Building a training plan requires consistency, and of course it takes dedication toward a goal to be consistent. How the plan takes place over the course of a year is through a Periodization Training Program. In general terms, Periodization Training allows an athlete to divide their season into periods that place emphasis on the following categories: Base, Build, Intensity, Taper and Peak (Race).
Unique to the sport of triathlon is the requirement to balance essential sessions in each sport within a given period of time. The theory that I have subscribed to with my own training as well as healthy athletes that I advise is to do a minimum of three key workouts in each sport during a seven day block of training. More specifically, the week would consist of a short (intense 30-45 mins) medium (tempo 60-75 mins) and long (sustained 75 mins plus) effort in each sport with additional sessions if possible. Of course time spent swimming will differ from cycling and both will differ from running. Each component has its own specific effort and time component.
In the Base and Build phases you would want to ideally have four workouts per sport if possible in order to focus on expanding your endurance. This is especially true with cycling and running since they make up a greater amount of time required during a triathlon race. As you get fitter and more experienced you can continue to add additional sessions that will divide a standard month with a weekly emphasis rotating between swimming, then cycling and also running. After this three week rotation is complete, consider doing an easy week with 9-10 workouts. This will allow for the body to recover and get ready for another round of focused sessions with a higher volume and more intensity than the previous period of training. Repeating this plan three times over a 12 week period will prepare you for a primary event on your race calendar. The time spent each week on endurance sessions will be the determining factor of what distance you will be ready to race. Doing more sessions per sport will increase your overall mileage and most likely will result in a better performance on race day. Of course if add too much, you may become continually tired and even overtrained which will inevitably show up as a regression in your performance and make you susceptible to injury or illness.
It has to be said that each athlete is an experiment of one. No two people are the same and no training programs can be exactly the same but plans all have general similarities. As working adults it is pretty standard to do shorter sessions during week and complete your longer bike and run training on the weekend when more time is available for training. If you can add a Semi-long bike/run (brick) during the week you should see a big plus in building miles and overall fitness. Plus it takes pressure off doing one third to half your training on the weekend when you may have social or family obligations.
Using the five stages of Periodization Training to develop weekly and monthly plans provides a good overview for the final piece of actually creating specific swim, bike and run workouts so that you can get the most from your time investment.
By Doug Marocco
Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a 2X US Age Group National Champion