15 training tips for the beginner triathlete
Have you done your first tri and now hooked on the sport and want to improve? Here are 15 simple tips that could make all the difference to your performance
1. OPEN WATER… IN THE POOL
“This set can easily be tagged on to an existing swim session. Swim as fast as possible for 15m, sighting as you would in water polo. Complete U-turns at each end, avoiding touching the sides to stop and rest. Build up from 5mins to at least the duration of the time it’ll take you to complete your open-water swim.” Mark Kleanthous, tri coach
2. SADDLE UP
“Picking the right saddle is important, certainly for managing back pain. There are various contraptions around in an attempt to secure the best saddle for you. For instance, Specialized have their Assometer – AKA the pain measurer – that measures how wide the pelvis is. In some cases you’ll have athletes who are stable on narrow saddles because they possess good core stability. Some don’t feel supported unless they’re on the widest part of the saddle. Always choose the right one for you and your derrière.” John Dennis, bike fitter and physio
3. SLEEP YOUR WAY TO VICTORY
“Sufficient sleep, which tends to vary from 6hrs to 9hrs, is vital for maximising training gains. The optimum temperature for sleep is 16-18°C, which is actually quite cold. A reduction in temperature helps us fall asleep and that’s why we often struggle to sleep in a hot summer. I’d also recommend layers instead of a big duvet because then you can regulate the temperature more readily.” Dr Guy Meadows, sleep physiologist
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4. WEIGHT LOSS
“Protein – such as white meat and fish – and fibrous foods like wholemeal bread are more satiating than carbohydrates, so focus on these if you’re trying to lose weight. However, do this in the winter when intensity of training is lower and you don’t need access to as many carbs to fuel both hard sessions and racing.” Drew Price, nutritionist
5. TRAIN WITH OTHERS
“Joining a club offers many benefits. It’s sociable, you have access to experienced coaches and athletes, and it makes harder sessions feel that bit easier. Tough efforts always benefit from the extra motivation generated by training with others. You can support each other through the pain – then laugh about it after!” Andy Bullock, tri coach
6. SKILL NOT STRENGTH
“For the swim, focus on improving technique rather than speed or power. A new skill is best learnt little and often, so even just 20mins focusing on swim drills, two or three times a week, will ingrain better technique. You should also sign up to one-on-one swim coaching, as it’s the most technique-heavy of the three disciplines. It’ll save a lot of effort down the line.” Steve Lloyd, tri coach
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7. CONSISTENT CADENCE
“You should learn to change gear without your cadence [how many times your pedal revolves each minute] increasing or dropping by 5rpm. Erratic pedalling not only leaks energy on the bike, it tires your legs out for the run too. Learn to change when you need to; in other words, before your legs really labour or begin spinning frantically.” Mark Kleanthous, tri coach
8. GOAL SETTING
“It’s too easy to miss a session because ‘life takes over’. So I ask my athletes to write down not only their intended training time but an alternative spot too. So let’s say they have a 6.30am swim session but the kids wake up screaming, and the athlete simply can’t make it, then they can squeeze in an alternative lunchtime swim set, even if it’s slightly shorter and at a different pool. It might be 40mins instead of an hour, but it’s still better than nothing.” Dave Scott, six-time Ironman World Champ
9. GEAR TWEAKS
“Elastics laces are probably the biggest time-saving per pound in triathlon. They’ll ensure you can slip in and
out of transition rapidly, without sacrificing comfort or stability.” Phil Paterson, tri coach, RG Active
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10. TRANSITION REVAMP
“The session below is suitable for both sprint and Olympic-distance racers. It’s versatile because it’ll highlight areas that need developing before race day. For instance, if your pace over the 15min bike reps [see below] massively drops off, you went out too hard, so it’s a great lesson in pacing. That also applies to the running segment. If transition was technically challenging, have some individual transition coaching. If it’s feasible, repeat this session each week, focussing on pacing of the reps – time, distance and heart rate are good variables to monitor, which will indicate progression…
Set out a transition area at home, including a mount and dismount line. Have all your transition run gear ready and laid out as you would in a race.
Ride for 105mins. The first 30mins should be easy, focussing on smooth pedalling.
Follow the first 30mins with 3 x 15min bike reps at your intended race pace. Spin easy for 5mins between reps. The last 15mins sees you riding home to your planned transition area. Dismount before the line and time your transition – then head out onto the run.
Run out for 15mins at just below race pace. Turn around and see if you can run faster. Focus on swift cadence, good posture, driving from the hips and foot striking beneath your knee.
Fran Bungay, tri coach Goal Specific
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11. GET OUT ON THE ROAD
Avoid becoming reliant on gym bikes and turbo trainers. Miles on the road are valuable for getting to know your bike, how it feels, the position, impact of gears and improving your handling.
12. BIKE MAINTENANCE
Learning basic bike mechanics will keep it running smoothly and slash service costs. Firstly, become au fait with changing a puncture, cleaning your drivetrain, and removing and replacing wheels for transit.
13. PRACTICE YOUR TRANSITIONS
It’s free speed. In T1, learn to remove your wetsuit quickly. Do this before all the water leaves your suit because
this prevents it sticking. Progress to slipping your wetsuit off on the move. For T2, practise racking
your bike, and removing your helmet and shoes as quickly as possible.
14. SORT NUTRITION
Replace unhealthy snacks with natural alternatives that’ll release energy gradually. Fruits, nuts, carrot sticks and hummus, and almond butter on rye bread are good examples.
15. RUNNING ASSESSMENT
Have a proper running gait assessment. As well as ensuring you buy the right shoes, you’ll also discover whether there are any potential red flags with your technique that could cause injury if not addressed.
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