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What Is a “Good” Triathlon Training Program?

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As explained in How To Plan Your Triathlon or Endurance Sport Season, if you don’t have a training plan to follow, you might as well plan to not meet your performance goals. A training plan is a must for athletes to meet their athletic potential and should provide an overall outline of an endurance athletes’ season. Once an overall outline is developed then athletes can focus on specific goals for each month, week, day, and individual workouts.

So what makes a triathlon training program “good”? Honestly there is no correct answer for what makes a training program good, rather the question to ask is a certain training program good for you? If a training program is specific to you as an athlete, specific to your race season, and follows all the guidelines listed below, then in general it is a good plan.


  • Easy days and hard days: Although you might finish a hard workout or race and feel like you can do it again the next day, as the following morning will often remind you, you cannot go hard for every workout day after dat. That being said, there are exceptions to the easy day, hard day rule. For example many experienced triathletes train in blocks such as 2-3 days of hard training followed by 1 day of very easy training. One of my favorite ways to structure athletes training week is: 3 days of hard training sessions, 1 day of rest: 2 days of hard training: ending with 1 day active rest for a complete 7 day week. The key is to have mix of both easy and hard training days.

  • Balanced training load: One of the hardest parts of organizing triathlon training is balancing not just 1 sport but 3 sports! When doing this its important to consider what your limiters are, and how much will be gained from investing time into training. For example If you’re a bad swimmer, okay on the bike, and a good runner, you may think you need to invest a lot of time swimming in the pool. However, remember a triathlon swim is usually less than 15% of total race time, while the bike is over 50%. In this situation I would encourage this athlete to spend a majority of time focusing on the bike and a moderate amount of time focusing on the swim.

  • Strength work: I’ve reviewed dozens of programs that organize swim, bike, and run workouts flawlessly, but have no room for strength training. This is truly a shame because multiple studies show that strength training  is extremely beneficial for endurance athletes, not only for performance but for injury prevention as well. I encourage athletes to prioritize at least 1 workout a week to focus on strength work.

  • A time for rest: Just as you can’t train hard day after day, you can’t train hard week after week or month after month. Every athlete responses to training differently but the general rule of thumb is athletes need to take between 5-7 days of easier training after 2-3 weeks of hard training. This is commonly know as the “rest & recovery” week or “rest & test” week.

  • Variety: Doing the same workouts again and again can quickly get boring and lead to little improvement. Training sessions should  not only be specific to you and your race, but should always have some variety week to week. Increase the intensity and/or duration, change the intervals, run a new path, etc. I personally find swimming to be the most difficult triathlon discipline for athletes to stay focused, which is why I encourage athletes to have a lot of variety in swim workouts.

  • Skill specific workouts: Simple endurance (long/slow) training comes as the most obvious skill athletes need to work in order to improve in endurance sports. However there are several other skills triathletes NEED in order to achieve their performance potential.  These skills are: endurance, force, speed, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power. Each workout you do should focus on one of these six skills.

  • Race Practices: One of biggest mistakes triathletes in particular make, is losing sight of what race day will be like. For this reason it’s very important for triathletes to have workouts in their training plans which simulate a race. Practicing transitions, running off the bike, going from swimming to biking, and knowing your race pace, are all important things that can be learned in training

  • Progression: Lastly and maybe most importantly a training program needs to challenge an athlete. As you progress into your training, you need to challenge yourself to get better. Simply putting in training time without a focus on progression is literally swimming laps and going nowhere. While it’s always better to play it safe and not push yourself too hard, I often find athletes always have a little more effort to put in than they think. If you think a certain 10 minute interval is hard, I can almost promise you, you can do the interval for 12 minutes at the same intensity.

Click this link if you need a training program to follow, or click here if you’re interested in having me coach you month-to-month with training specifically customized to you and your goals.

About Brad Haag

Brad is a certified USAT triathlon coach, a certified USAC cycling coach, and a certified NCSF personal trainer. Brad specializes in coaching endurance and warrior class athletes to peak performance. He can be found at HaagsAthletics.com.

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