Total Beginner To Triathlon Training

by Paul Roberts
(Darlington, County Durham, United Kingdom)

I would like some advice on triathlon training. I’m focusing on doing one next year in August.

My background is weight training and bodybuilding. I’ve competed in numerous shows with success but wanted a challenge of triathlon competing and also for health reasons, to lose muscle and generally be more athletic.

I’m a gym instructor but looking to be personal trainer and also to do studio classes so being more fit is what I’m wanting to be :-). I’m more of an explosive athlete. I used to be a sprinter so adjusting to endurance is something new.

Any advice would be excellent.

Thank you

Mark replies:

Hi Paul,

Great question. More and more people are taking up triathlon, and very often from either no sporting background or from a completely different sport, as you are doing.

I’m guessing that commiting to training won’t be an issue to you, knowing how dedicated body builders are!

The key for you is training your body to be good at a totally different physical challenge. Coming from an explosive power sport, you will have very specifically developed muscle architecture. You are likely to have a high proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres compared to slow twitch fibres. These fast twitch fibres burn carbohydrate at high rates, which is not ideal for endurance sports.

Endurance training will however stimulate your muscle fibres to adapt, and fast twitch fibres will start to convert to slow twitch over a period of a few months. Slow twitch fibres are better at using fats as a fuel, so already that will start to make a difference for you.

You also need to develop your cardiovascular system and adapt your muscles to the demands of a new sport.

As well as training your fitness, you will need to learn new techniques, which can take time.

Swimming: Our first, must-do suggestion for you is to get some swimming lessons - enlist the help of a qualified swimming coach. Getting your technique right early on will make swimming a lot easier. Also, your body type is probably low in fat and high in muscle mass, meaning that you won’t float as well in the water as your average triathlete, making swimming even harder for you! You might also need to work on shoulder flexibility.

It is worth spending a fair bit of time working on your swimming for triathlon. Initially you should stick to swimming short distances with good technique, rather than trying to swim longer distances with poor technique.

Cycling: This is the best place for you to start developing your cardiovascular fitness. This is because your weight is supported and so there is a relatively low risk of injury. Make sure you get fitted properly for a bike (you can read our advice on choosing a triathlon bike here).

Your first few weeks should consist of nice easy riding, as often as you can, at a very low intensity just to get used to pedalling smoothly, using your gears and generally getting used to being on a bike.

Gradually increase the distance and time that you can ride for, aiming to start at around 30 – 40 minutes. Having been a sprinter you might find it hard to ride easy, so make sure that these rides are easy enough for you to carry out a conversation.

Each ride shouldn’t tire you out too much, as regular riding is the key at this stage. If after a couple of weeks you don’t feel at all tired at the end of a 40 minute ride then start to ride for longer. Once you can comfortable ride 90 minutes then start using some of the sessions on our cycling training pages.

This long slow training is also key to improving your body’s ability to use fats as a fuel.

Running: Assuming you haven’t been running much if at all recently, you should be quite careful when getting going with your running, especially if your body weight is high due to your muscle mass. Again coming from a sprint/explosive sport background you will probably want to run too fast.

So start off with a combination of running and walking:

2 minutes walk, followed by 1 minute easy run, for a total duration of 25 minutes.

Increase your running as follows:

  • 90s walk:1 minute run

  • 1min walk:1min run

  • 1min walk:90s run

  • 1min walk:2 min run

Keep the total duration to 25 minutes. The aim is to build up the duration you run for whilst minimising the impact on your body to reduce the risk of injury. Try to run on a soft surface, and aim for 2 runs per week initially.

From here you can continue to build to 3 – 4 minute blocks of running with 1 minute walk in between, sticking to a total of 25 minutes. You can increase the number of running sessions to 3 per week.

Developing your running training is the best way to reduce your muscle mass. However if you increase your running volume too quickly you risk injury, so be careful with your progression here. Also, invest in good running shoes!

Hope that helps, good luck and enjoy the training!

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