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Rest Days In Triathlon Training

by Abby Maroko
(Ann Arbor)

I understand that each person operates uniquely and therefore requires off days from triathlon training at different times. What is the best way to gauge when you should take a rest day? Do you recommend a 6 day on, 1 day off cycle for most triathletes in training?


Intelligent Triathlon Training Replies:

It is a very difficult question. Many researchers and scientists have tried to work out what the optimal plan is. However all they find is contradictory evidence, because the factors at play are so complicated in real people, you can never control for them all. So the short answer is: experiment on yourself.

With most of the elite triathletes I coach we work on 21 days training, then 1 – 2 days off and 3-4 days light training before building back into the next cycle. However these are highly trained endurance athletes. There are beginners who will need to go 1 day on, 1 day off to maintain consistency.

For triathlon training, there is one fundamental principle that most coaches agree on: consistency. You have to be able to back up and repeat your programme. Of course it needs the right components and coaches will argue about what they are for evermore, but no triathlon training programme works without consistency.

Rest days within a training programme enable you to maintain that consistency, by allowing longer periods of recovery. Unless you are a really well trained individual it is a good idea to have at least 1 day off training a week. But don’t be afraid to take days off if you need them. Learn to recognise the signs of fatigue in yourself and take rest when you need it. This will save you training days in the long run. If you become over tired and end up having to have multiple days off, you lose the consistency.

Signs that to look for which indicate you might need some time off training are things like:


  • Changes in mood

  • Irritability

  • Problems sleeping

  • Sleeping too much

  • Raised resting heart rate

  • Subdued resting heart rate

  • Loss of appetite

  • Increased appetite

  • Cold sores/mouth ulcers


Starting to get the picture? For most symptoms the opposite is also possible under fatigue! Many of the signs are similar to those seen in people suffering from stress.

It is a fine balance though, because if you don’t stress yourself in training you won’t improve. What you don’t want to do though is get into the tired phase and keep pushing. This will end in too much fatigue, you will require too much rest and lose the training benefit.

Another symptom that is classic is a poor performance in training or competition, that leads to the athlete thinking they are unfit and need to do more training. Sometimes you just need a little break and the performance will pop right back up.

So really, it is just a case of learning to listen to your body and back off and take a rest day from your triathlon training if you need it, but ensure you are still getting enough training in.

Have a look at our recovery pages, where there are lots of tips about how to optimise your recovery from training so you get the most out of it.

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