, enough rest to feel fresh on race day is all that is required. Again this will usually start 2 weeks out from the race with a reduction in training volume and intensity. It is worth practicing the taper so you know what works for you.

With regards putting a whole periodised triathlon programme together start by looking at how many weeks there are to the key race. Then decide how many weeks long each phase should be, based on the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.

Remember the phases can last different durations for each discipline. So for example an athlete could be in the base phase for swimming and the build phase for cycling.

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