speed workouts for triathletes
Credit: James Mitchell
Training

45 speed workouts for triathletes

Short of training time? But want to increase your swim, bike and run speed ? Here’s Dermott Hayes' top 45 proven sub-45minute sessions, just perfect for a lunch break

We are triathletes. We want results. We want them now. Yet sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in the sessions. Sound familiar? If so, the answer is to make sure that your time is effective, you have an objective and can execute the sessions efficiently.

Key to remember is that training can still be varied and fun and that not every single workout needs to hurt. The next 45 training sessions focus on improving speed and can be executed in 60mins (including a warm-up and cool-down), whether that’s pre- or post-endurance workout or in your lunch hour. The swims are all based on a 25m pool so you’ll need a kickboard, pull buoy and paddles. The bike sessions are all based indoors and are a mixture of turbo, gym or class, but can be performed outdoors to increase your handling skills and vit D levels. They’re mostly 35-45mins in duration and it helps to complete the 20min FTP Test to help you pin down cadence, power and average speed per km. The run sessions are a mix of locations and will help you to find new PBs. 

15 sub-45minute swim sessions

01, Time Tests

Complete a testing session using your chosen race distance as the target (although Ironman athletes may struggle with full race distance!). Work as hard as possible to get the best time you can. Work out your average pace per 100m and call this your Test Pace (TP).

02 4 x 400s

Break up a 1,600m swim by splitting into 400s. Try 400m steady; 2 x 200m hard; 4 x 100m very hard and 8 x 50m flat out. Take 1min rest in between 400m blocks. Don’t let your form slip as it gets harder.

03 Paddle Time

This one is great for triathletes swimming any distance. Increase your swim strength
by using hand paddles. Swim 300m blocks as 100m paddles; 200m free. Gradually build the number of reps before feeling shoulder fatigue.

04 Negative 200s

Practice developing a change of pace in the water. Complete 8 x 200m efforts with a change in pace halfway through (i.e. 100m moderate; 100m hard. This session is great for working aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

05 Race Pace Pyramid

The target is to hold test pace as you work up and down a distance pyramid of 100m; 200m; 300m; 400m; 300m; 200m; 100m. Take 30secs rest between intervals. These distances can be increased or decreased depending on chosen race distance.

06 100s OFF

This is the most common but arguably effective session for triathletes. Set a target time for your 100s based on your test pace time and add 10-15secs for recovery. This then becomes your combined ‘OFF’ time (i.e. 15 x 100m OFF 2:10). Set the number of reps based on chosen race distance.

07 Kick it Out

Boost swim speed with a more effective leg kick. Complete 6-10 x 150m sets with the first 50m of each set using a kickboard focusing on using your hips and glutes. Take 30secs rest between sets.

08 Pull

Grab your pull buoy to work on body position and technique. Complete a 2km set as 5 sets of 2 x 100m with pull buoy followed by a steady 200m. Each block of 2 x 100m could have a different technique focus.

09 Trembling Triceps

A session for all distances. Complete a steady paced 8-10 x 150m but at the end of each 150m lift yourself out of the water and perform 10 tricep dips or press-ups. No rest during this session. Feel the burn!

10 Speed Fatigue

Swim hard for 50m reps until you notice a tail off in your times, using a 10sec recovery between 50s. When fatiguing take a 150m easy swim with pull buoy then come back to the hard 50s back at speed again. Keep repeating for approx. 40mins.

11 Buddy Up

Work with a fellow swimmer of equal ability to make your session more productive. Practise open-water skills such as drafting and being comfortable close to others. Let each swimmer lead the pace at times. Also include some 25m sprints against each other.

12 Race TT

Each 4-6wks include a swim against the clock based on your race distance: i.e. 750m; 1,500m; 1,900m. Warm-up before, set yourself a target and go for it. Think about form, focus on feeling powerful.

13 Descending 100s

A 1,500m main set that builds endurance and pace. Start at 500m and reduce by 100m each set (i.e. 500m; 400m; 300m; 200m; 100m). As you decrease distance aim to speed up by 2-3secs per 100m each time.

14 Speed Endurance

An endurance session where you swim a continuous 20, 30 or 40mins aiming to complete as many lengths as possible. Keep a record of your distance covered. Set a target based on your test pace times and try to be consistent.

15 SwimRun Brick

If you have the opportunity to run straight out of the water, practise finishing the final 100m of the swim hard, kick legs a bit harder and then out onto dry land and run 200m. Ideal for open-water race simulation.

15 sub-45minute bike sessions

16 20min FTP Test

Use this test to ascertain your training zones, avg. speed and avg. cadence. Use a standard 20min test protocol. Be warmed-up for this test. Give it everything. 20mins as sustainably hard as you can. Remember to record your results.

17 1k on/1k off

You need to be fully warmed up for this. Sprint as hard as possible for 1km in a big gear while trying to stay in an aero position, before recovering very easy for 1km. Execute as many possible reps in a 30min period.

18 RPM Pyramid

Improve your ability to ride at different cadences by working up and down the rpm ladder. Spend 6mins at each target of 70rpm; 80rpm; 90rpm; 100rpm; 90rpm; 80rpm; 70rpm. Focus on using the gears to stay on target RPM.

19 Spin Class

Take the pressure off thinking about your session by letting the instructor do it for you. Not all spin classes are suitable for triathletes, but you can find a way to make it work by setting your own targets.

20 Ironman Race Pace

Dial in your IM race pace by spending long intervals at target zone/speed. Try 2 x 20mins at target pace/zone with 5mins recovery in between. Also practice rehydrating on this session to build good habits.

21 Power Play

Complete a 6min block that gradually increases the power targets before recovering, e.g. 1min @180W/1min @200W/1min @220W; 1min @250W; 2mins @100W. Repeat the 6min block for a 42min workout. Refuel during the recovery.

22 Overgear

Build more strength and power by working at increasing levels of resistance, doing this by ‘overgearing’, meaning
that you ride in one gear bigger than you’d normally. Start with short 5min periods and aim to increase this up to 20min blocks. Aim to maintain a consistent cadence.

23 Thresholds 8s

This is a great session for the Olympic distance racers. Execute 5 x 8mins at FTP Threshold, also feels like just a bit faster than race pace, allowing 2mins very, very easy recovery in between. Keep an eye on your numbers while in a racing body position.

24 Hilly Heaven

Improve your hill climbing power. The focus is on increasing the gears and getting out of the saddle. Start with 30secs bursts followed by 2mins easy spin recovery and gradually build up to doing 10 x 1min climbs; 2mins recovery. Complete a 40min workout.

25 20/30/40

Get well warmed for this high intensity 3min block of 20secs sprint; 40secs recovery; 30secs sprint; 30secs recovery; 40secs sprint; 20secs recovery. After each 3min block spin easy for 1min. Set a target for each sprint. This is best suited for the sprinters and Olympians.

26 Shut Up Legs

This high energy session is perfect for the sprinters. Complete 15 x 1min at max speed with 2min recovery intervals. Make the recovery as easy as you like. Go full gas on the efforts and be prepared to suffer a little. You may want to consider some energy food for this session to keep the pace up.

27 Body Rocker

This 45min session is suitable for any distance athletes and focuses on moving body position to help you feel comfortable however you ride. Spend time moving around, e.g. 3mins on drops; 3mins on brake hoods; 3mins in aero position; 3mins standing up. Keep alternating through the session.

28 Raw Speed

A session to find out what your max limits are. Get fully warmed up before going all out. Complete 10 x 30secs as hard as you physically can using a big gear and high cadence with 3min 30secs recovery very easy. Aim for numbers well in excess
of the norm.

29 Race Pace Brick

Practise that race-pace feeling with a high-intensity bike/run. Each 6min bike is 30secs to build pace, 5mins hard, 30secs to slow down. Each 3min run is simulating the run out of transition. Take 1min full recovery after the run. Complete 3-4 sets. Use your intended bike and run shoes to really get the full feeling.

30 Recovery Ride

Don’t overlook the importance of a recovery session. If you’re feeling tired from training at the end of a hard block, let yourself have an easy day. Spin your legs, no pressure, no targets. It’s okay to have easy days. 

15 sub-45minute run sessions 

31 5k Test

Perfect for the sprinters and Olympians. Use this 5k test to gauge progress as well as using the stats to help structure future training sessions. Use a route that you can repeat on a further date. Give it everything.

32 Hill Reps

Complete this on a treadmill or outdoors. Find a hill that takes approx. 2mins to sprint up or use a 3-4% incline. Keep the pace as fast as possible on the climb then recover for 2-3mins before repeating. Make this a 40-45min session.

33 Speed Pyramid

This 8km pyramid is great for improving 10km speed. Set a desired pace based on your 5k test then complete 400m; 800m; 1,200m; 1,600m; 1,600m; 1,200m; 800m; 400m taking 1min complete rest between intervals.

34 Negative Shuttles

Best done outdoors on a flat route. Run a 1km effort at steady pace, stop recover for 30secs, then run back aiming to knock at least 15secs off the time. This is great for all distance athletes. Complete for 40-45mins.

35 Fartlek 45mins

Fartlek runs have no set structure but include changes in pace for varying distances. Running outdoors you can use
landmarks or if on a treadmill maybe use changes in music you are listening to. Attempt to make the increases in pace full sprinting efforts.

36 70.3 Race Prep

Many of us need a short walk during the 70.3 run so build that into training. Run 9mins at faster than race pace and walk for 1min. Complete 50mins of this session. Practise drinking/eating during the walk period.

37 Over & Under

5km session for the sprinters. Complete each 1km as 500m @ 20sec slower than 5km test pace; 500m @ 20secs faster than 5km test pace. Increase up to 10km for the Olympic athletes. Don’t forget about form.

38 Speed Fatigue

Get well warmed-up.
Jog for 1min before
sprinting as fast as possible and only stop when you feel yourself slowing down. Then walk for at least 2-3mins before repeating. Complete at least 8 reps. Have some fluids to use when recovering.

39 Pace Pairs

Run with another athlete who’s a similar speed. Set a specific distance or time and take it in turns to lead at the front,
with each runner pushing their partner. When the pair splits then take some recovery before repeating. Encourage
each other rather than break each other.

40 IM Tempo

Run a solid 50mins at approx. 20secs per km faster than estimated Ironman marathon pace. This is a great session
for practising fuelling strategy and getting a feel for a pace that’s too fast to run a marathon.

41 Lactic Ladders

Find a long set of steps that you can include in an outdoor run, something that’ll take you longer than 1min to climb is perfect. Really push hard and feel the lactic acid build as you get to the top. Walk back down and repeat a number of times.

42 Speed Climber

Using the 5k test times set targets to run 1km efforts faster and faster having 90secs recovery between. Start with 3secs faster per km, then 6secs faster, 9secs faster, 12secs faster and so on. If using for Olympic athletes work in 2secs increments but complete more reps. Drink in the breaks.

43 Faster 5

You must have an idea of how fast you can run for a 1min period for this one. Start with a steady pace and build the speed each minute until in the fifth minute you are at top speed. Then walk for 2mins. Repeat this 7min block a further five times for a super tough 42mins.

44 1mile Run Brick

Start with a 5min bike at race pace and then switch into a 1,500m run where you build the pace each 500m to finally be at your desired race pace. Excellent for racing all distances and getting the run off to a strong start.

45 Recovery Run

As with the swim and bike, it’s very sensible to include occasional recovery runs into your plan. Make a deal with
yourself that you won’t run faster than a set pace and stick to it. Enjoy these easier workouts.


 
 

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