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How Low Intensity Triathlon Training Works


Low-Intensity Triathlon Training Workouts
Triathlon Distances

Triathlon races are usually one of four distances:

Sprint: 0.5-mile (0.8 km) swim; 12.5-mile (20.1 km) bike; 3.1-mile (5 km) run

Olympic: 0.93-mile (1.5-km) swim; 24.9-mile (40-km) bike; 6.2-mile (10 km) run

Half-Ironman: 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim; 56-mile (90.1 km) bike; 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run

Ironman: 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim; 112-mile (180.2 km) bike; 26.1-mile (42.2 km) run

Training programs for triathletes vary greatly depending on the competitor's previous fitness level and what race distance they plan to run. Because low-intensity triathlon training is especially important for those who are new to the sport, this section will focus on the training necessary for the shortest distance: sprint.

Most training programs will not work for people who have been inactive for a number of years, so it's a good idea to build a base level of fitness before beginning a triathlon workout schedule. If you're already working out, just two-and-a-half to three hours of aerobic exercise per week for a two- to six-month period should be enough to begin training for a sprint triathlon. Once you've established a healthy aerobic baseline, expect to spend about 12 weeks training for your sprint triathlon.

The following table is a good example of a training program for sprint triathletes:


Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Saturday: Run

15 minutes

20

25

30

35

40

Sunday: Bike

30

40

45

50

55

60

Tuesday: Swim

15

15

20

20

25

25

Wednesday: Run

15

15

20

20

25

25

Thursday: Bike

20

20

25

30

30

35

Friday: Swim

15

15

20

20

20

25


Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

Saturday: Run

35

45

50

55

60

40

Sunday: Bike

45

65

70

75

80

80

Tuesday: Swim

25

30

30

35

40

20

Wednesday: Run

25

30

30

35

35

15

Thursday: Bike

30

35

40

30

40

20

Friday: Swim

15 to 30

15 to 30

15 to 30

15 to 30

15 to 30

OFF


While the time spent on each activity is more or less fixed, the intensity at which you perform them can change. Triathletes categorize intensity into six levels that range from "recovery" -- a comfortable pace -- to "sprint" -- a maximum effort. The table below rates these levels from one to 10 (where 10 represents your maximum intensity), and suggests what percentage of the running, biking and swimming advanced triathletes should do at each stage.


Intensity Level

Percent of Bike and Run

Percent of Swim

Recovery

4

10 to 15 percent

5 to 15 percent

Aerobic

5 to 6

60 to 70 percent

40 to 55 percent

Anaerobic Threshold

7

8 to 12 percent

10 to 15 percent

VO2 Max

8

3 to 5 percent

10 to 15 percent

Speed

9

3 to 5 percent

5 to 10 percent

Sprint

10

1 to 2 percent

5 to 10 percent


If you're a beginner, most, if not all, of your workouts should be performed at the recovery or aerobic levels; if you can't hold a comfortable conversation while running or biking, you're probably training too hard. More advanced triathletes, however, should vary the intensity of their workouts, using the percentages suggested above to design a more beneficial exercise program.

As the table indicates, even advanced runners should do most of their training at low-intensity levels. The benefits of this focus on low-intensity training are explored in the following section.


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