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Triathlon Training Physiology

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Understanding a bit about triathlon training physiology - how your body works and responds to exercise - will help you make informed, intelligent decisions about your triathlon training.

Check out our triathlon training terminology page for brief descriptions of triathlon physiology terms.

We will use some analogies to try to give you a clear picture of the physiology we’re describing.

So first one…

Compare Yourself To A Car:

Everyone knows what a car is…

…Many people know how to drive one...

…..Quite a few people know roughly how a car works….

…....A few less know how to fix one….

……..And there are a few crazy people who have built their own cars.

But when it comes to designing a brand new car, there are a team of specialists who come together to add their expertise to the design.

We are not going to design and build you, your parents did that for you. However to improve your performance we need to lift the bonnet and fiddle around with a few bits. It’s a bit like taking a standard road car and sending it to the Motorsport department: it comes back looking like the car that went in, but on the track it’s a different beast!

So How Does This Link To Triathlon Training?

All cars need a chassis. This is the frame on which all the other bits are hung. You can’t see it, but if it isn’t very good then your car will handle really badly and be unreliable. This is your musculoskeletal system, in other words bones and muscles, and we could also include tendons.

In short: the frame you are built around.

Then there is the engine, the power plant of the car. This we can relate most closely to exercise physiology. This is the workings of the heart, lungs, the combustion of fuel (fats and carbohydrates) inside the muscles, the conversion of energy into forward motion.

Engines need fuel (petrol, diesel, LPG etc), this equates to nutrition. What you consume is required to be converted into energy in the muscles to power your exercise. Engines also need oxygen to convert the fuel into energy to power the car, you also need oxygen (in most cases) to convert the fuel you ingest into energy.

Without suspension and wheels the car won’t actually go anywhere, and if it is set up badly the car will handle really badly. This we can relate to your technique and skills. Most people have the necessary spatial awareness and balance to swim, bike and run, but without practice and coaching those skills can be fairly rudimentary.

Lastly, most cars require some electronics to do various jobs, from winding the windows up to managing the distribution of power to the wheels in traction control. This can be related to psychology. This is all about the control and delivery of the right information at the right time to produce the right result.

And What Does This Mean For Racing?

Race Day, well that is ……. race day. All the parts have to work, and all the training and practice you do is about developing and tweaking the components. But on race day, if you get it right everything works perfectly. If it doesn’t work perfectly then one of the departments hasn’t got it quite right. The engine might blow, or you could run out of fuel or crash.

Unlike a big Formula 1 team you haven’t got loads of engineers (nutritionist, physio, physiologist, psychologist) to do these jobs.

You need to understand all of these roles yourself to focus your triathlon training and get the best race result you can.

In endurance sport physiology is the power plant of performance, it is the single most important variable that makes up a race performance.

Technique, tactics, psychology and equipment all have effect on performance but without the internal combustion engine of physiology burning, you don’t move anywhere.

Some sports like swimming have a different balance of the components i.e. technique has a larger effect on performance than it does in running, but physiology it is still the dominant variable.

That means it is really important to know a little about how your physiology works and how you can improve it through your triathlon training.

Getting fitter means you have positively improved your triathlon training physiology, de-training means it has regressed.

Useful Pages

To understand the terminology involved, read our glossary of triathlon training physiology.

Triathlon Physiology for training and racing pulls everything together. What areas of physiology are most important for which distance. Read this to make sure your training is focused on the right things!


Fitness Testing

Fitness tests are a way of measuring where your fitness currently lies. They can provide you with information about how you are progressing, what areas of fitness you need to focus on in training, and what intensity to train at to get the results you want.


Lactate Threshold

One of the terms you've probably come across is 'lactate threshold'. So many people have the wrong end of the stick when it comes to lactate - read this page to make sure you're not one of them!


Running Economy

This can have a big impact on triathlon performance, particularly over the longest distance events. Find out what running economy is and how you can improve yours.


Maximal Aerobic Power Output

What is this and how does it impact on triathlon?




VO2max What is this and how does it impact on triathlon?

VVO2max What is this and how does it impact on triathlon?



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