Alistair & Jonny Brownlee’s top speed tips for Olympic-distance triathlon

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee are the fastest and most successful siblings in sporting history. Here's how they train for speed...

Credit: OTE

Yorkshire lads Alistair and Jonny Brownlee are the fastest and most successful siblings in sporting history. Here, they open up on how they train for speed…


Jonny Brownlee’s top tips for developing more speed

Get some good kit

Firstly I would say get some good kit, and always try before you buy. Obviously we have the Brownlee Huub wetsuit out now, which is super-fast and flexible. Get good goggles too – you don’t want them steaming up! It’s important to eat well too – it may not be an Ironman but the nutrition is just as important. I try and have a good meal about three and a half hours before, and then beforehand I’ll snack on energy bars and energy drinks, making sure that I go into the race well-fuelled.

Find the balance

An Olympic-distance triathlon is quite a hard one to train for because it’s an endurance race but at the same time you need speed. The swim is obviously very important, especially in professional racing, because it sets you up for a good race. In training I swim five times a week, up to about 25km a week, and I do two very hard sessions on a Tuesday and a Thursday and then a sprint session on Monday, with Wednesday and Friday as endurance training in the swimming pool.

I cycle six times a week, with long rides on a Wednesday and a Saturday. Again it’s about getting the miles in but also keeping the speed. I now run eight times a week, including an intense track session on a Tuesday, an interval session on a Saturday and a long run on a Sunday. My philosophy for endurance training is to get as many miles in as you can, while doing those sessions properly.

Stick with it

What makes me tick during training sessions, when you’re tired and you think that’s it and you’ve given it your all, is telling myself that I can go harder. So I try not to pull out of any sessions. I keep telling myself that 95% of training that I do is fun – you’ve got to enjoy it because it makes it far far easier.

Do the training!

It sounds too simple but if you turn up fit then you’re already halfway there. If you’re on that start line knowing that you’re ready for that race, that everything has gone well, you’re in good shape, then you’re going to have a good race.

Recce the bike course

A lot of Olympic-distance courses are quick, multi-lapped, so before the race I’ll know every corner, every single twist and turn, which makes things a lot easier during the actual race.

Nail your run pacing

The 10km run race is very different to a 5k, so pace
it well – you don’t want to start too fast. A lot of get all excited and sprint off the bike, but they’re absolutely shattered after about one kilometre. A lot of our courses are four laps, so I try and pace the first lap, then build the second and hold onto the pace.

Don’t underestimate sleep

Sleep is very important – I try to go to bed at about 9:30pm. We don’t swim until about 7:30am but I always try and get about 8/8.5 hours of sleep.

Alistair Brownlee’s top speed tips

Be efficient

Triathlon is really about efficiency across the three disciplines, so it’s about building a good engine to function well in what is an endurance sport, but also tailor it to your weaknesses.

Per week I do around 6-7 hours of swimming, around 15 hours on the bike and then 6-8 hours of running, and that obviously builds up later in the year. But you could do more swimming if your swimming is weak, or you could do less running and more cycling and kind of mix it around. It’s good to have a good base and build it now, then get specific later in the year depending on your weaknesses.

Be clever

If you’re time-restricted, it pays dividends to be really clever with your training – fit in rides when you’re commuting, for example. If you can get hours in that way then no low-level activity is wasted.

Stay consistent

I know most people don’t have the time to do 35 hours training in a week like me, but actually the same principles apply. You basically want to do the most you can sustainably do week in, week out and be consistent. So if that’s eight, 12, 16hrs around work and family life then you’re better off trying to keep between eight and 12 hours for four to six months at a time, and do that consistently rather than doing two hours one week and 10 the next.

Balance your strengths

I found that if I start doing loads of swimming then I get better at it, then I do more running and my swimming goes back to where it was. You kind of need to graduate everything together. The breakdown can be very individual so if you’re a really strong bike rider then you could do less biking and just make that very focussed on the effort-type of riding that you need to do. But if you’re a weak swimmer you should do more swimming, and maybe get away with doing less running.

Don’t skip the basics

Don’t try and cheat and skip out of the basics, because that’s important for your engine development, general conditioning, body strength and injury prevention. If I’ve got six months to a big race then it’s not quite as simple, but you can literally do two months of low-level stuff, two months of more focussed, slightly harder stuff, before going into the last phase – if I can do four weeks of real high-end that gets me as fit as I need to be.

Find what motivates you

Competition motivates me, whether it’s the race or in training I’m just really competitive. I can go to the pool on a morning or go out on my bike on a freezing day and really not be feeling it, and then the element of competition gets introduced into the session and all of a sudden I’m super-motivated for it.


Thanks to Huub Design for giving us access to these top athletes for this article, which was published in issue 363.