Beginners Triathlon Guide

If you’ve seen or heard of Triathlon, and have ever wondered whether it is something that you would like to do, then this is definitely the article for you.

Triathlon can be a challenging sport, that is incredibly rewarding and fun, once you get the hang of it.

And the thing is, you don’t necessarily have to be at a high competitive level, as there are plenty of middle-range and beginner Triathlon events, for people of all levels to join in. 

Beginners Triathlon Guide

However, we will say that Triathlon is a sport that requires commitment, determination, and willpower to keep on going. Especially if you’re going to be consistent with the training so that you can fully enjoy participating in Triathlon events! 

This article is going to be pretty long, but in it, we are going to tell you everything you need to know as a beginner to Triathlon, as well as plenty of tips on how to get started, and how to go about it.

Plus, we are also going to include a 4-week training schedule for beginners, so that you can get started and hopefully participate in your first ever Triathlon event. 

If this sounds like something that you are interested in, then welcome, and let’s dive right in! 

What is Triathlon?

Let’s start by talking about what Triathlon is, and all of the basic information that you need to know about it, in order to understand this sporting event. 

Triathlon is a mixture of swimming, cycling, and running, with all of them taking place within the same race and event. An athletic competition, with three events in one, hence the name.

It might seem a bit complicated to mix all three into the same race, but it’s made possible by the design of the event, and thanks to the transition areas. 

Basically, there is a designated distance in a body of water, through which you have to swim, then you get to a transition area in which you switch your gear and clothing to start cycling, and then again you reach another transition area to switch to running, until the end of the race.

In fact, we’ll give you a summary of each section of the Triathlon:

Swimming

This is the first part of the Triathlon race, and it is usually the hardest, as most athletes find swimming the most challenging out of the three, due to it being the one they have trained the least. 

Luckily, this is the shortest out of the three, as swimming is the shortest distance within the Triathlon. 

Cycling

The next part of a Triathlon race is cycling. Once you come out of the water, you reach a transition area in which you are able to quickly change clothing if needed, and where you will find your bike waiting for you.

This section of the event is usually the one with the most distance, and it can be quite demanding, so it’s definitely important to train your cycling abilities! 

Running

The last part of the Triathlon race is the running, and it’s pretty simple in its nature. Once you reach the end of the bike section, you leave your bike, take the cycling gear off, and start running!

As the last part of the event, it requires the most stamina and resistance, especially as you will start to feel the ache of muscles and tiredness. 

And that’s all there is to it! There are many different Triathlon events, all over the world, of different difficulty levels and distances covered.

Triathlon is adapted to all ages and categories, and there are both casual Triathlon events for beginners and competitive-level events with professional athletes. 

There are Triathlons with harder terrain and Triathlons with easier terrain. There are winter versions, standard versions, Triathlons on roads, short-distance ones, long-distance ones…

If we look at the standard Triathlon, which is the one featured in the Olympic games, it is 1.5km of swimming, 40km of cycling, and 10km of running. (We’ll give it to you in miles below.)

But let’s look at the main different types of Triathlon events, known worldwide: 

Sprint Triathlon

This is the shortest version of Triathlon officially recognized. It is 0.4 miles of swimming, 12.5 miles of cycling, and 3.1 miles of running. 

Olympic or Standard Triathlon

As the standard and Olympian Triathlon, this is by far the most common. It is 0.9 miles of swimming, 25 miles of cycling, and 6.2 miles of running. 

Half Ironman Triathlon

This is a reduced version of the proper Ironman (which we will look at next). It is 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling, and 13.1 miles of running. 

Ironman Triathlon

The Ironman Triathlon is a worldwide famous event, known for being one of the hardest sporting challenges, as it pushes athletes to the limit. In fact, the running section at the end is a full marathon!

Taking into account that before you even start running the marathon you are swimming and cycling a big chunky distance, it is incredibly impressive, and something greatly respected in the sporting world. 

It is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of running. 

Why Should You Train for a Triathlon?

Why Should You Train for a Triathlon?

Now that we have talked about what Triathlon is, and what it consists of, it’s time to get into the training guide for beginners.

However, you might be on the fence about it, undecided as to whether you should actually train and attempt a Triathlon or not. After all, why should you train for a Triathlon? 

Ultimately, it depends on whether it is something you are interested in doing or not, and whether you think it is something that you are up for trying, and something you see yourself being capable of. 

We, personally, can think of many reasons why you should train for a Triathlon, even if you don’t end up participating in one at the end! Mainly, because training for Triathlon can bring you many health benefits. 

Here are some of the reasons why athletes recommend and enjoy training for Triathlon events: 

It offers variety in training

Triathlon training is essentially training for three different sports, in the same regime. This offers versatility and variety in what you are doing and how you are training, and it can make it all the more bearable and fun, as you’re switching it up and not just doing the same thing over and over again. 

But not only does it stop you from getting bored, but it also gives your body and muscles a rest, as you will be using different muscle groups, abilities, and techniques, for each one! 

It provides a feeling of self-fulfillment

You know how when you master an ability, or an event, you get a rush of satisfaction and feel fulfilled as a person?

Well, with Triathlon you get that tripled because you are essentially succeeding in three sports at once. Not bad at all for feeling good about yourself, right?

It teaches control, determination, and perseverance

Triathlon is not for everyone, as it requires a lot of determination and commitment. After all, you are training for three sports, but one event.

You are going to be developing and improving far more skills and abilities than if you were doing something else. Not to mention, that it takes willpower to switch from swimming to cycling, to running, all to get to that finish line. 

This is why Triathlon can increase your levels of self-control, determination, and perseverance, turning you into a powerhouse.

Plus it practices organizational skills since you have to be able to quickly switch to the right gear, pre-prepared, mid-race! 

It works wonders for a healthy lifestyle

This one is pretty obvious, but Triathlon is incredible for maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.

Not only because it requires training in three different sports, but because you get to spend a lot of time outdoors, swimming in the water, cycling down paths, and running the distance.

It ends up working your entire body, your stamina, and your mental fortitude. 

It can be a lot of fun

Do you need any reason other than it being fun? Triathlon, when done right, with regular training and within your own limits and capabilities, is incredibly enjoyable! 

How To Start Triathlon Training As A Beginner

If you’re convinced about the many benefits of training for Triathlon, and you have decided that you do indeed want to give it a shot, then welcome. Here begins your training!

(Or rather, it will begin further down when we actually give you a 4-week schedule breakdown for your training. But this is the starting point in regards to setting goals and actually getting into it, okay?) 

So…how do you approach the big challenge that is your first Triathlon? How do you even begin training for it, when you have no experience and no concept of where you are at? 

Here are our main tips, for getting started in your training for Triathlon:

Figure out your starting point

You can’t start without a starting point, so the first thing you need to figure out is where you are at, physically speaking, and what abilities you have.

Basically, you have to assess yourself, to get an idea of what you would be capable of at the moment, and what you need to improve or train in order to successfully complete a Triathlon event. 

Set realistic goals

Training works a lot more effectively when you have a specific goal in mind, such as wanting to compete in a certain Triathlon or being ready by the end of a season, or similar.

However, it is important to keep your goals realistic and within reach, determined by your own capabilities and possibilities for training. Set yourself up for success! 

Determine the amount of training

Once you know where you are at, and where you want to get to, you can determine how much training is needed to get there.

Make sure to take into account work, family obligations, and other parts of your life that you need to dedicate time to throughout the week. Once you know how much free time you have, you can determine how much of it goes towards training. 

Break down the difficulty level and intensity for the training

It is very important to take into account your health and any conditions you might have when setting the difficulty and intensity of your Triathlon training.

If it’s too much, set an easier goal, and adapt. Keeping safe is always a priority and this training should be enjoyed. 

Get to planning!

Once you have determined all of the above factors, it’s time for you to actually plan out your training, based on what you need to do, the amount of time you have, and the goals you want to reach. 

How Much Training Should A Beginner Do For A Triathlon?

How Much Training Should A Beginner Do For A Triathlon?

In order to participate in your first Triathlon, you really should plan some appropriate training.

Not only so that you are fully able to succeed in finishing the entire Triathlon race, but also so that you do so safely, without injuring your body, and while enjoying yourself. 

The exact amount of time that a beginner should dedicate to training for a Triathlon, depends on each individual, and their abilities, physical conditions, and more. 

As a general rule, however, we would recommend around 12 weeks of training for a short-distance Triathlon.

If you’ve never done any endurance sports, then we would even say that you need a prior 8 to 12 weeks of base training, before you can begin to specifically train for the Triathlon. 

This might seem like a little much, but you have to keep in mind that Triathlon is an event of endurance that combines skills and physical abilities for three different sports, within the same competitive race. You need more preparation than if you were simply running a normal race. 

However, just because you have a long period of training, doesn’t mean you can’t start to participate in some Triathlons. A good idea is to set the goal to train for a specific official Triathlon event.

And in the meanwhile, attend other more casual Triathlon events, or separate cycling, running, and swimming events, and use them as a form of training and testing yourself! 

The main takeaway is that on the day of your first proper Triathlon, you need to feel ready and capable. You should be physically fit enough to complete it while being able to enjoy it. So training is a form of preparing yourself for this, by building up your capacity. 

Is it Okay To Do a Sprint Triathlon Without Training?

A Sprint Triathlon is the shortest type of Triathlon event, with a distance of 0.4 miles for swimming, 12.5 miles for cycling, and 3.1 miles for running.

So seemingly, it is the most accessible Triathlon event for newcomers and beginners, as it is the least physically demanding of all. 

But…does this mean that you can participate in a Sprint Triathlon without any prior training? 

Technically, the answer is yes. As long as you are healthy, and you have the determination, then you should be able to complete a Sprint Triathlon, even if it is just to tick it off a bucket list or to give it a go as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing. 

However, this largely depends on each individual and their physical conditions. Not everybody can just get up one day and decide to complete a Triathlon, even if it is a Sprint one.

And even if you could, it might be a bit of a stretch, meaning you will not have a good time throughout the Triathlon, because you will be too busy being in pain. Not to mention that you will be at high risk of becoming injured or damaging your body! 

It is much better to dedicate yourself to some training beforehand, even if it is just some minimal short-term training. 

Training For A Triathlon – Days, Hours, and Planning

Once you are committed to the idea of training for your first Triathlon, and you’re in the planning stage, you might start to wonder how much time you should actually dedicate to the endeavor.

How many days a week? How many hours? And when should you start training? 

Again, this depends on each individual, and the best approach is to create a personalized plan that suits your own needs and capabilities for time and exercise. 

With Triathlon, there is the added difficulty that you are training for three different sports, and so, you need to alternate between them, which often leads to needing more hours or days a week. 

Most experienced Triathlon athletes will train around six days a week (it’s important to have a rest day!), and they will alternate between the different sports, as well as with the intensity of training.

Usually, there are around two days of physical training, which could be at a gym, or similar, combined with some running. And then two days of cycling and two of swimming, or three and one, or switching between.

It kind of depends on what area you need to train the most! (A lot of Triathlon athletes tend to do less of the swimming training, and as a result, that tends to be their weak link). 

Honestly, it completely depends on the time that you have available, which areas you need to train the most, and how you decide to spread them out throughout the week. Just remember that it is important not to fatigue yourself! 

As for the number of hours, we recommend that you start out with relatively short sessions, and slowly build up to a bigger amount of hours over time, once you get used to pushing your body to certain limits, and once you get into a good rhythm within the training.

It also might be worth doing more frequent sessions that are shorter, rather than just a couple of long sessions. In fact, shorter but more intense workouts usually work the best! 

It is also worth noting that, as a general rule, you will need to dedicate far more hours to cycling, than you do to swimming or running!

As for when you should start your training, you can start as soon as you want! There’s no need to have a Triathlon event scheduled in order for you to start, the sooner you train the more prepared you will be. 

What You Need for your First Triathlon

What You Need for your First Triathlon

Like in most things in life, when it comes to certain sporting events, having the right tools and gear is half the battle. Seriously, having the right and necessary gear can be the fine line between success and failure, and this is especially true of Triathlon events. 

In fact, when participating in a Triathlon, you need the appropriate gear for swimming, cycling, and running. All three. And you need it to be good enough to not hinder you, yet easy enough to use and put on or take off because you will be switching between them at each section of the race. 

Professional Triathlon athletes will have quite a big amount of gear, all of it top quality…and sometimes pretty pricey. As a beginner, you don’t need to spend a fortune.

And you also don’t need to buy everything that other Triathlon athletes have, especially when it’s your first-ever event! You can build your inventory up over time, and until then, all you need are the essentials. 

To help you out, we’re going to go through a list of all of the must-have items, along with some items that would be nice to have if you can, for each of the three parts of a Triathlon event: 

Triathlon Swimming Gear

Must-have

  • Swimming goggles

These are pretty important regardless of the body of water in which you are swimming during your Triathlon. Both chlorine from the pool and salt from the ocean can get in the way, so best to protect your eyes! 

  • A swimsuit

This one is kind of a given…you’re not going to swim naked, right? 

Extra

  • Swimming cap

In some pools or Triathlon events, wearing a swimming cap is mandatory. In competitive Triathlon, it is typical to be given a specific swimming cap with your number on it. 

  • Earplugs and/or nose clips

Many swimmers find these incredibly useful for keeping water out of the ears and nose, especially if your sinuses are sensitive! 

  • Swim fins

In some Triathlon events, the swimming can be done using swim fins, in which case you should absolutely wear them because they will significantly increase your speed! 

  • A wetsuit

If the swimming is performed in an outdoor area, such as the ocean, and the weather conditions are colder, then a wetsuit is the best option. 

  • A safety buoy

If you’re swimming in the ocean during the Triathlon, a safety buoy is a good precaution, as it will keep you visible in case anything goes wrong. 

Triathlon Cycling Gear

(This is where most of your money for equipment and gear will be spent, especially for the bike!) 

Must-have

  • Bike

You can’t cycle without a bike, and this is going to be one of your main and most important items for the Triathlon as a whole.

Ideally, the bike should be lightweight and easy to carry and maneuver, while being durable enough to withstand quite a few Triathlon events!

Also, it helps if it’s bright or uniquely colored, to help you find it a lot faster when it’s time to switch from swimming to cycling, amongst all the other bikes. 

  • Helmet and other safety equipment

Wearing a helmet is mandatory, and sometimes it can be good to wear other safety gear too. 

Extra

  • Cycling shoes

These are almost a must-have, in our opinion, as they will make cycling a lot easier. Special cycling shoes latch on to the pedals so that your feet don’t slip! 

  • Sunglasses

These will protect you against the sun, but also against the wind. 

  • A breakdown kit

Your bike needs to be ready to go as soon as you come out of the water, so it’s good to check it before the event starts, and to be able to fix any problems you find with it. 

  • Water bottle

Again, this is practically a must-have, as staying hydrated is important, and cycling is the longest section of the Triathlon event! 

  • Cycling wind-proof clothing

These would have to be easy to put on and take off, to speed things up, but they would be of great benefit while cycling. 

  • A spare bike

This is something that top competing athletes would have, just so that they can absolutely keep going if something happens to their bike. 

Triathlon Running Gear

Must-have

  • Running shoes

This is pretty much the only essential. You need good running shoes, pretty straightforward! 

Extra

  • Sunglasses

These could be the same you used while cycling, to protect you against sun and wind. 

  • A cap

Depending on the Triathlon, you might be running for quite some distance, under harsh conditions. It’s important to protect yourself! 

  • An energy belt

An energy belt, or a similar item such as a running bag, with an energy bar or two, can make all the difference when you feel yourself struggling. 

Of course, there is plenty of more equipment and gear that you could have with you during a Triathlon. But those are the essentials and most common desired items to have, and the rest just depends on what you think you might need.

With experience, you will learn what you need and what you can do without until you have a perfect list for the most optimized Triathlon experience. 

A 4-Week Triathlon Training Schedule for Beginners

A 4-Week Triathlon Training Schedule for Beginners

If you’ve managed to read all the way up to here, then that’s pretty much proof that you’re actually invested in the idea of attempting your first Triathlon, and ready to start up some training for it.

It is important to remember that you should have a training regime and schedule that suits your needs, accommodating the time you have available, as well as taking into account your physical condition and level.

However, as a beginner, you won’t really know where to start, so we are going to provide you with a simple 4-week training schedule, aimed at those with no previous experience. 

The schedule we will use is one designed by TOT Endurance, which we find to be one of the most accessible for beginners. 

We will provide a downloadable version for each week, plus an overview of the main focus of training, again, for each week. 

But put simply, the 4-week training works by combining four main physical exercises/training sessions a week: strength and endurance training, running, cycling, and swimming.

So you practice all three individual sports from the Triathlon, and you get a session on top of that to work on your strength, endurance, and muscles in general. 

All of the workout sessions are between 30 to 60 minutes, as it is best to keep them shorter when you are starting out, and instead have them more frequently, building up to more and more as your body adapts. 

If you are going to use this training schedule, then do keep in mind that you can adapt it to better suit you and that you should find the right time of day to perform your sessions, so that they are optimized! 

Week 1

For the first week of training, it’s all about getting acquainted with the different sports and exercises, so that you begin to experience what it is going to take to complete a full Triathlon event. 

In this week’s overview, we will focus on talking about swimming, as it is going to be one of the most important parts of your training. Most Triathlon athletes, often refer to the competition as a “survive-bike-run”, hinting that swimming is something to be survived since it tends to be what athletes are worst at.

But this shouldn’t be the case. If you dedicate some focus to improving your swimming, it will go from something to survive, to something that you enjoy and are even good at.

And trust us, you can’t underestimate the power of getting an advantage over the rest of the athletes during the swimming part, as it is the first and will give you a headstart! 

In particular, week one’s swimming training will focus on your form: 

  • Warm-up

Always start with a warm-up. For this session, we recommend 6 laps of 25 meters, alternating between freestyle and breaststroke. You can rest for 20 seconds after every lap, in order to not push yourself too much right off the bat. 

  • Swimming drills

After warming up, it’s time for the swimming drills. In this scenario, you should perform two different exercises, which are designed to improve the form of your stroke. Having the right technique can significantly improve your swimming speed, and in this case, it is all about how your hand enters the water to pull yourself forward. 

Start with one round of 6 laps (resting 20 seconds between each), with a catch-up drill. This involves placing your arms in front of you, and slowly performing one stroke at a time, to focus on its form. 

Then, do another 6 laps with a throwing net drill. For this, it is best to wear some swimming fins, to have better propulsion. 

  • Main set

The final part of the session is your main set of swimming. For this, you should swim as many laps as you want or can, within the time left. Practice your freestyle. 

Week 2

For the second week of training, you should up the level a little more, as instead of becoming familiar with things, you are now going to start to properly work your body and become good at them. 

The focus of this overview is on cycling. Because once you have completed the swimming, and the competition is in full stride, cycling takes center stage and it is the longest part of the entire race.

The biggest distance is covered by cycling, and in some Triathlon events, the distance is not to be trifled at whatsoever. This is why it is so important to dedicate a big amount of training hours to your bike and cycling so that you can build up muscle endurance. 

To build muscular endurance, you have to combine strength and endurance together, by working out your muscles and getting them used to the effort. This session is around 50 minutes long: 

  • Warm-up

Start with five minutes of pedaling, during which your cadence should stick to about 90 rpm. 

  • Cycling drills

For five minutes, alternate cycling while seated and cycling while standing up, 30 seconds for each. While standing, it is recommended that you switch to a higher gear and that you practice standing straight rather than leaning on the handlebar. When seated, you can use an easier gear, to remain at a more comfortable cadence.

Next, do another five minutes, this time with single-leg drills. For this, you alternate, 30 seconds for each, having one leg hanging off the bike doing nothing, and one leg doing all of the pedaling.

This can help improve the strength of your pedal strokes, and it makes you equally strong on both sides. (This drill can be quite tricky at first, but keep practicing because it can seriously improve your cycling capabilities!) 

  • Muscular Endurance Training

The final 30 minutes of the workout are the intense part. You should divide this time into six 5-minute repetitive exercises in which you do the following:

2 minutes of pedaling at a level 4 intensity (with a cadence of around 90).

1 minute of switching to an easy gear so that you can pedal as fast as you possibly can without bouncing on the seat. 

2 minutes of switching to a different gear, so that you can cycle in zone 2. 

It’s really important to improve your muscle strength and endurance for the cycling part of a Triathlon so that you can gain distance from the other competitors, and keep at a constant speed that is comfortable to you. 

Week 3

Our simple overview of the training schedule has focused on the swimming from week one, and the cycling for week two, so you can guess what comes next: the running. 

It might seem like running is the easiest part of the Triathlon, and in part, it does require the least amount of skill and technique, but that doesn’t take away from the effort it takes.

By the time you get to running, you have already done some swimming, and an insane amount of cycling, so you’re going to be tired.

This is why you have to train your running so that you are able to endure and get on a good footing so that you do not massively reduce your speed. It’s the final stretch, after all! 

After cycling for such a long distance, switching to running can be a little off-putting. You go from moving your legs in a circular motion, pedaling, to normal running, and this can take a few minutes to adjust.

But with the right training, you can make the switch easier, and jump right into running without being fazed! 

Here is the running session of week three: 

  • Warm-up

Start by doing five minutes of normal jogging in order to warm up. Then, activate the different muscles you will use in running by doing 2 minutes of bridging and 2 minutes of mountain climber repetitions, followed by 2 minutes of walking lunges. 

  • Running drills

The running drills for this session are designed to help improve your running pattern, through coordination and balance. Take your time with the exercises until you get the movements right, and remember that repetition is key. 

  • Endurance training

For the last bit of the running workout, you have to train your endurance. And all you need to do is run in zone 2 for the remainder of the time, and if you want and feel good, you could even extend this for a longer amount of time outside of the planned session. 

Week 4

Every single week of Triathlon training you will be having a swimming session, a cycling session, a running session, and a strength-building session.

We have already highlighted one of each of the first three, for the first three weeks, so in this fourth and final week, we will talk about the strength session for the overview. It only seems fair to keep things balanced! 

You might be wondering why you need a strength-specific workout session in your Triathlon training, when you are already having dedicated sessions to swimming, cycling, and running.

But we can actually give you three main reasons why this type of workout is so important for your overall training:

  • Strength training will make your muscles stronger (which is very much needed for completing a Triathlon race!) 
  • With stronger muscles, you will be able to perform at higher intensities for a longer time, without becoming fatigued. This is vital in a Triathlon competition, as you are having to endure the intensity of swimming, cycling, and running, all in one event in which you are aiming to succeed in the least amount of time possible. 
  • Stronger muscles are at a lower risk of becoming injured. Safety and wellbeing should always be a priority, so this is vital! 

Final Thoughts

We know this was quite a hefty article, but we truly hope that it has given you all the answers you seek in regards to Triathlon and that it sets you on the right path to begin your training so that you might compete in one in the near future. 

Just remember, adapt the training to your own physical condition and needs, and take things slowly. At the end of the day, Triathlon training, and the Triathlon itself, should be enjoyed! 

Matt Williams