Training for Triathlon: The need for speed

Training for Triathlon

In writing the Central YMCA guide ‘Tri harder: The A-Z of Triathlon for Improvers', I wanted to provide an unintimidating and easy to use guide to the sport. Although Triathlon is in many ways quite a simple sport, it can be quite daunting – particularly for newer participants! When planning a training programme, there is a lot to think about but the key is prioritising the aspects of fitness essential for triathlon, and understanding how to improve on them effectively. Building your speed and endurance is a particularly important part of your training; read on for a few tips.     

Endurance training versus speed training

Do you train for endurance, or do you train for speed? If you’re not sure, you should be. The sport of triathlon demands that you train for endurance and speed to ensure you cover your distance, and in a quicker time.

Put simply, endurance is your ability to keep going over a long period of time, and speed is your ability to cover ground quickly. More precisely, we can define the ability to maintain speed over a period of time as speed endurance.

Many recreational athletes involved in endurance sport (running, cycling, triathlon) make the mistake of exhaustively ‘getting the miles in’ at the expense of spending time building their speed.

Interval training

The key to improving speed is interval training. A simple example would be:

1. Find your sustainable running speed on a treadmill, similar to the pace that you would use for a long jog/run outdoors

2. When fully warmed up, pick up the speed by an increment of, say, 1km/h for one minute

3. At the end of the minute, bring the speed back down to the previous pace, and recover

Ideally, the intervals should mean you get a bit out of breath, but not to the extent that you are too exhausted to carry on training. By getting out of breath, you are crossing your anaerobic threshold, the level at which your aerobic system has to ask for help from your anaerobic system. By repeatedly crossing this threshold, you will encourage your body to up its threshold, thus raising the speed at which you can comfortably run. Over the weeks, you should be able to raise the base speed at which you run, and hence raise the speed of the intervals, without raising your perceived exertion.

This type of training can just as easily be used for cycling or swimming, and is ideal for the gym where speed can be closely controlled and monitored. It also makes those boring gym sessions far more interesting!

My guide features an A to Z of useful hints like this to help you with your training – and watch out for future blog posts for further examples.


About the author:
Max Bower has worked in the fitness industry since 1998, and has taken part in a wide variety of triathlon events across the UK. As a qualified teacher and tutor for YMCAfit, he has developed and continues to deliver a triathlon course for fitness instructors in partnership with Triathlon England. 

ymca | 17 November 2014