Perfect indoor training sessions for time-crunched triathletes

Struggling to find time to get outdoors for your triathlon training? Here are a few perfect indoor bike and run training sessions for time-poor triathletes.

Cycling in an orange room on Zwift

Fitting triathlon training in around home life and work is no easy feat. In fact, at times it can feel like more of a challenge than the sessions themselves.


However, if you’re short on time, there are still ways you can get your training in and, importantly, make sure you’re maximising its impact. One of those ways is to turn to indoor training and systems such as Zwift.

By doing so, you can reduce your reliance on actually getting out for your bike and run sessions, meaning you can train efficiently at all hours of the day, whether that’s in your lunch break or while the kids are having dinner.

But how exactly can you make sure you maximise your indoor training sessions on Zwift so you get the most out of your time? We spoke to coaches Kevin Smith and Jon Reilly of Tri Training Harder (TTH) to find out what they recommend.

Zwift sessions to maximise your cycling training

Smith, who utilises Zwift in a lot of his clients’ training plans, recommends the following three key sessions for triathletes that are short on time. However, if none of these recommendations take your fancy, Zwift’s on-demand workout library has a selection of time-crunched workouts for anyone with less than 30, 60 or 90 minutes to spare.

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VO2 max session

VO2 max is an important area for all triathletes to work on, and not just those favouring short course distances. It defines the very upper end of your aerobic ability and, while you’ll not necessarily see these intensities on race day, all efforts over a minute or two are inherently aerobic and will be pulled up to a greater or lesser degree by increasing VO2 max. 

A classic VO2 max workout involves 3-5min repeats and for a duration in that range I’d recommend 110-120% of your functional threshold power (FTP). For your first few sessions you’ll likely need to keep the recovery to at least 1:1 (i.e. 4mins on, 4mins off), but over time you could reduce the recovery duration down to 2mins. This will have the effect of getting you near or into the VO2 max ‘zone’ quicker on subsequent intervals, maximising the training effect.

Your best way to achieve this on Zwift is to use the workout function. There are a few you can choose from if you search for VO2 max, but there are a couple that really tick the box. If you’re up for a really hard session, try one called The Gorby.

If you struggle to push yourself hard in workouts (these are tough sessions!) then there are a couple of alternatives. You could sign up for a hilly Zwift race. It’s best to avoid the flat ones as, while you’ll likely need to spend a good chunk of the first few minutes at VO2 max for the traditional hard Zwift starts, they often settle down if there are no hills to tempt the stronger riders to push on.

Alternatively you could find some friends and create a meet-up on the Yorkshire Dutchy Estate course. One lap is just under 3km and can be done in around 4-5mins with a fast TT bike set up. 

Challenge your mates to hard lap races, then take a break for a lap, or split into pairs and try the ‘Partner Laps’ format, as we sometimes run in our TTH Zwift sessions. This involves taking it in turns to do laps in a relay format from the green sprint banner at the top of the course – multiple pairs competing against each other always brings out the best efforts in most athletes!

Functional threshold power session

Cycling in Zwift's virtual world
Credit: Zwift

There are many ways to work on your FTP, but one of the most popular with our athletes is the 40/20secs session. This involves working at around 110-120% FTP, but this time for much shorter durations, but also with short recoveries. 

Durations can also be 30/30secs or 30/15secs. The key here is that they are short durations of both work and recovery. While they are ridden at a VO2 max intensity, the short durations involved mean that you’ll be working up to and perhaps slightly over threshold heart rate, which will be a bit lower than the previous 3-5 minute VO2 max intervals. 

This is a great workout for pulling up your FTP, something that triathletes competing at any distance will benefit from, especially sprint or Olympic distance, as this will be close to your race day intensity.   

Initially the shorter duration efforts and frequent (but short) rest periods make this workout seem steadier than the more brutal VO2 max efforts above, but over the course of the interval it gets progressively harder (typically 10-12 repeats for a set duration of the same time in minutes). This session from Franklin Bespoke and this one from the Zwift Academy Tri are good options from Zwift’s workouts library.

Endurance session

Even though Zwift lends itself to hard workouts and races, doing sessions of this type too frequently is going to make you a very one-dimensional athlete and possibly lead to over-reaching or burnout.  

Also, while the ‘quick fix’ of performance improvement from high intensity workouts can be hard to resist, mixing high intensity with a strong aerobic base will not only ultimately be quicker, but a much better choice for long term performance gains. 

Endurance needs to be worked on all year round, even on the indoor trainer. If the idea of a long solo session doesn’t inspire you, then perhaps start trying out some of the Zwift group ride sessions. There are so many to choose from in the Event section of the Zwift Companion app, you’ll likely find at least a few options at your required pace and duration to try out. 

Once you’ve found a good group, stick to it and you’ll probably find that even text chat can help the time pass on a longer ride. Alternatively, in our TTH weekend Zwift rides we’ll also use the voice channels on an app called Discord. 

As many of the coaches and athletes involved have ridden together virtually many times, it gives it a very similar atmosphere to a club ride. You can do this yourself if you have friends or clubmates who use Zwift by creating your own Discord channel – it’s fairly easy to set one up.

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Zwift sessions to maximise your run training

Running on a treadmill with Zwift
Credit: Zwift

There are nearly 500 running sessions already built into the Zwift running workout library, giving you a huge range of choice. But here, Reilly picks a few of his favourites for triathletes short on time. 

VO2 max efforts 

VO2 max is just as important in running as it is in cycling for triathletes targeting all distances. The treadmill is great for pushing the pace and targeting those higher intensities. Try this workout, where you’ll run for 90 seconds at your one-mile pace, again following a 1:1 work to rest ratio.

To mix things up a little and take advantage of the adaptability of the treadmill, why not try a hill rep session? You can simply complete the session above with a slight gradient of around 3%.

Alternatively, try a ready-made hill rep session such as this one in Zwift. It has you running the hills at a 6% gradient at a slightly slower pace than VO2 max, but reduces the rest to really build your aerobic engine. These sessions are especially useful if you don’t have hills readily accessible in your local area. 

Threshold sessions

Working on your threshold running pace is a great way to boost your ability to hold on to that pace for longer and longer. There are countless ways to do this, including a simple threshold run, but why not make it a bit more interesting with a Zwift treadmill workout such as this one.

This session has you incrementally increase the pace while dropping the time at threshold, finishing with 1min at 104% of your threshold (5km) pace. 

Again, if you struggle to get motivated for these kinds of workouts, why not challenge a friend to a threshold workout. You can follow the same format of the workouts listed above but set it up as a ‘meet-up’ in Zwift.

If one of you is slightly faster, make it a ‘Cat and Mouse’ style session, where the faster runner gives the slower runner a head start. See if you can make it work so that you’re both pushing yourself to get ahead in the last few seconds of the interval. At TTH we use an app called Discord to make organising this kind of session more straightforward and a lot more fun!

Strength endurance sessions

Running in Zwift's virtual world
Credit: Zwift

Finally, one of the most beneficial sessions we like to use at TTH again utilises the gradient function on the treadmill, but this time we will use it on our longer aerobic runs.

Adjusting the gradient keeps things more interesting than simply running for an hour around Zwift. Adding in gradient changes by using a workout such as this one not only keeps it entertaining but really helps build your leg strength.

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What is Zwift?

Zwift is an online platform that allows you to undertake running and cycling training, and compete and explore in a virtual world from the comfort of your own home. To do so, you’ll need an active Zwift subscription, a bike with a smart turbo trainer (or any other trainer paired with a power meter) and a treadmill with a RunPod device.

Once signed up, you can choose from a selection of courses, including real-world options or alternatives based within Zwift’s imaginary world, Watopia and Makuri Islands. You can choose everything from casual rides where you explore at your own pace to progressive training plans and hardcore races that target certain outcomes, such as those outlined in this article.

You can also join organised group rides and Zwift races. These are available to suit people with different fitness levels and can be enjoyed with friends or other Zwift users, who you can chat to through a messenger function.


Try Zwift on a seven-day free trial today or sign up for just £12.99 per month.