Expert Advice for the Beginner Triathlete

Mar 21, 2024
beginner triathlete

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Starting out in the sport as a beginner triathlete can be intimidating, overwhelming and costly all at the same time. How often should I run each week? What is the best bike for a beginner triathlete? These are the kinds of questions that we’ll answer in this article to help you feel confident and excited about this new journey of health, exercise and competition!

Let’s Define Triathlon…

Just to make sure you know the crazy that you’re getting into (and why else would you be here, right?)—a triathlon is a 3-in-1 endurance sporting event that combines swimming, cycling and running into one competition. The races vary quite drastically in distance, but more or less follow the same format (always in the same order), just in different locations across the world. 

You can see off the hop why this might be daunting, “I not only have to train for one sport but three?! What if I don’t have experience in any of them? How am I supposed to balance all of that in my schedule?” We’ve all been there (and are maybe still there some days). But don’t worry, there are ways to go about these things to make it all a little more manageable.

As with anything new and complicated, it’s best to break it down into smaller parts and address them one by one. Let’s walk through each of the three disciplines and talk about what kind of gear to invest in and/or how to train, and finally how to tie it all together to keep yourself healthy and injury-free

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Swimming for Beginner Triathletes

Every triathlon starts with a swim, so making sure you can swim in the first place (very important) is a great place to start. And that’s not at all meant to be insulting. Many beginner triathletes will look at the swim distance in comparison to the bike and run, only to think to themselves, “Well, that’s not that far. Maybe I’ll just focus on cycling and running.” Not good!

It might not be comparably far, but it might very well be further than you’re used to swimming. A sprint triathlon (the shortest distance) usually has a 750 meter swim; 15 laps on a 25 meter pool. You might be swimming next to competitors, as well. The swim might be in open water. There will be the nerves of race day. All of these factors play a role in your performance.

You should be able to swim your race distance comfortably. Very comfortably. Time in the pool should never be neglected, and can serve as a gentle form of training to be used when you’re feeling beat up from cycling or running. You can do a lot of volume in the pool with minimal wear on the body. So make it your friend, and always train to start your triathlon off right.

Swimming Workouts for Beginner Triathletes: Tips

Start slow; gradually build up your pace and distance in the water. If you’re not coming from a swimming background, it can be helpful to hire a coach for some private lessons to help you refine technique and make your stroke less exhausting. This will pay huge dividends down the line, as it’s important you stack fitness on top of good technique that will serve you long-term.

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Cycling for Beginner Triathletes

Cycling might be the most unnatural movement of the three, as it involves an extra piece of equipment that your body has to operate on. The positions a bike puts you in are not ideal for the human body, and cause a lot of predictable problems, namely:

Don’t let this scare you, because with a corrective stretching, mobility and strength training plan (which we’ll talk about later) you can mitigate these issues to a large degree. In the meantime, it’s good to know that they can happen, and that if you experience them it’s not the end of the world. Everyone in the cycling realm has felt your pain.

Ease yourself into riding. Apart from drowning while swimming, crashing on your bike is the next biggest risk. Fatigue can be a major contributing factor to accidents, so make sure you're pushing yourself intelligently. Take breaks as needed, and allow your body time to adapt to the prolonged, bent forward positions that you’ll end up in while cycling.

What Is the Best Bike for a Beginner Triathlete?

This is one of the most common questions we get for people new to triathlon. The answer is not too complicated. A road bike is ideal. But it doesn’t have to be fancy (they can go for tens of thousands of dollars). It doesn’t have to be new. It just has to work. Don’t break the bank up front, find something you can afford that hits the sweet spot between modernity and function.

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Running for Beginner Triathletes

Most injuries in triathlon happen while running. It’s the hardest on the body and always positioned last in a race; a sinister combination. To combat the high rate of injury, we have to make sure our fitness is top-notch for the type of triathlon we’re preparing for. For each event (swim, bike, run), we should easily be able to accomplish the distances prescribed in the race.

If you don’t have prior experience as a runner, you have to be very cautious with how you build up your volume. It doesn’t take much to strain your calf, pull a hamstring, or develop conditions like plantar fasciitis. It is generally recommended that your volume never exceeds 10% from the previous week. This gives the body time to adapt to all of the new stress.

An important note for running (and for all endurance sports, in general), is to pay close attention to the sensations you feel while training. Because of the repetition, something that starts out small can quickly turn into something big and hard to recover from. If you feel a small twinge or like something isn’t quite right, consider backing off for the day and trying again tomorrow.

How Often Should I Run Each Week?

As a beginner triathlete, building a consistent running practice into your routine is important. It is recommended that you try to get out for a run 2-3 times a week. An ideal approach in the beginning is to do 2 short runs and 1 longer run each week. Modify the distances based on your experience and fitness. Warm up. If you’re new, you can combine running/walking to start with.

Strength, Stretching & Mobility for Beginner Triathletes

Preventing and avoiding injury is one of the biggest concerns when starting out in triathlon. With all of the volume and repetitive movements, the likelihood of developing a muscle imbalance and/or overuse injury is increased. To help protect yourself against such things, it’s important that you include supplementary strength, stretching and mobility training in your program.

We made Dynamic Triathlete for exactly that purpose. Our platform has hundreds of HD streamed follow-along routines led by world class coaches and trusted by triathletes across the globe. If you want to take the guesswork out of your training and workout like a pro, sign up for a 7-day free trial with us today by clicking here.

While we haven’t covered everything, we hope this article gives you a good foundation to begin working from. If you have any questions about starting your training as a beginner triathlete, send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help you along on your journey! 

Written by Eric Lister – Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist

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